Five Essential Steps to Attract End Customers to Your Brand
Selling directly to the consumer or business end market isn’t for everyone. Product manufacturers of all sizes have long embraced the use of channel partners to expand their reach, grow revenue and better meet the needs of consumers and business end users. Statistics show more than 50% of manufacturers in the U.S. use independent sales reps either alone or in combination with direct sales reps.1 Many others go to market through a combination of independent distributors, dealers and/or other channel partners.
Leveraging the strengths of partners is still a practical and effective commercial model for many manufacturers, but successful channel strategies today require marketing that does more than support a downstream sales force.
In today’s online-enabled world, too much marketing “push” and not enough “pull” can leave you on the sidelines while buyers independently define purchasing criteria and solutions, potentially influenced by your competition.
The Problem With Push in a Pull Marketplace
It is still important to support and motivate your channel to win hearts, minds and sales in the end market. But, push marketing alone is a passive approach that can no longer ensure your sales, revenue and profit goals will be met.
Gone are the days when buyers depended on your channel for help. Today’s consumer or business product end user has almost unlimited access to information. They have taken matters into their own hands, defining problems, identifying opportunities and investigating solutions independently, without your partners’ support.
According to Forrester, today’s empowered buyers can be anywhere from two-thirds to 90% of the way through their buying journey before they reach out to a vendor.2 They become experts and often make up their minds before talking to a sales representative.
The explosion in mobile adoption makes passive marketers even more vulnerable, as buyers’ decisions continue to be influenced all the way to the final sales meeting or the physical point of sale. More than one-third of smartphone users report using their mobile devices to continue to research products even after they arrive in a store.3 Your channel partner’s price or proposal is no longer the final step to closing the sale; it’s an invitation for buyers to reach for their smartphones to find a better deal.
What Your Push Marketing Can’t Fix
Your channel may be indispensable, but how many of your partners actually perform up to your expectations and how many are simply order-takers who can’t or won’t cultivate new sales?
To be fair, their attention may be divided across too many product lines. They may be bogged down servicing the needs of current customers. They may lack the knowledge and skill set to do the job effectively. Or, they may simply be focused on goals that don’t align with yours.
These aren’t new problems, but they are far more serious when prospects no longer seek out your partners for buying assistance. All the push marketing in the world can’t repair what’s fundamentally wrong. It’s up to you to take action.
An effective pull marketing strategy enables you to educate consumers or business end users—developing brand awareness and preference along the way—by participating in their initial searches for information, helping them identify potential solutions and positioning your brand as helpful, capable and a cut above the competition. It replenishes the flow of inbound opportunities for your partners so they can contribute the sales needed to meet your goals for revenue, profit and growth.
Five Steps to Increase Your Pull
Tired of pushing as your partners’ influence wanes? Here are five steps to jump-start direct engagement with your end customers:
- Profile the best customer. If you previously delegated end-customer marketing entirely to the channel, you may have some homework to do. To develop and implement a powerful strategy to deliver messages to precisely the right buyers, you need to create a robust profile of your most attractive targets. The richer your profile, the more quickly you’ll fine-tune a powerful and effective go-to-market approach. For B2B customers, industry segment, size of facility, functional or buying role, and other factors can be key. Personal demographics, household income, leisure activities and behavioral factors will be highly important when profiling consumer audiences. Chances are, you have already developed and applied basic customer insight in the sales tools and other support you provide to your channel. Add to that knowledge by leveraging secondary market research studies or conducting your own tailored surveys across important target audiences. Focus groups and individual interviews can help you form an even deeper and more nuanced profile of target wants and needs. Whatever your methods, strive to achieve the deepest possible understanding of your audience. You can’t successfully pull end customers to your brand without it.
- Optimize for search. Your website’s search performance will play a key role in the success of your pull-through strategy. High search performance makes you visible during the independent investigation of today’s empowered buyers. Optimize your website to earn high rankings for the terms your targets are most likely to use. Start by optimizing for organic search on Google, Bing, Yahoo and other leading engines. If, despite your best efforts, you can’t earn a position on the first page of search results, consider implementing a paid search campaign to increase visibility. The right website content can make all the difference. Google and other search engines increasingly assess the value and relevance of your content when assigning your rankings. In the earliest stages of investigation, your targets may still be defining their problem and not yet looking for a specific solution. Develop website content and supplemental offers that help them get up to speed and gain the knowledge they need to make informed decisions. By providing answers to their most important questions, you’ll earn further consideration as they prepare to buy. To give search engines fresh new reasons to take notice, implement a blog to share your latest thinking. Inviting guest blogs from independent experts can attract additional search activity. If you publish valuable enough content, you’ll encourage consultants and other influential third parties to link to your site—another important factor in search rankings and a source of enhanced credibility among buyers.
- Target programmatically. The Web is both a source of buyer empowerment and a robust platform to drive your pull marketing success. Take full advantage of today’s paid online media to reach your targets where they naturally look for information. In narrow B2B markets, your targets may congregate efficiently on sites sponsored by trade verticals. But to reach broader business and consumer audiences without excessive waste and expense, implement a programmatic media campaign using your specific customer profile to reach just those targets with the greatest potential interest in your brand. Real-time bidding allows you to combine specific audience and behavioral data, a preset bid price and your audience reach goal to manage who receives your advertising impressions, as well as your overall campaign scope and cost. To deliver impressions to a prequalified customer segment, you can retarget previous site visitors who already have expressed specific interest in your brand.
- Get social. Social media has created important new channels for engagement with both consumers and business buyers. While social participation spans all generations, it is a critical path to tapping the growing buying power of Millennials, the first generation fully immersed in online networks. Social media channels provide you with an opportunity to participate in your targets’ networks, but you won’t be welcome if your contributions don’t appeal to their self-interest. Identify groups that attract your targets and join. Once you are a member, you can listen and increase your understanding—and then apply your insights to enrich engagement. Offer to help solve problems and provide answers within your areas of expertise. Be sure to monitor social networks for opportunities to participate and to ensure you are immediately aware of, and can take action to correct, customer dissatisfaction or other issues that could negatively affect your brand. Create brand pages on the leading social platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Use your pages to share your news, best thinking and the experiences of your customers. Spur further engagement by sponsoring contests, conducting surveys and polls, and offering coupons or other special offers that reward audience interaction with your brand. Your Google+ page can increase your preference in Google search rankings, making your participation doubly important. To attract likes, connections and followers, promote your pages across all of your marketing. Learn more in our recent post, “Social Media for Firms of All Shapes and Sizes.”
- Build a community. Sponsoring your own social community can create an even deeper connection with targets in your end markets and provide a platform to help you maximize the lifetime value of current customers. A dedicated community serves the specific interests of your audience, filling a void in their social ecosphere and elevating their experience with your brand. It’s a chance to make a human connection, demonstrating that you are fully engaged with them, immersed in their interests and focused on their success, not just your own. Position your community as a user or owner group, fan club or other gathering place with an audience-centric mission that offers members the opportunity to share interests and experiences that entertain and inform. Create a shared culture that keeps members open and engaged in a lively interplay of voices. Make it relaxed and personal and, whenever possible, use contests and special events to make it fun. It’s OK to present your latest solutions. You’ll add value to their introduction with special member-only offers you or your channel can fulfill. But, also harness the accelerating power of word-of-mouth influence by encouraging members to endorse and recommend your products and brand. Use your community to support product and service R&D and to satisfy the universal desire of members to improve life at home or on the job. Forums, surveys and panels can be used to identify market trends and unmet needs. Use them as platforms that help shape the direction of future product innovation and to help members improve their experience with your products or—just as important—enhance their lifestyle or advance their careers. Respond to suggestions from members with how-to videos or other presentations hosted by your SMEs or independent contributors to keep the conversation fresh and highly relevant.
Take Charge in Your End Market
Today’s independent consumer and business end user may not contact your channel partners until it’s too late, if at all. As the influence of your channel grows weaker, it’s up to you to shape targets’ buying criteria and their decision processes by using pull marketing to create new opportunities for your partners to make the sale.
Blue Flame Thinking has extensive experience supporting both the pull and the push marketing needs of diverse manufacturers—including producers of consumer and commercial durables and industrial equipment—as well as organizations delivering science and technology-based services to manufacturers. See an example of how creating a multi-channel experience has increased conversions here: http://bit.ly/1XhceUK.
 “Common Questions About Manufacturers’ Representatives,” giftandhome.org, retrieved September 2014.
 Lori Wizdo, “Buyer Behavior Helps B2B Marketers Guide the Buyer’s Journey,” blogs.forrester.com, posted Oct. 4, 2012, retrieved September 2014.
 Jeremy Bogaisky, “Retail in Crisis: These Are the Changes Brick-And-Mortar Stores Must Make,” forbes.com, posted Feb. 12, 2014, retrieved Aug. 25, 2014.