Georgia Whalen, president of Rivergate Marketing, shares her take on marketing advice from Rivergate Marketing’s favorite economists – Alan and Brian Beaulieu of ITR Economics.
The old proverb ‘make hay while the sun shines’ applies to the urgency system integrators (SIs) and industrial automation suppliers need to place on strategic marketing to grow their businesses in 2022. We have even heard it from our favorite economic experts; both Brian and Alan Beaulieu of ITR Economics have suggested that we need to utilize marketing to help our businesses rise above the competition and profit through our current economic growth period.
In this article, we take a closer look at the marketing tips shared by ITR Economics CEO and Co-Principal, Brian Beaulieu, in his Keynote Economic Update to members of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). If you missed Brian Beaulieu’s keynote on November 3rd, 2021, you can click here for access to the presentation (CSIA membership required for access).
So what does an economist know about marketing? I am sure Alan and Brian do not claim to be marketing experts, but I would argue their overarching recommendations – market to, and build your brand around your competitive differentiation and have an absolutely outstanding company culture – are on point and resonate with the guidance we provide for our clients. You may think company culture has nothing to do with your marketing efforts, but we would argue that specific marketing initiatives will help you retain employees and attract top talent to join your team.
Towards the end of Brian’s presentation, he summarized his thoughts on what the SIs need to be doing to position themselves to benefit from the current economic growth period. Below are two recommendations he gave and our take on the topic (at 1:13:00 in the presentation for anyone interested in skipping to this):
1. Raising prices is a must to protect margins – market to, and build your brand around your competitive differentiation.
“To raise prices you need to define what your competitive advantage is, what makes you unique? It isn’t because you are the nicest people to work with, it isn’t because you are the safest choice, and it isn’t that you donate the most to charity,” said Brian. “That is all great, but that is not it. Your competitive advantage is what defines you from your customer’s and potential customer’s perspective. What do they want, what are they looking for in an integrator? That’s what you have to strive to be, that’s what you need to market, what you want to advertise, what you need to build your brand around, and it is what you need to deliver on.”
Essentially, Brian is suggesting that if you build your brand around the value of your differentiation, you will be able to raise your prices. We couldn’t agree more with Brian on this point. The figure of speech “a jack of all trades is a master of none” applies here. Choose to be a specialist, not a generalist. When we first start work with new clients, some struggle with this concept because they think they could be losing out on business that they could do and maybe they have done a one-off project here or there, so why limit themselves? What we would argue is that when you are an expert, you command authority with your subject matter expertise and therefore, you can charge more for the expertise you bring to the table. As an expert, you are also in a much better position to earn the ultimate role of a trusted advisor to your clients making it difficult for a competitor to unseat you based on price. Think about in terms of your personal choices, if you need heart surgery, you want the very best heart surgeon you can find, one that performs that type of surgery day in and day out.
Defining your differentiation/unique selling proposition (USP) is foundational to the development of a strategic marketing and PR plan. For inbound marketing to be truly effective, you have to know who you are talking to.
2. Labor will be in short supply through this decade – have an absolutely outstanding company culture.
Brian indicated early in his presentation that the labor shortage is good for SIs and automation supplies because manufacturers will need automation to fill the labor shortage gaps to keep up with production demands. But, in his closing summary, he also acknowledged this will be a problem for SIs as well.
Brian cautioned to remember that it is always easier to retain employees than to attract new. “The best way to retain employees is to have an absolutely great culture – treat them fairly, understand the work-life balances they come with and you will have to pay them more than historically was normal,” said Brian. “And, they want to know that you, as a company, as a team, are doing more than just making money. How are you giving back to the community? Millennials want to know that they are creating good beyond just what is happening in the company.”
We again agree with Brian’s assessment of how important your company culture is to retain your employees, but we think you should take that a step further with marketing initiatives that demonstrate your culture and humanize the company as a win-win initiative for all – your employees, potential employees, your company and your customers.
There is a reason why social media posts and articles on people create the most interest with social engagement and blog post popularity in terms of website visits for our clients. This is true especially in today’s world where many of us are working remotely and with limited in-person interactions. We crave human connection and to feel part of a community; we want to know that a company we are doing business with or working for cares about their employees and community. That is part of building trust.
We encourage our clients to show the human side of their company from community service events to company outings and we even recommend spotlighting employees. Early in our engagement with clients, some are resistant to spotlighting employees for fear of the employee being scooped up by the competition. But, we encourage clients because the upside is way too great compared to the potential pitfalls. An employee’s recognition beyond the walls of your own company builds loyalty and trust with your employee. And it may be surprising to most, but it can break down formality walls with your clients.
Not sure? Let’s give you a real example: when we write an employee spotlight for our clients we like to share a little about the personal life of that employee if they are comfortable with it, such as where they grew up, their family, and what their interests and hobbies are outside of work. After an email newsletter goes out featuring an employee spotlight, we have received feedback, time and again, about how the employee went into the plant where they are embedded or working on a project and the customer says, “Hey, I didn’t know you are an avid golfer,” or “I didn’t know you work on old cars…” and then the conversation flows from there. Now that’s just good all the way around – good for the employee, good for prospective new employees to see, and good for your company as your customer’s relationship and connection with your company becomes more personal.
The past two years have affected our lives in unprecedented ways. From the global pandemic and working remotely to civil unrest, everything changed and some of those changes will never return to the status quo of yesterday. As a result, sales and marketing are more complex than ever. Businesses have had to rapidly adapt to continually shifting circumstances, fundamentally changing their messaging and approach.
Building your digital presence needs to be a top marketing priority for 2022. To inform how you build your digital presence, you need to lay a strong foundation for success. Defining your unique selling proposition (USP) and building a great company culture are good steps in the right direction to success.
You have to have these things right or your marketing efforts will be subject to falling on deaf ears and will just be adding to the digital noise we are all subject to rather than making a difference for your business. To learn more about how we help clients define their USP and set the course for a successful digital marketing plan, contact us today, we would be happy to help!