Channel Management for Manufacturers in the Digital Age.

channel-mgmt

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.

Whatever your business, be it a regional or global brand, the content you produce plays a vital role in your success. You know that… hence you’re reading this.

A well formulated and executed content strategy not only drives more traffic, at the core, it defines what your business is and helps build a strong connection between you and your audiences.

So let's quickly look at why developing a coherent content strategy is important and how setting clear goals and understanding your audience will elevate your online performance. 

What is a Content Strategy?

It's basic right? Content is at the core of how you define the way your business presents itself and an effective strategy should look to ensure that tone of voice, messaging and the core values are surfaced across all channels, from service or product pages on your website, to blog posts, through social media updates blah blah blah.

But let's keep it simple - your content strategy should be a clear roadmap that connects your marketing activities to your business goals. Align to your customer’s wants and needs and engage them at every interaction point and boom, you're in business. 

Who are my Audience?

You likely start all your projects with this chalked on the wall because your business knows “exactly” who its customers are right? Sounds obvious but we often find its not been done forensically enough (not based on data), is too old (more than 12 months ago - forget it) or its a spin off from some brand work that was legitimately aspirational but doesn’t face the reality of who you your business is actually engaging today.

So start (or circle back) with audience research, building out those personas to understand their ambitions, their lifestyle, their pain points or concerns, and crucially their wants and needs - in your context. 

Do I need to tailor content?

As part of your research find out where your audiences spend their time online and how they interact with content: Some may spend time thoroughly researching a product or service, whereas other audiences may want their content to be quick, snappy or easily digestible in the form of a video, infographic or short blog posts.

 

Ultimately, the key is to produce a strategy that creates the type of content your customers want to see:

  • What are the problems that your product or service will help them solve?

  • Who are they most influenced by?

  • What voices influence their behaviour?

  • What type of content do they consume?

  • Where do they consume content and engage with brands?

Different Content, Different Objectives

 All content is not born equal: When producing your strategy, it is important that the objectives for each individual piece are defined, that these fulfil your marketing objectives and tie to the overarching goals for your business.

There are various content frameworks that exist to aid content development in this way, but one that is popular and effective is Google’s hero, hub and hygiene method: It provides a framework on developing content to achieve different goals and gives guidance on the effort needed to create each type of content.

Hero Content

Hero content is essentially campaign content, it is big splash ideas designed to appeal to a large audience with the aim of telling your brand’s story at scale. 

Ways of measuring hero include the amount of PR mentions or links from authoritative domains plus social interactions and mentions of your brand across all channels. 

Considering the scale of hero campaigns, this content is not regularly produced and is reserved for peak promotional times where it’s important for a business to stand out from their competitors.

Hub Content

Hub content is the stuff that keeps your audience engaged, it expands on the themes of product or service level content, educates users and helps create a connection between themselves and your brand.

Hygiene Content

Hygiene content is the bread and butter of any website, it is the BAU content for products and services, it is SEO focused and targets important keywords at a product, service or guide level.

How do I manage all this?

Content development is only one part of the ongoing work needed when working with an effective content strategy. We call it “feeding the beast” because it really is the fuel in your brand vehicle and once you start you really can’t stop (if it’s delivering results) but that’s where performance measurement comes in.

Your greatest gift in managing the outputs from your hero/hub/hygiene style efforts is to understand If your content is working. To truly deliver results your business must first understand the objectives and goals of each piece of content to effectively measure its success. That as a guiding light from day 1 will let you slow down, speed up, stop or start new content briefs and projects.

Remember - content strategies are not set in stone. They are living breathing things and should adapt and pivot as insights become available and your brand naturally evolves.

If ever you want to chat content and explore new initiatives we’re always here to help.

want to speak to one of our experts?

 
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Sagittarius
sag-author100x100

Sagittarius

02 Aug 2017 - 5 minute read
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