To say that transportation marketing has been a stepchild would be an insult to stepchildren. In an industry with an operations-driven mentality, the marketing function, with some notable exceptions, has been invisible. Sales has been integrated with operations. Marketing, when it has existed on the organizational chart, has often been siloed from sales.
But there are signs of a change. Businesses are recognizing the value of marketing—which today means content development—and how it can connect with customers to drive sales and deepen relationships, which can subsequently lead to future sales. Furthermore, today's digital tools make it more cost-effective than ever to quantify a marketing campaign's success.
The fish seem to be biting. According to a report on the findings of an annual survey released earlier this month at the Transportation Marketing & Sales Association's (TMSA) annual conference in Amelia Island, Fla., 46 percent of 151 provider respondents said they increased their marketing budgets in 2016, up from 40 percent in 2015. About 7 percent said their marketing budgets were significantly higher in 2016, up from 2 percent who made the same statement in 2015. (We don't know if this is connected, but only 39 percent of respondents said they have planned sales headcount increases in the 2016-17 budget year, down from 51 percent in 2015-16. That may be due to a reduction in sales productivity because 49 percent of the sales headcount achieved half or less of their quota last year, according to the survey.)
TMW Systems Inc., a Cleveland-based transportation management software (TMS) provider, has jumped deeper into the marketing pool than most. In what Caroline Lyle, TMW's vice president of marketing, described as a "painful process," the company has integrated its marketing automation technology with its customer relationship management (CRM) software. This has resulted in what Lyle called—in classic marketing speak—maximum visibility from "the top of the funnel to the bottom."
At the TMSA conference, Lyle said TMW isn't selling products or services, but rather solutions to customers' problems. And solutions, she said, "need to be explained." That's where content marketing comes in. Whether it be blogs, newsletters, case studies, or something else, the objective is to showcase the company's strengths and how they can be leveraged to solve a customer's problems, Lyle said. Because each website page is tracked, TMW knows exactly what content current and prospective customers are consuming and can tailor solutions to those interests, she said.
For TMW and other providers, content marketing can help showcase skill sets that customers might not have otherwise known their providers had. It also disabuses salespeople of a certain arrogant notion—that because the salesperson and customer are known quantities to each other, all that's needed is to get in front of the customer to know what it needs.
There is still work to be done, especially when it comes to digital conversion. According to the survey, more than half of the metrics that gauge marketing ROI continue to be primarily tracked manually, or not tracked at all. Yet there seems to be a strategic shift under way. Increasingly, companies are pursuing what was described at the TMSA event as the "lifetime value" of a sale, not just what it takes to close the sale itself. If that philosophy is sustainable, then the customer value proposition will need to be broadened to include a greater emphasis on content marketing.
The question that providers will ask of their customers, said Dino Moler, executive vice president of client solutions for LeSaint Logistics, a Romeoville, Ill.-based third-party logistics service provider, is "How deep can I get into a relationship with you?" The answer, in each case, will differ. But it's likely that delivering value through rich content marketing will be part of the solution.