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With the tug-of-war between the U.S. and China continuing to threaten businesses by imposing stiff tariffs on products, many continue to worry about their future. This is especially true for manufacturers as they tend to get hit the hardest by tariffs — more so than retailers who are the conduit to the consumer unless you are selling direct.

When companies look to cut costs, it’s often marketing that’s the first to go. But for those businesses selling through retailers and e-commerce giants, who are forced to reduce their marketing budget, here are some ways to stay afloat in this sea of tariffs.

Create a review strategy

If you know you have a great product that you have researched with consumers for validation, then lean on reviews and e-commerce sites. Product reviews are critical as they are now part of the search process for the majority of consumers. While everyone wants five-star reviews, the information companies receive when tracking and analyzing reviews helps identify product problems and opportunities both for improvements and new product development.

With Amazon, you have two paths for reviews. First is the “Early Reviewer Program,” which is more of a review maintenance program with qualification criteria. However, there is not a way to respond to reviews, good or bad. The second is the “Amazon Vine Program,” which is a seeding program for new product reviews in exchange for free products. These incentivized reviews give customers information to help make buying decisions, and they are less expensive than paid media, especially during key selling periods such as the recent fourth quarter when the focus is on the holidays.

Keep in mind that there is always a risk to reviews as everyone has an opinion whether they have purchased the product or been given it in exchange for the review. Review seeding is a more organic approach so it does take time to build that credibility, but it is far more authentic than paid advertising. It is imperative that your above-the-fold, A-plus content is of high quality and clearly communicates the product’s features and benefits.

Work with retailers

Use your influence and share your product’s consumer research with retailers early on. Your retailer will always have something to add, and becomes part of the solution. This will help you negotiate for more support from them when it counts. Retailers have many choices in the highly competitive retail space whether online or in-store. So, if you have a product that has been tested against other products in the same category, and it is legitimate research, it should be shared with your retail decision-maker at every targeted account. They can also give you information to help you further develop your products.

Demonstrating your understanding of their market and customer can also help build strong relationships that could lead to a win-win approach of sharing the burden of these tariffs. Don’t be afraid to ask for marketing support via shared promotions, in-store merchandising, web site features, e-mail campaign mentions, and other opportunities to drive revenue. This will help reduce the impact on margins. And if you present your company as a strong partner with a long future of customer-centricity, innovative products and the willingness to work closely with the retailer, then they will be more willing to partner with you.

Use video to drive SEP and sales 

By 2021, Cisco says video will represent 82 percent of all Internet traffic. That’s why companies must make video part of their SEO and content strategy. Businesses must be more targeted and cost-efficient when dealing with the potential margin hits from impending tariffs. Video marketing can be produced easily, thanks to smartphones and video editing software that can be downloaded for free.

If you are not a large company with agency budgets and production capabilities, there are several ways to approach video to get the most bang for your buck, while maintaining your brand. Social media provides opportunities to use video for specific communications like new products, editorial and even promotions. Identify the type of video post schedule and type, and create short clips for ongoing communications. This content strategy will keep you on track with continuous activity.

There is also a new-to-market video commerce platform called DUZYtv.com that instantly monetizes a manufacturer’s video content so that you do not lose the link to retail or have to open another window to purchase. E-commerce and video channel leaders have not tackled this pain point for consumers, but DUZY has by making it easy for the consumer. This new addition to the digital space should turn the industry on its ear.

User-generated content is another way to invite your followers to be part of your brand while sharing video content that is rich with information and authenticity. Additionally, make sure you provide videos for your e-commerce marketplace pages as well.

Use your influencers

Influencers come in many varieties. There are editors from paid media sources (online and off), social media influencers and bloggers who give their opinions after reviewing your products or who focus on a specific category or trend. These are people consumers trust and actively follow and read their articles and posts to gain a more honest account of products in the marketplace. These influencers’ activities will help drive traffic online and in-store, reduce the overall marketing cost, and help reduce the impact tariffs have on profit margin.

Another influencing source whose approach has been growing over the past five years is podcasts. Forty percent of Americans listen to podcasts. Fifteen percent listen at least once a week. If you have a product or service that appeals to a highly educated and higher-income audience, podcasts offer high reach and high brand recall. Identify a podcast influencer that matches your company’s products, or an expert who can represent you and the industry in which you operate.

DIYDTC (do-it-yourself-direct-to-consumer)

All of the examples above are things companies would do if working through a retail partner, but how can you have complete control of how tariffs affect your business?

You can sell directly to your customer. There are many services that don’t require big budgets to create web sites and digital marketing. There are hosting services that offer e-commerce templates that make the process seamless. The most important part of direct selling is making sure your content and pricing is accurate, and that you are properly servicing the customer. A dedicated resource, good content, a customer service program and regular maintenance of your own site will reduce the markup needed to cover the additional cost of a retailer.

Connecting your site with your social media channels, reviewer sites, and editorial helps complete the loop of being your own developer, marketer and seller of product. This does allow for better control, however, the cons are not having a partner who helps legitimize your product and means you have to push your influencer marketing campaign that much harder.

No matter what direction you deem the right one for your company, to be successful requires planning, information and resources that keep you and your team on target.

Dana Lanham is chief marketing officer at Chief Outsiders, a fractional chief marketing officer firm focused on mid-size company growth.

For more WWD business insights, see:

Technology, Innovation, Partnerships Power Fashion Apparel Market

Most Searched E-commerce Fashion Retailer for 2019 Muscles Out H&M and Macy’s

Data Show Success of Click and Collect

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