Marketing is too often the black hole of a channel business's strategy, operating in the dark and plagued by spurious planning, claims Bowan Arrow Managing Director Andy Grant who advocates a far more holistic and strategic approach.
The essence of any cutting-edge marketing strategy is valid planning and genuine consistency, argues Grant, who urges channel marketers to play the long game and align their strategy to the overall business plan and the flow of time. As Grant has shown, a short-lived marketing campaign that is misaligned to the bigger picture and carried out in isolation is a contradiction in terms. "Marketing is not a quick win activity, and you can't turn it on and off overnight," he stated. "Marketing needs to be planned, budgeted and forecast just like any other departmental activity. The marketing strategy should link seamlessly to the overall business plan. But I've seen vendors and partners chop and change tactics in a bid to manufacture positive RoI, and marketing campaigns are often dismissed because they don't bring immediate results."
Too many channel players market themselves in similar ways, often using the same generic terms to describe their business and the services they offer. But their biggest opportunity is to ensure their brand connects with its audience and differentiates from the competition. "Shout from the roof tops about your business and why you are the best at what you do," said Grant. "But it needs to be a planned and consistent message. Marketing is not a short-term fix, it contributes to the business by achieving its aims over time."
In a comms market populated by companies offering similar solutions, channel businesses need to think outside the traditional marketing box to stand out. "Positive PR stories, specialised events, industry award recognition and wins, particularly for complex solution deployments will differentiate a business tremendously," commented Grant. "It gives a business a reason to reach out and tell target prospects why they should consider their solutions and services."
Rehashing the same marketing mistakes delays the key role that digital should play in opening up opportunities to influence potential customers. Digital holds much promise for channel marketers, but is it delivering as a branding vehicle? "Yes, it delivers because B2B brands need to create awareness and a reputation that first differentiates them from the competition but more importantly maintains a consistent relationship with all audiences," explained Grant. "This can be achieved quickly and monitored daily using digital communication channels and monitoring tools, most of which are free. Therefore, a digital content marketing plan is of vital importance for attracting and retaining customers in 2017 and beyond. Digital should be at the forefront of marketing efforts."
Grant says all channel businesses should concentrate on three or four of the major social media channels to build their brand and create awareness. LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram which is becoming increasingly popular. "We help our clients to develop a monthly social media plan that schedules posts of relevant content across those channels," he explained. "YouTube should also be considered. Although it's not a primary driving force for demand creation it does raise some awareness."
Community building in a social media environment requires time, energy, content, and most importantly resources, and if the activity is not monitored it could be a drain on resources. "The best way to improve interactions via social media platforms is to identify and document ideal customer or customer types," added Grant. "When these ‘customer avatars' have been created it is time to start planning, designing and creating content that interests, educates and informs. Social media platforms are designed for sharing information that readers will find educational and useful enough to form part of their research. These platforms are not designed for direct selling."
Many channel players are now leading with a hosted, hybrid or SaaS solution, but this is often not represented in their brand, website and the way they communicate with customers and prospects, pointed out Grant. He also noted that new research by Adobe suggests that 76 per cent of people feel that marketing has changed more in the past two years than in the previous 50. "A brand needs to be maintained and needs constant re-adjustment to ensure that the audience understands what is offered and how that business can in turn help their business," said Grant.
Bringing the marketing department into the wider strategic mix is a clever move, but a lack of channel marketing experience and skills could jeopardise progress. This is where specialists like Bowan Arrow come into their own. "We help vendors and partners to make the most of their MDF funds and create better shared returns," said Grant. "Partners who understand the full extent of the funds available from their various vendors could add more than 50 per cent to their annual marketing budget. Once we have established what funds are available and the types of activities that can be funded, we discuss the strategic vision and develop a plan."
As already mentioned, research indicates that the nature of smart marketing today is almost unrecognisable compared to just two years ago. One example of this transformation is next-generation data management and targeting called predictive marketing, which is more science than Mystic Meg. "This technology uses customer data that helps to predict which customers and prospects are most likely to buy, and enables marketers to identify channels and tailor content to increase engagement and sales," commented Grant.
"The best results always come from thoroughly analysed, planned and budgeted long-term marketing activities that move with the times and are fully understood by all employees, and create genuine results in terms of new clients, greater market share and revenue increases. Helping clients to improve the yield of their marketing activities using technology is a win-win situation."
About Bowan Arrow
Andy Grant's previous industry experience includes handling national accounts for Microsoft, Iomega and 3Com while working for Australia's top field marketing agency in the ‘90s. He moved to the UK in 2000 and was enlisted by Lucent (which became Avaya). He then joined Nortel in 2007 and struck out on his own two years later to set up Bowan Arrow as an independent B2B channel marketing consultancy with marketers and designers based across the UK. Grant works with his wife, Louise, who has channel and programme management experience having worked for tech giants Polycom, Avaya, 3Com and IBM.