The challenges of modern marketers today are well documented and include digital everything—from how to improve ROI for online investments to lack of technology integration—but those are table stakes. Add the pressure of being omnichannel and the stress levels increase for marketers and those on their teams.
Omnichannel marketing means delivering a seamless and consistent customer experience (CX) across the channels buyers engage. It doesn’t seem like a difficult concept, however, the reality is that it can be a challenge when marketers and their related departments work in silos, as most do. This is especially true for manufacturing organizations as they often build, box and brand via many different distributors, both online and in-store. Things can get complicated fast and the risks are high.
What is the value of B2B ecommerce these days?
Forrester Research Inc. estimates that business-to-business e-commerce transactions will reach $1.2 trillion by 2021.
Revenue and customer loyalty are at stake at every turn in an omnichannel world. The need to build a high-performing omnichannel marketing strategy is essential to maintain market share and support business and revenue objectives.
So, how can today’s manufacturing organizations drive omnichannel marketing success?
Driving omnichannel success in marketing today means taking a holistic look at the entire customer experience, starting with understanding buyers. What challenges are they looking to solve? What role do they play in an organization? What questions do they have? Only by knowing the answers, can manufacturers deliver the best experience about:
- What topics matter to them?
- What types of content do they consume?
- Are they active on social media?
- How do they consume content?
B2B manufacturers should take a page from their B2C counterparts and dig deep to gather and analyze buyer insights to inform sellers about buyers’ content and channel preferences; discover where buyers seek information or recommendations and deliver content there; be agile as needs and preferences change; and be prepared to try new channels and tactics.
Just as organizations need to be the best answer to buyers’ questions, their products also need to be found first when an online search is initiated. A marketer’s best friend is a solid search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Why? It goes back to being customer-centric and delivering a seamless, omnichannel experience.
- Today, 64% of B2B buyers research at least half of their work purchases online, according to Forrester Research Inc., and that will increase to 55% by the year 2020.
- The primary reason cited by 35% of buyers for visiting a brand’s website for the first time is to search for a product or service, according to 2018 data from Episerver.
- 90% of searchers haven’t made their mind up about a brand before starting their search, according to a report from Status Labs, a search engine marketing agency.
SEO enables marketers to be where buyers are in their buying process; it is then used to provide visitors relevancy in terms of when they click a link on the search engine results page, then the page they are arriving on is relevant to what exactly they were looking for. The search engines will quickly judge a manufacturer’s site (as will users) if it is slow to load, filled with grammatical mistakes, doesn’t have enough content on the page to judge what it is about or is irrelevant to what the search engine or visitor thought it would be.
One of the biggest drivers for omnichannel success is ensuring a personalized, consistent (and frictionless) customer experience exists to drive conversions. Inconsistent product information, pricing discrepancies across channels or stock inconsistencies can erode buyer trust and cost a sale. A poor customer experience may impact future purchases as well.
“Organizations all of all types and sizes are being judged by the near-flawless experiences they are getting with retailers and brands who get them in and out quickly online or provide them with content and suggestions that let them browse in an enjoyable matter—depending on their goals in that moment,” says Ed Kennedy, senior director of commerce at Episerver. “With these expectations, the most baseline factor B2B manufacturers need to get right is that company and product information is available and accurate on any channel the buyer finds themselves on.”
As manufacturers become increasingly omnichannel, they strive to distribute and sell products as efficiently and effectively as possible. The more channels manufacturers sell in, the more product content is needed. Too often product, merchandising or digital marketing teams rely on manual processes and spreadsheets to bring products to market, and this poses a big risk.
Top-performing marketers build scalable and repeatable processes that enable faster time-to-market with product information management (PIM) solutions. The potential for error in manually sourcing product information like images, SKUs, content or translations becomes a risk too great when marketing millions of parts or products. Consistency can make or break the CX for buyers.
What is the Technology Angle?
There are endless technologies to power e-commerce or marketing efforts today. However, not all solutions are created equal. The most important aspect to building a successful omnichannel marketing strategy is ensuring that the technologies and systems support the business objectives you are measured against.
For marketers in the manufacturing vertical, this means working with dynamic, data-rich platforms that enable marketers to remain nimble. Marketing and e-commerce platforms and technologies need to enable the marketer to deliver personalized customers experiences that can adjust to changing market dynamics, production schedules, vendor requirements, regulations and, most important, buyer preferences to support continued engagement and conversions.
“The single view of the customer is the Holy Grail for B2C retailers and should be for B2B manufacturers even more so since the buying journey is often more complex with longer timelines and more decision makers,” Kennedy says. “If B2B manufacturers can start to understand who in the organization is buying, what they are buying and when, their ecommerce platform can build a profile of the buyers, engage them in relevant moments and predict when they will buy next.”
Top-performing marketers drive omnichannel success by looking at the customer experience holistically. This means understanding the customer journey (as complex and non-linear as it may be) and ensuring that marketing content meets the evolving needs of the buyer whenever and wherever they choose to engage.
Marketers who work in the manufacturing vertical must begin by building deep customer insights, developing a strong and integrated SEO strategy, ensuring consistent product content across channels and selecting the technologies that will support the business objectives.
Steve Gershik is chief marketing officer of inRiver, a provider of product information management technology.