Marketing Insights

B2B Marketing Trends for 2021

As you solidify plans for the coming year, we’re sharing our list of the top five B2B marketing trends suppliers need to watch—and what they’ll mean for your success in the year ahead.

With the calendar about to flip, many marketers are wondering what the year ahead will hold. In many ways, today’s marketers have opportunities like never before, from more distribution options, growing data insights and ever-closer ties to their sales teams. At the same time, so much to focus on can make the demands on one’s time and budget feel even tighter.

 To help marketers navigate this dynamic environment, we’ve compiled a list of key trends to watch in 2021.

Continued Focus on Webinars and Virtual Events

With COVID-19 impacting live gatherings, webinars and online events absolutely exploded in popularity in 2020. ON24, an online event platform, reported the number of webinars it hosted in March alone increased by a whopping 330%, and the number of attendees doubled based on yearly statistics.

Going into 2021, as B2B marketers continue to seek ways to connect with prospects in the current environment with depressed travel, the interest in online webinars and events is expected to remain high. Forrester analysts note that even as live events begin to rebound, most will return with at least some digital component (Forrester, Predictions 2021: B2B Marketers Build Digital Pathways To Distanced Businesses, Oct. 23, 2020).

What this means for you as a marketer: Competition for eyes is fierce. Seek opportunities to educate as well as promote to maximize attendance. Buyers expect high-quality, learning-focused content. Ways to stand out from the crowd can include such things as showcasing the expertise of your technical team in addition to sales staff, and participating in opportunities for live engagement, such as Q&A.

Targeting. Targeting. Oh, and More Targeting

Marketers are on a constant quest for “Right message, right person, right time.” With adoption of marketing automation, companies are able to pursue greater levels of segmentation with their campaigns. Messages can more easily be targeted around behavior triggers (webinar registration, spec sheet download, etc.), interests (someone who works in dairy or pharma) or persona (prospect vs. existing customer)

What this means for you as a marketer: Buyers are increasingly expecting more personalized, relevant content experiences. Marketers who are able to deliver on “micro campaigns” with content highly specific to a buyer’s interests will have greater likelihood of success. Expanding reach by choosing media partners that are able to deliver niche audiences will be increasingly important.

Growing Focus on Intent Data

Many of the marketing KPIs that suppliers typically rely on tend to focus on outcomes around a single campaign, whether it be email clicks or booth scans. Although tracking outcomes this way can give valuable insight into the performance of a particular campaign, it can do only so much to inform the sales process, as the marketer has limited ability to recognize the quality of the interaction.

With advances in technology, many marketers are now becoming more adept at tying multiple engagements together to identify potential signals of intent. Tracking interactions across multiple channels (i.e., website, social, event attendance) and tying them to individuals, companies or ideally buying teams at companies allows for earliest identification of potential in-market buyers, ability to set up trigger actions based on lead scoring (number and/or frequency of intent signals) that can accelerate pipeline, and more effective account prioritization that increases sales productivity.

What this means for you as a marketer: Data tracking and analysis will be key to efficient lead nurturing and providing the most seamless and effective handoffs between marketing and sales. Finding opportunities to move beyond performance-based measures and recognize engagement patterns presents many opportunities for suppliers—but also some challenges.

Technology around tracking continues to advance, but it remains elusive or clunky at best for many marketers. A recent PMMI Media Group survey of 154 packaging marketers showed only half use marketing automation. And more than half of those who have adopted systems were still in implementation (51 percent) or not using full capabilities (23 percent). Only 12 percent said they were satisfied with their system’s performance. (PMMI Media Group Marketing Insights, Packaging Supplier Marketing Trends and Best Practices, Fall 2019.)

Recognizing “intent” won’t be all or nothing for many marketers. Many will need to use their systems to progress in level of sophistication by stages or find more practical alternatives that will provide actionable levels of insight (see sidebar at bottom of page). As such, in 2021, expect skills around data analysis, data management and list maintenance to be increasingly important to the marketing role.

Email That’s More Personal

The overstuffed inbox is real: In 2019 alone, 293.6 billion emails were sent and received each day—and this figure is expected to increase to over 347.3 billion by 2022 (Statista, 2020). To get noticed, marketers are striving to create the feel of individually tailored communication. For example, some innovative B2B companies are experimenting with tools to embed personalized video messages. Also seeing growth: Use of AI to decide which email templates to send to which customer for the most relevant message experience.

What this means for you as a marketer: Look for ways to appear more human. Can you include a photo and contact at your company within your emails? Also, consider tone: Avoid unnecessary business speak in communications. Be helpful and not always focused exclusively on the hard sell. Another thing you can experiment with is occasionally using plain text rather than highly designed HTML. At PMMI Media Group, we’ve consistently seen at least 2x higher click-to-open rates on renewal campaigns simply using the plain-text format.

Rise of Content—and Its Distribution

Three out of four manufacturers (74%) in a recent study say they have used content marketing successfully to build credibility/trust in the past 12 months — up from 66% percent the prior year. (Content Marketing Institute, Manufacturing Content Marketing: Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—Insights for 2021, Fall 2020.) Other key uses of content marketing include building customer loyalty (65 percent) and increasing list subscriptions (45 percent).

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that content creation is top-of-mind for2021: Three out of four manufacturers surveyed predict their organizations will make it a top priority in the coming year.

What this means for you as a marketer: Creating an engaging product video for your website or hosting a popular webinar isn’t enough. You need to find meaningful ways to repurpose content to get best return on your efforts. For example, can portions of the video be shared for earned or paid coverage with trade media? Or perhaps webinar content can be converted into a white paper for additional demand gen or nurturing campaigns. How might you adapt portions for use with social media? Going forward, marketers' focus will need to be on structuring content so it can be reused and repackaged for greatest impact with buyers.

 Tracking Engagement of Buying Teams Using Converge and Scout

Recognizing the industry’s need for better data access, PMMIMedia Group is beta-launching a tool for marketers called Converge, free to PMMI Media Group advertisers. Using Converge, suppliers are able to track multiple lead touches from campaigns with PMMI Media Group, PACK EXPO Connects as well as any other campaign activities they choose to upload.
Using Converge, the marketer is able to view clicks, registrations or trade show visits at the account level, seeing engagement by individual as well as by members of the buying team at a single location or at related locations within the company.
With an add-on option called Scout—also free—marketers can add a simple script to their website that will detect visitors from PMMI Media Group campaigns and log which pages on the supplier’s site they visit. It then displays the entire sequence in Converge, whether it’s one visit or a dozen spread out over weeks or months.
With Converge’s simple interface, marketers can view which prospects are engaging the most with their advertising campaigns across multiple campaigns over time—and thus start harnessing the power of intent signals.
 For more information on using Converge and Scout, contact PMMI Media Group’s Wendy Sawtell at


 B2B Marketing Trends for 2021

Written by

Sarah Loeffler