The “ASK”A new client of mine, a successful, well-known distributor, and I were on the road to see one of his major brand suppliers. Our mission: to secure additional co-op dollars needed to beef up my client's marketing campaign. In preparation for this “ask,” we created a strategic, comprehensive marketing plan that would leverage every co-op dollar. We intended to systematically increase the client's brand visibility and his sales from both trade and retail traffic. This was no theoretical Marketing 101 Plan but a well-conceived campaign born from the client's gut instincts and industry leadership, as well as from my own experience in distribution marketing. In the end, our homework paid off.
Their senior vice president of sales allotted us an hour and a half, but neither of us had high hopes that he would actually sit through the entire presentation. To our surprise, the meeting extended almost two hours! How did we engage this busy executive for so long? We simply spoke to his needs by stressing how our campaign would serve his objectives. Our presentation highlighted the many marketing elements already in circulation which featured his brands, including our strong, brand-oriented print ads, cable TV spots, DVDs and interactive CD-ROMs targeting both contractors and consumers. Perhaps most importantly, our presentation provided an overview of how each of these elements could be repurposed into multiple high-visibility vehicles throughout the client's marketing campaign and at the same time, generously support the manufacturer's brand, thereby justifying the decision to provide additional co-op monies.
Does this sound like a lot of money was spent? In fact, the total budget for my client's campaign was nearly the same as what a distributor might normally spend annually on advertising with no plan at all. The difference was that my client's advertising was focused, coordinated, goal-oriented and built upon sound strategic planning. As a result, his manufacturer felt confident that his contribution would be wisely spent towards materials which would satisfy his objectives.
In fact, at the conclusion of our meeting, the senior vice president pushed back in his chair saying, “I wish all of my distributors were as proactive with their marketing as you are. I'm going to do my best to see that you get as much of this “ask” as is possible. You're making my job easier!” My client and I knew that our strategy - and our marketing plan - had worked.
A NEW ERA For MarketingThe successful distributor cannot afford to wait for suppliers to drive their advertising programs. They, themselves, must become proactive, dynamic advertisers willing to aggressively support their own branding, their own marketing, in their own backyard and on their own timeline. It is time to seize the day and lead your suppliers by example.
The take-away message here is that co-op monies are not “free.” You must earn them by developing a comprehensive strategic marketing plan which meets not only your goals but your supplier's as well. Impress upon your supplier that you're going to maximize the impact of his money to dramatically increase the visibility of his brand and you will find that you have increased the co-op dollars available to you.
FAILING TO PLAN = Planning To FailAll too often, distributors practice a “seat-of-the-pants” advertising strategy due mostly to lack of in-house marketing expertise. These distributors find themselves at the mercy of randomly placed newspaper ads (which are, more often than not, prepackaged ads provided by suppliers to which they simply add their name) and short-run radio and TV spots, all of which are based more upon the latest salesman's “special” than for their ability to meet a strategic, measurable goal.
Even without an in-house expert, it is possible to create a clearly defined strategic marketing plan with carefully chosen elements which build upon materials that came before and, at the same time, lay a foundation for future elements. All the elements must work together to constantly and consistently underscore the company's message and build brand recognition. Major manufacturers engage mainstream advertising and marketing companies to do just that for themselves. The distributor who relies solely on the supplier's provided material will find his efforts less than maximally effective.
So, what's a distributor to do? Whether your marketing campaign is created in-house or with outside assistance, there are a basic set of questions to be answered to get your planning off on the right track.
PREPARING For Your PLANDoes your marketing message - your unique selling proposition - fully express your passion for and success in making your trade customers more profitable and more competitive and making your consumers happy knowing they've received great service and real value?
How can you best utilize the available co-op dollars to dramatically increase your exposure in the marketplace while satisfying your manufacturer's strict branding requirements?
How can you maximize every expenditure so that the media created can be repurposed throughout your business, thereby maximizing return on investment (ROI)?
Finally, how can you motivate your suppliers to increase their co-op dollars to you?
HOW And WHERE To StartFirst, revisit your marketing message. Make sure your message reflects the heart of your business. Remember why you're proud of what you do and how you do it. Then hold that thought and carefully review your current ads. Is that pride and passion fully expressed? If not, change your message.
Look at how your wholesale and retail customers are currently being reached or not reached. Are the chosen media targeting the right audience? You must be willing to ask tough questions and hear the tough answers. Be wary of promises of impressive-sized audiences; advertising to hundreds of thousands of the wrong audience is a waste of money. Niche marketing to smaller, more targeted audiences whose language you speak best will cost less and be more effective. Often, you can increase your insertion frequency with the money saved.
Review your marketing and advertising spending habits. Do your expenditures generate sales materials that build upon and support one another? Do your marketing materials have a reasonable, useful life? Can they be repurposed?
Are you leveraging your wholesale traffic to seed and feed your retail business? All too often busy trade counters are disconnected and hardly ever coordinated with retail showrooms. If that's the case, leverage some of that traffic into retail sales with sales counter training, signs, showroom handouts and incentive programs.
Lastly, and most importantly, are your employees aware of your marketing efforts? Do they know how they fit into your big picture? A little training and creative incentives go a long way. Interestingly, these” give-and-take” sessions often yield some valuable marketing ideas. Some of the best ideas often come from the trenches.
Perhaps the best way to put all of this information into perspective is to work backwards from our story of the successful road trip. Let's examine how we motivated and energized the manufacturer's vice president of sales to support increased co-op dollars for the client.
KEY Ingredients For SUCCESSMy distribution client initially called me to inquire about producing a sales capability DVD aggressively targeted to his trade clientele. His goal was to create an annuity of business by strengthening his trade relationships. He said, “I don't want to spend money on creating something that's not going to deliver big ROI. If I make this DVD, how am I going to use it? If you don't have the answer, I'm not going to spend the money, simple as that!”
Through a series of meetings, we examined his branding and traditional marketing efforts as well as those of his competition. We also examined the synergy between his trade counters and retail showrooms. In short order we discovered the following:
Get both his trade and retail divisions to interact more with one another. Through shared training and with coordinated sales tools such as printed materials, signs, CD-ROMs and DVDs, we would create one marketing vocabulary so that both customer groups would hear a consistent message. We would also reward everyone involved with a successful sales process as soon as possible after the sale.
Create a strong targeted “partnering for profits” message. Gather high-resolution manufacturer's product images and create one video shoot (video footage repository) that would gather material to address and underscore both his trade and consumer message and offering. Then, leverage the images to craft and distribute a no-nonsense CD-ROM to unfold the message, stream the video on his Web site, create a silent word-supported loop for trade exhibits and sales counters, and most importantly, train sales personnel to understand the legitimacy of the offering and how to distribute the promotional and media sales tools.
A simple style guide was created to standardize his graphic identity across all media (print, radio, TV and in-showroom and home show elements). Then, from the video footage and photographic repository, re-purpose the footage to create a consumer DVD/CD-ROM, stream the videos on his Web site, re-purpose these same multimedia elements to generate cable TV commercials, showroom and sales force handouts, trade and home show loops, targeted mailings and more. The manufacturer's high-resolution photography images were leveraged to create consistent and distinctive newspaper and magazine ads. They populated his trade exhibits, his truck wraps and other public bill-boarding opportunities. Taken together, this media repository provided both push- and pull-through advertising. One budget created a deep well of marketing, advertising and training tools.
Once these steps were taken, monitored and measured, the client saw a 35% increase in sales compared to the same quarter of the previous year. That's ROI for my client and his co-op supplier. Every marketing element was leveraged and repurposed. In short, one media repository provided wide-reaching sales and marketing elements to feed and drive his trade and consumer campaigns. His distributorship began to enjoy a growing return on a marketing investment that built consistency of message and image across diverse media and yielded greater brand recognition and loyalty.