Itasca, Ill. — Few plastics companies hire large advertising agencies to handle their marketing. But small companies can still learn a lot from the big firms.
That was the idea behind a panel discussion at the Plastics News Marketing Summit that included top creative leaders talking about the cutting edge of business-to-business (B2B) marketing.
Mike Hensley, president and cofounder of gyro, a B2B marketing and advertising agency in Chicago, said the first step in the process is to understand the target audience.
“We follow that individual though the decision-making process. By doing that, we understand who they are, what they're all about … and the best places to interact with them,” Hensley said.
He shared an example of a client where his firm talked to potential customers, and found that they viewed the client's competitors as “the man,” a formal, somewhat stiff boss that wasn't really in touch with their on-the-job needs.
“In contrast to ‘the man,' we repositioned our company as ‘the go-to guy,'” who could help them solve problems. The campaign was very successful.
Hensley added that the role of marketing has changed dramatically in just the past few years, since B2B customers now do so much research on the internet before they make a purchasing decision.
“Today, the target audience that we're after, they're in control. All the information they're looking for can be pretty much found online,” Hensley said. So a key is to position his clients favorably in that jumbled web of information.
How important is that? Hensley cited a study that said buyers have 60 percent of the information they need to make a purchasing decision before they even contact a company's sales rep. Often, when they call a vendor, they've already made the decision to buy their product.
Sue Harrison, a partner and media director with Chicago-based Davis Harrison Dion, said the introduction of the iPhone changed the whole B2B industry. A growing number of managers, especially in the millennial age group, do most of their business research on their digital device.
So B2B companies that don't have a website that's optimized for mobile phones, as well as tablets, are at a big disadvantage.
A key to reaching customers is having content online that they'll find doing searches. “But a lot of the content is misguided,” said Patty Knap Tucker, executive vice president and senior counselor with Edelman Corporate Practice/Americas Region.
“We talk a lot about earning attention,” she said. “You need to have the right content for them all the time. It's exhausting, right?”
Tucker said that when a B2B company hires a marketing firm, the key to success is to work closely together.
“You're not offloading work. You need to work hard with them. You need to open the kimono and let them into your organization. They need to come in and meet with your sales staff,” she said.
What about social media?
The panelists all talked about what B2B clients should be doing on social media. Harrison said her clients usually turn to LinkedIn, which they use to “talk to their peers.”
“Instagram not so much. Facebook in some cases, but more for internal communication, to build communities with their employees,” she said.
Hensley urges clients to look for well-defined online communities for their business sector.
“It's first finding where your communities are already gathering and finding a way into those conversations,” he said.
In response to an audience question about plastics industry online communities, Russell Broome, managing director of the Society of Plastics Engineers, suggested that organization's version, called “The Chain.”
Tucker said the most important thing about social media isn't the medium, it's the message.
“If you want to post a list of product attributes, don't bother. If you want to talk about some aspect of the industry that's of concern, and you want to gather a group of customers and the industry at large and have a discussion, then social media is a fabulous tool,” she said.
Harrison added: “It's for content, it's for getting information out. It's for getting people talking to each other. It has a place, for getting a connection with your audiences.”
Several panelists talked about how clients are using video in their marketing campaigns.
“We use a lot of video,” Hensley said. “A lot of the time we're doing small, short videos, on problem solving” for potential customers.
“They're very simple and very effective. We see them used all the time by people in the field who are trying to solve a problem; they get them on their mobile device.”
In another kind of example, a client used video to show how its equipment performed better than competitors in a real-life type situation.
“It was corny as heck, but it was successful. Their customers loved it,” Hensley said.
Tucker said the key to good video is to understand what your target audience wants to know.
“Not what you think they need to know. What they want to know,” she stressed. “I would submit that there is probably a good video idea” for any company in the plastics industry to execute, including processors, machinery makers and materials suppliers, Tucker said.