Communication Catalysts

Posted On: 12/7/2016

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TAGS: Vending Times, Vending Times editorial, vending industry, coin-op, vending machine, coin machine business, office coffee service, vending machine operator, micro markets, Alicia Lavay, Vistar Mid-Atlantic Open House, Good To Go vending products, sales building

Alicia Lavay, vending, Vending Times

The theme of this year's Vistar Mid-Atlantic Open House in Atlantic City, NJ, was the proliferation of "healthy" items that meet the nutritional criteria of the company's "Good to Go" program (see story on page 30). This got me thinking of the ways the vending industry could do more to assist supplier companies -- startups pursuing the new market opportunity or established businesses looking to expand into it -- to obtain exposure to a diverse, representative demographic.

Today's vending operators are searching for better-for-you items to meet the growing demand of locations with wellness programs, and of an ever-larger segment of the consuming public. Contemporary vending technology provides unique and unprecedented tools for encouraging trial and obtaining quantifiable results.

Machine manufacturers have given us positive vend assurance systems, improved displays and illumination to present products to their best advantage, and payment systems that work reliably for whatever kind of transaction the patron wishes to make. Software developers have taken full advantage of today's very capable hardware to give operators the ability to determine exactly what is selling best in each location, to make sure that popular items don't sell out, and to alert the operator's service department to malfunctions.

Most product suppliers who are engaging and entertaining their present and prospective customers understand that this interaction is only one part of building sales. The other part is communicating with the resellers who serve those prospects. Resellers need information about new products, as well as effective cross-channel marketing programs, so that a rollout in a particular area is fully supported by everyone who sells the supplier's brands. This means, for example, getting the word out to the trade media at least six weeks ahead of a product introduction and/or promotion.

Vending machines -- now strongly reinforced by micromarkets -- remain the best (and probably the least expensive) way to get trial for a new single-serve item, so the single-serve vending/micromarket pack is an ideal medium for coupons and notifications of contests and social media initiatives. And a networked machine can track line-item sales activity very quickly and in great detail. We should welcome any new method that helps us communicate, but it's a serious mistake to abandon existing methods that are proven to work well.

When considering advertising, or preparing a press release, it's important to tailor your message to the audience you want to reach. Whether you're a manufacturer, a supplier or an operator, you are communicating with fellow business owners. Therefore, you want a marketing message that's different from the one you deliver to consumers, because the motive for purchase is different. Make sure your salespeople are educated about your products and able to answer any questions and deal with objections. If you can't provide prospects with the information they need immediately, they may find someone else at another company who can.

Unfortunately, the complex truth about advertising (or any other form of marketing communications) is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink. If people, for whatever reason, are not interested in something, then no form of advertising can make them buy it.

I suggest taking a look at the things people aren't buying, and seeing what you can do to make them more salable. What attributes of your goods or services may not be fully understood by prospective purchasers, but can help operators keep their revenues up? What are you seeing other operators or suppliers doing that appear to be working?

We also need to recognize that there are times when people won't buy much of anything. We have to maintain a posture that maximizes the likelihood that when they're ready to start buying again, they will buy from us. Branding is the essential foundation for maintaining awareness, but it's not enough. Prospects need continuing reminders of the reasons to buy.

Editorial has a vital role to play in reinforcing an advertising program. It's a good idea to send out news about the company and its personnel, even without a major development to report. But puffery is a waste of everyone's time, and it's a mistake to regard editorial as a free alternative to advertising.

The goal of any successful business should be to generate revenue through solid marketing, reliable communication and effective customer service. It's important for operators and suppliers to be aware of the expanded possibilities here, and to discuss cooperative strategies that can harness the new capabilities of networked vending machines to stimulate sales and make customers happier. The catalyst required to realize this is the trade press -- but, of course my readers already know that.