This week we continue our revisit to digital marketing recommendations made via this blog some six years back – this time those made to manufacturers and wholesalers.
In the recent past, manufacturers have fundamentally differed from most other businesses in that they predominantly did not deal directly with end-customers, instead tapping into wholesale and retail markets to disseminate their product.
But like many sectors, the internet has provided unprecedented opportunities to alter the value chain and, if strategically viable, put manufacturers directly in touch with end-customers.
Many have chosen to stick to the conventional path and leave the end-customer relationship to intermediaries; however, many new manufacturers have ignored convention and chosen to deal directly with them – for better or for worse.
So are manufacturers better off looking at these newly enabled marketing strategies or sticking with the tried and true? Or should they cultivate a middle ground?
Whichever strategy is chosen, the following provide a useful guide to what their customers expect of their online presence.
1. We are not biting the hand that feeds
2008: Before any manufacturer embarks on a web strategy they need to understand its impacts on current or future sales channels. Your retail clients will be rightly miffed if all of a sudden you start promoting and selling the very same product they have been happily and loyally buying from you for years and in turn representing successfully to end-customers. On the other hand, if you think your web strategy is robust enough you could go direct to consumers and earn some of the margin you have been hitherto giving away. Either way, care needs to be taken because burnt bridges can be very difficult to re-build.
2014: Nowadays the notion of a manufacturer or wholesaler going direct to the public is quite commonplace. Many have decided to cut out the middle man and go direct after realising just how cost effective and convenient the online channel is. At the same time, the growth in adoption of e-commerce by retailers since 2008, whilst still slow compared to other sectors, may mean that it’s not necessary to go direct to the public.
2. We have arranged professional photography of all our products
2008: This absolute no-brainer is not practised by countless manufacturers. Why go to all the trouble of researching, producing and improving world class products if the shots of them on your and your intermediaries’ websites are poorly lit, out of focus and standing in some shadowy corner of a warehouse?
This is one of the biggest blunders on the web today. The equation is very simple. Unless your product looks enticing and as good as it possibly can, online customers will simply ignore it. And that goes for your retailers’ sites too. Spend the money, provide them with professional shots and watch as both your online and offline sales increase.
2014: While the professional photography penny has dropped for many, it still remains one of the biggest oversights by all of manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. Small retailers in particular struggle to grasp the importance of professional images and should really have them provided by the manufacturer or wholesaler.
3. We provide as much professional product information as possible
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2008: Another simple equation. The more product information you provide, in as many media as possible, the closer you will take customers to the sale. Online consumers hate delays. If they want something, they want it now (or at least arranged now) so they can spend their precious time doing other things. So give them as much information as humanly possible and make it available as photography, video, testimonials, lab tests, PDFs or any other evidence that will get the customer over the line.
2014: Again, whilst there’s been steady improvement in this area, there is equally as much room for improvement from others. The other factor around this that has become more critical is the search engine optimisation benefits of high quality content. Put simply, the more optimised content you have on your website, the more prominent it will be in search results for your keywords.
4. We have a content management system
2008: Given that your website is going to have to change constantly to keep up with new and improved products, customer service questions and technical information, you don’t to have to be charged an arm and leg every time you need something changed. An easy to use CMS will put your website back under your control to make changes whenever you need to, saving you a bundle in the process. Just make sure you follow the ‘style guide’ your designer established for you though.
2014: CMS are now far more commonplace than they once were as designers and developers have finally yielded to the demands of their clients to be able to alter their own content. Better still, costs for these once exorbitant capabilities have reduced to virtual petty cash.
5. We have a password protected area for our retailers
2008: Websites can be a brilliant tool to communicate special information to your intermediaries. Providing this will also increase productivity as they can help themselves rather than take up the valuable time of staff. Password protected areas (or extranets) are now a common and affordable way of providing this product information on demand. This can be given even more value by pointing to it with a regular eNewsletter.
2014: Like most things technological, these capabilities have improved many times over in six years, with capabilities like individual pricing and drop shipping management now commonplace in even the lowest cost systems. They should now be standard for most manufacturers or wholesaler but, alas, still aren’t.
6. We are prominent on search engines
2008: Don’t let your competitors get the jump on you. Make sure you are prominent for all relevant keywords so that you increase your chances of providing the information they need and in turn making the sale.
2014: No change to this critical item. Search engines are now more entrenched than ever and should now be a mandatory priority for any manufacturer or wholesaler.
7. Our site is ultra professional
2008: As for point 2 above, why go to all the effort in creating a great product only to be let down by its online representation. Professional websites are now well documented as providing excellent returns on your investment so don’t let yourselves or your customers down by providing a substandard website – particularly if you appeal to a web-savvy younger audience.
2014: If the demands of both business and consumer shoppers were high back in 2008, they are much higher now. The good news is that the cost of professional websites has continued to drop steadily, so these days a high quality website is well within the financial reach of manufacturers and wholesalers.
8. We invite feedback at every opportunity
2008: One of the great benefits of a website is allowing customers and other stakeholders the opportunity to comment on your product. Instead of blocking their attempts to give you this gold, use your website to warmly and openly invite them to do so. A great example of this is practised by coffee giant Starbucks at http://mystarbucksidea.force.com/
2014: Whilst the need for this capability hasn’t diminished, the way it is done has. Social networking has fundamentally altered the way customers provide feedback both to a business and its customers direct. Nowadays a social media presence within relevant networks is a critical component of your marketing and customer communications strategy.
9. We have a strategy for Web 2.0 marketing
2008: While most of us were sleeping, Generation Y took over the World Wide Web. They did this by transforming it from the monologue ‘one to many’ modus operandi we were so familiar with thanks to traditional media, to a living, breathing organic dialogue which makes them as loud as wealthy manufacturers and brands. Call it heresy, call it what you like, but it’s not going to go away any time in our lifetimes so we all better get used to it and work out how to deal with it.
Outspoken US e-marketer Marta Kagen tells it how it is with her landmark presentation ‘What the F**k is Social Media’ which can be found at www.slideshare.com. Show it to your staff at your next marketing meeting.
2014: Probably the biggest change to this area is what we call it. The term Web 2.0 didn’t see much light of day beyond the digital industry, having been replaced by the more specific ‘Social Media’. But much of the revolution predicted back then has in fact occurred, with social media fundamentally altering the way customers, particularly younger ones, communicate.
10. We constantly provide new product news and information to our customers
2008: The beauty of the web is that for the first time, you can communicate with literally millions of potential customers for the fraction of the price you once had to find. Every single piece of news about your products and company should be dispersed to this ready and willing market at every opportunity. What was once fodder for your media release is now a multi-channel, multi-media approach that makes word of mouth sound like a vinyl LP on the wrong speed. Do your research, investigate how your child, niece or friends’ kids go about communicating online and you’ll soon see the light and adjust your strategy accordingly.
2014: This piece of advice has proven especially salient as both of e-commerce and social networking have exploded in the eight years since. Any business not practising it by now will be behind the pack or may not even be around anymore!
Any business that practiced these 10 ‘commandments’ back in 2008 is likely to be an old hand at them by now. Still many are yet to embrace let alone master them and should make doing so a priority for 2015.
In addition to being a leading eBusiness educator to the smaller business sector, Craig Reardon is the founder and director of independent web services firm The E Team which was established to address the special website and web marketing needs of SMEs in Melbourne and beyond.