Over the years, as a marketing consultant I’ve created with my clients many printed brochures, catalogs, sell sheets, posters, postcards, booklets, programs, mailers and flyers. It really didn’t (and doesn’t) matter what they were for – fitness equipment, regional theaters, beauty products, herbal supplements, food, high tech, financial services – the conversations were similar.
Discussions centered around messaging, layout, size, and purpose. One of the questions that always came up in the natural products industry was “Where will this printed marketing collateral actually end up?” Will the stores allow the small booklets and trifold brochures next to the products, will they be placed in a rack with other ones, or will they get sent to the Siberia of the store’s back room?
Who are these pieces for – the store staff, the consumer, or the recycling bin? And since the dominance of the web for all things marketing, is there still a role for printed marketing collateral?
In the just published Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Report 2011, natural products marketing decision makers tell us that marketing and sales collateral is still one of the most used marketing tactics (#3). But are these printed pieces effective? Apparently not. Out of the 34 tactics measured, sales collateral ranked 15th, right in the middle.
What this tells me is that old habits die hard. Natural products companies can’t let go of their fondness for their brochures and the like, even if they know they aren’t that effective. And who can blame them really? So many of these companies sell products made from the natural world, and who can resist showing a glowing field of lavender or a sunrise shot of harvesters in a field. They have wonderful stories to tell about their companies and their products, and when laid out elegantly with emotionally-laden photos, who can resist buying those products?
The supplements category found sales collateral to be the most effective - and this is more likely due to the fact that this category relies so much more on information and education as a way to sell its products.
The problem is who gets to see these pieces? Do consumers still call up companies for their catalogs? Don’t they go to the web for their research?
Collateral is for Retailers
If there is still a place for printed collateral, it has to be directed to retailers.
Respondents to the Benchmark Report said that sales collateral is most effective in terms of driving qualifies sales leads, driving sales and increasing brand awareness. This is true when the audience is retailers (and might be true for consumers if they ever saw the material).
Walk up and down the aisles of Natural Products Expo East and West and you can collect in 30 minutes at least 5 pounds of printed material. And that’s what many retail buyers do – selectively pick up brochures, catalogs and pricing sheets for both products they currently have on their shelves and products they are considering. At the end of the day or when they return to their stores, they review what they’ve collected. And then what do they do? My guess is that if they are interested in carrying a new product, they go to the web to get even more information before they call up the company.
Eventually, all research ends up on the web.
So the question is – how much do you spend on your sales collateral knowing that retail customers will eventually go to the web. Do you create a piece that gets them to your website as quickly as possible, or do you create one that becomes a collector’s item?
In other words, if you’re going to invest in sales collateral, the goal has to be in making it as effective and cost-effective as possible. That might mean letting go of those glossy, spectacular brochures and catalogs and going for collateral that directs the retailer as quickly as possible to your website or designated landing page that is designed specifically to convert them into customers.
In the just released Natural Products Marketing Benchmark Guide 2011, it’s clear from the data that some tactics work better for some companies than work for others. Nothing earth shaking about this news. Where it gets more interesting is when you break down the data by size of company and type of company. For example, sales collateral was deemed far more useful to supplement manufacturers than it was for food and beverage companies. Makes perfect sense when you realize that marketing and selling supplements requires more education and information than selling a juice or lettuce.
But there are some tactics which ranked really low in effectiveness that made me scratch my head and say, “Huh? Really?”
The one that really stood out was blogging. It ranked in use 17 out of 34 tactics, but in effectiveness it was almost at the bottom at #32. Below are the percentages as broken down by company size and category.
These figures are really shocking, since I know for a fact that blogging is perhaps the most effective of the inbound marketing tactics. Provided of course you actually do it right.
The only conclusion that I can reach from this data is that companies in the natural products industry either don’t know how to blog effectively, don’t have the time to do it, (I’m hoping these are the reasons) or they just plain suck at it (I’m hoping that’s not the reason).
In an earlier post – “Blogging in Natural Products Industry- Hard to Find” - I discussed how few companies actually blog, and even fewer do it frequently enough to make it count.
This is more a shame than anything else, because natural products companies have such great stories to tell. Also natural products marketers believe strongly in their products. According to the benchmark report the main reason they came to the industry was because it fit their personal values and they believed in the mission of the company. Furthermore they bring their personal values into the workplace. You would think that blogging would be natural (pun intended) for them.
But more significantly, their products and what their products stand for actually help people: Pretty rich material for blogs.
I’m not talking about them writing about their products and how great they are – that’s a snooze. What I suggest is that natural products companies write about what interests them and what interests their customers.
3 steps to make your blog sing to your choir
1. Stonyfield just wrote a blog post about bees and what bees are telling us. Nothing to do with yogurt, except it has everything to do with the sustainability of our planet, which is exactly what devoted Stonyfield customers are interested in. So the first step is to make a list of the big issues your customers care about, and then write about them from your company or personal viewpoint.
2. The next step is to ask yourself – what are you interested in besides your company? What are your passions? You may be interested in agriculture or helping third world economies flourish. If you show your passion in your blog post, your readers will respond. They will begin to understand the personalities behind the products, and they will grow more attached to those products as a result.
3. The final step is to commit to frequency. If you only blog once in a while, do you really expect anyone to follow you? Chris Brogan, one of the premier experts on social media marketing, talks about writing one blog post for the heart and one for the search engines. His reasoning is that he wants to be as visible as possible because if he is not, then he can’t be helpful. If you write regularly, at a minimum of once a week, you will slowly get regulars to pay attention. If you write more, more people will come, and search engines will start paying more attention to you. The fact is that in organic search, search engines like Google favor fresh, specific content that good blogs offer.
The fact that so many natural products companies find blogging not effective should be a huge incentive for you to start getting your blog in motion. It means that there is a large gap waiting to be filled, and if you are one of the first to do it successfully, you will reap the rewards for a long time, not only in search rankings, but also by building greater loyalty from your customers.