Many national brands with indirect sales channels such as franchisees, dealers, or resellers have allowed their channel marketing programs to run on autopilot. In truth, those programs — whether co-op, market development fund (MDF), or compliance — have the power to do much more. They just need some restyling.
You and your partners can maximize the return on your channel marketing dollars — i.e., increase sales — when you tailor the programs to meet modern marketing objectives. For partners, that could mean improving the local digital presence, sponsoring the appropriate local events, or delivering important local customer data back to the brand. For brands, that could mean rewarding behaviors you most wish to influence with higher subsidies or other incentives.
Here are seven ways to wring more value from your channel marketing programs.
No. 1: Know What Structure Works Best
Just because you’ve always handled channel marketing a certain way doesn’t mean you can’t improve the program to better match how your partners operate. A channel marketing program is supposed to help partners be more relevant and impactful at the local level. If that’s not happening, it’s time for a change.
In general, channel marketing programs fall into three categories:
Traditional Co-op Programs
With this structure, your channel partners get an accrual, follow the business rules for media spend, run the media, and then get reimbursed. It’s a stable model that allows for long-term planning. However, the reimbursement process can be slow and tie up existing cash flow.
Market Development Funds (MDF)
Market development funds are complex enterprise-level solutions. It takes time to develop a market and make it successful — and ensure no dollars go unspent. These discretionary dollars typically are doled out based on predicted, versus past, behavior. Campaigns need to be strategically designed within brand guidelines for success.
With this structure, the brand provides media funds in advance and checks compliance only if business rule audits uncover issues with ads or messaging. Repeat offenders have to reimburse the brand for any noncompliant assets or media spend.
When weighing your channel marketing options, consider your brand’s business goals as well as your partners’ concerns. Don’t be afraid to use some combination of the three.
No. 2: Check Out the Competition
First, you need to determine if your local partners are succeeding in the program structure that’s in place. If not, then you can modify it to better meet their needs. Determine key performance indicators (KPIs) based on brand alignment, media mix, and sales objectives.
Consider conducting an audit with the help of your channel marketing partner or enlist feedback from stakeholders to align business objectives. Look at the competitive landscape — your traditional competitors as well as the broader marketplace. This will help you understand the experience competition from outside your industry that influences the expectations of both your partners and your customers.
No. 3: Ensure Local Partners Are on the National Page
Customers expect seamless experiences across touchpoints. They don’t distinguish between in-store and online, and they view the brand and its local presence as one and the same. If a customer visits a national website and gets redirected to a local site, he or she had better see the same messaging.
To create those seamless experiences, make sure your local partners adhere to brand standards and guidelines. Images, logos, colors, and messages and offers should be consistent across partners and marketing channels. A channel marketing automation solution puts everyone on the same page, gives partners payment autonomy, and enables automatic campaign activations. According to Brainshark, only 46% of companies with an indirect sales model are using channel enablement technology. It’s critical to think about channel marketing automation as another component of your overall martech stack.
Brand equity takes a long time to build, but it can quickly be eroded with outdated assets and incongruous messaging.
No. 4: Tie Local Marketing to a National Pillar
What does the brand stand for? If the company is known for animal advocacy, then partners could spend a portion of their co-op dollars supporting local animal shelters. Brands should encourage their partners — monetarily or with training or field sales support — to bring to life that advocacy at the local level.
No. 5: Connect With Customers Where They Are
Think of all the possible touchpoints customers use to research products, find local store information, or interact with customer service agents. Channel partners should be using a mix of media and messaging, but they may need strategic direction from the brand to efficiently reach customers and prospects. Performance media planning and buying shouldn’t be an afterthought.
No. 6: Match Local Marketing to the Brand
If the brand sells premium products, then all marketing dollars for media and events should be spent upholding that image. For example, an auto dealer selling luxury cars shouldn’t have a dancing clown and hot dog cart on the floor during a sales event. A local artist and upscale food and beverages would be a better use of funds.
No. 7: Share Data
A constant challenge for brand and channel marketers is the tug-of-war surrounding customer “ownership.” The reality is, both the brand and the partner own the customer relationship in the brand-to-local ecosystem. Incentivize local partners to share data that helps create a single view of the customer. Or explore local customer-relationship management (CRM) integrations within your channel marketing automation platform.
Using tiered reimbursement levels to influence partner behavior, or offering turnkey packages for performance media activation, can be particularly useful for small to midsize partners who may not be as familiar with media tactics.
Channel Marketing’s Staying Power
Co-op, MDF, and compliance programs have been around for decades. Their staying power lies within the brand’s ability to adapt the channel marketing methods to the evolving expectations of customers and partners — and ensuring the latter are truly partners in the decision-making.