GRAND RAPIDS — He works in a world of vertical lines, a world where all things have their place and a world where success comes from hard work. Tom Wiersma is in the business of vertical marketing and his company, The Verti-Mark Group, a business-to-business marketing and communi-cations firm, looks to align its customers and place them in the correct market to bring success.
Vertical marketing is by definition the strategy of directing a company’s sales efforts toward the specific markets or market segments that hold the greatest potential for success. It is the strategy of selectively deploying marketing resources to build and maintain market position and the strategy of insulating customers from the efforts of competitive marketing messages and strategies.
Formed in 1989 by Wiersma, The Verti-Mark Group works primarily with industrial process firms. The client list is comprised of names like ABB, a $40 billion company that supplies plant-wide automation solutions, STS Consultants, a consulting engineering firm specializing in underground engineering and various other global firms.
“The idea we are trying to get businesses to realize is that vertical marketing is a business tool and one that businesses need in order to succeed,” said Wiersma. “Many think that just placing an ad or throwing a commercial out there will get them business and it might, but it won’t show them the same type of capital returns that vertical marketing will.”
The idea behind Wiersma and The Verti-Mark Group is to show their customers an increase in profits based on the strategic planning, philosophy and research that goes into presenting a vertical marketing campaign.
In fact, it is strategic planning, philosophy and research that put The Verti-Mark Group on the map and combined Wiersma’s two focuses into practice in one company. As a Ferris State University advertising student Wiersma felt he knew the direction he would take, only to discover that was not so when, a couple of years later, he became a Calvin College history student; a liberal arts focus that would later help him create The Verti-Mark Group.
At first glance the two focuses don’t seem to have any correlation.
Until Wiersma explains it. “When we look back at history we have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. With this we can see all of the different decisions that were made by many great leaders and one thing that prevails with all of them that had success was a single-minded focus.”
It is this single-minded focus that is at the heart of vertical marketing and The Verti-Mark Group, and the idea that is helping its customers realize the importance of the concept. Well, almost all of its clients.
“The biggest challenge lies in some prospective international clients. They are about 10 to 15 years behind us in seeing marketing as a business tool and a necessary part of communication. Because they are so ahead of us in technology they see all of their relationships developing over a keyboard or through the mail,” said Wiersma.
“This is what we are turning to but the best kind of relationship is still the face to face communication. They see a good product and we see a good relationship. This is something we are trying to break them into if they want to survive in the North American market. Here, B2B buying usually occurs because of a relationship a company has built with another, not necessarily because a new and better product comes out from an unknown company.”
Another challenge Wiersma faces is the turn in advertising focus from brand focusing to selling at point of recognition. “Just like in relationship buying, people are still buying brands over what is cheaper and quicker, in the industrial processing market,” Wiersma added. “The decision makers buy relationships and reliability, not benefits. There was some research done that reported many companies that were 60 years old, that had stuck to brand advertising and developed relationships with its clients, were still successful today.”
He added that some companies want to follow the trends and advertise now so they can sell now and see a quick return. But Wiersma maintains that is not the way to go about it. It is all about branding, he insists. One thing he feels some companies don’t want to sacrifice is time.
“This is not a fast process. But to do it right, you need to research the market and develop a hard-hitting strategy that will keep your name in the consumer’s head when the need develops,” said Wiersma. “The customer has to be willing to give the plan time to work and set in, then they will begin to see a return.”
The idea is not only to put the name in the mind of the consumer but to dominate in the vertical markets in which each client is placed. “Competition is tough. There are many competitors out there for our clients and you can only make so many products and improvements to those products, but our job is to identify the competitive points and then make those the focus of the marketing strategy,” Wiersma said.
“In the end vertical marketing is about accountability. When you identify a company’s competitive points, put those at the heart of the marketing strategy and then the company does not succeed, it forces them to take a look inside and see what business strategies they may need to restructure,” Wiersma said.
In each marketing strategy The Verti-Mark Group deploys, all messages are the same. “This keeps continuity and also helps align all the ads together, no matter if it is a banner in a hotel, a sign at the airport, a brochure or a direct mail flyer they receive at work, they all look the same, to tie them together,” he said.
If a company is prepared for vertical marketing there is usually a 90-day start up period. Being prepared means having all documents ready for research and being dedicated to the project, with a realization that it will not happen overnight.
Wiersma said two benefits The Verti-Mark Group looks to give its clients are efficiency and impact.
“The client will see that by going for a narrowly defined market, they will spend less money to get farther. We will also show them the impact the strategy has made in accordance with the competition and with the customer.”
The Verti-Mark Group and Wiersma also hope to make their own impact while continuing to deploy a diversification strategy in the automotive industry. Twenty months into the process, Wiersma said the results are beginning to show. The company is beginning work with Bielomatik, based in Stuttgart; Swoboda, a Grand Rapids automotive company; and Härter Stamping, based in Germany. While adding another facet to the business Wiersma continues to challenge himself and use his history to determine his future.