Reprinted from the 2009 September Business column in Metalforming magazine.
By: Michael Bleau
Finally, the economy is unequivocally on the upswing. Your customers and plenty of new prospects are preparing to spend on delayed capital projects, long overdue maintenance tasks and inventory replenishment. Chances are your estimators are processing more requests for pricing than they have in months—your remaining competitors are too. Like you, your competitors are scouring a variety of industries looking for diversification. Be mindful that due to economic pressures your current customers have shuffled the deck and replaced some of their decision makers, making it easier for your competitors to find ways into your strongholds. So when making that first impression with new prospects or new decision makers, do you stand apart from the crowd? Do your sales and promotional materials accurately communicating the caliber of your company and offering?
Before I plow headlong into how to quickly tune your identity and collateral to make that good first impression, let me first state that I recognize that ‘looking good’ is of less importance than performance, quality, know-how, service and value. But consider this; even with the benefit of a word-of-mouth referral a sloppy or inadequately prepared presentation can delay or ruin your chance of winning that first opportunity to demonstrate your more meaningful attributes.
Corporate identity primer
Taking a positive position in the in the minds of consumers first requires a deliberately designed, unifying, unmistakable and consistently adhered to corporate identity (CI). Your CI should be carefully crafted to represent the philosophies, products and ultimately the persona of your company. Logotypes, branding, trademarks and color schemes are what might come to mind; these are the tip of the iceberg. Corporate identity in its broadest sense comes about when there is shared ownership of an organizational philosophy and a culture that manifests itself in distinct visual and written ways to solidify who the company is within the minds of its employees and consumers. Not an easy task, but well worth the effort and one that can be achieved without engaging Madison Avenue.
In a practical sense, CI applies to everything from décor, delivery trucks, uniforms, business cards, websites, print ads and brochures. Even a proposal cover speaks volumes about your company. How you present your company can lend credibility or contradiction to what you say about who you are, what you do and how good you are at doing it. More importantly, good design and presentation can get you noticed, which is the first step towards earning new business.
Time starved consumers
As you begin to prepare any document or media that will represent your interests, whether it is a print ad, screen presentation or brochure, keep in mind that your audience is starved for time. Thus they’re most likely going to skim through your materials. When they do they are not in an active attention mode as you are when you prepared the material; they are in a passive attention mode. This means that they are not likely to quickly comprehend and retain information delivered through long narratives and cluttered visuals. Rely on solid visuals, such as; professional photography, concise graphs, charts and very limited text. The more quickly you clearly communicate, the better chance you have of capturing the interest of your audience.
Advertising purists will claim that the first rule of advertising is always being truthful, which I agree is a requirement, just not the first rule in today’s marketplace. Unfortunately, there is so much ‘noise’ in advertising that consumers have trained themselves to tune out marketers. So while you agonize over choice of words and images that tell a detailed, sticky or compelling story, you may miss the reality that your audience is skimming content in low attention mode. Therefore, my first rule—grab the audience’s attention.
One of the best attention-grabbing treatments that I have seen of recent includes the 1/4-page ‘torn corner’ ads that you have certainly noticed within the pages of MetalForming. Not only has this advertiser found a means of really jumping off of the page, but they have done so in a way that brings immediate understanding of who they are and what they do. Furthermore, through repetition and consistency they have solidified ownership of this visual device. Sure, other manufacturers can replicate the treatment, but it would crassly scream ‘me too’. My advice, using AP&T Group’s example, create your own, non-conforming way to grab attention and communicate your offer. Then, measure results, adjust and stick with what works until it falls into the ‘saturated and tuned-out’ category.
Concise screen presentations
First off, presentation decks are intended to support a speaker and not act as a brochure substitute or stand-alone sales pitch. Presenting dozens of text-laden slides will only lullaby prospects into blissful sleep. Among a common mistake are PowerPoint decks that include exhaustive listings of customer projects across multiple slides. While such listings may seem impressive and are a point of pride for the manufacturer, the audience is more concerned about tangible results. Try fewer single-slide, case examples that concisely illustrate how you will improve their business situation, (think before and after). Represent results and ideas using clean charts, graphs and photographs seasoned with results-oriented bullet points. Be respectful of the audience’s time and address their points of interest, but build branches in your deck to readily deliver more detail on request.
As prevalent as websites have become for consumer goods, industrial manufacturers lag behind in having professionally produced sites. In most cases, buyers consider a potential source of supply by visiting their website. Be careful not to be tempted by the cheap path that consumer-grade web editing software offers the do-it-yourselfer. As with tradeshows, ‘show great or don’t show’ as it is better not have a site rather than to present a clunky one.
As with print ads, websites afford you a fraction of a second to secure and engage the audience, especially if your inbound consumer is the result of a Google AdWords campaign that relies on highly targeted landing pages. Visuals accompanying brief animations and video can quickly communicate ideas and concepts. For those consumers who want to learn more, the web gives you the opportunity to present much deeper information to those willing to drill-down for more content. Therefore do offer the downloading of whitepapers, product data sheets or other more in depth materials on sub-level pages. When doing so, be mindful of why you are presenting additional material and what outcomes you are striving to achieve. For example, limiting specific content just enough may encourage prospects to engage your company in online chats or to phone you for application-oriented information. In other cases, you may present very detailed results in white papers designed to share knowledge with industry peers and potential prospects.
Brochures and other collateral
By now you’re picking up on a theme—brevity, consistency and visuals! With brochures and other print collateral you need to step into the mindset of your intended audience to understand what is of real value to them and how you can best capture their attention to communicate your worth.
The onset of digital printing gives sales organizations a distinct advantage over offset press produced brochures. Four-color, toner-based printing presses produced by Canon, Kodak and others enables marketers to highly tune their message to distinct industries or markets without the expenses attributed to offset printing. Like their HP Indigo cousins, these types of presses resemble large, complex copiers which is where the similarity ends—these million dollar machines are in a class all their own. Look for a printer that handles variable data printing, since these presses are perfectly suited and most often used for this type of direct mail production. These presses enable you to drive consistency in your collateral while having the freedom to adjust or prepare highly targeted, beautifully produced print pieces for specific audiences. Applying the rules of brevity, consistency and professionally production using these digital presses can boost your image for a tenth of the cost over offset print production.
Turning opportunity into business
When it comes to making that first impression with new prospects, ensure that you stand apart from the crowd. Quickly and clearly communicate the caliber of your company and the value you bring. Taking the time to produce high-end impressions will help you stand out and elevate the opinion and perceptions of your company in the minds of your customers and prospects, putting you in a better position to convert opportunities into purchase orders.
Served in various capacities within capital equipment engineering, robotics, project management, sales and marketing.
L&A collaborates with Industry Scope, Prior to L&A Nancy was Vice President of Public Relations for a full service B2B agency.