'Digital is marketing nirvana': Mack Trucks’ marketing chief blurs B2B and B2C strategies

Mack Trucks blends B2B and B2C marketing

“We’re using every tool in the toolbox to amplify our message and sell more trucks,” John Walsh, Mack Trucks' vice-president of global marketing, said during a fireside chat at Oracle’s Modern Customer Experience conference. Those tools include some very B2C-like influencer and video marketing strategies, which Walsh balances with more traditional partner marketing.

Only a year into Mack Trucks’ digital marketing journey, Walsh is enthusiastic about the results the company is seeing so far. “It’s exciting to be a part of this brand. Growing up in the Northeast, every truck was a ‘Mack truck,’ like every tissue is a Kleenex,” he told The Drum. “It’s a big responsibility to keep it moving forward and keep making it better than it was.”

Walsh spent some time with The Drum after his conference session, going into detail on just how he’s blending classic B2B marketing with edgy B2C approaches to ensure that Mack Trucks, a US-based truck–manufacturing company, continues to be a household name long into the future.

It seems that the fundamentals still apply.

Yes, we still use a funnel. It starts with awareness, then interest, consideration, purchase and repurchase. Mostly, we can influence the top three in marketing.

We still sell primarily through dealers, which used to be customers’ primary point of content, as well. But, today, by the time customers go to a dealer, they’re already in the consideration stage. Basically, they’re self-educating online. So, it’s incumbent on us to be where customers are — online — and deliver the content they need to self-educate.

Talk about your digital journey.

This is a new journey for us. So, I feel especially fortunate to have the team that I have — a small team of four who are all high performers.

We’re one year into our digital journey. Before that, we were traditional marketers. Now we’re using a robust toolbox of digital and traditional strategies. That includes multichannel promotion that drives prospective customers to a landing page, where we serve them more content. When the timing is right, we send the sales-ready leads to the appropriate dealer. Oracle Eloqua is our central nervous system. It houses our customer database and feeds those leads out to dealers.

We’re still in the ‘show-me’ stage of using digital marketing, so we temper our enthusiasm. But, it’s super exciting for us to see leads going out and dealers making sales out of them. It’s a lot more of a powerful story to talk about potential sales pipeline than clicks and likes. It’s changing the conversation and dealers are getting excited about it.

As we prove out this process over time, we’ll make a better argument for additional resources. And when we do, we’ll blow this thing up. There’s no reason you can’t be a 119-year-old brand, maintain your core from the past, and be a tech-forward company.

Sounds like a major mindset change for dealers.

Our biggest challenge is getting buy-in at the sales level at the dealer networks; another is to get the salespeople to report on their activity. Right now, we’re getting mostly anecdotal information, so we’re trying to encourage our dealers’ salespeople to use our CRM system.

My aha moment, though, was realizing that I had underestimated how hard it would be to get buy-in throughout our organization. We tend to be a more traditional industry. But telling the story of how prospects are self-educating online and starting a conversation with dealers when they’re already lower in the funnel helped to change minds. The reward to gain that understanding was worth the work.

How are you blending traditional B2B with more digital B2C strategies?

You could make the point that we’re really always marketing to people. So, instead of B2B or B2C, it’s B2P; that is, business-to-people — because people are making purchase decisions. The “consumerization of B2B” has changed the way you have to market today. It’s necessary to serve increasingly personalized content.

We use Oracle Eloqua to understand customers’ and prospects’ engagement with our content, and then serve up increasingly personalized content based on what they consume. Their degree of engagement allows them to self-identify as sales-ready leads who we then send to our dealers, which account for 90% of our truck sales.

We used to hear, “Isn’t that Big Brotherish?” Our response is always, “Wouldn’t you rather have relevant content if it’s going to get served up anyway?”

We still run print ads and hope that it drives traffic to our dealers, but it can be tough to determine ROI. We put unique URLs in print ads, and we actually get good engagement with that. If we get, say, 100 conversions, that’s strong engagement to me — especially considering that people typed in the special URL.

It’s also a challenge to measure traditional approaches like trade shows. We gather information and then bounce it off our database to see who’s new, where existing prospects are in the funnel, and who’s already a customer.

We have a good mix of traditional and modern approaches, but I struggle with the traditional mostly because I’m so excited about digital. Digital is marketing nirvana: I can see that we spent X on marketing and got X into the pipeline.

But it’s a journey and a transformational period. We’re still struggling with what ‘good’ looks like because we don’t have industry best practices to benchmark against. Our industry lags. So, although it’s a somewhat different approach, we benchmark against the car industry in terms of how they generate leads.

Like many B2B brands, you’re marketing to multiple stakeholders. Explain how that plays into your approach.

We have two primary audiences: truck purchase decision makers and influencers within their company. But also truck drivers. We’re facing a significant shortage of drivers, so their voice is increasingly important in decision making. One way we’re reaching drivers is through influencer marketing. For example, we gave two big trucking influencers — Jamie Hagen of Hell Bent Xpress and Joel Morrow of Ploger Transportation — each a Mack Anthem truck and kit to track and document their fuel savings efforts and share their experiences for a year using the hashtag #Mackonomics.

Tell us more about your video strategy.

Digital video optimized for mobile is essential content for us. It’s so important that one of the four people on my team focuses solely on video.

Last year we created a show call Roadlife.tv that highlights stories of people who spend a good part of their time on the road, like athletes, musicians, and race car drivers, as well as people who keep the wheels of business and life turning, like truck drivers and sanitation workers. We worked with terrific partners such as Nascar to bring it to life. It’s all about good storytelling. The clutter out there is incredible, so you have to tell a compelling story.

Now, we’re shooting season two, all around customer stories. The goal is to use that sphere of influence to get new prospects into the funnel.

What’s next?

The way it goes now is we’re working with every touchpoint in the organization to create a 360-degree customer experience that’s consistent across service, product, marketing, sales, PR. The successful companies going forward will be measured by CX; you’ll hit revenue goals by focusing through the CX lens and by making every experience as personal as you can. That’s the road a lot of companies are on.

For me, personally, I would love to get us to the point that marketing becomes cost-neutral because the leads are so good. Judge me on pipeline: How much potential sales revenue did we drive? It would be amazing to be a profit center.

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