In the January issue of Professional Builders Merchant magazine, I shared our top tips for creating a winning communications strategy that will help merchants maintain a competitive edge.
November 2021 saw the Builders Merchant Building Index (BMBI) report continued sales growth within the merchant sector. Following a bounce back post-lockdown year, a slowdown is now expected for 2022. As materials shortages and price hikes present ongoing obstacles, one priority for merchants will be to protect and retain customer loyalty whilst growing market share.
Merchant confidence in the market had certainly improved across 2021. True, there were supply issues and the impact of Brexit to contend with, but overall sales were very good. Crucially, businesses and consumers were spending again. Whilst the domestic housing market remained strong and drove demand for materials, a fresh customer base appeared for merchants as DIY went off the chart.
The BMBI then reported the first signs of the sector easing as we reached winter. Mergers, acquisitions and expansions were seen over the course of the year, affecting the largest nationals through to local independents. And alongside widespread issues such as energy price rises and new Covid variants, merchants have entered 2022 facing countless sector-specific pressures including the shortage of HGV drivers, increased digitalisation and accessibility of imported materials.
Unsurprisingly, only a net +32% of merchants have confidence in their own business prospects at this point, according to The Pulse by MRA Research. Confronted with the prevailing pressures, coupled with the anticipated slowdown in demand, merchants will need to stand out from the competition and promote their offering effectively to ensure cut-through with customers.
This is where good communications can pay dividends – and there are four key areas which merchants should consider when it comes to developing a winning communications strategy:
1. Embrace ESG
People are moving more towards renewables, low carbon solutions and being socially aware of the businesses/products they sanction. Understanding your position as a business, your key areas of influence and having clear sustainability goals will ensure a credible external communications strategy with purpose.
2. Think social first
Merchants should adopt a strategic approach with clear objectives and an understanding of how different platforms and campaign activity can influence the sales funnel from awareness to conversion. Decide on what you want to achieve — is it brand awareness, engaging with partners, providing customer service or generating quality sales leads?
3. Create media cut-through
Traditional print media has for some time been in decline, but an evolving landscape has also brought opportunity. With traditional media moving online, it is worth investing in assets such as infographics, interactive pdfs and short video reports to help make your content even more link-worthy for SEO purposes. Leave sales messages to paid-for channels and instead focus on strong news hooks such as customer projects and case studies, CSR stories and brand partnerships.
4. Leverage digital PR
With an effective media relations strategy in place, the next step is to make your content work hard online. Newsworthy and shareable content will deliver not only coverage, but quality backlinks on relevant, high domain authority websites, helping you rank better on search engines and increase direct traffic to your website.
Traditional external communications have shifted seismically over the last decade with a rapidly changing media landscape and the explosion of digital media. Merchants must now keep pace, adapting the way they communicate to create cut-through and engage with their audience in an authentic, useful and purpose-driven way. For more information, you can read the full feature or contact us to find out how we can support you in developing a winning communications strategy.
Amy Ahmed-Dolphin is an account director and ESG communications lead at Whistle PR which offers a range of integrated communications services including strategic consultancy, traditional media relations, digital PR, purpose-led PR, social media, internal communications and crisis management. For further information, email email@example.com or contact us here.