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6 Ways Your Distributorship Can Stand Out Online

By Bridget McCrea

Standing out on the web is an ongoing challenge for electrical distributors that are dealing with a growing number of online discount houses, bricks-and-mortar competitors, price-conscious shoppers, and myriad other threats to bottom-line profits. “Most companies are operating in a very different environment than they were, say, just 10 or 15 years ago,” says Philippa Gamse, author of 42 Rules for a Web Presence That Wins and a Capitola, Calif.-based digital marketing consultant.

“Distributors need to distinguish themselves by providing additional value, especially online. Clearly, they want to protect themselves from being seen as commodity providers by their target audiences.” Here, Gamse gives distributors six simple ways to hone their web strategies in a way that helps them stand out and deliver more value online:

  1. Deepen your firm’s web commitment. Start the process by committing to doing more than just writing a check to your web designer every month and hoping that the investment pays off. Dedicate a few hours per month or per quarter to asking questions like:  What is actually happening on our site? Who is visiting it? What are they doing once they get here? What areas of the site are not being accessed or utilized? “Most companies just put up a website and assume that it must be working,” says Gamse. “You can avoid this trap by simply taking the time to assess the effectiveness of your site on a regular basis and then adjusting accordingly.”
  2. Make use of online analytics. If you’re not already utilizing a free service like Google Analytics to measure your site’s effectiveness, then you’re missing the boat, says Gamse. Web analytics tools track a site’s statistics, allowing the business owner to see how many people are looking at which page, what sites those visitors are coming from, and who those users are. With this information in hand, companies can measure traffic to their sites, get a grasp on their visitors’ wants and needs, and measure click-through rates for new content, features, and offers. “Start looking at your site analytics,” Gamse advises, “and you’ll learn a lot about who is coming to your site, what they’re looking for, whether you’re filling those needs, and what more you can be doing to provide value online.”
  3. Pay attention to what your competitors are doing online. It goes without say that the web has made the age-old art of “competitive intelligence” much easier than it ever was in the past. No longer do you have to send spies out to shop in another distributor’s store – you can simply peruse their websites and use tools like Google News (to track daily information about your industry, competitors, and customers) or Quantcast (to get site-specific demographics, traffic trends, and so forth) to get the information you’re looking for. “Seeing what your competitors are doing online can be very eye opening,” says Gamse, “and the information you obtain can help you better position your own company online.”
  4. Use content to create value and attract visitors. According to Gamse, one of the most effective ways to get exposure online and communicate value to customers is by publishing blogs, articles, white papers, and other types of content online. Focus on your area of expertise, says Gamse, knowing that the content on your website will be picked up by the search engines and distributed to an even broader audience. “You can also offer your articles to publications that your target markets read – always with a link back, or reference to your site, of course,” says Gamse, “or include a discount offer in the byline of your articles as an additional incentive to bring visitors to your site.”
  5. Cater to the mobile generation.  You know those regular email blasts that you send out to your customers to let them know about new products, trends, and upcoming events? Well, a good portion of those messages are read either on mobile phones or tablets (Gamse estimates 30-35 percent, at minimum) – both of which require a slightly different design and format than the traditional computer screen does. “A third of your traffic is coming from mobile devices; that’s something you need to take into consideration for everything from web design to email formatting,” says Gamse. Buttons that encourage viewers to “click here to learn more,” for example, must accommodate that iPhone 4S user who is peering at it on a tiny screen. “Make sure those “click throughs” are both visible and accessible,” Gamse says, “or you’ll wind up alienating more than 30 percent of your target customer base.”
  6. Interview your customer base. One of the best ways for a distributorship to differentiate itself from the “price cutters” online is by simply asking its customer base:  What do you want from us online? A simple, 5-question survey (distributed and tabulated by an online polling platform like SurveyMonkey or FluidSurveys) can help companies figure out what is and isn’t working online and provide insights into areas where the distributor may be lagging. If your company is just testing the waters of social networking, for example, then five good questions would be:  Do you want to be able to interact with us using social networking? Do you participate in LinkedIn and LinkedIn groups? Do you use Facebook for business/professional activities? Would you use social media for customer support contacts? If we had a Twitter account, would you use it to tweet us when you have a problem? “This will tell you whether social media outreach is appropriate,” says Gamse, “and worth your time and effort – or not.”

Ultimately, Gamse says an effective web strategy boils down to the same premise that all businesses have been focused on for centuries:  understanding and serving your customers. “Figure out where you can add value to their online experiences and make them want to come back for more,” says Gamse. “That’s the Holy Grail of online marketing, and something that all distributors should be vying for in their quest to break through the ‘Who has the lowest price point?’ mentality.”

McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net.

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