Increasing use of co-op/partner marketing programs, a continuing shift to digital marketing, and more targeted marketing efforts have been the biggest trends in marketing with integrators, according to industry experts.
“If an integrator is able to leverage marketing resources that their valued manufacturers or partners have, it gives them opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have, enabling them to do a more targeted outreach to the user community,” said Tom LeBlanc, director of industry outreach for the National Systems Contractors Association.
He added that manufacturers should be focused on their outreach to the integrator community. Co-op opportunities enable manufacturers to support integrators, which in turn provides better outreach to the end user community because a strong integrator is a valued partner for them.
“How you go to market is all about recognizing what value that you provide to customers,” LeBlanc said. Manufacturers and integrators need to demonstrate to end customers in a very authentic way, the value that they bring to end customers.
Sharper Targeting Important
But co-op and partner marketing programs have needed to become more targeted to be more effective, according to LeBlanc, and Dennis Lenard, CEO of Creative Navy, a marketing firm with clients across the globe.
“Marketing is becoming more complicated; you cannot just use simple techniques anymore, it’s very difficult to get people’s attention,” Lenard explained.
General messages to target multiple integrators and end customers fall on flat ears, according to Lenard.
“You have to tell [a prospect] that you have something for their specific situation and the value you can add. That’s the big challenge in business, the offering that you have has to be tailored to your potential customer. Companies generally struggle with this because they have to completely rethink the way that they do things.”
What that means as marketing has become more digital is that manufacturers can’t simply rely on putting a brochure and other generic information online, but have to hone digital marketing messages to specific verticals, according to Lenard.
It’s important that a company informs integrators and other partners how they fit into a particular vertical, Lenard explained. “You have new actor popping up all over the world that want a piece of the market.”
“There’s been a move to more authenticity when it comes to how marketing messages are created in the integration channel,” LeBlanc said.
Integrators don’t want to be sold to, they want business solutions that will truly help the end customer. They don’t want a sales pitch, they want a business case. The trend has been toward honest communications with integrators, which are good at weeding out the pretenders from authentic solutions.
“The pandemic only reinforced and accelerate that,” LeBlanc added.
“Everything about how the integration industry needed to communicate changed over the last year plus (since the start of the pandemic),” LeBlanc said.
“For a while, we had taken for granted we knew exactly what integrators could provide to [end] customers. When the pandemic hit, customers came to integrators with very different needs (i.e., installations meeting pandemic-related safety protocols); they recognized that they needed integrators to help them with their communications, their security.”
Similarly, integrators had to rethink their value proposition to customers, while manufacturers had to think about how they could help integrators illustrate what their value proposition is for customers, LeBlanc added.
For example, manufacturers and integrators needed to communicate to customers not only how they followed socially distanced and other safe practices, but also how that helped the customer meet similar safety obligations for its own end customers.
“That escalated the value that integrators can offer [the manufacturer’s] customers,” LeBlanc said.
“A Year of Shock”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the marketing relied on what had worked in the past, reaching out to business clients and integrators via the traditional methods of communications, trade shows, etc.
But the pandemic forced a shift because the trade shows and other face-to-face meetings were quickly halted, with trade shows only very slowly starting to come back in the second half of 2021.
Though it didn’t shift as quickly as B2C marketing, B2B co-op/partner marketing has shown an increase in digital marketing, Lenard said
“2020 was a year of shock for people,” Lenard said. “For the last year, I’ve talked to a lot of people, even a lot of direct marketers, who would call people and couldn’t get in
touch with anyone. Without the trade shows, it meant that a lot of people lost they channels they had that had brought them good leads.”
Though trade shows had been only one marketing effort, it was one that had worked well for many, Lenard added. “Some things tend to work really well, others don’t, but you hope they will eventually.”
With trade shows going virtual, some manufacturers asked Lenard’s company to design virtual trade snow booths, but it’s not a simple matter of making a 3-D digital model of a booth Lenard explained. The digital environment is different than the physical environment.
The manufacturers are important in aiding integrators create digital and other marketing materials because they are much larger and have deeper resources, LeBlanc said.
“I’ve worked on these kinds of channel conflict issues for most of my career; since the late ’90s,” said Joshua Feinberg, CEO of SP Home Run, Inc.
“Digital transformation makes it even more essential for the manufacturers to better understand all of their channels (not just the integrators), and for integrators to build their own brands independent of the product manufacturers they represent.”
While integrators will use their own marketing efforts, they and manufacturers are increasingly recognizing the value of working together to promote their collective value to their customers, LeBlanc said.
“We did learn a lot in the last year about the value that integrators can provide to customers. Integrators are more valuable [to a manufacturer’s] customers than they were before. Manufacturers should demonstrate to integrators how they will help them evolve their roles and revisit how they engage with integrators and work with them on co-op campaigns.”