Things are the same all over. As the global economy continues to kick us around, companies everywhere try to do more with less. Perhaps nowhere is that issue more poignant than in the vending industry.
Vending operators face shrinking margins and increased competition. That’s not news. As it becomes harder and harder to get the dollars to come in, operators are much more careful about how they go out.
However, even in this environment of heightened sensitivity to spending, many operators are embracing marketing more than ever. They see the value that strategic, integrated programs can bring to their organization as they build preferred brands, win new contracts and increase business.
As more operators join this trend and begin to explore new marketing activities — some perhaps for the first time — the question comes up again and again: Can I really make a big impact with a modest budget? The answer is a resounding “yes!”
Certainly a company can accomplish more and influence farther-reaching markets with more resources at their disposal. That is only logical. But the fact of the matter is that success in marketing comes mostly from execution, not from budget.
Well-executed, modest marketing programs can be wildly successful in achieving their goals. Conversely, big-budget campaigns that are launched without the proper strategy and planning will most likely become big-time failures.
Commit to your marketing plan
As with most endeavors, marketing is only effective when you commit to doing it right from the beginning. Taking a half-hearted, inconsistent approach will only waste your money and make you a marketing cynic. Both are bad.
Put someone in charge. You can’t expect any major project in your operation to get done properly unless someone “owns” it. Imagine installing a new vending management system (VMS) without a project lead to drive the process. That’s a recipe for disaster.
Just like a new technology install, your marketing program is an important investment in your business. Like any investment, it needs support and enthusiasm behind it before it can pay back benefits to your organization. A strong leader will keep your program from falling victim to apathy and the pass-the-buck-shuffle (“I thought you were doing that!”)
Set a budget. Even if your budget is a very modest one, write it down, make it known and stand behind it. This will send a message to your team that the marketing program is important. It’s real. Plus, a clearly defined budget enables your marketing team to make appropriate decisions about spending.
Focus on strategy, not the tactics
Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t believe in marketing, it never works for me?” It is fair to assume that person charged ahead with a lot of random tactics before developing an effective messaging strategy. That’s a sure fire way to burn through your marketing dollars and get next-to-nothing in return.
Tactics don’t get results; strategy gets results.
Think about it, the very act of creating a Website does not automatically mean that you’ll get leads. That’s like assuming your company softball team will win just by showing up to play. Your site needs to deliver the right messaging to have any positive effect on your business. The same goes for your ads and your direct mail. In fact, all of the marketing pieces you create need to strike the right chord with prospects and compel them to take the action you want them to take.
So, don’t worry about WHERE you are going to place your messaging until you figure out WHAT your messaging should be. Once you’ve got the right strategy, all of your tactics will be more effective and you’ll get more for every marketing dollar you spend.
Five key steps to marketing success
There is no shortcut to success when it comes to creating an effective marketing campaign. However, the good news is that your path to success is clear — you can use these five steps as your guide: know your audience, know your competition, be different, be creative and tell your brand story.
Know your audience — This is perhaps the most important of the steps. After all, how can you create messaging that will appeal to an audience if you don’t understand that audience?
One of the best ways to get this deep understanding is to create personas. Personas are character sketches that represent your customer types.
Get your team together and brainstorm about the different personas that are important to your organization. Pick several, but try to keep the number to three or four. For most vending operators, key personas would include human resource (HR) directors, company presidents and facility managers. Use your collective experience to describe each one. By assigning personalities and characteristics to these personas you can develop a more detailed understanding of the target audience and why they act a certain way.
Armed with this deeper insight you will be able to build the most effective messaging and promotional campaigns to meet their needs.
Know your competition — Evaluating the messaging your competitors are using is key to creating an effective marketing plan for your company. Use the Internet to find out all you can about your competitors. How are they talking about their products and services? How are they trying to appeal to customers? What colors are they using? What type of graphics? What style of content — humorous, serious, boring, exciting?
Pay close attention to all of it. That is the bar that is being set for you. That is what you need to beat.
Be different — Once you have a clear understanding of how your competition is connecting with the market, you can create a messaging approach that separates your company from all the others.
Make a list of all the ways you believe your company is truly different from your competitors. Use all you have learned from creating your personas. Focus on those differentiators you feel will be most important to those personas.
Now take a closer look at your list. Do yourself a favor — if you have “price” or “customer service” written down, cross them off! Every company believes that “price” and “service” differentiates them. It’s usually not true. Worse yet, in most markets every other company is already claiming both. So, it is usually not a very effective messaging strategy.
Be creative — Now that all your strategy and planning is done, it’s time to create the images and words that your audience will see. This is where the rubber meets the road for your marketing program and it should be the time when your messaging really shines.
Use humor to make your points. Or perhaps you may decide that a sincere approach will connect with your key personas. Whatever you do, make it exciting and interesting. It is a well-established fact in marketing that no prospect has ever been “bored into action!” If your messaging is dull it won’t get any attention and you will be wasting your money.
Remember, the cost of the ad or billboard or email blast is the same if it’s a dud or a superstar. The best way to get the most value from your marketing program is to pay attention to every marketing piece that leaves your office — no matter how small — and doing all you can to make sure they are all superstars.
You can’t afford to take a casual attitude. It’s all potential gold for your company — treat it as such.
Tell your brand story — As you roll out your creative new marketing materials, always keep your brand in mind. The full power of your marketing program truly emerges when you deliver your complete brand story to the market.
Your company’s brand is much more than products and specs, locations and capabilities. Your brand conveys the personality and the promise of your company. Before a customer makes a decision to buy from you, they need to trust you. They need to understand what it will be like to work with you. Your brand lets them know.
Use your brand story to describe your special connection with the market that enables you to create more effective solutions than your competitors. Don’t just promote the products and services you deliver, talk about WHY you developed those products — what makes your company special.
Demonstrate an understanding of the day-to-day challenges that your prospects face. Promote the solutions you have delivered to other customers that have helped solve key problems or deliver important benefits.
Be smart about tactics
When it comes to marketing on a budget, vending companies benefit from the fact that they operate on a regional scale. Most vending territories span counties, parts of states or multiple states. Therefore the large cost of national or international promotion is a non-issue. On the local level, the number of available tactics is kept to a manageable and affordable level.
First — build a great Website — Even if you spend money on nothing else, make sure you invest in a truly effective Website. Every interaction that you have with any prospect anywhere will result in a Web visit. So you need to be ready with a top-notch site. It is the 24/7 sales rep for your company.
Drive Web traffic — Once you have a great site, make sure prospects can find it. Many operators use local search engine optimization (SEO) to secure high rank on Google. The cost of an effective pay-per-click campaign is very low and will probably be the best marketing value you can find. Don’t worry about wasting your money reaching out to customers outside your territory. Today, you can create “hyper-localized” programs that will display your SEO ads only to those customers within the local parameters you set.
Connect on social media — Most people think of social media as a tool to connect with millions of contacts all around the world. That’s true. However, social media is also a great way to stay in touch with your local community. Just like SEO, social media can be hyper-localized to target your territory. The casual style of social media also lends a more personal touch to your messaging that can help customers get to know your brand.
Invest in direct response — The best way to reach a targeted audience is through direct response channels like direct mail and direct e-mail. Many regional marketers find that direct response is much more effective than local advertising. With direct response you have total control over what your message says and who sees it. A high-impact direct mail piece with the right message to the right list will fill your pipeline with the leads you need.
Don’t let budgets hold you back
Great marketing needs to be strategic, targeted and creative — but it doesn’t need to be cost prohibitive. So release your brands, fire up those personas and get those mail pieces sent out. Join the marketing movement in the vending industry. Invest what you can and make a big impact with your budget.
About the Author
Rich Carango is president of Schubert b2b – a full service business-to-business marketing agency. Carango has more than 15 years of experience helping clients in the vending industry build preferred brands. He can be reached at 484-631-5916.