A top challenge for channel marketers from both the OEM/vendor and VAR/reseller perspective is deciding on an optimal branding strategy that is accurate and fair to both parties. While channel participants have the same goal of increasing mindshare and improving up-sell and cross sell opportunities, some partners fall flat in creating compelling, brand-savvy campaigns and messaging.
However, in the competitive channel marketplace, OEMs and VARs face multiple obstacles in improving sales effectiveness. According to Aberdeen Group research, 43% of companies had insufficient mindshare among partners, while 41% indicated that partners didn’t have sufficient sales/marketing ability. While integrating accurate brand messaging and imagery is important in making OEMs and partners stand out, it is vital that all parties be seen as industry thought leaders.
To increase revenue and a company’s presence in the market, OEMs and resellers must analyze current company perceptions. From there, channel marketers can strategize to develop an optimal branding strategy, branding expert and author Karen Post told Channel Marketer Report.
“Determining a ‘fair’ branding strategy often depends on the category and market the companies are in,” Post said. “While the brand should technically belong to the OEM, if they are a weak player in their overall market, the game gets trickier.” Post has written two books focused on brand strategy: Brand Turnaround How Brands Gone Bad Returned to Glory… and the 7 Game Changers that Made the Difference and Brain Tattoos: Creating Unique Brands That Stick in Your Customers’ Minds.
Branding in the channel can be compared to Hollywood: the bigger the name, the bigger the seller. With a crowded marketplace and an abundance of good choices and limited bandwidth for end-users, OEMs and VARs must decide on a brand strategy that is best for their joint well-being, according to Scott Gillum, President, Practice Leader Channel Marketing at gyro, a B2B advertising agency.
“At the end of the day, an effective branding strategy is all about what is going to help the OEM and partners be more successful in selling initiatives,” Gillum said. “From the partners’ perspective, it’s all about understanding what they need to help them sell. From the manufacturer/vendor perspective, it’s about determining the optimal tools to make those partners successful.”
A top way for channel marketers to make their brands known is by creating compelling thought leadership that discusses top buyer pain points. This makes understanding market trends and needs more vital than ever.
“OEMs and resellers alike should be experts in their category,” Post said. “They must show and share evidence of this with trend-spotting and research.” Post added that companies must address and capitalize on any unique features or distinction that is comparable to competitors.
Marketing company messages, research and insights also is a vital step in improving brand reputation and penetration. OEMs and resellers must have a firm understanding of their target audience, their pain points, and wants and needs to determine the optimal channel to relay information.
“The most effective media depends on a company’s market,” Post explained. There is no one size fits all and while social media can be a game changer, it’s not the answer for everyone. It is important that there is alignment with overall message, a value proposition or promise that end-users can understand and want, and you relay what your company can truly deliver.”
This strategy is especially true for OEMs and resellers that specialize in specific market segments. For example, companies that provide solutions and technologies for the IT and Telecom niche areas can focus on providing educational content that will really serve these markets and become “trusted advisors,” according to Laz Gonzalez, Service Director of Channel Management Strategies for SiriusDecisions.
In the blog entry, titled “A B2B Channel Mid-Market Reality: One Size Doesn’t Fit All,” Gonzalez shared the benefits of this approach.
“Knowing where the pain is and how to fix it improves their ability to sell solutions and, as they continue doing so, builds a strong set of references they can point to when helping new prospects commit to a solution,” Gonzalez explained. “Additionally, when a supplier is targeting a mid-market company, knowing how they purchase (through RFP, as a service provided by a third party, etc.) helps them create relevant messaging and enables better response rates — both by customers and partners alike — for their marketing campaigns whether they are looking to recruit new partners or drive leads within a market segment.”
Today’s research-dependent marketplace presents an optimal opportunity for OEMs and resellers to get in sync with customer preferences Jim McKinnis, CMO of The Kern Organization, told Channel Marketer Report. Furthermore, channel marketers must think outside the box to guide prospects and customers along the buying journey, not force them through it.
“Brands today lie in the hands of the customer more than ever,” McKinnis said. “That’s not a surprising statement. But that doesn’t mean that marketers have lost control. Marketers, however, need to think of their strategy in different ways. Ways that are in sync with consumers not simply directed at them. It’s not just about customer experiences helping to shape brand perceptions, and marketers tweaking their messaging dials to adjust those experiences. There is actual customer participation in creating and customizing these experiences. And smart strategic planning acts in concert with that reality.”
To develop an optimal go-to-market strategy in the channel, Gillum provided a standard checklist to analyze:
1. Map out and analyze the customer segment you’re serving;
2. Develop a strategy of how to address market pain points and trends; and
3. Shape messaging and articulate the brand value for both the vendor/manufacturer and partner.
“The companies that brand very well in the channel map out their value proposition against very specific customer segments aligned against the products they want to sell in that segment,” Gillum explained. “They do a nice job of communicating where the partner plays a role in that brand. Mapping out the value chain and clearly articulating where partners play and how they support the partners is key.”
B2B buying behavior is shifting: end-users are more focused on independent research and interacting with brands in a more intimate, casual manner. That is why, despite usage of logos, messaging and value propositions, it is more vital than ever for OEMs and partners to be seen as approachable and understanding of buyers’ pain points and preferences. This is a process gyro walks through with its clients.
“Gyro is doing a lot of work around making brands more approachable, making them more relevant to individual buyers and resonating with the individual buyer,” Gillum said. It’s not a business selling to a business; it’s a business selling to a person. Whether that person be in a big company or whether it be in a small company, it’s a person. They have concerns, they have needs, they have preferences. We’re at a point now where you have to get down to that level and the companies that do that the best have a advantage over others.”
Once companies initiate a relationship, it is up to both parties understand each customer’s unique needs and most importantly, deliver on them without comprising the overall brand image. Then, companies can work together to fuel their channel with strong marketing messages, and the resources to match.
“Consumers may not always differentiate between OEM and VAR and what’s more, they likely don’t care,” McKinnis said. “The question OEMs and VARs should be asking is how they can work together to advocate for the customer, not their channel. Smart marketers enable customer participation in ways that align with the brand values most important to their audience.”
Although OEMs provide partners with titles and certifying resellers based on courses they complete and the amount of sales they close, sometimes this is not enough to boost profit, according to Samantha Noble, Marketing Manager for Retail Tech.
To differentiate itself in the market, Retail Tech adopted a new tagline: “Create Your Ideal POS Hardware Solution.” This tactic helped extend their brand across markets, according to Noble. “We do not stop the tagline at hardware,” she explained. “Retail Tech has a number of other value-adds that we bring to the POS space, and we want to be recognized for these differentiators. Our offerings are not limited to selling hardware in the channel, and our branding strategy reflects this idea.”
Retail Tech services wrap into six separate categories. Along with POS hardware, the company allows end-users to extend their hardware lifecycle, reduce maintenance costs, provide system integration and logistic services, develop hybrid solutions and provide end-of-life hardware disposal.
Maximizing brand awareness relies highly on integrating the value and contribution of both OEMs and partners, Noble noted. “OEMs should allow partners to utilize and customize any of their marketing/sales material with their logo and personal branding message,” she said. “I also think that OEMs should have a better understanding of the extra offerings and services their channel partners provide. That way, they can recommend end-users to the partners that best suit their needs.”
Emphasizing the need to maximize channel partnerships, Noble discussed the work Retail Tech did with Agilysys and RTC for Duane Reade in 2010. The companies teamed up to refresh the retailer’s POS software and hardware. Click here to read the entire case study.