Digital marketing touches more aspects of the electrical industry than you probably realize. It involves everything from relatively simple endeavors like writing catchy subject lines for promotional emails to posting regularly on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. Creating blogs, podcasts or videos to position your company as an expert in specific market niches are forms of digital marketing, as is making sure the product content on your online storefront includes all of the information customers need to make purchasing decisions.
Electrical distributors, independent reps and electrical manufacturers are utilizing other digital marketing tools to build their brands and strengthen relationships with new and existing customers and current/future employees. This article offers eight basic tips you can use to harness the power of digital marketing. You don’t have to have an MBA in marketing or a budget of tens of thousands of dollars to launch or improve a digital marketing platform. But you will need to work with your management team to think through how to best utilize the many digital marketing options now available to create and customize an online presence that works best for your company.
#1. Don’t get freaked out by the whole idea. Digital marketing has the same end goal as traditional marketing — you are still trying to create mutually beneficial relationships between your company and the desired audience. In most cases, that will be customers, but you should also be thinking about marketing your company as a great place to work to current and future employees.
In the past, you probably spent the bulk of your marketing budget on traditional print-based efforts like direct mail, brochures and print advertising, and other marketing techniques like telemarketing/telesales, trade shows and counter days. Today, you have digital options to get much of the same type of information to your audience, but faster and in many cases much more inexpensively.
The sidebar below lists 15 of the more common digital marketing tools. A discussion of each of them is beyond the scope of this article, but when you see them all listed together, it may spark a few ideas on how you can mix-and-match them to create the marketing strategies that work best for your company.
#2 Define your objectives. There is no cookie-cutter approach to digital marketing, as every company has its own unique goals, customer mix/audience, and personnel, time or resource restraints. In “Digital Marketing for Beginners,” a free downloadable PDF, HubSpot.com says when targeting customers, marketers need to decide on the end goal for their digital marketing initiatives and ask themselves three questions about the type of new customers or new business they want:
Brand awareness — Do you want more people to know about your brand and get your products and services more widely known?
Acquisition or lead generation — Do you want to get contact information for new customers?
Growth from existing customers — Do you want existing customers to buy existing products more frequently, or purchase different types of products?
#3. Research how other companies are marketing digitally. If you are just starting to build out or refine your digital marketing strategy, you will find other electrical distributors a few miles further down this path. You can see what they are doing in social media by searching for them on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter and analyzing how they are marketing themselves.
As you can imagine, some of the national chains and larger regional companies have the most followers on LinkedIn and Twitter. W.W. Grainger has the most Twitter followers (26,400) and LinkedIn followers (127,045). WESCO (5,966 Twitter followers and 54,326 LinkedIn followers) and Graybar (10,300 Twitter followers and 36,313 LinkedIn followers) are the full-line distributors with the most followers in these social networks (at press-time). When you analyze the number of social media followers for each of the 50 largest companies on EW’s Top 200 list, you will find that the 25 most active distributors on Twitter have at least a thousand followers, and the companies with the most LinkedIn followers have at least 2,000 followers.
It’s not all about the numbers — user engagement is much more important. If you need new ideas on how to build up your social media activity, check out what type of content your competitors and even masters of digital marketing from outside the electrical industry post, and how frequently they generate new material. That’s much more important that just how many followers they have. You will find that the most active electrical distributors are always posting content on product specials, counter days and special events, training classes, new hires and employee promotions, employee birthdays, and fun little nuggets on company history (think “Throwback Thursdays”).
#4. Experiment with the various social media platforms and measure which ones do the best job for your company. Don’t make the mistake of only posting your content on one platform. It’s easy to schedule and publish the content to all of your social media feeds with a social media management tool like Hootsuite or Buffer. Analyze which platform attracts the most new followers, shares, “likes” and other user activity.
#5. Post often. Your social media efforts may take some time to gain traction, and it’s important to post new content regularly. If you are posting that content on your website first, be sure to drive viewers to it with posts on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, as well as a mention in an e-mail newsletter if you have one. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of content. You may surprise yourself about what attracts the most attention.
#6. Don’t be afraid to shamelessly promote your company’s expertise. If you want to take your digital marketing efforts to the next level, be loud and proud about your company’s unique capabilities. Perhaps you want to position your company as the local market’s best source of information on new markets like connected lighting, or local green building codes. You can use blogs, podcasts, webinars and videos to provide customers with this type of information.
Jim Nowakowski, president of Interline Creative Group, a Palatine, IL-based advertising agency, is a big believer in using blogs as a tool to establish credibility in your local market or product niche. He practices what he preaches, and his company’s website, www.interlinegroup.com, is loaded with blogs, videos, webinars, articles and other information visitors can use to become more effective marketers. Nowakowski has written frequently for EW over the years, most recently publishing “The Power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO)” in April 2019 and “Tweeting for Success” in July 2017.
Plenty of inexpensive tools exist to produce this content. For instance, WordPress and Wix have very simple blogging mechanisms; Audacity (www.audacityteam.org/download/) is popular for podcasts; and you can narrate a Powerpoint presentation, save it as a .mp4 file and upload it to YouTube to create a webinar. Check with your IT department to see which software or apps play nicely with your ERP platform.
#7. Don’t overlook the importance of properly marketing the product data on your website. You can enhance the sales conversion rate of the products promoted in your online storefront when they offer all of the critical info customers need to make buying decisions. For many electrical products, that will include color photos, spec sheets and other background material.
Digital tools that can help you enhance your product data are the 360° product “spins” produced by Snap36 (www.snap36.com), which has worked with a number of electrical manufacturers, including Schneider, Siemens, Panduit, Emerson, Cree, as well as Grainger and companies in the food, grocery and footwear industries (see sidebar on page 15). Snap36 is also partnering with Distributor Data Solutions (DDS) and IDEA to help electrical manufacturers and distributors integrate this technology in their websites and ERP systems.
In the press release announcing the IDEA partnership, Snap36 co-founder and CEO Jeff Hunt said, “Product pages are the e-commerce equivalent of a sales associate and are the most important piece of real estate on any manufacturer, supplier or distributor’s e-commerce site. The services and equipment provided by Snap36 will help IDEA’s distributors and manufacturers achieve the quality and quantity of product images customers desire when discovering, researching and purchasing products online.”
DDS said its customers will be able to use Snap36’s interactive 360° product images in their online strategy. “Our content management capabilities are optimized to accommodate and deliver Snap36 360° and three-dimensional imagery to distributor websites,” says DDS President Matt Christensen in the press release. “We can deliver this content regardless of e-commerce platform or viewer preference. Our goal is to help manufacturers and distributors get this content to market as quickly and effortlessly as possible.”
Hunt said the electrical wholesaling industry is ripe for the Snap36 technology because it’s important customers can see exactly which products they are buying. Rotating the online image lets them see serial numbers, pole configurations and other important characteristics so they know they are ordering the right product. “You have got to get the right part first time,” he says. “If I have to send back a part for an electric motor or a transformer or any kind of electrical product, there are implications. Somebody’s power is out, people are losing their tempers, or they are losing money.”
W.W. Grainger is happy with its investment in Snap36’s product spins. A case study available at www.snap36.com said the product conversion rate for product listings on www.grainger.com that had the spins had a 47% better conversion rate than product listings with other enhanced content types such as product videos or PDF technical documents.
#8. Don’t overlook the technical details. Before you launch any new digital marketing initiative, make sure customers will have a positive experience. Proofread any copy carefully, test your website to make sure it loads fast enough, and be sure it’s optimized for mobile applications. Any snafus in this area will cloud the marketing message you are trying to communicate.
Digital marketing is a fast-moving field and the paint never seems quite dry. New technologies are constantly emerging, and savvy marketers quickly harness them to produce evermore engaging content for their websites and social media feeds. Electrical Wholesaling’s editors hope the basic tips in this article will help you improve your digital marketing efforts.
Sidebar: Examples of Digital Marketing
Below are the most common digital marketing tools. Take the time to explore how other electrical distributors, manufacturers and independent reps are using them to see what ideas you can borrow for your company.
Advertising & Promotion
• Website banner ads & buttons
• Facebook advertising
• Email marketing campaigns
• Online storefronts
• Enhanced product descriptions
• Search engine optimization (SEO)
• Aggregated content
Sidebar: Taking Electrical Products for a Spin
EW’s editors get pitched on all sorts of new products, and occasionally one really grabs our attention. Snap36’s 360° product images stood out.
Jeff Hunt, Snap 36’s co-founder and CEO, recently briefed Electrical Wholesaling on Snap36’s history and how electrical manufacturers and electrical distributors are using the company’s product spins in this market. Hunt was in the tech industry for 30 years, starting out as an engineer working on CAD-CAM applications, spending time with several Internet start-ups, and eventually landing at Scene7, which he says pioneered the creation of high-resolution imagery that could be transmitted over what was back then very narrow data pipes by slicing and dicing the data into 2K bytes. The company was eventually acquired by Adobe. While working there, Hunt heard from many customers that they would like their products shown online using spin imagery, which he says back then was a “convoluted, tough and expensive” process.
While visiting a trade show in Europe, Hunt saw the potential for a new business that would produce these images for customers. A German company was marketing a technology where robots helped create digital spin images by photographing a product while spinning it around. He got the exclusive U.S. distribution right for the technology, wrote up a business plan for Snap36 to produce these spin images, and convinced some customers in the footwear industry to try it out.
In 2012, he started working for Snap36 full-time. “There was a confluence in the industry — thicker pipes, millennials attached to their devices, people looking for new and more interesting shopping experiences,” he says. “We relaunched in 2013 thinking it would be more of a business-to-consumer product for people shopping online, but our first major project that we landed was for a restaurant replacement parts company called Partstown. They asked us to shoot 25,000 parts for them in about 12 weeks. We did it and never looked back.”
According to info on its website, Snap36 utilizes two different types of spin photography — 360° spin photography, where a product is photographed 360°on a single plane (one row) and 3D spin photography, when a product is photographed 360° on multiple planes (2 or 3 rows). With 360° spin photography, the product is placed on a turntable and rotated around while a camera snaps 24 or 36 images at 15° increments. 3D spin photography is used when it’s important to capture information on the product at several different angles. The camera moves up and over a product, in addition to capturing a 360°view around a product. The image shown here of a Siemens circuit breaker utilizes the Snap36 image technology.
These days, in addition to shooting images of anything from large enclosures to circuit breakers and small electrical components, the Chicago-based Snap36 also does quite a bit of work in the food & grocery industry. In that business, “smart labels” on packaging provide online shoppers with additional information they wouldn’t see on the products in the stores. It makes one wonder if that labeling technology may one day find itself onto electrical products, too.
Hunt says the product spins will help end users in the electrical wholesaling industry make more informed purchasing decisions. He says it’s all about giving the buyer as much information about the product as possible and making sure they don’t have any reason to go to another website or anywhere else for information. “They say 60% of the selling is done before anyone sees a person,” he says. “You better put your best foot forward in that 60%. By presenting a 360° product spin, people know exactly what they are getting, no surprises.”