Marketing ideas for merchants

Alison Relf, managing director of specialist construction PR firm Taylor Alden, looks at what merchants could think about to boost their marketing might.

The “marketing” industry is full of inspirational ideas on how to promote your message and brand today. Communication channels and marketing techniques have become busier and more refined during the pandemic as people the world over have looked at new ways to promote, research and purchase products and services.

The challenging part is developing a bespoke plan for your individual organisation while respecting time, budget and resource. Of course, you also need someone to answer all the amazing enquiries you will receive!

You may have millions to spend, you may have 100 people in your marketing department, and you may have ten specialist agencies – or, perhaps not!  So I would suggest you take it slow, plan well, and go forth in a realistic, priority-led manner. Much research has been conducted into how best a builders’ merchant should communicate today.

The go-to hub for anyone wanting to know more is your website so it’s important to get the design and workings of the website just right. Branding, information, SEO, population, photography, videos – the list is endless. In builders’ merchants, the best websites are those which are image- and product-led, as well as those with efficient ordering/accounts/click and collect facilities. Visitors want to see, quickly and easily, which products you supply, what your specialities and knowledge are and how you work. A good website designer, in partnership with a strong SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) or digital agency, is a good start. Even if you have an existing website, it’s good to go for a health check before you do anything else. It’s also advisable to look at what contemporaries are up to.

When looking at your website, and general branding and messaging, always have your target customer in mind. How do they look and how do they get information? Who are they? It may be that you conduct a research project just to find out, from your existing contacts, what they like to see and want to know. In this desk research, you may want to initiate the development of a list of key contacts – who do you want to work with?  Local builders?

A blog/news section, populated by a variety of key people in your company as well as “guests”, is helpful as is a section on project case studies with quotes from happy clients and endorsements from product manufacturers. Mutual PR is important as you are then tapping into a multitude of different audiences. The product manufacturers or builders, for example, may have a greater following than you. By sharing and conversing, you are spreading your message further. Of course, here we are talking social media. Key for builders’ merchants today are LinkedIn and Instagram as they, in simple terms, are business and image-led respectively.

You may want to appoint an outside PR/media agency to produce the content, case studies, thought-leadership articles, and this great mix of stories can be used for the media, social media and website pages as a start.

It’s not just about getting your name in the printed and digital media although that is obviously important. It’s also that, by getting to know key journalists, you are asking them to independently endorse your work and share your stories.  Product and case studies, and thought-leadership articles are really important here. It is widely known that building titles are holding up in the printed world too. The reader also likes that the piece is independent, and they do not have to “wade through the internet” looking for a good roofing system or bathroom suite.  All good publications produce a PDF flip page version.

Finally, a useful, popular way of making your mark in the merchant world is through awards and competitions. You only have to search for “builders’ merchant” awards and you can look for a list that best suits your work.

Alison Relf is managing director of Taylor Alden

About Alison Relf

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