Channel Fusion Insights

Helping Channel Partners Step Productively into Digital Marketing

Helping Channel Partners Step Productively into Digital Marketing

Time to read: 5 Minutes

According to eMarketer, in 2017, total digital ad spending will surpass TV advertising for the first time ever.  While there is no debate that consumers are searching for brands and services online, engaging with local business online, and making their decisions about what to purchase online, most local businesses are still not making the transition toward digital marketing.  Without locally generated digital marketing efforts, your brand is not only losing out on sales at the local level, but your channel partners could actually be damaging your brand through poor attempts at digital marketing.

As a marketing professional the need for your channel partners to step up their digital game is obvious.  So why are they not making the move?  What can you do to help them enter the digital marketing arena in good form?

First of all, let’s agree on our terminology.  By “digital marketing” we’re really talking about four components of online marketing efforts:  Social media, Search Engine Marketing (SEM), Online Listings, and Website Management.  Ideally, these four powerful tools generate engagement with consumers at the moment when they are actively searching and engaging, and ensure that both the local business’ brand and your corporate brand are well presented and protected.  Specifically, that means:

  • Social media: Are people responding to the content your dealers or distributors are posting on social media? When customers are engaged in your content online, they are more likely to be customers in real life. Your business will be top-of-mind the next time they need your product/service, and they won’t consider other providers.
  • Search Engine Marketing: Are your trade partners’ Pay-Per-Click ads generating conversions? Conversions are an indication that the search campaign is working from beginning to end. The search query that is typed in matches to a relevant keyword, the keyword generates a relevant ad, clicking the ad takes the consumer to a relevant landing page, where they find the information they are looking for and can easily convert. If a search campaign is poorly managed, your dealers may see a lot of clicks with very few conversions, indicating that there are disconnects between the search queries that are typed in and the final online content the customer is directed to.
  • Online Listings:  It’s great to have correct and consistent listings across the web, but that’s only the first step. To successfully manage online listings, you need to monitor the activity on your listings and engage with customers who reach out to you via these channels. Whether it’s a positive or negative review, it’s important for businesses to respond quickly and well when a customer takes the time to leave feedback. This is helpful both to the customer that leaves the feedback, and other consumers who will see the review in the future.
  • Website: A business’s website is the cornerstone to an effecting marketing campaign. The website should have correct, relevant information in a format that is easy to find by consumers. Local distributors who are not marketers easily fall into the trap of big blocks of text, confusing linking structures, and irrelevant photos. After visiting a business’ website, a customer should have a strong sense of what the business does, the benefits of choosing that business, a feel for the company’s personality, and lastly, know how to contact the business to learn more.

In our experience working with the world’s largest brands and their networks of thousands of local channel partners, we have found that the average small business owner faces the following barriers to getting over the digital bridge:

  • They don’t have the time: It takes a lot of time to learn how to set up campaigns and manage them day-to-day.   While some trade partners might understand that digital marketing is important, they are busy selling, taking care of customers, and running their business.  Digital trends can be complicated and overwhelming.  In our experience, only the very largest trade partners have the resources and people around them to manage digital marketing properly.
  • They don’t have the expertise:  In other cases small business owners underestimate what it means to properly manage digital marketing.  They think that simply creating a social media profile means their business is involved in digital marketing…even if it was created in 2013 and never updated again.  Attempting social media without proper execution can actually hurt brands at the local level.  Moreover, many dealers expect digital marketing to have a typical ROI that is associated with traditional demand generation marketing.  They don’t understand how and why likes, tweets, and followers translate to immediate sales tomorrow.    
  • They don’t believe the human element in their broadcast or print ads can be replicated online and they’re simply too comfortable with the traditional ways.Many channel partners have used traditional media for years and like the human touch; the ability to build a relationship with a customer.  They believe “sights and sounds fill the funnel”, so they stick with their traditional media.  While this perception flies against actual consumer behavior patterns, and measurement of results is actually easier with digital than traditional media, these perceptions nonetheless keeps some channel partners from undertaking digital efforts.
  • Their digital marketing spend is often not eligible for manufacturers’ co-op programs. Although there is somewhere between $50 billion and $500 billion in co-op funds offered by manufacturers worldwide, only an estimated 30% of programs offer any support in the digital space.   Remember, we all are motivated by what is rewarded, which is why we have co-op programs in the first place; they work to motivate the specific marketing behavior we seek.
  • If manufacturers do cover digital marketing within their co-op programs, dealers frequently get frustrated by too many rules, too much paperwork, and a lack of information and support.If the digital marketing path offered by manufacturers is difficult to take, it will be the path least taken.   If when they run into obstacles they do not get the helpful expert support and guidance they need, they will likely abandon the effort. 
  • Their new digital efforts are not integrated with their overall marketing and sales efforts.  We see local businesses hire a local social media person (maybe a niece or nephew who is active on social media?).  That person plugs along with one component of the digital marketing platform, but does so in isolation.  If what your channel partners are saying about their brand and yours is not consistent with their sales and other marketing activities, both of your brands will be diluted.  Customers are savvy and they pick up on those inconsistencies.

Here are seven important steps channel marketing executives should take to help trade partners overcome hurdles and begin to successfully implement digital marketing:

  1. Educate:  Explain, again and again, the importance of consistent digital marketing for a small business. Remember, digital marketing can seem very abstract to people who aren’t involved in the industry.  We recommend incorporating some digital marketing courses into your education and training programs for your trade partners.  Help them understand the basics:  What it is, why it’s important, and how it will yield results.
  2. Incorporate digital marketing in your co-op programs.This will provide an incentive to trade partners to use these marketing tools, and ensure that they are aligned with your overall brand marketing strategy and integrated into your other marketing activities.  Integration may seem like an overused term, but it is absolutely essential for getting results.
  3. Incentivize your trade partners to use digital marketing tactics.Provide an easy to adopt digital marketing program for your distribution partners (not just one component), add incentive programs to your CoOp program for digital marketing activities, simplify the guidelines required for proof of performance, and communicate them clearly to your partner channel.  This eliminates the friction, or resistance, on the path over the digital bridge. 
  4. Have a digital plan, analyze results, and adjust as needed.In the digital space, it’s very easy to get swept up in activity without that activity generating results.  As the old saying goes, “failing to plan is planning to fail”, which certainly applies to your digital efforts.  Digital is the only medium to be able to do this in near real time, so make sure results are analyzed, look for insights, and adjust the plan accordingly.  Wash, rinse, repeat. 
  5. Provide strong content.  Good social media content is a mix of tailored content specific to the local market and broader content related to industry, category, product-related information, lifestyle information, etc….  Having a strong program of content creation and curation from the manufacturer (or manufacturer’s agency partner) will make quality and consistent digital execution much easier, and therefore, much more likely to get done.  However, it is equally important to providing content that helps differentiates the local business from local competitors.  This balanced approach will build credibility and results.
  6. Provide guidance.  Channel marketing executives should make a concerted effort to help dealers with their digital strategy and evolve with the rapidly changing ecosystem.  Don’t let dealers try to tackle this difficult challenge on their own without any corporate oversight.  It’s too important.
  7. Introduce channel partners to trusted agency experts and partners who can manage the digital marketing for their businesses.  Remember, your channel partners are generally not marketers and don’t have the time or interest in becoming digital marketing experts. Partnering with a quality agency with subject matter experts to manage digital marketing is key. The cheap options, which are often either highly-automated, or a local non-experts, aren’t going to be able to deliver the results of a well-managed campaign.  Remember, technology in a vacuum rarely works and will be technology purchased but not adopted.  Your partners need a scalable and innovative platform with the right expert support behind it.  It’s worth finding a partner who is going to bring credibility with quality work and give you a higher return on your investment.  To learn more about Channel Fusion’s approach to digital channel marketing, click here.

Helping your channel partners embrace digital marketing will drive local demand, strengthen their local brand, and positively build yours.

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more, please contact us or drop me a note.


Pankaj Monga

President / CEO

Channel Fusion

Categories: Digital Fusion

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