As just about any distributor knows — and, for that matter, just about anyone involved in supply chain distribution — the distribution world has changed quite a bit in the past twenty years. In many ways, these changes have accelerated even more during just the past five years. Our customers are becoming much more knowledgeable about the products and services they use to run and manage their businesses and facilities.
When a distributor walked in a customer’s door a generation ago, it was as if he/she had a bag of goodies and the customer/purchaser was anxious and waiting to see what the distributor had to offer. However, as more and more manufacturers and distributors began offering their products online — along with product-related information — many purchasers began to have a pretty good idea about the products that are out there and which ones might meet their specific needs.
The Internet has also changed the way many end-users select products. Instead of placing orders in person with the distributor, or by phone or fax, building managers and others now purchase many items directly online. In fact, this is the way many customers now prefer to make their product purchases. For most industries, the Internet has become a leading source of information, complementing trade publications when it comes to helping end customers, businesses, and managers operate their organizations more effectively and efficiently. And this information is what is opening the door for words to turn into sales.
Many manufacturers, distributors, and others are taking advantage of a growing phenomenon typically referred to as content marketing. This is not Facebook or Twitter — or any other type of social media — although those can be helpful when it comes to promoting a content marketing site. Further, it is not marketing material as is often found on a company’s Web site. Instead, content marketing refers to the creation of an entirely new Web site (or a major addition to a current Web site) specifically designed to provide relevant and valuable information that can help the end user on an ongoing basis. This type of marketing is designed to provide customers with information that builds trust, credibility, and authority, eventually turning visitors into buyers.
According to Joe Pulizzi, prominent media strategist and author of Get Content, Get Customers, “those businesses with more engaging content available online tend to win big in the market because frequent and regular content builds a relationship that can lead to sales.” Similarly, Pulizzi refers to content marketing as “an information annuity” — a gift that keeps on giving.
Before moving on, let’s clarify a few key concepts:
- As mentioned previously, content marketing must be “ongoing.” Posting a few items once or twice a year will not suffice. Such a site will soon lose its relevance, and search engines — which are key to making such a site a success — will stop displaying your company at the top of their search listings. Distributors should consider creating some type of editorial calendar that schedules new postings (articles, blogs, videos, etc.) daily, weekly, or monthly. Not only will this keep the site fresh, it will also ensure that search engines list your content updates at the top of their results.
- Avoid using marketing materials on these sites. While customers need to know who is posting the material and where it is coming from, as soon as the content ventures from journalism into advertising, its credibility and power is diminished.
- Distributors should be aware of a big change in the way Google and most other key search engines scour the Internet. While it is true that “keywords,” meta tags, and similar metrics are still important, what Google is now looking for with its latest algorithm is quality content. We must remember, Google and the other search engines are providing their visitors with a service. When a potential client searches for cleaning products or equipment, for instance, Google does not want to give them merely a list of marketing materials. They assume the visitor is looking for credible, reliable content, and that’s what they want to provide.
- While distributors can use content marketing to educate and teach end customers and prospects, this in no way will replace industry trade publications. Trade publications will continue to serve as a key industry source … the thought leaders for their respective industries. While content marketers and distributors can provide more in-depth information on certain products, for instance, they as well as end-customers will continue to turn to trade publications as leaders who follow the evolution of important trends throughout the industries they serve.
Does content marketing mean the end of distributors meeting with their clients? Far from it. While purchasers can learn a great deal from content marketing sites and trade publications, they will still turn to distributors as their ultimate problem solvers, consultants, and advisors. While content can educate and teach, it is distributors who know their customers’ businesses and facilities best — and that is a relationship that cannot be replaced by any electronic innovation.
Michael Wilson is the marketing director for AFFLINK, a member-driven sales and marketing organization that links leading manufacturers of janitorial, packaging, food service, safety, MRO, and office supplies together with world-class distributors to deliver integrated supply solutions to thousands of customers throughout North America. Michael can be contacted via his company’s Web site at http://afflink.com/Default.aspx