By this time last year, most of our clients had their plans for the new year defined. This year, clients are asking what are we to expect in 2021? We have been keeping close tabs on the marketplace throughout the year in preparation for answering this very question. What’s next?
The Customer’s Journey
Simply stated, the customer journey has changed. Since our inception as an agency and long before, we have been tracking the journey of A/E/D, residential and commercial builders annually. This year we have spent more time with each of these key customer groups to learn firsthand what is changing in their journey and the implications and opportunities for clients. The insights we gained clearly articulate the difference between 2020 and 2021 and offer a thoughtful answer to what to expect and plan for 2021.
The changes to the customer journey are dramatic and meaningful. Traditional marketing, sales, distribution (aka fulfillment), and customer service are no more. Business transformation parallels the digital transformation in all marketplaces including the construction industry. In this post, we are sharing with you five specific areas of change that are both critical and actionable today.
Demand and Lead Generation
When businesses feel they need to “go to the mattresses” (a quote from the classic movie ‘The Godfather’) during challenging times, they immediately focus on demand generation and, more specifically, lead generation. For the record, demand generation is the process of getting people interested in what you have to sell (creating demand); lead generation is the task of turning that interest into names and contact details (leads) that you or your sales teams can follow up with. In our book, demand and lead generation go hand in glove.
As the customer journey changes, so does the path to demand and lead generation. This has never been more apparent than now. Reverting back to 2020 methods and content will be expensive and unsatisfying. It is paramount for you to revisit your customer journey for your products within the scope of the entire project. Knowing how your customers are making decisions differently and their new expectations of you, is the answer to your success and to what demand and lead generation looks like in 2021.
It is not your kids’ social media anymore. Social media is the strongest referral source in the marketplace. Deny this truth and risk everything. Customers are using social media to discover, learn, teach, interact, rank, rate, refer, and recommend you, your products, services and business every day. Social media is fast, dynamic, and responsive with a huge reach that is highly influential and can be activated 24/7. As a result, it is important your social media efforts lead with both creative thinking and executional experience and expertise. Social media is sophisticated and powerful. Developing and implementing a strong, well-defined, and consistent social media plan will drive sales, grow the brand, and increase the value of business. Your customers told us so.
Pretty pictures and promotional content will no longer cut it on social media. Case studies, trend reports, user generated content, and videos are all important to share across your platforms. It is your customer service that has become a HOT ticket item on social media. Listening to social media conversation provides tremendous insights and opportunities for your business. Joining these conversations to share your thoughts and solutions is important to developing relationships for your business. As these relationships with your company grow, so do the expectations to respond to the call for service. Your customers have direct and open channels through social media to you and your customers. How you interact and respond to them will define your products, people, and reputation in the market. Establishing a customer service plan for social media is a priority for 2021.
The Digital Marketplace
Order online. Curbside pickup. Jobsite delivery. These are all becoming common place in the market. Marvin Ellison, CEO of Lowe’s, talked about how the pandemic has changed the marketplace and their business. It accelerated developing their ecommerce efforts by three years in response to the expectations of their customers. Many large distributors have been preparing for the digital transformation with significant investments in ecommerce platforms the past several years. They are well-suited for jobsite delivery. Our questions center around the relationship between the manufacturers and the distribution partners; specifically, who will be selling to the customers and the influence of this decision on the brands? Time will tell us. Today, we are advising our clients to take ownership of their customer relationship across digital platforms. It is where the customers reside and prefer to be.
Every year we conduct post-show research with the attendees of the International Builders Show (IBS) and now IBS and the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show (KBIS) together. We have decades of insights that tell us how attendees’ “shop” the show and what is important to them in order of priority. This information has never been more important than today as trade shows are becoming virtual events and experiences. Here is what we know from past attendance and our research:
#1 – Attendees are interested in seeing new products, service and ideas.
No surprise here. What is important is the order in which they pursue learning what is new. Attendees start with current vendors. Almost two-thirds of their time is invested in visiting with their “business partners.” Next, they visit the competition of their business partners. Finally, attendees will spend whatever time is remaining available to randomly search the floor.
#2 – Education is important to most attendees of the national events and shows.
Attendees have a similar pattern with selecting education topics as they do when attending vendors exhibits. Familiar topics first, competing topics second and new ideas and trends third.
#3 – Networking and friendships are cited as important takeaways from these events.
Applying our knowledge of what attendees are seeking to how to best participate in a virtual event is valuable to you. We have a robust program to help you fully leverage your investment in virtual shows and events that drive both demand generation and lead generation. We also have a direct sales program if you are interested.
Your company’s reputation (AKA brand) is established, grown, maintained, and changed by your actions, first, and your words second. This has never been more true and more important than today when customers are valuing and expecting openness, empathy, authenticity, and agility. Best said, they want to work with “partners” that are people-centric. Products are important when framed in consideration of the people connected to them at all stages of the relationship (i.e., journey). The relationships we build and how we service and support them make a difference. How we reach and communicate with people is different today. We are increasing the use of videos featuring the people, customers and company team members, to be closer to those we are reaching to and engaging. And, of course, we are working to make finding, learning, ordering, and receiving the products and services people want friendlier and easier.
Get started planning. We suggest you begin in order of urgency, which is also the order of opportunity for your company’s success. Start putting together your virtual events plan for IBS / KBIS if you were planning on exhibiting in 2021. Here is a link to a virtual events guide we published – Planning and Executing a Successful Virtual Event. Give us a shout if you would like a plan built just for your company.
Next, your 2021 plan should include revisiting your customer journey and assertively launching your digital transformation to support ecommerce and the logistics associated with it. We recommend you complete these tasks concurrently. Ask for help if you lack the people power or experience to take this on. As stated earlier, getting your customers journey right and having the digital foundation in place is critical to time and money invested.
Once you know your customer journey and have the channels to support them, it is time to make certain your brand meets the expectation of your customers. In other words, make certain your reputation aligns with your customers or they will look elsewhere. Remember, your brand is built more on what you do than what you say. Do the right things by your customers and they will reward you. At the same time, make sure to say the right things. Words are powerful.
In regard to saying the right things, social media, properly planned and executed, is one of the most important communications tools you have available. You can publish the right messages, in the right place, at the right time, to the right people and be in complete control of it all. Create a proper social media and content strategy, deliver it through a monthly editorial calendar, and be committed to building relationships through this incredible medium. Social media used properly can be a game changer for your company.
There is no reason to wait for planning 2021 any longer. We have important key learnings in hand that we can use to deliver an authentic, meaningful and powerful plan for success in the new year. Please do not be led to believe that doing the same things you have done in past will work now. You will be disappointed and that is not what looking forward to a new year is ever about, particularly 2021.