Take ownership of your company’s marketing; One size does NOT fit all
“If you build it, he will come.” While that line eventually worked for Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, its applications in the real world are considerably more limited. Canadian value-added wood manufacturers have a worldwide reputation for building high-quality products. Yet the customer doesn’t always come as a result. That’s the purpose of marketing: to help businesses gain access to willing customers.
Where the challenge lies, however, is for businesses to figure out what specific marketing strategies will work for them. Despite what you may have heard, one size doesn’t fit all. While having access to marketing expertise helps, it’s ultimately up to business owners themselves to decide what will work.
“Businesses often have more success implementing marketing strategies when they take personal ownership,” says Peter Butzelaar, vice president of International Wood Markets Group, a wood-products consulting company in Vancouver, B.C. “In our experience, the more the client is involved in the process, the better the outcome.”
In fact, Butzelaar is so convinced of the power of businesses to set their own marketing strategies that he says a firm like his isn’t always the first answer: “Sometimes you’re better off trying things out on your own. You can always get good advice. However, often the best lessons learned are those you implement yourself.”
Woody Stoudemire, vice-president of Gotham, LLC, in Hickory, N.C., also advises against a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing. He says, “Every business is different. Every industry is different. In addition, there are various marketing tools available, and each one has to be assessed individually. Often, a combination of tools is necessary.”
Gotham is a marketing, advertising and public relations company located in the heart of America’s secondary wood sector: North Carolina. The similarities to Canada’s own wood industry are abundant. In both cases, a once-thriving manufacturing sector is still in recovery mode. As Stoudemire describes it, “We really hit some hard times here. Even before the economic downturn, the Chinese flooded our market with mass-produced wood products.”
Stoudemire is a realist when it comes to the state of the market. He does not advocate competing directly with the mass producers. Instead, he uses his father as an example of more selective marketing. “He builds custom-made furniture for professional basketball players,” explains Stoudemire, “where his customers cherish the quality, as well as the custom fit of the furniture, given the size of some of these guys.”
Although Butzelaar and Stoudemire believe businesses should engage in unique marketing solutions, they also believe the wood industry has proven methods that work. One of them is the tradeshow. Despite recent perceptions about tradeshows dying, recent market developments prove otherwise. Onex, a Canadian-based equity firm, has recently bought Nielsen Expositions, which operates numerous tradeshows, including K/BIS in the U.S. Informa Canada, a tradeshow management company, recently incorporated IIDEX Canada into its portfolio of events, and still runs a very successful Construct Canada event every year.
So, either these companies are in the habit of engaging in self-destructive activities, or tradeshows still have a value that has stood the test of time. For Stoudemire, “There used to be a time when face-time meant everything. Business people would meet each other as often as possible. There was a reason for that. There is no substitute for face-to-face contact, and that’s what tradeshows still provide.”
Butzelaar is in full agreement: “People in the wood industry tend to be old school, so they seek out personal contact and thrive from it. Even if you just walk the aisles for the first time, the experience can provide invaluable intelligence regarding suppliers, competitors — you name it.”
However, in order to capitalize on the value that tradeshows provide, it’s very important to go into them with a plan. Butzelaar recommends researching to find the right show, which can even mean sending one person to attend at first, but then eventually sticking to any decision that’s made. He warns, “Once you have a plan, you need to go every year for a number of years. Missing even one year can hold you back.”
Stoudemire also advocates planning for tradeshows when he says, “A game plan is crucial. For example, I recommend sending one person to work the tradeshow, and another person to travel the floor. Another suggestion is to target 10 people you want to meet at the event. You’re far more likely to meet the right people if you target them than if you count on bumping into someone in an aisle.”
Tradeshows have proven their value, but attendees and exhibitors need to know which ones are right for them. As with most marketing tools, there’s the good and the bad. Says, Butzelaar, “I really think it’s a matter of knowing if a certain show is specifically right for your business. In other words, don’t go just because other people are going. Go because you will reach your target market better by attending.”
While tradeshows are proven marketing tools that involve actual personal contact, they run against recent trends towards online options, including social marketing. As Butzelaar suggested earlier, he doesn’t think many new trends have traction in the wood industry. He explains, “Earlier in my career, many in the business didn’t even have e-mail. Electronic marketing really isn’t part of the culture.”
Stoudemire provides a more blunt assessment of social marketing by saying, “It’s a waste of time,” yet he quickly adds, “but you have to do it.” Stoudemire believes social marketing can be far more effective for B2C (business-to-consumer) companies than B2B organizations. Stoudemire adds, “I like LinkedIn. It can be good for research. Even Facebook has its value. But these sites are often more about getting continued votes from existing customers than reaching out to new ones.”
One online marketing tool Stoudemire is adamant about, though, is the website. He explains, “Before websites became popular, the telephone was crucial. You wanted people to call your business. Nowadays, people don’t want to be bothered by a salesperson, but they still want to check you out before visiting. That’s what a website allows people to do.”
Stoudemire is also equally adamant about the kind of time and resources a company should spend on a website. He adds, “You really shouldn’t hire someone’s nephew to come up with your new site. The fact is that many potential customers’ first impression of you will be your site, so it should look professional, and it should be simple to navigate.”
It’s one thing to get people to your site, and even have them impressed by its contents, but Stoudemire says one simple purpose of a website should be to convert prospects into leads. He notes, “You can have all the gadgets in the world on your web pages, but what’s the point if prospects won’t take the next step and contact you? For example, make your contact forms real simple. Instead of asking for a lot of information, just ask for their website address, which is where you can go to collect more information on a lead.”
Instead of just building a product in the hopes of having people come and buy it, success in most business environments, including Canada’s wood industry, also involves constantly working to recognize who your customers are and how they will choose you. That’s the essence of good marketing, and a variety of tools are at one’s disposal to ensure that it’s done right.