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Are You Neglecting Your Brand Touchpoints?
   by Teresa Schell, Strategic Marketing Partners, LLC
   Strategies   Fall  2011
  

My what? For plastic processors, itís not an everyday water cooler conversation that evaluates the effective use of the companyís touchpoints, which is the image that is formed as a direct result of the experience customers have as they engage with your company and your brand. How your customers perceive you and how they choose to speak of your unique offerings during word-of-mouth or networking experiences deserves a moment of your time. Many small- to mid-size manufacturing companies donít consciously think about branding because they think itís a concept for consumer markets, not business-to-business markets. However, branding is important to your company and should be a part of your water cooler conversations.

Your brand, as recognized by the best critics Ė your customers Ė is the sum of all their interactions with your company. Every place a customer can interact with your company is a touchpoint, and that touchpoint affects how you are perceived. A dreadful experience with one touchpoint can negate all the brand equity you built through other touchpoints.

You might recall the marketing snafu that happened with Burger King in 2008. The company spent millions of dollars traveling to Greenland, Romania and Thailand searching for hamburger-illiterate people to try the Whopper in an on-the-spot comparative taste test against the Big Mac. Burger King was criticized for not being more sensitive in acknowledging that hunger exists in some of the areas where they filmed, citing Thailand in particular, where 30 percent of people would never be able to afford a hamburger. Touchpoint management is a strategic approach directed toward high level awareness to a companyís marketing performance across all touchpoints.

For the plastic processor, touchpoint experiences fall into three categories: pre-purchase order, usage and post-purchase order. Pre-purchase order touchpoints include websites, word of mouth, direct mail, public relations, sponsorships or advertising. Usage touchpoints would include how the customer perceives the PPAP submittal process, sampling and receipt of plastic parts. Obviously, the post-purchase touchpoint would include the maintained level of satisfaction the customer receives years after the program is in place through customer service, quality or customer loyalty programs. All these factors contribute to a customerís impression of your brand. To create and manage your brand Ė that is, to make your audience think and feel what you want them to Ė you must create your brand through all these touchpoints.

Challenges in Touchpoint Communication
To better serve your customer base and more effectively acquire new customers, manufacturing companies need to examine the details of specific interactions to understand the relationship between each customer touchpoint and the value it brings to customers. After all, value may be built through a series of positive experiences, but it is preserved through consistently meeting those needs and expectations of your customers during the customer experience. Three challenges need to be understood:

  1. A single communication channel will not reach all your customers and prospects. Touchpoints must be delivered in multiple media channels ranging from Internet, sales staff, tradeshow strategies, direct mail or advertising and even social media approaches.
  2. Organizational obstacles may exist. Be cognizant that many companies operate in departmental silos, when customers actually experience companies evenly across all organizational departments.
  3. Understanding metrics brings increased touchpoint awareness. Many organizations are uncertain as to why the touchpoint strategies are ineffective. Apply a metric and record a historic log to track overall strategies that enhance your marketing and customer experiences.

Iíve interviewed hundreds of OEM customers to realize that the most effective resource for finding a new plastics supplier is by word of mouth and networking with peers. Our customers are our most powerful communication channel. So how do you get people to talk about you? How does an organization go about identifying which touchpoints works best in the customer decision process?

Defining and Establishing Your Touchpoints
The core of a brand lies in the key messages from the brand platform. Once a clear position is defined, typically from a combination of internal perspectives and external views from your customer base, a brand can effectively target specific market segments, go after those customers and build loyalty through touchpoints. Defining touchpoints can be developed after answering the following questions:

  1. How is your company different? What offering do you deliver that your competition does not? An attribute.
  2. What experience or value do you guarantee to your customers? A promise.
  3. Whatís your brandís definition in the marketplace? A position.
  4. What does your company ultimately deliver for the price? A value.
  5. Do customers care about your offering? Does it matter to them? A significance.

Customers are looking for indications that tell them they made the right choice in selecting you as a plastic processor, so how you map and present those touchpoints will build loyalty over time.

  1. Appoint a team. Select a champion to lead and enlist the support of others in the accomplishment of your companyís marketing touchpoints. Each employee must be a brand ambassador for your company. Marketing defines the brand promise through its communications. Ultimately, a successful brand shapes customersí experiences by embedding the fundamental value proposition in every touch. Your entire organization should then fulfill the brand promise.
  2. Identify and measure the touchpoints. From awareness to advocacy, all activities within the customer experience require touchpoints in a print or electronic interaction. Optimize effectiveness by updating your printed and online communication touchpoints. Eliminate redundancy and measure your success. Customer retention is imperative.
  3. Rank the touchpoints. Manufacturing companies should be able to detect which communication strategies are most important to their audience and how these can be influenced to optimize the business relationship for mutual benefit. The touchpoints being delivered should drive customers closer to realm of influence and persuasion. Companies utilizing the correct communication channels distinguish when to promote via print or electronically and in the proper order.
  4. Use the right message and right media. Itís important to recognize that not all customers are equally important to current and future revenue growth. Since a companyís focus is on customers that are currently profitable or have the potential to become so in the future, itís important that touchpoint analysis be connected to the customer experience.
  5. Discover and acclimate. Developing a touchpoint plan is a journey, not a destination. Moving forward, effective communication will require ongoing reviews and refinements. Pay attention to what touchpoints really matter to customers because a focused approach to building your brand touchpoints will reinforce the positive and successful experience of your brand. Your newly appointed touchpoint team should continually measure, learn and adapt.

Your brand will stand out if it delivers a positive customer experience Ė whenever and wherever the customer interacts in the plastic product buying cycle. Keeping customers, adding new ones and creating connections with all customers is verification of the overall achievement of the customer-experience focus. Companies with a successful marketing approach will define the touchpoints, refine how each touchpoint reinforces the brand and create harmony across the communication strategies.

Manufacturing companies that strive to stand out from the competition value the brand investments that are most likely to establish new opportunities. The most effective touchpoints encourage customers to get closer to your company. Ineffective touchpoints can suffer needless expense or even push customers away. Your customers buy into your brand if they perceive a true differentiation, a high level of service and consistent value. Thatís why the touchpoints in the customer experience are critical at multiple levels of engagement.

Is Your Marketing Working?
For marketers, essential touchpoints must be critiqued continuously. Changing customer needs or competitive threats almost always ensure that the strategies that worked in the past will not work in the future, thus requiring revisions in how your plastic processing is marketed. Realizing the kinds of results you want will likely require changing processes, addressing marketing and sales alignment and improving overall messaging strategy. If youíre willing to make the necessary investments, you will capture the benefits of implementing a marketing touchpoint platform.

Teresa Schell is the marketing director for Strategic Marketing Partners, LLC, a consultant to marketing platforms and communication strategies for manufacturing companies. Schell can be reached at tschell@strategicmarketingpartnersllc.com.