Perhaps your company relies on good old-fashioned word-of-mouth publicity and steers clear of social media. Maybe your marketing efforts emphasize trade shows and real-world connections, quite successfully, rather than online communications. But you did just update your website … five years ago. Things have changed. Now your customers all have a phone in their hands, and they don’t have much time to spare for your messages. Marketing methods today can’t rely on just one strategy or just one vehicle. It’s a group effort. You need to make an impression quickly,and it’s got to stand out.
In today’s environment, a solid digital marketing strategy is imperative to catch the attention of customers, meet their needs, and stay competitive yet collegial among an interconnected range of industries. Companies are relying less on traditional communications like print brochures and catalogs and leaning hard into new modes of engagement, including more useful websites and more memorable social media campaigns. The landscape has changed so rapidly that companies that aren’t keeping up will find it hard to thrive. Successful companies report that keeping a fresh web presence, engaging with customers on social media and investing in high-quality photography are essential to attracting attention and developing relationships that turn into sales.
Roll with it
Stimpson®, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., is a longtime leader in supplying eyelets, grommets and other hardware used in applications ranging from canvas tents and tarps to complex fabric-based medical products. The company started business in Lower Manhattan in 1852—when the internet wasn’t much of a presence. Recently, Stimpson completely revamped its website and branding. “Frankly, we were long overdue for a facelift. I believe we had our old logo for over 50 years. It’s difficult to convey to your customers that you’re a forward-thinking, modern organization when your logo is that old,” says Cory Rau, vice president of sales and marketing.
The company’s new site is clean and modern, optimized for search engines and page-load performance, easier to navigate, and features appealing, contemporary aesthetics. The real star, though, is the new color scheme and logo. “The more I look at the logo, the better I like it, and I think that’s pretty important,” says Rau. But rebranding is more than just a new logo. “We’ve been working on our internal computer systems, business processes, quality systems and culture for some time in an effort to provide the best products, service and competitive prices to our customers. The rebranding was a way to reflect those positive changes in a more customer-facing way.”
While legacy companies like Stimpson enjoy the word-of-mouth marketing that comes with decades of experience and quality products, a fledgling company with a smart web presence and two employees could also be a serious contender if its imagery catches the attention of new customers. “We try to allude to our longevity in our messaging without hammering people over the head with it. If you rely too heavily on how long you’ve been around, it can seem like that’s all you have to offer, and that’s certainly not the case with us,” says Rau. To keep the competition on its toes, Stimpson won’t wait another 50 years to rebrand, and Rau is already thinking about the next refresh of the website. “You really have to give your site a complete overhaul at least every five years if you don’t want it to look dated and flat, so the clock
never really stops ticking on that front.”
Alex Kouzmanoff, vice president of Torrance, Calif.-based Aztec Tents, says his company updated its website just seven months ago but is continually tweaking and refreshing it. The company also recently launched an e-commerce subsite: a targeted website focused on specific sets of customers, with paid social placements. “We try to keep all of these assets up-to-date and relevant to our overall branding strategy,” says Kouzmanoff, who appreciates the ability to monitor and gauge each different strategy’s effectiveness. “It has certainly clarified what works and what doesn’t. We are now much more educated about the marketing decisions we make. Where once we relied on hunch and feel, today we rely on data.”
One thing he knows that works is Aztec’s annual photo contest, now in its fourth year. “Each year we receive hundreds of images from customers all over the globe as part of this annual contest. Some are amazing and some make you cringe, but all have a way to support our products and keep our customers engaged in the products we manufacture,” he says. The contest is fun—but it’s also serious. “We rely heavily on these images to support the marketing of our products.”
A sharper image
Sta-Lok® Terminals Ltd., a small family business based in Essex, U.K., specializes in stainless steel hardware for architectural and marine applications. The company offers its customers a wealth of information online, and until recently, kept a frequently updated blog to further customer connections. But in the past 18 months, the company had noticed the rate of clicks going down on that blog, and email-based engagement mirrored this decrease. “There is just so much digital noise. We have to be much more strategic about how we reach our customers, because if we overwhelm them, they tune out,” says Luke Gusman, marketing manager. “Email is still important for some customers and we do keep the blog for major announcements, but in the last 18 months, our marketing strategy has been flipped on its head.”
What’s most important now? Visuals. Sta-Lok invested in a huge portfolio of quality images. Beautiful, crisp photographs feature the company’s shining products in applications and close-up shots that play well on social media, especially Instagram. “As sales of everything have moved online, people have become very dependent on quality visuals. If I’m going to buy a suit, you bet I want to see it in clear, close-up images from every angle so I know what I’m getting. It’s no different for our products,” says Gusman, who will post a shot of a tensile structure that features Sta-Lok hardware and get instant queries from architects on Twitter or Instagram.
The company conducted extensive research and talked to customers to create a marketing strategy that meets them where they are—online—and gives them what they want: descriptive visual information. Sta-Lok quit making paper brochures and product sheets, and now has digital versions that clearly reinforce the company’s colors, logo and branding to create a specific brand image and language. The photos show the products in amazing structures around the world, and capture the simple beauty of those pieces of stainless steel in much the way a piece of a Rolls Royce automobile might be photographed. Gusman reports that one online observer said, “I don’t even know what you do, but I want it.”
A moving image
Sailrite Enterprises Inc. is another company that has evolved as the information picture has shifted. With a strong emphasis on customer education, the company features tutorials and in-depth information on its website and on YouTube. The video channel has been instrumental in showcasing the company’s expertise, displaying its fabrics and hardware as it teaches a DIY-oriented customer base how to make or repair sails and marine supplies. Sailrite, based in Columbia City, Ind., has more than 160,000 YouTube subscribers—maybe a few less than vlogging celebrities like Bo Burnham or DanTDM, but for a small, niche company like Sailrite, this is a noteworthy number.
“People want to feel empowered to do things themselves, and this trend helps us tremendously. It allows for customizations, cost savings and an immense sense of gratification once a project is complete,” says Zach Grant, Sailrite’s trade program manager. “When a customer takes on a big project, it is not uncommon for them to send us an email saying they feel like they know our team on a personal level because of how many times they viewed a video. Moreover, if they feel that the video doesn’t answer a question, we make ourselves very easy to contact, maintaining a staff specifically for speaking to customers about their projects,” Grant adds. “While our goal is to garner sales, support and content is a focal point for Sailrite, which our customers have come to respect, in turn becoming avid followers.”
The company is engaging in a trial-and-error program to see what social media platforms its customers use most often. It is carefully tracking engagement to see which platforms and content do well, and to learn more about its customers’ needs.
“For instance, YouTube is for the people who want to know all the information they can about a project and how to do it; time is not a factor. Instagram is for those that want a short video on a project or product. Pinterest is for future project inspiration. Twitter we are still getting our bearings on. Facebook is to connect customers with other customers sharing their finished projects and talking about their experience. We try our best to cater to each, which has resulted in sales increasing across the combined platforms nearly 50 percent over last year, with over 61 percent of those being new customers,” says Grant.
Tried and still true
There are still exceptions to all this new media thinking. Keder Solutions, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based company that features keder products for use in tents, awnings, signage and other structures, has had remarkable success with a mid-century marketing tool: the good old-fashioned mascot. You’ve heard of the Jolly Green Giant, the Energizer Bunny and the Pillsbury Doughboy. But have you seen Keder Keith? Hang out on social media, and you’ll find him posing before beaches, waterfalls and skylines around the world, or starring in short films. This mascot—based on Keder Solutions vice president Keith Eismann—features a photograph head and a cartoon body, an unapologetically comic mash-up that customers responded to so enthusiastically that Keder Solutions has turned him into a bobblehead. Customers take the Keder Keith bobblehead on their vacations and post their photos of him on social media.
“It just kind of took on a life of its own. We’ve had an amazing response to this character and it’s really helped get the Keder Solutions name out there,” says Tara Moughan, a marketing consultant with POPt Consulting LLC, which helps the company with its outreach efforts. “Sometimes you’re selling something that is not especially exciting, but it’s useful and well-made. Customers appreciate quality products, but they are drawn in to take a closer look at those products by something fun and engaging, like this character.”
The company produced a series of videos called Ask Keder Keith, in which the hero answers questions and sings goofy songs about the products. “The real Keith doesn’t take himself too seriously and he’s really likable, so we can do a lot with the concept,” says Moughan. “This character allows us to find out what the customer finds interesting and gives them a way to come in, ask questions and learn more.”
Keder Solutions saw an immediate increase in customer interaction and awareness after Keder Keith hit the scene in 2017. He’s now a part of the company’s every marketing move and helps make an impression across social media, at trade shows and through his wacky adventures around the world. “Sometimes people take marketing just a little too seriously. Don’t be afraid to try something different. Listen to your customers and try to have fun,” says Moughan.
Amy Goetzman is a freelance writer based in Maplewood, Minn.
Specialty Fabrics Review, November 2018