The importance of being relevant: how the right communications strategy translates into commercial success

Whether you’re a bunker supplier, a marine insurer or a port agent, in a tough commercial environment, it’s not enough to be good. You also have to be…

Whether you’re a bunker supplier, a marine insurer or a port agent, in a tough commercial environment, it’s not enough to be good. You also have to be relevant. Relevant to your customers and relevant to the problems they’re trying to solve.

To stand out in an increasingly commoditised, competitive and global market, every company needs to tailor their solutions to the specific challenges faced by their customers. BLUE considers how the right communications strategy can help.

BLUE recently had the pleasure of presenting at a conference hosted by one of our clients for their global network of distributors, at which we explored the challenge of winning business in a global, and increasingly competitive and commoditised market.

This is not an uncommon problem in the shipping industry. The truth is that the market for maritime suppliers has become more globalised, driven by a number of factors, including the rise of internet-based purchasing, e-procurement platforms and global product standards. The choice of suppliers has never been greater, but how does a purchaser decide which supplier to turn to? And how does the supplier stand out from their competition? This is a critical challenge for every business, but also an opportunity.

Brand and reputation have a huge part to play. At the heart of every PR strategy is a simple truth. If you have a positive reputation and a strong brand, people are more likely to work with you, recommend you and buy from you. If you haven’t, they won’t.

What’s more, it’s not enough to be good. You also have to be relevant. Relevant to your customers, the issues they face and the problems they’re trying to solve, particularly in a tough commercial environment.

Proving to your customers that you can help them to navigate those challenges is a key step in becoming a true partner, not just a supplier. Customers want to work with organisations that understand their business and their markets, so your challenge is to demonstrate industry knowledge and market expertise where they need it most.

The issues in question will differ between companies, but every maritime business faces a myriad of obstacles, which could be commercial, regulatory, technical, legal, operational or political in nature. Based on a survey recently conducted by BLUE, there are a number of dominant themes that are preoccupying many leading shipping companies. These include:

  • The global economic picture, including Chinese economic slowdown, and vessel oversupply, leading to depressed charter rates, negative earnings and a tough S&P market.
  • Climate change and the impending regulation of shipping’s carbon emissions, including the precise timing and format, as well as the market opportunities.
  • The timing and impact of the transition to low sulphur fuels, globally and regionally, the market for clean fuels, and the choice of mitigation solutions.

Every supplier has the opportunity to resonate with their customers by showing that they understand these issues. By developing positions that showcase their understanding of the current market, and their expertise and industry knowledge, they will not only build credibility with their customers, but also create valuable context for the products and services they offer. In so doing, they also help to ensure that their solutions can be tailored precisely to their customers’ priorities.

What might this look like? For a scrubber manufacturer, it might be tempting to talk only of the technical specifications of your products and the ROI for the customer. But by sharing your insights on the wider regulatory regime around emissions compliance and the implications for fuel supply post-2020 or 2015, you can carve out a wider reputation as a thought leader within your sector and a trusted source of advice for customers.

To do business, your products and services still need to be competitive on price and quality – today, more than ever. However, a brand and reputation built upon industry-leading market insight and a proven relevance to the challenges facing your customers can make the critical difference in positioning you as their partner of choice.