Bridging Your Brand Message Through the Distribution Model

This article first appeared in NAFCD’s publication, Hub & Spoke, on July 13, 2020.

All marketing and branding professionals have at least a little bit of storyteller in them.  They create a narrative around a product that portrays it as more than just the physical properties or features that comprise it.

Marketers can control the story as they are crafting it, but what happens to the story when they start sharing it with others?  Does it get retold and gain legions of fans?  Does it get twisted and distorted with each retelling?  Does it get neglected and fade away?

Any marketer in the manufacturing space – including flooring materials – asks themselves these questions.  They invest heavily to craft a differentiated story for their brand, but they often lose control of that story as it moves through the value chain.  In a research study I co-authored in 2019, we found that most marketers have little confidence their message is remaining strong or their story is being retold effectively.

For those companies who go to market through distribution partners, this can be an even bigger challenge.  Our research showed that only 51% of marketing leaders are confident that their distribution partners are effective messengers of their brand story.  This is compared to 75% confidence in their own sales teams and account managers.

Third-party distribution adds a wrinkle to the discussion around brand that is impossible to avoid.

What Story Should Distributors be Telling?

Manufacturers and distributors need to work closely together if these brand stories are going to be effective.  This starts by taking an honest look at what story the distribution reps are telling today.  Do they represent the distributor as a brand?  Do they represent the manufacturing brands?  The answer is probably yes to both, and this makes their job difficult.

The messaging around both brands needs to be woven together so the customers (the dealer/contractor and ultimately the consumer) can clearly understand the value.  Start by looking at what makes the product offering special, how it is differentiated.  Then, look at how the distribution partnership enhances this.  How does that distributor extend the reach, provide better coverage, open new markets, etc.?  What makes the distributor a great partner?  Service, relationships, delivery guarantees, etc.?

Manufacturing partners need to help pull all those selling points into a single, cohesive story.  If they simply provide the same product information for all their selling channels and partners, the story will be disjointed and will probably get lost.  Distributors will stop focusing on your product brand and only sell their distribution brand.  That leads to dilution and lack of brand recognition or loyalty with dealers/contractors and the consumer.

The Goal is to Retell, Not Sell

When crafting the combined product/distribution message, marketers need to have the right goal in mind.  In too many cases, manufacturers look at the distributor as the customer.  Distributors then look at the dealers and contractors as their customer.  Finally, the dealers and contractors sell and deliver the product to the actual customer – the consumer.  This is a major reason why the story breaks down.

Each player in the value chain needs to adjust the way they view these partnerships.  The goal needs to be to get a differentiated story down to the consumer, the person whose money keeps the whole system flowing.  Rather than “selling” products to distributors, manufacturers need to help their distribution reps become better storytellers.  By equipping them to deliver a value-based message to the next link in the value chain, you will be creating momentum for your brand and your partnership with your distributors.  Otherwise, the conversation between the partners is purely transactional and value gets lost in translation.

The same is true for the dealer and contractors who serve the consumer.  They are not the “buyer,” but rather need to be viewed as an advocate.  They will present products they believe in.  Their “go to” brands are going to be the ones they have confidence presenting as being high quality, with excellent availability and strong after-sale service and support.   If the story is true, they will make more sales and develop lasting, trusted relationships with consumers.

The ultimate example of storytelling comes when happy customers tell the story of their experience to family, friends and neighbors.  When a brand story is delivered through a great sales and service experience, that is when consumers become your most valuable advocates.  That needs to be the goal for brands.  The only way to accomplish that is to invest in your distribution relationships and crafting messaging that highlights the value both brands bring to the equation.

InnerView is a strategic partner of NAFCD

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