SOI 2014 - More to Your Marketing

Channels Distributors Should Be Investing In

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MarketingWhat channels should distributors be investing their growing budgets into?

Ryan Sauers sees all the mistakes companies make when it comes to marketing. Cutting a marketing budget with the first bad month. Not having a clear branding proposition. Dabbling with trepidation without a cohesive strategy.

“Marketing requires you to be the guy in the swimming pool. Jump in and jump out,” says the president and owner of Sauers Consulting Strategies. “Don’t try to slowly dip your toe into the water.”

So maybe it’s no coincidence that more industry companies are seeking to make a splash. Data from Counselor’s State of the Industry survey found that half of all distributors are expected to increase their marketing expenditures this year. The average increase was expected to be 22%. In addition, Forrester Research found that b-to-b marketing companies this year expected to allocate 4% of their company revenue to marketing, versus 2.5% just two years ago.

MarketingIt’s clear that distributors understand the importance of marketing. The reasons are simple: Marketing attracts customers, boosts your sales, and burnishes your reputation with prospects and others. “I honestly don’t understand how companies are going to survive,” says Sauers, “if they don’t invest in marketing or a plan.”

Since most marketing efforts should be measurable, a thorough glance at the data can show how effective your current marketing efforts are. Identifying the perception of your brand is not as clinical. You can formally survey your customers, or even hold informal conversations with key customers. A quick Google search can reveal what is being said about your company.

The goal is to identify what makes your company unique, and then trumpet that message. While that requires conscious thought on the part of the distributor, it can also be ascertained by reaching out to others. “Let your customer tell you what to create and how to create it based on a real need, rather than the other way around,” says John Jantsch, founder of Duct Tape Marketing, which offers a comprehensive marketing system for small businesses.

Once you’ve identified that key message, you must employ the proper channels and move ahead with a comprehensive plan. Here are three options that are working today.

Digital Direction
Any business conversation today about marketing begins (and too often ends) with digital marketing. An Accenture survey found that a third of executives expect digital spending to account for more than 75% of their marketing budgets within five years.

Even if distributors don’t take it that far, digital marketing is still essential. Overture Premiums and Promotions (asi/288473) utilizes a number of methods, including pay-per-click ads, Google Adwords and e-mail blast programs. “E-mail blasts are great because the cost of the software is so minimal to what the return is,” says Tej Shah, VP of marketing and e-commerce.

Of course, the average customer’s inbox has become flooded with marketing e-mails as more companies gravitate to the online realm. Companies that are constantly sending out specials and marketing messages run the risk of being tuned out. “We don’t send out an excessive amount of e-mail blasts,” says Shah. In addition, Overture juggles product-based e-mails and informational ones that share a case study or success story which customers can take tips from.

But a compelling digital marketing campaign is all for naught if companies can’t convert online engagement into sales. The biggest culprit, says Lilly Ghahremani, founder of Lucky 13 Strategies, is often a poor website without proper branding.

Marketing“People are throwing money at the problem and wondering why they aren’t getting results,” says Ghahremani, who specializes in marketing strategies for small businesses. “Well, [it’s probably because] they’re sending prospects to a website that isn’t converting them from visitor into customer.”

Social Media
The worth of a social media presence is hotly debated. Many have complained of the inability to track converted sales and ROI from their social media accounts. Meanwhile, studies like one from Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research Technologies find that consumers are 67% more likely to buy from brands they follow on Twitter and 51% more likely to buy from one they follow on Facebook.

The consensus at this point is that even though it may not contain the hard numbers of other methods, social media is an essential marketing tool to build brand awareness. “When your client takes that 20-minute break during the day to check Facebook, you have the opportunity to catch them in a vulnerable space, where they don’t feel the pressure of their day,” says Katie Smart, marketing manager and social media expert for Axis Promotions (asi/128263).

E-mails don’t have to be opened, she says, but Facebook and Twitter automatically show messages and images that draw buyers in.

The key for success is to rely on content – relevant information and ideas that people want to read. Too much spamming turns people off, particularly in the “safe space” of social media sites where people follow their personal friends and family. But be consistent with your updates. Not necessarily every day, but on a regular schedule. If the updates are few and far between, it looks particularly bad, especially for distributors who want to paint themselves as marketing experts for their clients. “It’d be better to take it all down and have zero than to not do it right,” Sauers says.

Direct Mail
Contrary to what many believe, direct mail is still very effective. The Direct Marketing Association puts its cost per lead on par with e-mail and pay-per-click advertising. “The answer is very little goes to the mailbox, whether it’s a home or a business,” says Sauers, who is writing a forthcoming book about branding. “Everybody wants to e-mail because it’s ‘free.’ Well that’s great, but if it never gets to the intended person, they never read it. Direct marketing and traditional marketing are more important than ever.”

Companies like Overture and Axis specialize in bulky mailers with a self-promo item inside. Overture uses humor as much as possible to make the items stand out. One recent package included a coffee mug with a laugh-inducing imprint. It was sent to good customers who spent a certain amount of money with the company.

“We had so many of our clients giving us a call back asking for more,” says Shah. Those conversations led into discussions about their upcoming events and interest in other items.

Smart says that Axis makes sure to package its self-promos in custom boxes, tubes and mailers, and picks a carefully-chosen item to demonstrate the company’s creativity. “You always hear about how many touches it may take to get that first order, and some of our biggest accounts are proof that it takes time,” says Smart. “It’s not enough to rely on phone calls and e-mails alone. You need clever self-promos that open doors, creative marketing pieces that help you get that first meeting, and a marketing kit that helps you say thank you.”