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Contact Not Commodity

Where do merchandising businesses need to focus their marketing efforts? Watertight Marketing founder, Bryony Thomas, outlines what BPMA members’ experiences reveal – 

Almost all conversations I have about marketing, particularly with sales-focused businesses, start with them telling me that what they need from their marketing efforts is more high-quality leads. In the Watertight Marketing language, this equates to turning the ‘taps’ on. However, when we look more deeply at the marketing activities that businesses have in place, we find fewer than 20% who actually need to focus here.

In our research with merchandising businesses earlier this year, we found this to be even more pronounced, with fewer than 15% needing to focus on the taps part of the process. Fixing the hole This is because 64% of those who took part in our study told us that they effectively have a hole in their bucket. And, 22% told us that it was converting leads, not generating them, that really slowed their sales success. When the leads you generate don’t convert, and the customers you win don’t come back, it stands to reason that spending yet more money on the front end of marketing – awareness and lead generation – becomes exhausting and expensive.

From those in the room with me at the January Education Day and those who subsequently undertook their online diagnostic with us, the top marketing focus for merchandising businesses was the opposite of lead generation. Using our Touchpoint Leak framework, what came out top for 45% of respondents was the need to find appropriate and effective ways of staying in touch with existing customers. Contact strategies

When we looked at this in detail in the workshop, we found that there was a prevalent default to sending previous customers special offers and discount deals – effectively using price promotions as a reason to get back in touch. In effect, this continually pulls the conversation back to cost competition and further exacerbates the commoditisation of merchandise. Even where deals aren’t offered, workshop delegates found it hard to come up with ideas for getting in touch with customers that weren’t inherently sales-focused, rather than customer focussed.

If we see this behavior as analogous to friends who only ever get in touch when they want something from you, it’s easy to see how always asking for a sale (albeit with a discount) undermines a meaningful relationship. In the Watertight Marketing methodology, this is addressed by focussing on forgotten customers.

We talk about the Three S Customer Communications model:

• Service: How can you get in touch in a way that serves your customer in a genuinely helpful way? A great example here would be some sort of useful calendar or planner relevant to the lives of your buyers.

• Special: How can you shine a light on the successes of your customers? Some people do this brilliantly with their own Awards, or by showcasing things their clients are up to. By far the simplest is to get busy with greetings cards, marking special dates and milestones.

• Social: How can you facilitate social interactions? Some might do this with online groups; others might sponsor the bar at a trade show. However you do it, social glue supports any relationship. With the Three S model taking up a good 60-80% of your customer communication, the remaining S for Sales should be much more warmly received, and much less reliant on a cost-cutting deal.

When operating in a highly competitive, and cost-focussed, market, the need to differentiate with intelligent and insightful marketing is more important than ever. Our mantra is that you need to out-think, rather than out-spend, your competition.

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