Our phones ping constantly. Social media rolls on relentlessly. Our inboxes are always full. So, how can an electrical distributor catch a reader’s attention amid all of the noise?
We asked four IMARK Electrical distributor members to share their best communication practices for captivating and keeping current customers’ and prospects’ attention in a distracted world.
About Our Contributors
David Chapman, director, marketing, Summit Electric Supply (Albuquerque, New Mexico): My team handles a mix of marketing tasks for the company. This ranges from automated digital marketing campaigns, social media, search engine marketing, to managing branded assets like brochures and promotions.
Tiffani Hoover, marketing coordinator, Parrish-Hare Electrical Supply (Irving, Texas): I entered the industry in a roundabout way. Teaching art classes at Disney led me to pursue graphic design in college, which led me to marketing in the electrical industry after I moved to Texas. One of the wonderful things about working in marketing in a much-needed industry like electrical distribution is being a part of the record growth and development with our digital resources and practices. When I started ﬁve years ago, we barely had consistent branding and deals were done on paper or with a handshake. Compare that with today, when my responsibilities include directing the design and development of our mobile responsive website, digital communications with customers, helping customers transition to secure online invoicing and payments and guiding both our customers and our employees in using these new processes.
Kristie Mahaffey, communication specialist, Atlantic Coast Electric Supply (ACES): I have been with ACES since April of 2019. I am responsible for managing all social media platforms, customer-facing communications, updating company websites, on-hold messaging and press releases.
Stephanie Nave, digital marketing & communications specialist, United Electric Supply, (New Castle, Delaware): I manage our branding, communication and content strategy across online and offline channels so there is a cohesive message and experience for our customers and prospects. This includes internal and external communications such as social media, paid digital advertising and integrated campaigns.
Leverage Your Skills
Hoover: Good communicators practice the skill of listening to their audience when they express their needs. Listening is crucial to understanding your customers and building trust so you can guide them in their journey; whether that’s using your e-commerce features for the ﬁrst time or trying a new product line from one of our manufacturers. Good communicators nurture the ability and desire to learn from others. Technology and its applications change quickly, so it’s important to seek out relationships with others in your industry who will challenge you, show you ways to grow your own best practices and encourage you to reach customers in new ways.
Nave: Best-in-class communicators tailor their message to their audience and deliver it clearly. Rather than simply personalizing the greeting, adept communicators provide valuable content by addressing challenges that the recipient is currently facing or will soon face and help them solve that challenge. Not only should the communicator tailor the content based on the recipient’s engagement, interest and (if applicable) buying history, but they should tailor the messaging to use their target audience’s vernacular while being as concise as possible.
Chapman: Best-in-class communicators are clear and concise in their messaging, so the audience doesn't get lost in the noise. The best communicators are people who can tell a story and keep audiences engaged.
Stand Out Amid All the Clutter
Mahaffey: I think communicators can stand out by communicating their message to their audiences in a variety of ways keeping the core message the same, but changing it enough to grab their attention. At ACES we do this through our social media, email marketing, counter advertising, direct mail and website advertising.
Nave: Communicators stand out when they provide the right information to the right person in the right place at the right time. For example, people who are engaging with search ads are using keywords that inform what they are looking for and so the messaging and visuals need to reflect that when doing targeted advertising. The language can also be tailored based on channel if, for example, you find that industrial customers engage more on LinkedIn than Facebook, you can tailor your messaging more toward industrials on one platform over another. Subtle changes in industry vernacular will make the post or any other content stand out to the intended audience.
Chapman: Be relevant and direct to the target. So much communication is either irrelevant to the audience or focused on the company; not the customer.
Hoover: A lot of communicators fall into the trap of trying to replace things that have worked in the past, with new tech and digital processes. It’s shiny so we like it. But I ﬁnd that what makes our initiatives stand out and have real value is listening to our audience. If there’s a process that worked in the past, listen to your customers about what they really connected with—whether that was in-person visits or easy phone support—and then use your digital initiatives to build on that experience. Last year, we developed a web payment portal, allowing our accounts payable customers to access invoices online. They can still reach out to our accounting team as needed, but they can also view, manage and pay their invoices with more flexibility. Rather than replace a good thing, use your tools to supplement your already excellent service. Your customers will appreciate your consideration and be more open to your messages.
Choose the Right Communication Platform
Nave: It’s important to communicate with customers using their preferred method, whether it is through an inside or outside sales rep, email, counter sales team, social media or a website. It’s not so much a change in audience preferences that we’re noticing, but more the ability to track engagement across digital platforms that help drive when and how to send emails, post social messages or show ads.
Chapman: This depends on who the communication is with. If it is current customers, email is an integral tool, but for prospects email tends to not perform nearly as well as other channels. Social can be a good option to generate base engagement and remain top of mind with your customers, but to drive activity, a combination of search engine optimization and search engine marketing, along with the company’s website are important.
Hoover: I think there has been some change in recent years, and that it has been driven by an interplay of user preferences and purposeful direction on our part. We’ve been able to build a surprising amount of social trust through our social media platforms, speciﬁcally Facebook. We have better than average engagement rates on our Facebook speciﬁc posts, due to their genuine tone and focus on our customer and employee interactions. Additionally, we have been gently migrating our customers from print communication toward more website usage by building in tools that expedite and simplify our users’ daily work.
Mahaffey: I think we are slowly moving toward a more digital communication platform (email, web, social media). We are starting to see more customer engagement on our social media and are seeing more clicks/opens in our email campaigns. We recently utilized a text messaging app with a group of our customers and received a lot of positive feedback about how great the feature was to keep everyone up to date and informed during our event.
Analyze Your Audience
Nave: With the advancement of analytics software and by experimenting with days/times of communication, it is becoming easier to understand how and when our audience prefers to receive information. For example, we are working on implementing a preference center to help customers select what kind of information they want to receive (i.e., events, promotions, training) and the cadence in which they prefer to receive it (i.e., weekly, monthly, quarterly). We regularly utilize A/B testing across all types of communications along with Urchin Tracking Modules and QR codes on printed material to see engagement metrics which help determine the best channels and times to be communicating with our audience.
Hoover: From Google analytics to A/B tests in social media, trackable email campaigns and investments in CRM systems, there are a variety of tools out there that can give us insights into our audience, and how they like to interact with our messages. Cross-referencing with these tools allows us greater insights into our customers’ preferences so we can better tailor our communications with them.
Mahaffey: I think the more we continue to communicate with our customers, the more we are able to see what method they prefer. I think it is also good to continue to try new methods to see what and how they like to stay updated. We do see a high engagement rate with text messaging and plan to continue to utilize that platform.
Balance Your Cadence and Avoid ‘Overdoing It’
Chapman: Again, this is going to depend on the audience. The trick is to find out what marketing platforms perform well with your audience, and how your business can effectively communicate through them. In general, serving prospects with ads and social content will be less of a nuisance than a barrage of emails. Most communication with a customer or prospect will go unseen, so it takes repeated exposure before they engage.
Hoover: It’s important to share meaningful information that has value for our customers, and to use the right technique to approach them where they’re at, both on the individual and company level. For example, some of our accounts payable customers are very familiar with digital tools and prefer an email with pertinent updates that will speed up their internal processes. Other customers may be interested in our messaging, but need an extra hand with a phone call, or even an in-person meeting to really understand how to make use of our services. If you truly listen to your customers, provide them with helpful tools and remain ﬂexible in how you meet their needs where they are at, you will ﬁnd success.
Mahaffey: I think it is important to stay consistent with communications. I believe some things should be communicated several different ways (social media, email, direct mail) and other things can be kept to one method. I believe in quality over quantity when it comes to social media, and I see better engagement with customers on communications that involve them or affect them directly. I also believe that if we can not only communicate digitally with our customers but also daily at our counters, our customers will stay engaged and be more likely to interact digitally if they are still getting face-to-face communication from our team.
Nave: To avoid inundating customers with information, remember that “less is more” and that each communication should be intentional. Although it’s tempting to broadcast every service offering or every promotion currently running to all customers, communications are more effective when you identify the one or two most valuable pieces of content for the customer and restrict all other communications in a chosen time period. By segmenting the audience based on buying behaviors, marketing engagement and guidance from the sales team, we can determine which communications will benefit our customers and their business most.