Raw Materials and Chemicals

Marketing Strategies for Specialty Chemical Distributors

July 2, 2012
KEYWORDS distributors
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A critical first step in developing a marketing strategy is to identify what your customer wants.
 
Successful marketing programs are integral for specialty chemical distributors to build brand awareness for both our companies and our suppliers. A critical first step in developing a marketing strategy is to identify what your customer wants. How do they communicate? How do they want you to communicate with them?
 
Customer surveys are a key aspect of developing a strong strategy. If you are promoting components that are not relevant to your customers’ products, why are you spending resources on them? Today, surveys are very easy to administer; in fact, many free surveys are available that can be produced and managed online. For a minimal additional fee, it is possible to add the ability to sort and analyze your collected data graphically. Surveys are a good tool to obtain direct anonymous feedback from existing or prospective customers on their buying patterns.1
 
CHALLENGES
The top four goals of business-to-business (B2B) marketing are brand awareness, lead generation, customer acquisition and customer retention. 
 
Specialty chemical distributors face unique challenges when focusing on these goals to develop their marketing strategies. Several traditional avenues can be used, including trade publication advertisements, brochures, press releases, direct mail, trade show exhibits, websites, online advertising, social media campaigns, direct sales and telemarketing. However, most distributors have limited marketing budgets and achieving these four goals can be difficult. 
 
In addition, distributors cannot spend their entire marketing budgets on the promotion of one supplier’s brand. They have to promote not only their own companies, but the brands of their key suppliers. This is a dichotomous approach. It is vital to identify where you will get the best return on investment. 
 
BRANDING
When marketing consumer goods, branding is often the largest expenditure. Companies can spend millions of dollars developing brand awareness. Fortunately, when marketing industrial products, the brand isn’t as critical. Customers in our business have proven a willingness to convert from one chemically equivalent product to another, with little concern for the brand. 
 
With this in mind, how do specialty chemical distributors market their companies and brands? Aren’t we selling the brands of the suppliers that we represent? Some distributors can just sit back, pick up the phone and take orders because their suppliers have strong branding. Others need to work harder to sell brands that may not be known in a local or global market.
 
OUTSOURCING 
Many small- and mid-sized specialty chemical distributors do not have the resources available to have a dedicated internal marketing staff. A viable option is to outsource all or part(s) of your marketing program. Several agencies offer fee-based programs and the ability to manage your entire marketing program. Even if you do have the resources internally to orchestrate your marketing efforts, it’s a good idea to foster relationships with several agencies to stay abreast of what is emerging in the industry. 
 
Another option is to outsource specific aspects of your program, such as graphic design. Two well-known design sites, www.99designs.com and www.crowdspring.com, are great options to obtain a large number of design submissions for a limited amount of money. These are project-based sites in which you post a project and pay a set “award” for the winning submissions. These sites are not just used by small organizations, but by some of the largest and most well-known brand owners in the world for packaging design, website design, and even commercials. 
 
SOCIAL MEDIA
Social media can no longer be ignored for B2B marketing. Due to the large number of customers and prospects who are using social media, you should consider this a part of a comprehensive marketing program. If customers find it easier to communicate via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, these tools may be a valuable outlet for your organization. 
 
Today, Facebook has nearly 840 million users and growing, and LinkedIn has become a great professional tool to connect with past or present colleagues, as well as industry experts. By joining relevant groups, you have the accessibility to stay in tune with current affairs and to identify business opportunities. 
 
It’s estimated that up to 40% of the content on YouTube is business related. This is a great resource to share real-life videos promoting your employees, product lines and facilities. Remember, however, that viewers want to see “real” people, not actors. They would rather hear from the CEO of an organization or from a real customer with a testimonial than a paid endorser. Most of us have video recording capabilities on our cell phones, which makes YouTube very easy to use. 
 
There are many great B2B success stories of videos that have gone viral on YouTube. One of our favorites can be seen by typing “will it blend” in the search bar. Companies can significantly improve their sales by conveying their product capabilities in a unique way, just as Blendtec did. 
 
ONLINE PRESENCE
Having a well-designed and functional website is important for any organization. A site that achieves good search rankings and provides customers with the ability to obtain information about your company and products, order samples, and access your social media links is ideal. Web traffic is a critical metric that is easily monitored. This can be done via Google Analytics or other website analytical tools. You can even compare the traffic on multiple sites via resources such as www.compete.com. Take a look at these tools to see how your website fares vs. the competition. 
 
Online ads (e.g., leaderboards, banners, skyscrapers) on the websites of leading trade publications are another great option to bolster your presence. Studies have shown that a mix of traditional and online marketing provides the best return. 
 
SALES TEAM
You cannot ignore the impact that your sales team can have on your marketing efforts. How are they delivering your message? What message are they delivering? Is it consistent across your organization? Are they promoting the key products that you want them to focus on? Whatever key goals are established for your marketing program, it’s important to make sure that these are well communicated within your organization. If everyone is not on the same page, it can create confusion. 
 
MULTIPLE OPPORTUNITIES
Specialty chemical distributors have several options available when developing and executing successful marketing strategies. Not only should you focus on the branding of your own company, but also those of the key suppliers that you represent. 
 
For additional information, contact Maroon Inc. at 1390 Jaycox Rd., Avon, Ohio 44011; phone (877) Maroon1; email mmckenna@marooninc.com or visit www.marooninc.com
 
REFERENCE
1. Smith, Jaynie L., Relevant Selling, Executive Suite Press, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL, 2012.
 
FOR FURTHER READING
• Handley, Ann, and Pulizzi, Joe, “B2B Content Marketing: 2012 Benchmarks, Budgets & Trends,” Content Marketing Institute, 2012, www.contentmarketinginstitute.com.
• “Integrated Media Strategies for B2B Marketers,” Koroberi, 2009, www.koroberi.com

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