Six leading professionals examine ways dealers can enhance their marketing efforts.
Pictured above left to right top: Dance, Erpelding, Estébanez; bottom, Sabir, Heskje, Smalley
Doing business in 2021 requires a rethink of how best to market and promote a business. This month six marketing professionals from six different segments of the industry discuss how best to go to market in a world that is advancing at a brisk pace technologically and where customers are bombarded with information from all directions at a rapid clip. Our panelists identify what to avoid when embarking on a marketing campaign, strategies for getting your message heard, and the value of traditional marketing methods in the age of social media. You’ll find additional insights from our panel on our website, www.thecannatareport.com, about their favorite marketing campaigns as well as public relations strategies for dealers on tight budgets.
Our panel includes Sue Dancer, global field marketing and digital leader, PaperCut Software; Bill Erpelding, director of marketing, Distribution Management/Supplies Network; José Mariá Estébanez, vice president of corporate marketing, Kyocera America Document Solutions; Samina Sabir, communications director, DocuWare Corp.; Josie Heskje, director, strategic marketing, office equipment group, GreatAmerica Financial Services Corp.; and Andy Smalley, director of marketing, Flex Technology Group.
CR: What are the biggest mistakes dealers should avoid when embarking on a marketing campaign?
Dancer: Don’t forget the basics; Are you differentiated from your competitors? Is your value proposition compelling? Do you have a clear call to action? Do you understand how to reach your target audience, and if you’re using a list, is it clean?
Beyond the holy grail of all things marketing, get crystal clear about what you want to achieve and how you’ll measure success. Are you optimizing for prospects or optimizing for short term sales? Different measures will inspire different approaches.
Once you’re clear on the above, don’t miss out on the opportunity to optimize your workflow for the best possible results. Look at each touchpoint in the customer’s journey to buy. Audit yourself before you launch and monitor the results after. Look for the friction points in the experience and remove them. Have you created unnecessary obstacles for the customer to overcome? Did my audience engage? Are prospects abandoning my sales contact form? Is my customer service team answering live chats quickly enough?
If short-term sales are your measure of success, look at ways to improve the quality of the customer experience closer to your point of sale. Understand your customer dis-satisfiers and re-engineer the experience if needed. Measure improvements in your conversions to sales resulting from the changes you make, and you’ll start to realize your big wins. And remember, you’re not alone. Reach out to your friendly solution provider or distributor to see how they can help support your sales and marketing needs.
Erpelding: This evokes thoughts of the old adage, don’t put the cart before the horse. We’ve all seen ads (digital, print, social, etc.), email solicitations, website paid search, etc. whereby you click through only to be met with an antiquated website and an equally antiquated message lacking any meaningful value proposition. In many ways, the pandemic caught businesses off guard who were thriving prior to March 2020. They may not have been feeling pressure to invest in an updated online presence and sales resources. But now, customer acquisition has elevated to a main priority, and the lack of modern resources could negatively impact brand identity and pose challenges. Any prospective customer is going to check out your website, your LinkedIn profile. All of which brings to mind another old adage, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. You can develop a well-thought-out campaign and promotional strategy, but if your online presence is lackluster and fails to clearly convey your value proposition, brand promise, and promote a positive company culture, even the most clever campaign may not gain much traction. Be sure your foundational assets are in good order, and tell a compelling story to optimize the results of lead generation and promotional activities.
Estébanez: As in any sector, not having a clear offer can be detrimental to the success of any marketing campaign. Selling an MFP is not an offer if you do not have a functioning e-commerce platform, for example. On the other hand, selling an MPS assessment is a real offer than can be promoted at length online. Another major mistake is not defining a buyer persona. If you do not have a clear target audience, you will struggle to provide the consistency your messaging needs to make an impact. That buyer persona should be established at the very beginning of any marketing campaign to make sure that everything is adapted to give a strong message to them specifically. Finally, dealers need to have defined roles between sales and marketing to identify who does what in terms of marketing qualified leads (MQL) and sales qualified leads (SQL). Having a clear process ensures that they can be turned into sales efficiently.
Heskje: You can set your campaign up for success by thinking through things in advance. Collaborate internally. Sales and marketing alignment is crucial to any campaign’s success. Don’t create your next campaign in a silo. Without the right collaboration, you risk missing the mark. Focus on crafting a campaign that both meets customer needs and will be embraced by sales with eager follow up. If customer engagement (content downloads or form fills to be contacted, for example) are not met with timely attention by sales reps, the ultimate impact of the campaign is minimized.
Set goals in advance. Without clearly defined goals from the outset, your campaign won’t have the right focus and you’ll never know if it was successful. Set measurable goals that tie to the bottom line, or at minimum customer engagement. Ensure a system to review results, not only at the end of campaign, but at milestones along the way so you can learn and pivot. It doesn’t matter if you have goals if you don’t track, measure, reflect, and learn.
Tune into your customer needs. I mean really understand what your customers are currently experiencing. This past year was a crazy one and your customers’ pain points may have changed. Make sure your campaign puts the customer first and hits the mark on present-day frustrations and opportunities to make their lives better.
Sabir: The most common mistake is not knowing your audience or what matters most to them. Once you understand the persona you are targeting, craft your campaign message showing how you can help them.
When you don’t identify the persona at the start, you risk going into too much or too little detail. The campaign message delivered should be based on whether you are speaking to the end user, a C-suite decision maker or anyone in between. Pricing is an important part of that message too. While it may matter less to the end user, it is usually a major deciding factor for the C-suite decision maker who manages the company’s budgets. So sometimes you lead with it and sometimes you leave it open for negotiation.
Smalley: For any marketing campaign, know that there is no single silver bullet that will yield a utopia of prospects and leads. Don’t waste time going after the trivial many but focus on the finite few that can make an impact or move the needle – the rest will follow. It takes patience, knowing who your ideal clients are, knowing where, when, and how they consume information, and create cadences and campaigns that touches them at multiple points to gain engagement.
It’s amazing what you can learn by really analyzing the data and getting into the minds of those you are marketing too. Move beyond the basic metrics of clicks, impressions, website visits, completed forms, etc. I personally don’t care about the vanity metrics because they don’t measure revenue attribution. More traffic isn’t always better. I’d rather get the right traffic and insight you can act upon.
Let me give an example: We ran a simple email marketing campaign targeting retailers. It was a simple five-step cadence that yielded a 30% open rate, 10% click rate, and less than 1% reply rate. On the surface – not a bad campaign and the next logical step for many would be to send out more.
We didn’t fall into that trap. Instead, we dug into the data a little deeper and examined when these 30% prospects opened their emails and determined what link those 10% of prospects clicked on. In this specific campaign, we only had hyperlinks in the signature line: a hyperlink to our company’s website, LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, and Twitter handle. Ninety-five percent of those that clicked on a hyperlink clicked on our Facebook link. Why? I’m not going to reveal the answer to that question, but I’m sure anyone can guess where we spent time marketing to retail executives. Facebook!
Now that is not to say that Facebook is the preferred social media platform for all businesses, but at the time it was where underpriced attention was for that specific vertical. All verticals and geographic regions are different. For example, over several other email campaigns, we discovered that legal executives are active on LinkedIn and influential healthcare executives tend to be more active on Twitter. That information has been gold for us, but we also discovered that those preferences change over time. My best advice would be to measure and analyze your data and look for trends. To yield the best ROI, don’t think of marketing campaigns as a one and done adventure.
CR: What is the best way for a dealer’s marketing message to make it through all the noise that his or her customers are bombarded with every day?
Dancer: At the risk of sounding repetitive, know thy customer. Most companies don’t, not deeply. Understand a day in their life, their buying journey, their pet peeves. Know their vernacular so you can speak their language versus yours. Get to the true heart of their pain, and focus on the value your solution will make to their world. Ask your customers about the messages that they do pay attention to and why. Speak in stories, they simplify complexity and are memorable, and most importantly, be authentic. In summary, stop talking about yourself. Buyers aren’t really interested in when you started the company or the fact that ‘service’ is your middle name.
Erpelding: This is an enormous challenge for all of us in the digital age. There are a few simple axioms that can help in campaign message development — less is more, content is king and what’s in it for me?
Less is more. It can be so tempting to dump endless copy points into customer communications to cover every imaginable feature and benefit of your offering, especially when selling a technical solution. No matter where your message meets your potential audience, overblown copy and detail just adds to the noise. Focus on conveying just one or two really impactful points to entice the click-thru to additional resources that positively promote your brand and ultimately walks the prospect through the call-to-action. Like any other aspect of the customer journey, the development of your sales funnel is a process that happens over several touchpoints.
Content is king. Development of rich marketing content is key to successfully telling your brand and offering story. Develop and promote success stories with case studies and editorial briefs that highlight the latest trends. Use informative stats to illustrate and support the benefits of your portfolio. Place banner ads featuring snippets of high-impact value statements. Spotlight company culture, giving back features, and other succinct but impactful messages. Then, distribute this content on a rotating basis via online, social and outbound communication channels. According to a ResearchGate study, color in visuals increases attention span of a viewer by 82%, so when possible, use visually compelling infographics to emphasize key points, and by all means, leverage video where it makes sense, but remember to keep it tight!
What’s in it for me? Not much needs to be said here, but if the reader cannot quickly and clearly understand how they will benefit, your message needs work. Making sure you can easily answer this for every marketing message is a great habit to get into, even those around your company culture. Example: We take care of our employees, and they are really happy. Why do I care? Happy employees = happy customers!
Estébanez: This is one of the key challenges in modern day marketing. The volume of messages and brands vying for our attention every day is multiplying—our dealers are no different. Effective marketing depends on a number of things: the territory you are in, your target market – whether it’s the small office/home office (SOHO) space, medium-sized business or large enterprises – and the message you want to convey. Crucial to this will also be your budget and the channels you decide to go with.
I always recommend undertaking activities that can be measured and optimized in the future. Tangible results make for informed business decisions. Therefore, I would avoid radio, TV, and billboards and focus instead on segmented campaigns by ZIP codes in Google AdWords or across social media platforms because, nowadays, younger generations do not consume TV or radio to anywhere near the extent of years gone by.
Heskje: There are two big things here. Number one, keep the message concise. They say the average human has an attention span that’s less than a goldfish, under eight seconds. Cut out the extra language and create communication that appeals to the target customer’s pain points.
This leads to number two: Segment your audiences so that you can create specific messages that appeal to specific customer needs. Understand your ideal client personas. Consider segmenting by industry/vertical, business size, and job role. The more you can speak their language with a concise message that resonates, the more effective you’ll be at cutting through the noise. Of course, a little creativity can help amplify success here too!
Sabir: Stay on top of industry trends and challenges and find ways to talk to your customers about how your product can help them address what’s happening in real time. Being agile and nimble in your messaging and knowing what information to share at exactly the right time makes customers feel
- You are tuned in to what’s going on in the industry.
- You care.
- You are not pushing your own sales agenda but offering relevant solutions for their individual business needs.
The global lockdown created a huge demand for platforms like Zoom and for document management solutions that automated processes. Our global cloud customer base grew by 40% last year. We listened, understood the problems, and only when we were sure we had some answers, we created a series of free educational webinars to demonstrate how cloud-based solutions allowed business continuity through the secure sharing of documents and data between remote workers.
The final (educated) choice was always going to be made by our partners and or their customers.
Smalley: The best way to cut through the noise is personalization, real authentic personalization. We accomplish this by combining basic influencer marketing concepts with an ABM (Account Based Marketing) strategy. Our goal is always to (1) build awareness of who we are and what we do, (2) gain rapport by communicating the stories we create in working with existing customers in similar industries or geographies, and (3) create camaraderie with a group of similar customers. We do all these things at multiple touchpoints on multiple mediums.
CR: There is much talk about social media marketing, and we get that it is important, but are traditional marketing methods such as direct mail, flyers and brochures, telemarketing, print ads, and billboards still important?
Dancer: Love social media but be careful not to use it as a gimmick. My biggest concern about LinkedIn and similar channels is that they’re becoming overused and no one’s able to meaningfully differentiate their message. When I read a post that starts “I’m so proud to… “ I must admit, I start to tune out. You must bring value to your audience, not just chest-beating, otherwise you become part of the noise. Social channels come and go, you’ll always be chasing and building a new or bigger audience.
Traditional methods continue to play an important role, but your priority should be, first, to understand your audience. Where are they hanging out? What are their preferences? What’s the journey they take to make a purchase? Then start to map out the channels that are likely to bring you the most impact. Social media is one channel for driving audience visibility and engagement, but it takes effort and resources to do it well. There are many opportunities to reach audiences through social media in different ways, so if you haven’t already, consider LinkedIn mail or using third-party data in social to reach new audiences. The opportunities abound.
Erpelding: Without question, social is important, but it has pros and cons just like any other communication channel. We are all bombarded with so many social messages. Our feeds are likely just as cluttered (if not more cluttered), as our email inbox; however, it’s fairly inexpensive to execute, and ROI is always a factor when it comes to marketing spend. In some ways, many consider the traditional methods to be more disruptive and thus possibly more effective in capturing buyers’ attention. The drawback is that many of those methods likely have hard costs associated with them whereas social and email marketing can often be done with minimal cost and internal resources. The overall mix is dependent on the budget and the importance of the initiative. Many of those traditional methods can be highly effective. For example, a recent survey on the state of marketing communications by Keypoint Intelligence indicated 64% of all people read all or most of their direct mail versus 48% for their digital messages. I think the critical element is the ability to develop compelling marketing content. For dealers that have internal marketing resources for content development, it becomes a little easier to experiment with various communication channels in addition to social. For those that don’t have internal specialists, they may want to evaluate bringing on agency support versus developing internal capabilities.
Estébanez: The impact of social media on today’s marketing landscape is undeniable, but I do believe that those marketing materials you mentioned still have an important role to play in modern business. Flyers and brochures, for example, are still a key part of face-to-face interactions and customers want to see quality when they interact with these materials. Telemarketing also plays a critical role when it comes to qualifying leads and helps add that important human touch to the marketing process. Very often a large part of a lead conversion can be attributed directly to the quality of service a customer receives when interacting with our brand. I believe that any successful campaign finds the perfect marketing mix to bring in different kinds of promotion adapted to the offer and messaging, which means never ruling any options out and always being open to new ideas.
Heskje: I believe a marketing mix is still important. Most experts agree it takes between 11 and 13 touches before your message breaks through. Using a mix of channels, both digital and traditional, can help get your message in front of your target audience without feeling like you’re bombarding them. Inbound and digital marketing has increased in importance during the pandemic, as buyers have relied on the Internet for information even more than before. I think as the economy opens up, people will be starved for human contact and any method of reaching them in this way will rise in importance. The key is to understand who your target audience is and how they consume information. In addition to understanding the behaviors of your target audience, consider your marketing goals. If you’re rebranding your office equipment business, you may need to look to channels where you can raise awareness in your community. Even here, employing a marketing mix can make the most of your investment. That said, according to a Gartner CMO 2020 Spend survey, 68% of marketers expect to increase their marketing technology and digital channel spend in 2021. This indicates digital marketing is here to stay and will continue to be a relevant method of marketing in 2021 and beyond.
Sabir: The world has changed so rapidly in the last year that it is hard to answer this question without being influenced by pandemic, lock down and remote work situations. Up to 2019, I would have said yes there is a value to direct mail, flyers, brochures, and even print ads. But now and for the foreseeable future, I find they are less impactful. While we complain of “Zoom fatigue” and wrestle with ourselves and our kids over reducing screen time, the fact is, right now, anything that can be delivered electronically gets attention.
Working remotely has not meant that the pace of our work is slower. In fact, we are pedaling furiously to get caught up and meet goals, objectives, and KPIs. There is still some catching up to do from the first 2020 lockdown restrictions. Our time is now spent on researching the easiest to implement tools to maintain business continuity, boost worker productivity, and allow collaboration. We want hard facts served to us in succinct, attractive ways – social media marketing does exactly that.
But it is also this very “Zoom fatigue” which will bring us back to a more balanced appetite for social media marketing vs. traditional methods. We’ve adjusted fast to this new normal, but soon we’ll look for the kind of detail that a flyer or brochure can deliver. And what’s better than a clever ad. A good ad grabs attention and sticks in your memory. There will be a time when we will once again seek out the clever, funny, tongue-in-cheek, and thought-provoking ads and billboard messaging of pre-COVID times. After all, good billboard ads make driving fun – and hopefully we’ll be driving and traveling again soon!
Smalley: Successful marketing has never been a one-way street. To move the needle, it takes multiple touches with various means and platforms to gain a good ROI. Our intentions and objectives are to do our best to touch all five human senses the best way we can and mix them up a little with both digital and physical marketing tactics—all grouped together in a single campaign. As I mentioned earlier, it’s all about increasing awareness of the brand, gaining a rapport by using simple stories of similar individuals and companies, and building camaraderie with the individuals you are looking to work with.