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to meet changing needs

Marketing and communications professionals from leading IMARK Electrical manufacturers explain why e-commerce and other digital approaches are so relevant during the pandemic

Sarah Golish senior vice president, Acuity Brands Lighting
Greg Kozniewski director of channel marketing, Legrand
Brett Serxner director, distribution marketing, Leviton Manufacturing Co.
Jeanne Stark vice president of marketing, Intermatic

Marketing professionals are operating in an unprecedented new landscape where customer interactions are often virtual, corporate/consumer spending has been significantly impacted and customers feel uncertain about the future. Following, marketing professionals at several IMARK preferred suppliers discuss how they"ve re-tooled their marketing strategies to reach, support and engage customers in today"s challenging business environment.

Unexpected Challenges

"The need to react almost immediately to a new reality was a big challenge," confirmed Sarah Golish, senior vice president at Acuity Brands Lighting. "Seemingly overnight we were pivoting to a remote offi ce staff and seeing the cancellation of industry events and other in-person meetings. Challenge number one for our marketing team was communicating with our associates, channel partners, suppliers and customers about new protocols and revised business practices, especially in those fi rst 90 days," she said. "As an essential business, we were able to keep our manufacturing and distribution centers up and running since March, and, through a lot of diligence, flex our supply chain."

For Jeanne Stark, vice president of marketing at Intermatic, "With so many unknowns at the outset, we had to be intentional about our resources and make sure that our teams, in-office, sales and manufacturing professionals were taking necessary health and safety precautions," she said. "Early on, our marketing team worked with executive leadership to develop internal communications providing resources and support to our employees who were adjusting to a new norm working from home."

Stark shared that one early hurdle was making the company"s digital content the focal point of its sales and marketing strategy rather than a component of a more integrated approach. "Because the pandemic signifi cantly limited in-person opportunities for our sales team," she said, "we knew we"d need to come up with creative new ways to engage our customers through digital channels."

At Legrand, the marketing team"s challenge was to quickly re-evaluate plans that had been in place for some time. "Every year, our teams plan out marketing programs in alignment with our overall business objectives," explained Greg Kozniewski, Legrand"s director of channel marketing. "This led to many changes to our programs as well as those of many other companies, which resulted in an exponential growth in digital communications flooding the inboxes of distributors and contractors. Webinars and online courses became a daily occurrence as face-to-face visits were quickly halted and all of these digital communication efforts began to compete with each other," he said.

Despite that, Kozniewski confirmed, "timely, relevant content wins every single time. We went back to basics and developed meaningful content about the challenges people were facing at that moment. For instance, our marketing program around temporary health care setups came from the very immediate and urgent need for contractors to retrofi t spaces that could safely and effectively be used for health care services."

The team at Leviton Manufacturing Co. "worked hard to stay connected and continue to grow and cultivate strong relationships with all of our customers while staying focused on the growth of their businesses and aligning with their key priorities," said Brett Serxner, Leviton"s director of distribution marketing. "We needed to rapidly provide the sales team with enhanced digital content support for virtual calls, bigger webinars and interactive/engaged learning."

Areas of Focus

At Acuity Brands Lighting, digital marketing and virtual selling have taken center stage. "We"ve been able to integrate our digital marketing tools to help complement virtual selling and our digital platforms have emerged as the best way to continue promoting our new products, technologies and services," Golish said. "Our online Acuity Academy function has seen a dramatic uptick in online course completions. We have conducted our large national sales meetings, more topical and product-based webinars, and multi-featured trade shows virtually. We"ve also used our digital capabilities to create personalized content for our sellers, which allows them to create impactful personal virtual touch points with customers." As a result, she noted, "in-person meetings and presentations as well as traditional print and non-electronic tactics have taken a backseat."

Similarly, at Intermatic, 2020 has highlighted how crucial it is for manufacturers to build and maintain a strong digital presence and create high-quality product data and assets (e.g., product specs, images and videos)," Stark confirmed. "The pandemic amplifi ed the customer behaviors and preferences we were already seeing, including online shopping, use of multiple devices (e.g., smartphone, desktop, tablet), increased video consumption and frequent social media engagement. Instead of checking emails on a smartphone from the tradeshow fl oor or placing an online order from the back offi ce, customers are doing it all from their living rooms or between service calls."

"The line between B2C and B2B is blurring—e.g., customers expect to have the same easy online shopping experience when they"re ordering electrical supplies as they would when they"re buying new shoes on Amazon—the goal is to meet them on their terms, not the other way around," Stark continued. "We"ve pulled back our physical trade show presence but supplemented it with easy-to-share resources like interactive digital presentations, landing pages, printable sell sheets and video content, all of which have been especially useful when introducing new products and engaging new sales prospects."

With fewer customers visiting their partner locations, Serxner confirmed that Leviton"s previous investments in branch merchandising and point-of-sale promotions have been curtailed in favor of greater support of partners" e-commerce content, web ads and vertical marketing content. "We"ve increased our live webinar training and e-learning aligned to the needs of our customers and have moved to more engaging and interactive learning using new e-learning software (Articulate 360)," he said. "Our online e-learning courses are educational and ‘snack-sized" (just 10 minutes or less), making it easy to fi t into someone"s busy schedule," added Serxner, who said that Leviton has also increased its video content and social media activities directly and indirectly, sharing video content digitally through an online digital repository for IMARK members.

Kozniewski agreed that the pandemic has highlighted the strength (or ineffectiveness) of different mediums. "For example, trade shows have transitioned from large in-person gatherings to virtual events and traditional print marketing through ads and trade publications doesn"t reach its audience anymore because many workers have gone remote, leaving behind brick-and-mortar addresses and offi ces that are no longer an easy central location for marketing efforts," he said. "Instead, we have to think about moving to targeted display ads, digital publications, retargeting, search and social marketing in order to reach everyone working from home."

Ways of Working

Our marketing experts confirmed that the pandemic has forced them to align more closely with the sales team than ever before.

“The challenge has been to quickly provide our sales teams with the tools and tactics to effectively reach out to their sales channel partners and customers. It’s been exciting to see our sales colleagues fi nd new and creative ways to utilize content and interact with customers,” Golish said. “I think that in its own way, the pandemic has made us see each other in new and better ways as we all address this situation together.”

Stark concurred, noting that during the pandemic, the sales team at Intermatic has been more reliant on support from marketing than ever before. “We’ve had to work collaboratively to ensure that the limited moments they have in front of customers are effective,” Stark said. “From a messaging and execution standpoint, this often means crafting stand-alone introductions to new products and then continuing the discussion in the way that’s best for the customer, whether over Zoom, a phone call or via email.” She said that her team has also created “bite-sized” conversation starters to share with customers as well as online presentations and PDFs to help guide follow-up conversations. “At some point, the ‘hope you’re doing well in these challenging times’ emails get stale and it’s our responsibility to be useful by leading with relevant best practices and how-to tips rather than generic promotions,” she said.

Working in lockstep with their sales colleagues, “our marketing team helped solve problems like product demonstrations, which were moved from in-person meetings with physical samples to digital demos using webcams,” Legrand’s Kozniewski said. “This required us to train and equip our sales teams to be ‘power users’ of Microsoft Teams in order to conduct these digital, remote demos, which created some hurdles. Among them, built-in webcams on laptops aren’t sufficient for a true demo of our products and holding a receptacle up to this camera proved insufficient, so we needed to test and order a multitude of new tools—e.g., tripods, selfie-rings and lights, Bluetooth headphones, etc.—and equip our field sales team with them,” he said.

“Marketing continues to deliver highly interactive and presentational content for one-on-one or one-on-many web meetings and events and we’ve tightened up our joint marketing with sales colleagues using more social media, web marketing and digital learning efforts,” Serxner said of Leviton’s activities.

Monitoring the Metrics

According to Intermatic’s Stark, “a simple exercise that practically all marketers can do is to use Google Analytics to look at the share of visits to their website that come from a mobile device (versus a desktop computer). In most cases, it will be close to 50%, which highlights how about half of all customers are seeking information from a smartphone or tablet these days,” she said.

“If you’re pitching management for additional resources, pull out your smartphone and show how your business appears online compared to competitors,” she suggested. “Are you happy with how you look and/or can customers easily find the information they’re searching for? If not, seek out ways to improve your online experience with better website design, customer-oriented content and modern communication tactics such as responsive email templates, mobile-friendly links shared on social media, etc.”

At Leviton, “we continue to gauge ROI based on sales results as the end goal, but going more digital allows us to track and measure success at more points of the selling journey than ever before and adjust and/or course-correct in real time during existing campaigns if something’s not working,” Serxner said.

Legrand’s Kozniewski confirmed that while marketers will always look at common key performance indicators such as open rates, click-through rates, web users, etc., “the world’s rapid digitization requires us to monitor a deeper level of metrics with greater specificity, such as the volume of transactions coming in through digital channels like electronic data interchange (EDI) or our B2B portal. From a paid advertising perspective, I’m interested in how the industry will be impacted by increasing digital advertising and the need for specific targeting,” he said. “Some digital advertising platforms, like LinkedIn and Facebook, offer a high level of targeting capabilities, but the cost per click (CPC) and cost per thousand impressions (CPM) are underpriced compared to traditional mediums like banner or print ads.” At some point, he predicted, “the increased demand will force the pricing models to catch up and normalize.”

At Acuity, “we use multiple metrics to measure our marketing effectiveness, from views, shares, engagement and tieback-to-sales indicators/performance to more qualitative feedback via customer surveys, online group discussions and direct feedback,” Golish said. “At the same time, we’ve used this time to aggressively measure how we perform with customers and sales channel partners in the areas of specifying and order entry, order tracking and delivery to address any pain points, as we feel that great service will always win the day.”

Practices That Will Prevail

Following, our experts share some of the new realizations and approaches that may stick in the marketing profession well beyond the current public health crisis:

  • Virtual Tools Accommodate Customers—“The virtual tools and capabilities that companies are creatively using to communicate with customers are making it easier for people to visualize and learn without having to leave their computer, and as in-person activities come back, virtual capabilities will be used to complement them,” Acuity’s Sarah Golish said. “3D imagery, videos and online training will allow people to better prioritize their time to ensure that they’re creating the most value.”
  • In-Person Isn’t Essential—“One big and obvious takeaway is that we don’t necessarily need to be in the same room to do high-quality work,” shared Intermatic’s Jeanne Stark. “While each organization is unique, the pandemic experience helped us start a conversation about how we staff and resource teams as well as how we can create a productive yet harmonious work-life environment for employees. In a perfect post-COVID-19 world, we’ll have the best of both worlds—space and time for in-person collaboration as well as an understanding that team members are exceedingly responsible and proud of their work if offered the right support system.” Legrand’s Greg Kozniewski agreed. “I see lasting power in the ability to work with an entirely remote team and successfully collaborate online and, in the future, organizations will likely pause before flying an entire team to an offsite location for a week,” he said. “I see this change not only for internal collaborative meetings but also for trade shows and other large, traditionally in-person events. We’ve all been forced to adapt, and, while it happened faster than anyone could have anticipated, we’ve made it work well.”
  • Convenience is King—“On-demand and live learning will continue to be main ways of ensuring that channel partners have fast and high-value information that they can use for sales purposes, and the growing demand for digital selling tools, brochures and interactive content will expand in years to come,” said Leviton’s Brett Serxner. “Customers want to engage in a discussion, learn or connect on their time, so the ability to make it easy for them to find what they want, when they want it, will continue to be a key trend.”