A Call To Action (For Fleet Providers): ‘Earning’ A Great Reputation Through Promotion and Education

Published in Fleet Management Weekly, August 4, 2014 – http://fleetmanagementweekly.com

W. Edward Pierce, Principal, It’s The Arts

Before leaving last month’s topic of “earned” media (marketing communications your company pays to deliver in media that reach your prospects and customers), here are a few considerations that I promised to address in greater detail:

First, let’s talk about form and style of promotional messages by specific media tactics beyond advertising, which I spoke about last month.
As I did last month, I am borrowing concepts from some of our industry’s best salespeople, but establishing an effective relationship with a prospect or customer –especially in a B2B market — is adaptive. A great salesperson can shift easily from one type of sales approach to another based on the environment (exhibit floor, customer’s office, home office visit) and on-the-spot customer feedback.

Likewise, effective marketing communications must adapt to the situation. Last month, I noted that an effective ad provides a snapshot of product value in terms that are important to the fleet manager. But an ad can only promise value, it cannot provide enough substantiation to close a sale (again, in B2B markets). Direct marketing and trade shows also constrain the message.

Answer The Questions That Fleet Managers Want To Know
Enter public relations and, in this digital age, native advertising. They are the perfect opportunities for companies to explain the value proposition of their latest product or service in detail. These are the marketing tactics that build on the ad, exhibit hall display or the direct mail piece.
Why does this new telematics product bring greater value to the fleet manager? What are the applications for the product? What is significant about the technology? What other companies are using it? How much have they saved? What is the ROI and how does that compare to other alternatives?
Answer the questions that fleet managers want to know. Give them the ammunition they need to to sell up their organizations.

The objective of these types of communications – case studies, white papers, how-to articles, sponsor-funded articles or video, is to provide proof that is meaningful for each targeted market segment! In other words, a case study on a telecommunication company’s work truck fleet won’t mean much to the pharma company with a sales fleet. Focus your messages!

The Benefits of Education Rather than Promotion
In addition to product value, fleet managers finally decide on a purchase based on the company behind the product or service. Do they know your company by name? Do they know others who are satisfied with your services? Are you recognized in the industry for pertinent strengths? Have they read anything in the fleet press or trade association material to help them better understand a fleet problem, solution and alternative solutions? If so, the company name, or brand, can help close the sale.

Although marketing is seemingly all about promotion, it is about effective communications. In some situations, education – informative, objective articles – is the best approach to improving the company name. Here are fleet specific opportunities to educate and make your company look like a thought leader: NAFA I&E curriculum or CAFM program guide involvement or chapter speaking opportunities, NTEA resource contributions, AFLA white papers or Tech Notes.

The promotion may be limited to a byline or contributor acknowledgement, and there cannot be no overt product references, and there cannot be no overt product references. However, your next new customer may very well connect the lesson you offered when he or she makes the decision to buy.

In the next column, we will delve into the expanded opportunities available to fleet providers in the world of “owned” media. Just send an email to EdPierce@ItsTheArts.com. If you have a specific marketing issue or question, call me at 610–585-0801.

A Call To Action (For Fleet Providers): Let ‘Content’ Open Doors For You

Published in Fleet Management Weekly, July 7, 2014


W. Edward Pierce, Principal, It’s The Arts

As any great sales per­son will tell you, sales is not about a great prod­uct or ser­vice, it’s about the customer’s per­cep­tion of value.

For fleet decision-makers, value is help­ing to max­i­mize the con­tri­bu­tion of his fleet to the company’s strate­gic goals as well as the sav­ings derived from con­trol­ling costs.

The more mean­ing­ful the value story, the bet­ter the chance that a fleet ser­vice or prod­uct provider can begin or move along the sales process with a fleet decision-maker.

Even if the com­pany has been an indus­try leader for 100 years, insists that every man­ager earn a Six Sigma Mas­ter Black Belt, reg­u­larly wins pres­ti­gious “Best of” awards, and reports fan­tas­ti­cal total cus­tomer sav­ings every quar­ter … even with all of that, it’s impor­tant that you under­stand how to dif­fer­en­ti­ate your value propo­si­tion in terms that are mean­ing­ful to the cus­tomer – because that’s the real key to win­ning and keep­ing business.

As explained in the last col­umn, “earned media oppor­tu­ni­ties” — print and dig­i­tal adver­tis­ing, pub­lic rela­tions, trade shows, direct mail – are impor­tant tac­tics for telling the value story. Yet, many times that story gets lost in trans­la­tion, espe­cially in advertising.

Here are three com­mon exam­ples read­ily iden­ti­fi­able in most trade mag­a­zines rep­re­sent­ing every industry:

1. Smug­ness (The “Top of the Moun­tain” View) – The mes­sage: “We are XYZ com­pany, the indus­try leader, with the best peo­ple, the best ser­vice, and the best technology.”

The Hype: The name says it all! A fleet man­ager can be con­fi­dent that this company’s “star-power” will rub off on him or her. It is the safest bet even with­out sub­stan­tive proof.

2. Prod­uct “Fea­turette” – The mes­sage (an exag­ger­a­tion): “Our G-Wiz gizmo uses a pro­pri­etary motion­less thermo-nuclear gen­er­a­tor that snatches free energy from a vac­uum to deliver pre-real-time data.”

The Hype: Daz­zling prod­uct fea­tures will blind fleet man­agers into think­ing a com­pany has the best prod­uct or ser­vice despite the lack of ben­e­fits or real-world application.

3. Buzz(word) Kill – “The mes­sage: “Our inclu­sion of indus­try buzz­words reflects our high level of indus­try knowl­edge! TCO. Telem­at­ics. Life­cy­cle. Bot­tom line. Ana­lyt­ics. 360 degrees. Web-based. Real-time. Pre­dic­tive. Big data. Excel­lence. ROI. Look how many we crammed into this ad!”

The Hype: Buzz­words sound excit­ing, espe­cially as they echo inside the halls of the ven­dor. How­ever, in the mar­ket­place, they quickly become clichés used by every adver­tiser, con­firm­ing prospec­tive buy­ers’ belief that the prod­ucts or ser­vices are undif­fer­en­ti­ated commodities.

Most assuredly, every fleet prod­uct or ser­vice com­pany offers value for com­pa­nies and other orga­ni­za­tions with fleets. Yet, when it comes to pro­mo­tion, the value is too often lost in the hype.

Mean­while, fleet man­agers are on the hot seat every day, in need of real-world fixes for day-to-day problems:

– How do I stanch the flow of fuel as pump prices con­tinue to climb?
– How do I find time to coun­ter­act the com­pli­ca­tions result­ing from stag­gered OEM pro­duc­tion sched­ules?
– How do I deal with personal-use non-compliance?
– How do I address the fore­casted down­turn in resale val­ues?
– How do I man­age the new corporate-mandated reduc­tion of vehi­cles?
– How do I dis­pose, relo­cate, re-assign, or store a quan­tity of vehi­cles in the next 30 days?

I will dis­cuss form and style of pro­mo­tional mes­sages by spe­cific media tac­tics in next month’s col­umn, but reap­ing the ben­e­fits of “earned media oppor­tu­ni­ties” begins with a clear mes­sage, a dec­la­ra­tion of the product/service/company value from the fleet man­agers’ point of view.

How is that value expressed? How-to arti­cles (problem-solution). Suc­cess sto­ries. Tes­ti­mo­ni­als. Blind case stud­ies. Thought lead­er­ship (from the cus­tomer point of view).

The more spe­cific the prob­lem descrip­tion, the bet­ter. The more detailed the facts, the more believ­able. The more numer­ous the cases, the broader the rel­e­vant audience.

Reach­ing out to a sin­gle tar­get mar­ket, like fleet decision-makers, with a sin­gle mes­sage doesn’t work. As seen in the inef­fec­tive exam­ples above, gen­er­al­iza­tions obscure value.

At the start I noted that any great sales per­son will tell you: it’s about the customer’s per­cep­tion of value. Note that ref­er­ence is singular!

Micro-marketing aims to get mar­keters to the indi­vid­ual level, but it is expen­sive, and most business-to-business com­pa­nies have yet to address the much more viable approach – mar­ket seg­men­ta­tion. Again, I will make this a topic for a future column!

I wel­come feed­back, ques­tions, sug­ges­tions, expe­ri­ences and dif­fer­ing points of view from fleet prod­uct and ser­vice providers as well as from fleet man­agers, cor­po­rate buy­ers, con­sul­tants, trade asso­ci­a­tion and media rep­re­sen­ta­tives who want to help build bet­ter connections.

Just send an email to EdPierce@ItsTheArts.com. If you have a spe­cific mar­ket­ing issue or ques­tion, call me at 610–585-0801.

A Call To Action (for Fleet Providers)

Published in Fleet Management Weekly, June 2, 2014 – http://www.fleetmanagementweekly.com

W. Edward Pierce, Principal, It’s The Arts Marketing

(This is the first Fleet Management Weekly-exclusive column written by branding and marketing authority Ed Pierce expressly for product and service providers who want to connect and influence fleet decision-makers.)

Having just eclipsed 21 years of fleet industry marketing and 40 years in marketing, I can confidently say this is the most exciting time to market your company, products and services to fleet decision-makers. As fast as technology is changing the fleet products and services you are promoting, it is changing the media that you use to promote them.

Twenty years ago, Marketing supported sales by creating awareness. No sales rep wanted to make a cold call or go to a meeting and hear, “Who is (name of company)?” Today, studies show that about 71 percent of enterprise purchase decisions in the U.S. begin with research conducted online. More so, business buyers do not contact suppliers directly until 57 percent of the purchase process is complete.

Obviously, awareness is now just the first of several critical marketing goals. In this age of the well-informed buyer, earning a great reputation, creating a differentiated position, providing quantifiable value, building a strong base of customer “advocates,” and delivering those messages effectively through multiple channels are your other important marketing goals.

Multiple Channels
Not that long ago, there was just one media channel, that was, “earned”. Companies either paid (advertising) for access or earned editorial coverage based on newsworthiness (public relations). Yes, you could disseminate a customer newsletter, but distribution was limited to customers and possibly a prospect list.

In today’s digital world, “earned” media has expanded to include banner advertising, Google Ads (AdWords), native advertising and more. Fleet Management Weekly was one of the digital media pioneers in any industry, and it is still a great example of how “earned” media must be an important part of your marketing mix. But the web has ushered in a second media channel, that is, “owned.” The “owned” channel includes your own corporate website, microsites, landing pages, video, blogs, social media presence, back links, and content marketing The “owned” channel provides completely new opportunities to effectively reach fleet decision-makers.

In the next column, we’ll take a look at trends and opportunities related to the “earned” media channel as they pertain to the fleet industry. I welcome feedback, questions, suggestions, experiences and differing points of view from fleet product and service providers as well as from fleet managers, corporate buyers, consultants, trade association and media representatives who want to help build better connections. Just send an email to EdPierce@ItsTheArts.com.