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4 Ways To Market To New Clients

Getting the attention of a new set of buyers is job one for distributors today. Here are four ways to market your business to woo new customers and gain maximum exposure. By Shane Dale

Think of marketing like dating. In both, you want to get the attention of a desired group. You want that group (or a single person, in dating's case) to spend more time with you, to enjoy that time, and to agree to spend an increasing amount of time with you in the future.

But today's new set of buyers are a tricky group to appeal to. They're younger, they don't spend the usual nine-to-five time in the office, they communicate in different ways, and they expect their service providers to provide, well, more than just the one service they pay for. They're a group looking for added value from their vendors. They want information and advice, not just the products they purchase.

Yeah, they're a demanding bunch – think high-maintenance dating. But, the distributor firms that appeal to them and market to them on the level these new breed of buyers expect will succeed at attracting them and building long-term relationships. Here are four marketing strategies to implement today that will help you appeal to these new types of buyers.

Write Informative, Attention-Grabbing Articles

Adding relevant, fact-based, well-written articles to your website is one of the best ways to come across as an authority on the markets you're targeting, according to Trevor Gnesin, CEO of Top 40 supplier Logomark (asi/67866).

First and foremost," he says, "relevance to an audience or reader should be considered. Distributors should think strategically about why the topic they are considering writing about would matter to his or her key audiences."

Once that's in place, Gnesin says articles based on lists or items targeted toward a specific season, demographic, or company department get read, as long as they include a strong headline. For example, articles with names like, "Five hottest promotional items for summer," "Best gift picks for dads and grads," or "Employee recognition programs that wow" will get clicks – and garner the attention of buyers who are looking for more than just a vendor. They want to know that the person they're buying promotional products from is an expert. Online articles with your name attached to them will help to provide that.

Lists are especially popular for today's readers with shorter attention spans. "A headline that implies a numbered or bulleted list lets the reader know that the article to come should be a short, informational read," Gnesin says. "Beyond that, it's a matter of thinking through what will appeal to the audience."

Perhaps they'd be interested in learning about the hottest trends of the season or personal picks for branded items with maximum return-on-investment, he says. Or, even provide content that gives them ideas on how to succeed at their own business. Articles focused on branding, marketing strategies, outshining the competition, and using live events to attract new customers could all be topics that distributors' clients and prospects could learn from and implement into their own businesses.

Of course, once readers click on your article, the key is to keep their attention from beginning to end. Gnesin says a quick opening paragraph that summarizes the article, along with short, succinct paragraphs, will help. "Lead paragraphs should provide a nice summary of what a reader can expect to come throughout the article, and writers should consider that many readers are actually more accurately 'scanners,' so bulleted lists, content that is broken up with subheads or images, can help to keep readers engaged," he says.

Gnesin says adding high-res photos of products, along with informational boxes that help to summarize and support your article, are another good way to maintain the reader's attention. "Articles and posts with powerful imagery consistently get better readership and engagement," he says. "The content of your article or write-up should dictate an appropriate picture, which should always be professional and well-lit. In addition to product photography and lifestyle shots, any video content should be promoted here, as well. Infographics are useful and well-received by audiences across the board."

Distributors should also remember to embed appropriate links, including links to certain promotional products on their website, and any case studies or third-party articles that support the piece.

One big no-no, according to Gnesin, is loading up your article with keywords that can detract from its overall quality. "Writers shouldn't get so distracted by SEO relevance that they neglect basic rules of grammar," he says. "All writing should be highly professional to ensure writers come off as experts in their content marketing pieces."
  Ultimately, the goal is to grab attention and connect to your audience in a unique way that makes them remember you. Online content is king right now.

Create Buzz with Images & Videos

While thinking about online content and how to use it to connect with today's buyers, Mike Michalowicz, author of Profit First, says leveraging pictures and videos in social media is crucial to spreading the word of your company.  "Pictures get a huge click rate. We can absorb the information so fast and easily," he says. "Pictures are preferable over words. It's a little bit unfortunate, but that's the reality."

But Michalowicz says your images and videos definitely won't go viral if you post the same kind of content as everyone else. "Show pictures of anything that makes it different," he says. "Showing a mug on a desk is boring. Showing a mug while someone's pouring coffee in it and their hand is outside a moving car window, and someone else is in a different car racing down the highway pouring coffee into that mug – it's still a mug, but the scenario is so absurd that now it gets attention. Show crazy, unexpected, different things, and that's how you'll grab attention."

Michalowicz says the same concept holds true with videos, in which distributors can take standard promotional items and use them in completely unique applications. A classic example of using an everyday product in an unusual and entertaining way is a series of videos created by blender manufacturer Blendtec. "Talk about a boring business; these guys only make blenders. But they started a video series called 'Will It Blend?'" Michalowicz says. "They blend marbles, they blend an iPhone, they blend anything. That company exploded in growth. I think their revenue quadrupled after the introduction of these absurd videos."

There are a number of social-media platforms in which this strategy can be leveraged. Michalowicz believes Twitter is the number-one platform, with Facebook lagging behind because of the amount of noise and activity he thinks can muck up messages posted to Facebook.

He also sees Pinterest as an up-and-coming social medium, especially for sellers of promotional products who can show those items in unique and engaging ways. "Pinterest is focused simply on pictures," he says. "Pinterest promotes the interesting and the different. People are encouraged and inspired to share. If I share something on Pinterest that's unique, I'll be rewarded by multiple people sharing it. It's a wonderful network to spread the attention of something that's different."
  But before diving into multiple platforms, Michalowicz suggests investing most of your energies into one network in order to avoid stretching yourself too thin – and with each photo and video, he says you must remind your customers why you're a better choice than the other guy. "I believe in going all-in on one platform that speaks to the community that you're targeting," he says. "Absurd, different, weird gets attention. But of course, you have to produce value behind it."

Link Up Through LinkedIn

Sticking with the social marketing that's so popular today, industry consultant Rosalie Marcus says LinkedIn can be a boon to distributors, as long as they utilize it to its full potential. "I think LinkedIn is the most powerful social media site for distributors that are interested in connecting with the bigger clients, because it has more CFOs and CEOs than any other social media platform," she says.

Here, Marcus provides a checklist for success with using LinkedIn to connect with new buyers and today's clients:
  Invest in a professional photo. "That's your first impression. You don't want your photo that was taken at your last fraternity party or a Christmas party or something like that," she says. "You should spend the money and have a professional photo taken."

Utilize keywords in your headline. Marcus says that your LinkedIn page headline is extremely important. Instead of putting 'advertising specialty distributor' or 'promotional product distributor,' put in keywords that someone would use if they were searching for someone like you. "For example, use words like 'awards,' 'branded merchandise,' and 'trade show gifts,' so that it sort of highlights what you do," Marcus says. "Most people won't generally put into a search 'promotional products' or 'advertising specialties.' And, if you have a niche market, put that in there. If you are a health-care marketing specialist, that should be somewhere in your headline, as well."

Create a story with your summary. "Your summary should not read like a résumé; it should read more like a story that talks about what you've done and maybe highlights your best accomplishments," she says. "For example, if you are a trade show specialist, you might say, 'We helped one company increase qualified leads at their trade show booth by 30%,' so you're showing the ROI in your summary."

Provide useful information. Marcus is also a big believer in providing information on the front of your LinkedIn page that provides added value for the people you're trying to target. Research or reports on marketing strategy success or how to use promotional products effectively could attract the attention of buyers on the social network. "I know ASI has some great research about the power of promotional products and how they are the most cost-effective advertising medium (www.asicentral.com/study)," she says. "Offering something like that on your LinkedIn site will give you a lot of credibility and position you above the competition. Or, you can add your own white paper – maybe the 10 best trade show gifts or five great promotions in the health-care arena."

Include customer testimonials. "If you have a client that says they love working with you and everything you do is top-notch, see if they're willing to write a recommendation for you, because that's really what people look at," Marcus says. "Those are actual testimonials and you want them to be from people that aren't just your family; they're people that you've done business with."

Join groups in your target market. If you are going after meeting planners, for example, you should join a group that meeting planners participate in on LinkedIn, just to see what they're talking about and what's important to them, Marcus suggests. "If you participate in the group, don't try to sell them something," she says. "Try to give thoughtful comments or tips that would be useful to them. And, listen to what people are talking about so that you know what's important to people in your target market."

Use a "Blend" Strategy

Michalowicz is a proponent of what he calls a "blend strategy" – sending prospective clients an off-the-wall promotional item to get their attention, but including with it a more practical item to show what kind of value your company can offer.
  Michalowicz says the traditional promotional items such as pens and mugs – items he calls "permanent products" – have their place, but don't typically create the icebreaker you're looking for today. In other words, they could very well be the bread-and-butter of your overall sales, but when you're thinking about marketing to a different and new breed of buyer, you should try to connect with self-promos that garner more interest.

"The first thing is you need to catch attention," he says. "A product that can invoke a conversation is the ultimate item because that causes that brand to go viral. I believe in permanent products, but I've never had a colleague come up to my desk and say, 'Hey, tell me about your mug, what's the story behind that thing?'"

Michalowicz recalls an innovative twist on a popular item sent to him by an ad specialty company that sought his business. "When Keurig was just getting hot, they sent us a Keurig with their logo on it, and then they would send coffee with their logo on each one, with notes that would say, 'Here's the favorite flavor at our office: blueberry. Hopefully you guys like it, too,'" he says.

The Keurig and coffee that accompanied it got the attention of Michalowicz and the rest of his office. "They said, 'I've never had blueberry coffee before; where did you get it?'" he says. "So, they effectively turned the product into a point of discussion."

Michalowicz says introductions like these take advantage of basic human nature. Essentially, we pay attention to what's different and unique. "Our minds are wired that way," he says. "When something unexpected presents itself, it cannot help but to draw our immediate, full attention – but only to the point where we determine its value – if it's dangerous, if it's a threat, or could be ignored."

That's why Michalowicz says distributors have to offer something behind the unusual item that brings substance to the customer. "A gimmick can quickly be ruled out as a gimmick: It's got my attention, but it's got no value. It's not worth having a conversation about," he says. "So, I'd couple the gimmick with a mug or something else, and maybe even a letter that says, 'Hope we caught your attention and we hope you enjoy this mug, and we suspect you'll see our brand in front of you for the next 20 years.'"

Shane Dale is an AZ-based freelance writer.