The Fight for Brand Exposure

Distributors plan to spend more on marketing this year – but where’s their focus?

In an industry where businesses tout their ability to help customers gain appeal, promo firms are taking a page out of their own books: 44% of distributors are planning to increase their marketing spend in 2017. But while they’re upping the marketing ante, how and where distributors are spending differs widely.

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Rightsleeve (asi/308922), for example, considers three areas of focus for marketing: digital, which includes “engagement-commerce” – its version of e-commerce; brand, a broad umbrella housing company culture, office design, logo and self-promotion; and events.

“Our goal is to engage the modern customer without having a website that allows them to go in, put a logo on a mug and buy it,” says Mark Graham, owner of Rightsleeve. “We spend a lot of time on website design and content to target our ideal clients, and put just as much effort into creating a great experience from the client’s initial contact through order completion.”

Rightsleeve hosts several marketing think-tank events each year, bringing together current customers, prospects and members of the start-up community, to brainstorm marketing challenges and solutions. Groups present their challenges, and a panel of senior-level marketing reps, typically Rightsleeve clients, will weigh in. “They talk about everything from digital spend to PR spend to promotional products, and the goal is to get people talking about the different roles marketing tools can play in certain situations,” Graham says.

These events, formally known as “Markets,” build brand exposure, promote client engagement, and result in content that can then be used on Rightsleeve’s website and social sites. “We are at the center point because we are bringing everyone together,” says Graham. “We organize and brand the event with swag bags for attendees and make it clear that Rightsleeve produced it, but it’s a true marketing thought leadership conference just done to promote collaboration.”

Grapevine Designs (asi/212829), meanwhile, focuses on what it does best: breathing life into brands through storytelling and merchandising. “Our brand is so much more than just our logo,” says Janie Gaunce, president of Grapevine. “It’s our personality, how we talk, the way we describe ourselves, how we want our customers to feel about us, and how we can help them understand our capabilities.”

Grapevine specializes in gifting, kitting and using promotional products to convey its message. The distributor runs several self-promo campaigns each year, always aiming to leverage its resources and create a one-of-a-kind experience for the recipient. Gaunce also notes the power of inviting prospects into Grapevine to share the firm’s whole story – personality quirks and all. “In the end, clients love to see our work, understand the process and hear the ways that we can help them,” says Gaunce. “By being onsite, they become a part of our team.”

Another distributor, Boundless (asi/143717), has a strong presence on social sites like Instagram and Facebook, providing up-to-date industry content through blogging. Suppliers and marketing experts outside of the company write guest posts for added perspective.

In addition to the digital presence is the company’s commitment to gifting and self-promo campaigns throughout the year. Instead of sending packages during year-end holidays like Christmas, Boundless highlights holidays like Earth Day and Valentine’s Day – times the recipient isn’t expecting a gift.

“Our marketing department creates powerful self-promo packages for prospects and clients throughout the year,” says Noel Garcia, managing director at Boundless. “We do not send the item with the goal of the customer turning around and buying it. It’s a true gift that clients or prospective clients will use and appreciate, while gaining a better understanding of what we can do for them.”

Whatever your marketing strategy may be, be willing to adapt it when necessary. That’s the advice from Ryan Sauers, founder of Sauers Consulting Strategies. “There is no perfect marketing strategy,” he says. “Companies have to use a mixture of all the tools to hit their desired target market – over and over. Adapt, change, change again, but don’t stop.”

In today’s digital world, distributors may sometimes feel like they’re missing the boat if they’re not devoting time to Pinterest, Instagram, Snapchat and other online platforms. Sauers advises not to stretch resources too thin, and to think big picture before creating yet another social account just because it’s the hottest new thing.

“You can’t just jump on it when the next shiny app comes along,” Sauers says. “You definitely need an online presence, but there has to be a real plan based on your target audience, your message, and your consistency across all the platforms you are using. That’s how you build a brand.”