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Talking to the trade: often, small budgets and the lack of staff hamper the effectiveness of a business to business (B2B) marketing team's efforts in generating exposure for their organisations and brands. Working with the trade press will offer a golden opportunity to achieve a flexible scope of goals with limited resources.

LAVISH launch parties attended by celebrities; viral-marketing campaigns and sneak peeks to inject buzz into the press corps; these are standard tools employed by the marketing teams of consumer goods ranging from MP3 players to MPVs. But what about those tasked with raising the profile of products aimed at professional users, like factory managers in a bottling facility to consultants for a wastewater treatment plant?

Budgets for business-to-business (B2B) marketing efforts are usually miniscule compared to those that target the general public. Often, the individual responsible may be the sole member from a team, and may even have to straddle the marketing as well as sales roles. Given such constraints, the trade media can serve as a relatively low cost channel to announce important innovations, generate new leads, and establish one's brand and capabilities in the minds of potential clients.

Probably every specialised trade, from dentists to valve engineers, is served by a good number of publications both online and in print. Some are offered to subscribers at a fee but many are mailed (or E-mailed) without charge to readers in their target group, which typically comprises front-line users, purchasing managers, senior clients and independent consultants.

While direct marketing to a database of customers and potential users plays a role in keeping one's client base informed, working actively with the trade media can offer a more effective means of conveying a sustained and in-depth message about a company's products and services to a wider audience.

Marketing communications goes beyond simply issuing periodic brief press releases or buying occasional advertisements. This article outlines a usable and structured approach for B2B media communications.

Starting from Within

A structured integrated approach to media relations can reward your organisation with ample press coverage, helping to optimise communications costs. However, before embarking on an external campaign, the organisation should have a clear understanding of its goals, directions, strategy, and personnel, as well as the market readiness and limitations of its offerings.

The first task of the marketing department is to have a clear knowledge of the organisation's short, medium, and long term strategies and goals. It is important to understand the significance of each goal and the complexities involved in achieving them. The marketing department should then decide on the modes of marketing to achieve the goals. Traditional standalone marketing methods such as trade fairs, seminars, focused direct campaigns, and mass media may be ineffective unless a structured integrated marketing approach is used in the planning process.

Media campaigns are powerful but often underutilised marketing vehicles in the B2B sector. Traditionally, the use of media is aimed at engaging industry readers via advertisements, success stories, and announcements of new products or personnel. Unfortunately, this task is often undertaken defensively or without regard to clear goals which may be short term, medium or long term.

Short term goals in a media plan are usually highly focused tactically. The target audience has to be selected for the message and a set of desired outcomes--from measurable brand awareness to sales growth--delineated.

A great deal of coordination is needed to convey a unified message in various media, from print advertisements and case study articles, to product sheets and marketing collateral. The ability to engage the media can go a long way in generating publicity for parallel marketing activities such as trade shows, seminars, and promotional offers. The challenge is to obtain widespread and sustained editorial coverage in a timely and focused manner.

A medium to long term media marketing communications plan, though less intense in nature and effort, nonetheless requires a clear and integrated structural approach as it serves to support the organisation's ongoing sales and marketing activities through the trade press. The professional media become a tool to educate users, inform potential and current customers of your company's activities at trade events and opportunities to meet your company's key personnel for consultation.

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It is also a chance to position your organisation as a technology or trend leader. You act as an expert voice who understands the challenges and issues facing the industry, and who is able to provide informed and context-based solutions rather than just selling a product.

The medium to long term strategic communications plan should consider the level of market receptiveness to your organisation's technology or service capabilities. You should be ready to educate the media, and by extension, potential users on the workings of the technology or process utilised by your organisation.

Questions on its applicability and relative merits should be anticipated, along with issues such as third-party evaluation, regulatory status, consumer issues and user experiences. The goal is primarily to inform and educate--not sell.

Related to this is an ongoing effort to discuss and present a range of solutions that address challenges confronting the industry, which may be related to internal processes or driven by external pressures. The experience of your organisation and its partners can serve as a platform to show instances of collaborative solutions.

Trade magazines as well as online news portals are produced by small specialised publishers as well as dedicated divisions of large media conglomerates. Regardless of the origin, trade marketers should be assured of both the relative autonomy of the editorial team as well as the claimed circulation of the title. Some journal articles are little better than extended advertorials on behalf of advertisers. Sky-high distribution figures are also suspect, unless they are backed by reputable circulation audits.

After sussing out the titles that cater to your industry, the next task is to ensure that their staff know who you are. In planning their editorial schedules and researching for features or technical reviews, editors and writers reach for their contact books and the numbers of relevant industry experts with whom they are familiar.

At the very least, make a phone call to introduce yourself and your company to the editor, followed by an E-mail profiling your firm, its areas of expertise, and ending with a friendly note that you and your team are available as expert sources or editorial contributors.

The communications directors of several multinational vendors are known to make regional tours involving meetings with key editorial partners, indicating the significance they place on cultivating the interest of the trade press in their companies' activities.

Getting a copy of the publication's editorial calendar will help immensely in planning each media cycle, letting you know in advance the planned range of topics or issues as well as industry events to be covered.

The B2B marketer has a choice of three broad levels of engagement with the trade media. The most fundamental activity involves developing and disseminating a regular flow of news about your company.

These can cover new frontline personnel and senior managers; the launch of a new product or extension to an existing line; availability of new services and channels; participation in upcoming trade exhibitions; and capital investments such as new or upgraded production sites and regional centres.

This stream of information serves to educate editors and their readers about your company and products and when pitched well enough with adequate supporting material, is likely to be used as a news item or pursued as a follow-up story.

Going one level further, marketers can initiate discussions with editors about the possibility of contributing articles, be it technical or topical, that provide detailed information or test data about how a specific new product or technology works, suggest possible applications for the product, or discuss common issues that users might have.

Though clearly company-specific, such editorial items serve a valid purpose in informing the industry about the solutions that your company and products can offer, leaving readers the choice of contacting your company through a direct number at the end of the article or an inquiry service to ascertain the suitability of your product for their needs.

Another approach is to present case studies involving customers who have used your product or service to their satisfaction. A possible piece could begin with a profile of the user, followed by a discussion of the operational challenges encountered and how your company delivered a solution.

The third level involves the most effort and coordination between editors and your associates, but can yield long term strategic results in positioning your company as a credible and authoritative player in its arena.

Assuming the role of leader rather than simply a seller, you and your colleagues become resources for the media and their readers on current industry trends, technological challenges, or market-related issues confronting the entire sector.

Although the feature would focus on a broad area of concern, for instance, weak links in the hygiene of food plants that lead to costly recalls, there is nothing to stop your representative from offering unique views, anecdotes, and advice based on the best practices of your organisation as long as hyperbole is avoided and a neutral tone maintained.

B2B marketing may not enjoy the glamour and the glitter of the B2C industry. Nevertheless, there is no lack of intensity or challenge. In most cases the B2B marketer does not have the financial largesse and human resources of their B2C counterparts and every dollar spent should be effective in generating exposure for the company and its brands.

Working with the trade press allows the marketer to achieve a flexible scope of goals from focused short term campaigns to longer strategic horizons that go beyond merely selling a product. Regardless of your goals, a structured integrated approach in planning and managing your media outreach programme can help achieve results that are tangible, measurable, and sustainable.

Siva Subramaniam has more than 12 years of experience in marketing, business development, sales and business planning in B2B and B2C verticals in the Asia Pacific region. Marcus Ng has covered the Asia Pacific food processing and packaging sector for over a decade.
COPYRIGHT 2007 Singapore Institute of Management
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:MARKETING/SALES
Author:Subramaniam, Siva; Ng, Marcus
Publication:Today's Manager
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2007
Words:1631
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