More About This Episode
The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insights on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.
Heather Bowman, Director of Marketing at Key-Link Fencing & Railing and Superior Plastic Products, both fencing and railing companies, is back! This time, she talks with Beth and Zach about how Key-Link is building relationships with contractors, their primary audience, through marketing and training.
What Manufacturers Need to Know Heading Into 2023
The last few years have been turbulent, to say the least. But Heather has a few suggestions for manufacturers she thinks are important for people to know as they head into the next year.
"We focus, and we bet on contractors, that's sort of our mantra here," Heather says. After all, contractors influence several people in the channel, including influencing sales with the homeowner. According to Heather, contractors are optimistic going into the new year. They may be unsure of what the landscape is going to look like from month to month, but they are confident in the opportunities available and the foundation they've laid.
This applies doubly to contractors who view themselves as professionals, "who really strive to create a legacy company or impact their communities. Not just the one-shop guy, if you will, but contractors who are focused on building their reputation within the community."
Increased Willingness for Personal Development
It's no secret that the building materials industry is not always quick to change. Yet, as Beth points out, things can happen quickly to the industry. This can create the opportunity for interesting conversations with audiences such as contractors — and conversations between contractors themselves, as Heather says.
"People talk to each other. They really trust each other. So I think once you have a positive experience with one or two influencing contractors or partners in a certain region, then you're able to build on that positive experience, and it makes other people more open to doing it." The experience can be with a product or with the manufacturer. Key-Link, for example, gives tours of their factories to contractors to help them understand exactly what it is that sets their railings apart.
And contractors have loved it. "We've seen, in the last year, a much more openness and willingness to make time for professional development and training and product development," Heather comments. "We're seeing more people open to that because they're recognizing the value, and they want to be a leader in their industry. They know that in doing that, they have to take time to develop professionally and to learn more about the products that they're selling."
Manufacturers need to remember to focus on the questions that are keeping contractors up at night, including:
How do I have the workforce to support the demand in my market?
If I'm doing a good job in growing my business, what kind of legacy am I leaving?
What am I doing to help my community?
Being able to help contractors achieve the more altruistic state that they want to create is a huge opportunity for manufacturers. One that Key-Link takes advantage of. "I think what contractors are wanting is [a] partnership. They're wanting to walk alongside a manufacturer, dealer and distributor.
They're wanting that support because they're so stretched in a lot of different ways," Heather explains. "And so, if we can make it easier for them from a marketing perspective by giving them tools or sharing content or training, any of those things they just are super interested in because it takes one thing off their to-do list and allows them to focus in other areas."
Heather and Key-Link believe that if you can make business easier for the contractor, you'll improve the entire channel, from the end consumer up to the manufacturer.
How to Measure Word-of-Mouth Marketing
Marketing can be difficult to measure, however. With contractors especially, word of mouth can be a huge selling component for a product, and that's difficult to both influence and track. Difficult is not impossible, though.
Heather's team uses Instagram, specifically, in a very purposeful way. "We see a lot of success through Instagram. We have a heavy presence there. We post on Story Daily. We post multiple times a week, and we plan and outline what our content is going to be and what our goals are for that content." But it's not all company-talk that they share.
"We also showcase a lot of the contractors' products and share what they share with us. No matter how well we plan and what great, amazing content we have, a lot of our very top posts are focused on one, sharing or re-sharing another contractor's work of art. And that just generates a lot of great conversation."
User-generated content is one of the best ways to get your audience talking. After all, if you share how great a contractor's project was, they're going to brag about (aka share) your post with everyone they know.
Getting word of mouth going is only the first step. Measuring it is the next. Heather keeps it simple: "I just measure it by momentum and just seeing a steady growth over Instagram in terms of quality followers."
Beth loves,: "Those conversations that happen in DM: we can't track them, even though that's ROI, right? A contractor telling another contractor, ‘I use this product, I loved this product,’ ... is not showing up in your CRM. That's not showing up in your marketing attribution. But to understand if we're doing quality things and getting quality engagement, engaging and meeting our audience in a way that they find meaningful and impactful, the way that we measure that is by seeing that engagement."
Zach agrees but takes measurement one step further with self-reported attribution, "which is a fancy way of asking somebody how they found you. For example, from our standpoint, a lot of people that become clients of ours, they listen to our podcast. And they'll say, 'Hey, I heard your podcast.' But then we look at the analytics. And the analytics is like, oh, well, it got driven via an ad or SEO. So there's traffic attribution. And then there's user attribution, which both are really, really important and valuable."
As big tech companies, such as Google, limit marketers' ability to measure analytics, focusing on what is creating momentum is going to become increasingly important.
The Accuracy of Self-Reporting
The downside to self-attribution or self-reporting is accuracy. If you are asking someone how they found you on a form on your website, it's probably not going to be super accurate. That's because they have probably heard about you from more than one place. "It's like the omnichannel, multi-touch component," Zach points out. "You have to be all places."
Heather agrees completely. "That is what we hear from contractors. ‘We attended a dealer day, and we went and visited your Sprinter van or your mobile trailer, and we were able to touch and see products live. And then we went on Instagram, and we started following you.’ And two months later, ‘we're going to be at IBS and we'll stop by your booth.’"
It's also important to find out where your audience is going for product information and who they are following on social media. "Every single product category has a couple of people that speak to, 'Hey, here are the things that I like,'" Zach points out. "And it's the reason why influencer marketing is growing. And so prioritizing those relationships with people that have that kind of influence is really important."
So, even though not everything done with marketing is trackable doesn't mean you shouldn't try to track it or optimize for it, especially as marketing becomes more multi-touch. As Beth explains, "A lot of times it's not a single conversation. It's not an email necessarily from a single person, but it's the ad that they saw. It's the Instagram post. It is the IBS booth and making all of those pieces part of the puzzle."
It Takes a Team
It's also important to realize that the days of marketing operating in silos are gone. Your brand can't look, sound or feel different on different channels, and the marketing team cannot operate alone either.
When it comes to your brand, "it's so important to have a really strong brand and a brand story because if you're going to be in all the channels, you have to make sure that your channels tell a consistent story and position your brand in the same way because otherwise, you'll break trust. And there's so much competition. If you lose trust, it's always harder to get it back."
When it comes to your marketing team, "it's more important than ever for the marketing team to work with the sales team, the product team, the business development team [and] the finance team. And sometimes, that's so painful," Heather admits. "We just want to create what we want to create or our ideas are what we think are the best. But for 2023 and beyond, just really believe if we want to keep our budget strong, and we want to keep our teams strong and grow our company — that it's going to take more of a collective team effort to make it and succeed moving forward."
Zach agrees: "You need to [work with the finance team] because you understand what drives revenue. And if you can show tangible revenue attribution or revenue generation, it allows you to keep your budget and allows you to do more of the things you just talked about, like experimentation and doing more fun things as a marketing department."
Want Even More Insight?
"But I think, at the end of the day, it also goes back to something that we talk a lot about at our company — which is just valuing people," Heather finishes. "If you value the contractor, then you create ... things that they need because you value their time, and you value your relationship with them. And so you'd spend the time to talk with them."
This applies to everyone in the channel. If everyone works together and listens to each other, everyone sees an increase in value for themselves. "It does, at the end of the day, come back to that human connection, which I think can be made even more incredible when you integrate digital platforms [and] when you integrate all of those things together. It just makes life more fun and also challenging, but all those things have to work together really well."
To learn more about measuring for momentum and creating relationships with contractors, listen to the entire episode here. You can reach out to Heather on LinkedIn or by following Key-Link on Instagram.
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