How to rethink the way your company markets its lighting products and make some real waves in today’s noisy, cluttered marketplace.
No matter what product you’re selling, you should always be thinking about how you’re going to set yourself apart from the competition. Achieving that goal requires a plan, says Melissa Harrison, CEO and founder of Allee Creative, LLC, and a clear vision that goes beyond just making a few cold calls here and there, updating your website once in a while, and taking out a few ads.
“There’s so much ‘noise’ in the marketplace right now,” says Harrison. The lighting space has been particularly challenging for distributors lately, what with the many new players that are coming into the space, the fast past of innovation, and the fact that companies can simply spin up a website and start undercutting its competitors’ prices literally overnight. These realities are giving distributors even more messages to combat, overcome, and rise above.
The good news is that there are some clear steps that lighting distributors can take right now to stand out from the clutter. Here, Harrison shows why distributors need to rethink their lighting marketing strategies this year and how to go about doing it:
Q: Where do lighting distributors go wrong on the marketing front?
A: Unfortunately, I still see a lot of product marketers crafting messages that are all about the product and really, all about the sale. While we know the point of selling is to make money, that can’t be the goal of marketing to your customers/buyers. Think about answering the question “what’s in it for them?” Marketing is all about your customers and what they want as messages. It’s about solving and providing solutions to their pain points. Distributors need to be asking themselves questions like:
- What will make people stop to listen to my message?
- What channels are my customers going to for information?
- Where are those channels that my customers are going to?
- Are we providing relevant content and information that is specifically for our customers (or just to make a sale?)
When you think about personalizing content, you have a better chance of reaching the right people and the decision makers who are in need of your products.
Q: Once those questions are addressed, what’s the next step?
A: It’s all about being consistent, having relevant content, and using multiple channels. Just because as an individual you may not be using a particular channel does not mean your audience isn’t there. Do some valid research and persona development in order to let that be your guide on when, where, and how messages go out. Budget is another big issue for distributors. Just because some of the channels themselves are free to use doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a budget in place to use them. You want a good mix of organic (free) and paid messaging on all digital channels.
Q: How far into the future should distributors be thinking during this process?
A: A long-term plan is great, but it shouldn’t be too long-term. Gone are at the days of crafting 5- to 10-year marketing plans (okay, so maybe no one ever had a 10-year marketing plan!). In an age where digital media and content is king, marketers have to be mindful that these channels and tactics move and change quickly. My advice is to put together a marketing plan that spans 12 months and then revisit that plan at least once a quarter. A 12-month plan is important because it takes about that long to see good traction if you’re implementing new techniques. Starting a blog for thought-leadership? You’re going to need a year to see that strategy to fruition and get a sense of if you’re on the right path. Putting more energy into social media marketing? Twelve months is a good span of time to consider making changes or assessing whether or not what you’re doing is truly working. The bottom line is that marketing—and content marketing in particular—is not a sprint; it’s a marathon. And marathons need to be planned for, assessed, and evaluated in order to decide if you’ll ever do one again.
Q: What do lighting distributors need to do first to get their marketing plans on track?
A: Whatever the message, know your audience. Without knowing them, you’re just putting content out for the sake of content. And no one wants to play the “let’s see if this sticks” game. So, rather than focusing on the importance of advertising focused on a particular generation(s) at the start, first assess where your clients are coming from. How old are they? What is their buying power like? Are they close to retirement? Are they moving on in the company (or to another company)? Persona development will help you figure out your true target audiences. From there, focus your marketing content on the personas—the audiences—that you want to target. These are the potential customers or current customers that are truly going to sustain your business. And it’s different for each generation/persona. For instance, if you are LEED-certified and can show your part in green footprints and what you’re doing in the community, showcase that to your Gen Z or millennials clients (and job recruits). They are interested in your impact on the earth and community. If you run a long-standing company with a 50-year history, this may be something to point out to baby boomers, who tend to be very loyal and who are looking for that stability and longevity in a company.
Q: What’s the top social media platform for distributors right now?
A: Instagram is a great visual platform, and being on Instagram makes sense for distributors because there are so many relevant things to share in that regard. However, before you put all your eggs in the Instagram basket, do some testing to see if your audience is actually making decisions and/or making a move based on the content (i.e., are they clicking and engaging with your content right there?). Instagram is an awesome platform for showcasing products, but it is not always the right platform to entice customers to buy. Test out both organic and paid content (ads and sponsored content) on Instagram as a way to measure success.
Q: Should they be using other social media platforms?
A: LinkedIn and Facebook are the other two channels that I feel all distributors should be on. LinkedIn for those B2B connections—those personal connections with people who you know are the decision-makers. And Facebook because, even if you’re selling B2B, you’re still selling to a person, and those people are on Facebook. Be sure to test with organic and paid content and use very niche audience definitions to make sure you’re hitting the right people. You may not have to be on Facebook every day, but you should have a presence there since it’s also used heavily for search. And if in their search customers can’t find you online, they may feel differently about your brand.
Q: How much should distributors allocate for these efforts?
A: Marketing budgets will vary depending on many things (e.g., the size of your company, the other business goals you have this year, the purchase of new equipment or buildings, etc.) so there is a definite range. First and foremost, make sure you have a marketing budget to begin with. And make sure that budget includes digital advertising as well as all of the other components of marketing. One of the recent Go-to-Market Strategies studies suggests that companies are spending anywhere between 6 – 10 percent of their revenues on marketing (and for smaller companies or nonprofits, that number dips to around 3 percent). Larger companies have been known to spend 11 – 15 percent of their revenues on marketing.
One thing to consider: If you increase your marketing budget, will you be prepared to handle the growth? If what you’re doing takes off and is successful (and that’s the point of the plan, right?) then do you have the team in place, product in place, and the resources in place, to carry out the influx of business that may occur when it all works out as you planned? It’s a valid question and something that should also be considered as you’re putting together your marketing budget for the year.
Q: What’s the best first step for a distributor to take right now?
A: Do your research. Attend workshops. Figure out who your target market is and what your goals are and then learn all you can about the channels that would help support those goals. But above all that, have a plan. Too often, marketers don’t have a plan and they’re just doing things in a reactionary way. Be proactive and plan. Use content calendars. Use third-party tools and apps. Use sources lists. You’ll see the fruits of your labor sooner than if you just put an occasional post on social media.Tagged with best practices, sales, selling