Time was when a company’s marketing communications department — better known in the marketing trade as marcomm — had to beg, borrow and steal to land an adequate budget. That has changed. The pandemic has dramatically raised logistics’ visibility, especially in the I.T. arena. Capital is flooding the market in search of the next big logistics I.T. thing. In an increasingly crowded marketplace, getting a sticky message out has become a priority.
Caroline Lyle knows the drill better than most. A freight broker by training, Lyle cut her marcomm teeth at multiple logistics technology companies before returning full-time to her own business, Chelsea, Alabama-based Virago Marketing, which she launched in 2013. In an interview with FreightWaves Senior Reporter Mark Solomon, Lyle explains how companies can build an effective sales, marketing and communication strategy by utilizing digital tools, understanding the post-COVID business climate, and listening to the right people.
FREIGHTWAVES: Your company interviews prospective clients rather than prospective clients interviewing you. What are the characteristics of a company’s model that typically get you interested in working for them?
LYLE: “We are the marketing department of many of our clients, so it’s very high-touch. Just like you wouldn’t accept a job that wasn’t a good fit, we won’t take on a client if the two cultures don’t align.
“We have a six-step vetting process: First, is there a sound business strategy? Second, does the business have specific objectives to work the strategy? Third, do they have a compelling value proposition? Fourth, does the company have a passion for making the supply chain the most efficient it can be? Fifth, does management fully support the marketing function? Lastly, how are marketing and sales aligned?”
FREIGHTWAVES: The web has changed the way businesses market and communicate. What have been the most profound changes, and what changes lie ahead?
LYLE: “In the business-to-business (B2B) space, you are marketing to a person and not a company. Through the pandemic, B2B marketing has felt more like B2C. Marketing technology that uses segmentation and personalization on a mass scale has made this possible and cost-effective. But marketing trends ebb and flow.
“Before COVID, direct mail was making a huge comeback because the email box was becoming too full. When COVID hit and everyone started working from home, there wasn’t an effective way to deliver mail or even gifts. We turned to virtual events, but now everyone is digitally exhausted.
“Content remains king. But the focus will be on creative delivery. Content will come from data collected on marketing automation platforms, new customer journey maps and, eventually, auto-generated by using artificial intelligence (AI). The strength of AI across various marketing technologies gives companies great marketing efficiencies as well as solid feedback to sales and product development.
“Account-based marketing will return in 2022 as we get back to the office and companies refocus on closing the most valuable prospective clients and move from ‘buck shot’ campaigns such as mass emails. Another area is influencer marketing. Not in the B2C vein, but in collaborations with brands and industry thought leaders, thought leadership series, and other guest blogging opportunities. It’s likely we will see movement to alternative platforms like Clubhouse.”
FREIGHTWAVES: You have an extensive transportation background. That is an anomaly in the industry’s present-day marcomm field. Will possessing such credentials become a prerequisite for future success?
LYLE: “There are great marketing folks that do not have the background and still do a stellar job. However, the speed of which companies are launching an entire company or product with limited marketing budgets requires a very short marketing and sales runway.
“Having an industry background, training and knowledge removes the learning curve associated with the issues, the jargon and the players. Institutional knowledge helps in counselling clients on how to allocate their marketing spend for the best uptake.”
FREIGHTWAVES: The transport and logistics technology field has become very crowded, and companies are struggling to be heard above the noise. To get noticed, businesses sometimes push initiatives heavy on the sizzle and light on the steak. How do you separate the wheat from the chaff?
LYLE: “We look for companies that can either produce a business plan outlining how they differentiate from others in their space, or a product roadmap that demonstrates a future leadership position. It’s important they can articulate how they are uniquely solving industry problems, or are solving for one that doesn’t have competition and that provides meaningful efficiencies in the industry.
“A company’s message gets lost because it hasn’t done the research needed to position the product or service to not look like ‘just another technology.’ By research, that means deep discussions with industry analysts, editors and influencers who have seen tech companies come and go. An industry analyst once reviewed my messaging for a client’s product and advised me, in effect, to ‘go back and redo it.’ It saved the client a lot of time and money.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Few doubt that transportation and logistics remain ripe for technological disruption. What are the areas within the segment that have the most low-hanging fruit?
LYLE: “There is a lot of room for improvement. Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) has altered consumer demands and expectations. It has forced retailers to transform their business models to meet those expectations. They have now migrated to the B2B side. That’s where a lot of the low-hanging fruit lies.
“If I had to call out three areas, they would be cloud-based TMS for fleets with more than 50 trucks, differentiated technology in the parcel and regional LTL segments, and driver retention and safety. In the latter, we see an overriding need for one driver app that simplifies things. Driver app fatigue is real. An app that had everything from scanning to paid parking would make for happier and safer drivers.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Marketing and external communications has long been at the back of the transport and logistics bus, and operations at the front of it. How do you persuade prospective customers to lay out sizable marketing dollars if they are unfamiliar with the ROI?
LYLE: “With digital marketing and artificial intelligence, a true marketing ROI is easier to measure than ever before. It once was impossible to know if a print advertisement generated enough awareness. Now, that same online ad can quantify viewer awareness and action. We can see where someone saw a message, how often they saw the message, and which message drove them to their interaction. Everything is trackable and visible.
“We benchmark performance with media, platforms, publications and outlets. We share this data to help clients choose where to place marketing investments that generate brand recognition, leads and sales. We can provide them with potential outcomes before we begin because we’ve done it many times before.”
FREIGHTWAVES: How has the pandemic changed the manner in which businesses view marcomm, if at all?
LYLE: “Initially, we saw many companies lay off their marketing staff. However, they soon realized marcomm was the only way to see customers because there were no trade shows, in-person meetings, sales calls and the like. During this time, many companies brought in agencies like ours after seeing their lead numbers drop considerably.
“During the pandemic, we saw a repositioning from major ad expenditures into marketing research to better understand the buyer. This research yielded greater insights into what these tech companies should be considering for their product roadmap. It also put marketing squarely at the product development table to provide the ‘outside-in’ perspective. Transportation providers are buying innovation from tech companies. Marketing puts the two together.
“With the pandemic, tech companies had to grapple with how to sell remotely. This created opportunities for sales and marketing to collaborate. Sales teams got better at providing market intelligence back to marketing and management, and marketing leveraged this input to produce creative content and deliver through a multitude of digital channels. Marketing also had to get more creative as certain channels got saturated or exhausted. Working together helps develop a mutual respect and understanding for each other’s roles in a go-to-market strategy.”
FREIGHTWAVES: Capital has poured into the logistics technology space at an unprecedented clip. You’ve been in the field long enough to see the tide go out and people swimming naked. Where are the areas that money is being wasted?
LYLE: “We see money wasted when marketing and sales are not aligned. Results will suffer if there are no shared systems of market feedback, communication and strategy. A 2017 ZoomInfo report cited that companies with tightly aligned sales and marketing functions will close more deals, have higher retention rates and higher sales win rates. We believe those findings remain relevant, and that the virtuous cycle is more prevalent in our industry than in others.
“The ‘throw an ad up’ or ‘send an email’ approach is long gone. For more consistent long-term results, companies must work through how their customer makes a decision to buy with the help of sales, and help them make that buying decision through education. Marketing needs to recognize that attention spans are limited. Using an integrated sales and messaging approach simultaneously distributed through multiple marketing and sales channels ensures the message is seen and retained.
“There needs to be more focus on integration or consolidation of I.T. solutions. Trucking companies don’t want multiple screens and multiple logins. There needs to be a singular platform in which they can conduct their operations, get all the data fed in and get customizable reports. There is an overwhelming amount of data and tools. There needs to be more focus on leveraging a consolidated and tightly integrated system.”