Ten Resolutions for Strengthening Your Through-Channel Marketing Strategy

A new year is upon us, and depending on when your fiscal starts, you have either finalized your marketing plan and are starting to activate it, or you are still in the midst of wrapping it up. Either way, as you sit through the annual planning process—either as a client or agency partner—you know that creating an effective marketing plan (and through-channel marketing strategy) is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.

Yes, there are a limited number of objectives, strategies, and tactics from which any brand can choose. And yes, you have the prior year’s plan and hopefully tracked results for guidance. But from the brand level to specific disciplines like through-channel marketing (sometimes called distributed marketing), each new year brings a new opportunity. Namely, to build on past learnings and adapt as needed to create a more effective and successful strategic plan for the year ahead. An article in the Harvard Business Review titled 5 Myths About Strategy stated, “…strategy is about what we are going to do now in order to shape the future to our advantage.” We wholeheartedly agree.

Unfortunately in the world of through-channel marketing, many leading providers do not view their platform and/or service offerings this way. Whether an Enterprise Solution or Software as a Service (SaaS), they often take a one-size fits all approach which can inevitably lead to client frustration and ultimately, less-than-optimal participation with channel partners.

An effective through-channel marketing plan requires a sound strategic approach and partner that can provide comprehensive end-to-end customization of the most important elements, including platform, capabilities, functionality, features and benefits, UI/UX, people, etc. This may sound like a daunting task, but never fear. We are here to help take the guesswork out of it with 10 New Year “Marketing” resolutions you should make – and keep – as you evaluate (or re-evaluate) your needs and determine the optimal through-channel marketing solution.

  1. Be Objective. Thoughtfully setting annual objectives may sound basic, but you would be surprised how little thought some brands put into establishing their goals for the coming year. To do it right, start with an audit of all key through-channel or distributed marketing stakeholders to gain consensus on what is needed, what is currently working vs. not working, etc. With this assessment and your brand’s overall vision and goals in mind, define short, mid and long-term objectives for your through-channel marketing program. Prioritize (and re-prioritize) knowing that you cannot do everything at once but rather can build on your efforts from year-to-year. And most importantly, remember that any objective must be actionable, achievable and measurable.
  2. Do Your Homework. With your objectives clearly in mind, research and understand what is currently in the marketplace. Check out what competitive brands and your current/prospective through-channel marketing partners are offering. Fair warning, some of the terminology around features and benefits can be confusing. Take note of what you see and evaluate which offerings may best help you achieve your specific goals.
  3. Make Time for Collaboration. When evaluating current or prospective through-channel providers, avoid just setting up a “call” or “meeting.” These terms confer the all-too-typical sales-pitch to many providers. Instead, schedule collaborative discovery sessions. Define and share an agenda for the session that focuses on exploring unique, plausible solutions an individual provider can deliver for your brand and business. We have been privy to calls or meetings with major through-channel competitors and you might be surprised how much they focus on their company and platform, and how little they ask about your needs. Scheduling a collaborative discovery session ensures any prospective partner understands the focus of the time spent will be on mutually beneficial solutions tailored to your specific needs.
  4. Focus on Function. Many platforms offer similar functionality: digital asset management, variable asset customization, cooperative fund/MDF management and disbursement, project management, media etc. Often, the key difference between providers simply comes down to user interface or experience. Do not settle for platforms that are antiquated or just “good enough.” Ensure your needs are fully met by the functions currently offered, or those they are willing to develop for you. You and your program are worth it.
  5. Have It Your Way. A majority of platforms are often leased as SaaS or Enterprise systems, typically under multi-year contracts. Once signed, providers often limit changes as the coding, development time, and testing to implement them can be quite costly. Yet, these changes may prove necessary to optimize your channel partners’ experience. Ensure you can adapt and optimize the UI/UX to meet your needs throughout the term of the contract without being subject to exorbitant penalties or fees.
  6. Think Ahead. Will your through-channel marketing partner allow you to add additional features down the road, including those not readily available now? Confirm scalability and don’t settle for merely “white labeling” canned features where customization is limited to adding your brand logo. Ensure your partner is willing to build and/or customize what you need, rather than forcing you to use what they currently have.
  7. Stay Flexible. Closed source end-to-end service providers often limit your ability to integrate additional services. Open-source providers don’t typically pose this challenge but come with other limitations. To be fair, both closed- and open-source solutions have pros and cons. Having the flexibility to customize or add on functionality may offer a great advantage over time – make sure you understand your through-channel marketing provider’s ability to do so upfront.
  8. Strengthen Your Support Network. Most through-channel or distributed marketing is not completed in a vacuum. For optimal results, you will need insights, support, and service to flawlessly activate your program. Many through-channel marketing providers take a transactional approach, focusing the bulk of their efforts on making the sale versus servicing the client. Do not settle for this. Share your service-level expectations upfront. Require regular, ongoing touchpoints with a dedicated account management team, where program insights and corresponding refinements are delivered.
  9. Work Smarter. In today’s digital world, no one should suffer from a lack of valid, insightful data that drives improved performance. Determine your data needs and wants up front, then work with your through-channel marketing provider to identify optimal reporting mechanisms. Ensure you will have easy to access, up-to-the-minute data and analytics anytime, anywhere. You never know when it will be needed.
  10. Stay Current and Secure. When leasing a platform service from a provider, make sure regular system updates are planned, guaranteed and included in the lease agreement. This will avoid being locked into a platform that becomes outdated or is no longer supported. Keep your future interests in mind when planning ahead. Switching platforms is disruptive and often frustrates program participants. Minimize this risk by ensuring your through-channel marketing provider and platform will grow with you over time in a safe and secure environment that has necessary redundancies in place.

There you have it—ten resolutions that will strengthen your through-channel or distributed marketing efforts in the new year.

One final thought: platforms are only as good as the people behind them. Try not to get distracted by bells, whistles or shiny objects that alone will not help you achieve your objectives. Look beyond the platform and get to know the people you will work with every day. It is the key to your program’s future success.

Cooperate Marketing proudly offers comprehensive, full-service through-channel marketing services and believes people are greater than platforms. Want to improve your through-channel marketing program’s performance? Then let’s talk. Get a FREE Co-op Checkup—an assessment of your current program with recommendations to maximize future results. There’s no charge, and the entire process takes less than two hours of your time. Most importantly, it identifies potential areas for improvement whether or not we’re ultimately your through-channel marketing partner.

Please contact Brian Fourman at bfourman@cooperatemarketing.com or dial him directly at 312-967-3535 to schedule your Free Co-op Checkup today!

About the Author:
As the president and founder of Cooperate Marketing, Brian Fourman has over two decades of experience and has helped small, mid and large-cap companies revolutionize their go-to-market channel strategy, and turn fledgling “challenger” brands into category leaders by utilizing proprietary technology and applying a customized, results-oriented approach.

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