SOI 2012 - Marketing: More to Spend

Distributors Expect To Increase Their Marketing Spending This Year

Marketing: More to SpendGot a little extra marketing money hanging around? Join the club. Counselor's 2012 State of the Industry survey found that distributors are optimistic about the amount they have to spend on marketing this year. In fact, 52% of distributors predicted that their marketing spending would increase in 2012 (when compared to that of 2011), while only 4% were forecasting a decrease in their promotion and marketing budgets.

As far as the most optimistic region for marketing forecasts in 2012, 63% of West-based distributors are predicting increases. On the other side, only 44% of distributors based in the Northeast say that their marketing spending will increase overall in 2012.

But where to invest those increased marketing budgets – no matter how large or small – can be tricky. We asked business experts to weigh in with tips. The number-one suggestion: Think small. Yes, small – and wide. Experts caution that looking for a single marketing strategy that's sure to increase your business immediately can be a fruitless search – not to mention a waste of time and money.

"If you're looking for a one-trick pony, if you're looking for that one silver bullet that you'd use to get tons of leads, and people wanting to sit down with you for an appointment, then it's wishful thinking," says Art Coley, president of AlphaGraphics, a business solutions company based in Salt Lake City. "Small-business owners today need to have a multi-channel, cross media, integrated marketing plan."

Data PointsBut, to achieve that with a few extra marketing dollars can be daunting. And, indeed, many marketing experts seemed divided on whether distributors should focus those extra marketing dollars or spread them out in an attempt to cast a wider net. "I would highly recommend focusing it," says Scott Creamer, CEO and founder of The Screamer Company, a marketing and advertising firm in Austin, TX. "It's all about trying to make yourself stand out," a possibility more likely with focused efforts, he thinks.

How? A highly personalized self-promo campaign is one way, says Thomas Ciesielka, founder of TC Public Relations, in Chicago. At a recent conference, Ciesielka recalls an Alabama-based law firm that promoted its services to a targeted audience through a series of customized giveaways, such as hot sauce, that played up the South's Cajun theme, talking about "steaming lawyers" ready to go to work for clients.

For distributors who want to stand out at trade shows, Ciesielka suggests they do something odd or out of the ordinary. At a recent trade show, he recalls, one company gave out a yardstick of gum to passersby. Yes, three feet worth of gum may seem like a lot to lug around a trade show floor, but "the point was, everybody went to their booth and said, ‘Where did you get that three-foot piece of bubblegum?'" Ciesielka says.

Certainly self-promos are a smart tactic, says David Blaise, president of Blaise Drake & Company, a promotional products business consultancy in Wyomissing, PA. But, too often distributors rely on free samples that suppliers give them. That can be a mistake, Blaise cautions, since free items might not represent the best quality or product a distributor can offer.

Practice what you preach and send a direct-mail piece (something from $5 to $10 can make a good impression while still keeping marketing costs down) to a targeted group of companies that you know have additional spending capabilities this year, Blaise says. That way, the first time you pick up the phone, you can reference a specific product or package rather than a generic pitch about promotional product sales, he adds. The same approach, Blaise says, can also better penetrate existing clients.

For distributors with just a few dollars to spare, Blaise suggests experimenting with Facebook or Google Adwords. With those services, which can start with as little as a $5 investment, Blaise says, "you don't have to start with thousands of dollars and put much at risk."

Plus, those advertising and marketing efforts are entirely trackable. Other services, like Yext, help small businesses manage their listings simultaneously across 35 search platforms, such as Yahoo! and Yelp for as little as $40 a month. The service also helps companies post regular promotions, says Wendi Sturgis, executive vice president of sales and service for New York-based Yext.

To draw more customers to a distributor's website, Danny Iny, co-founder of Firepole Marketing, in Montreal, Canada, says distributors should create a shareable five-to 10-page PDF about how to use promotional products in a cost-effective way to increase revenue for, say, a school fundraiser. That way it gets picked up in Web searches, and makes a distributor "the source of go-to information."

More importantly, it's a low-budget effort that draws visitors to your site. "The content isn't very expensive to produce, but it does require a little bit of work to get it done," Iny says. Still, once finished "it works for you forever," he says, "and it becomes this inbound beacon where people can find you to access this material."

Ultimately, marketing experts say, distributors should be investing their increased budgets this year and next on testing new tactics. If you haven't done online marketing, then get into that. If you haven't done much direct mail with self-promotions, then now is the time. Try a variety of strategies to see what connects best with your target markets and local audiences, and then build further investments in those in 2013.

"Marketing success comes from testing different strategies," Iny says. "Take the time now to try out different marketing avenues, and then move forward with the best ones."

Data Points