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Channel Management for Manufacturers in the Digital Age.
Goods have to follow a path or route to market, but digital is opening up new opportunities to improve use of these channels.
Most manufacturers will have a sales strategy in place to manage different distribution channels and reach the widest possible customer base.
In the example of a manufacturer in the home, garden or construction vertical then channels could comprise a range of middlemen, influencers, customers and end users. For example products could be:
- Specified or sourced by architects and technical specifiers
- Distributed through regional or specialist wholesalers or distributors
- Installed by qualified or unofficial installers, trades or contractors
- Purchased in showrooms, stockists or retailers by the homeowner for DIY use
In some cases digital is replacing these traditional distribution channels. This has largely been driven by the rise of the direct to consumer ecommerce operation, often attracting manufacturers with the lure of higher margins and direct consumer relationships, which can either help grow an overall market to benefit a parallel trade channel or else threaten the existence of a traditional distribution network.
But in cases where a manufacturer is still reliant upon an established or complex distribution chain, how can digital activities be utilised not to replace but to enhance the trade channel?
Reinventing the Push Pull Strategy
A push/pull marketing strategy stimulates interest amongst end users and consumers in order to pull demand through the distribution chain. Push pull marketing for manufacturers in the digital age can be easily achieved with digital channels:
- Google Adwords can target end users actively searching for a specific solution or brand with timely and relevant solutions, such as recommended products or local stockists.
- Awareness raising channels like Display advertising can target users in market to influence their decision making when in store or evaluating different brands.
- Targeted channels like Facebook Ads can reach specific consumers based on the interests, location, income and household composition.
In addition to the plethora of demographic or interest based targeting options available, digital channels also allow geo targeting across multiple locations to support regional distributors or multiple stockiest or brand locations
Streamlining Channel Management
Distribution chains can be complex and audiences have different needs and interests. Bringing digital activities and techniques to trade channels can help yield valuable new insights, improve communication and build more solid relationships. For example:
- An omnichannel approach to connecting customer data from across different touchpoints and channels, both online and offline, can help build a highly valuable 360 view of your customer. This could include connecting customer data from your website platform, CRM, stockists, product guarantees, logistics and so on.
- Personalising online experiences for different trade channels and segments can be based on their needs, buying patterns and success factors blended with behavioural data from your website and CRM - this is where enterprise level Content Management Systems such as Sitecore can help manufacturers to connect sources of data and customise the online experience for different trade channels, all within the same web platform.
- Streamlining communication across channels through use of marketing automation programmes to trigger email communication based on known users returning to your website or new users performing key actions such as downloading technical specifications.
In summary, manufacturers face an exciting opportunity to overcome the challenges of the past in communicating with and managing different trade channels, all of which may have very different needs and levels of technical expertise, by utilising the latest in digital technology.
Furthermore, emerging digital marketing channels have made direct to consumer or end user communication more accessible and easier than ever before. This enables manufacturers to deploy push-pull communications which stimulate demand for products through the value chain, influence key end user brand decisions or support national distribution networks of stockists through geo targeted campaigns.
The journey of products from manufacturer to consumer may be complex; but digital can help make this journey easier.