Kevin Sellers likes to joke that he works for the largest, most influential unknown company in the tech space.
Avnet began life in 1921 selling components and parts for the relatively new technology of radio. In nearly a century since, the B2B company has changed and grown with the evolution of technology, most recently adapting to the growing appetite for solutions based on the Internet of Things. It also divested parts of the business to focus on its practice of companies—from startups to tech giants—that prototype, develop, and manufacture products to bring to market.
Its marketing has changed, too, adding more storytelling and new partnerships to highlight Avnet’s contributions to technological innovation.
“Distribution, as we’ve known it, has really changed dramatically,” Kevin Sellers, CMO of Avnet, told CMO.com. “Marketing now matters much more than it used to.”
Jumping Right In
Prior to Avnet, Sellers spent 23 years at Intel in various advertising and digital marketing positions. He joined Avnet at the end of 2015, charged with creating a new corporate identity and repositioning the company with a stronger voice in the B2B space. He also had the challenge of reining in a decentralized marketing organization that had operated along geographic, market, and product lines.
“When I got here, Avnet was highly decentralized. The power was in the local P&Ls and in the regions, and they looked at me as ‘the corporate guy’ who didn’t understand their issues,” he said. “But those lines are changing quickly as we globalize our capability and focus on customer acquisition and growth.”
Working with a trio of agencies, the company launched a new identity and marketing campaign last year to highlight its role as an enabler of new innovations, helping manufacturers and tech companies build new products. Under the tagline “Reach Further,” the campaign told stories of how Avnet worked with companies such as Owlet to create an IoT-connected baby sock that could prevent sudden infant death syndrome.
However, the core of Avnet hasn’t changed much in its first century, Sellers noted. It has always been a company that uses its scale and global presence—currently 15,400 employees in more than 140 countries—to bring products to market for a customer base that now totals more than 2.1 million enterprises.
What’s different now is that Avnet’s customers—close to 60% are Millennials, Sellers noted—are better informed, thanks to the information available online, and they are looking for more than just products from their suppliers, he added. “Digital has made a tremendous impact,” he explained.
Indeed, consumers are increasingly looking for more information about what companies stand for. Rather than “being the old traditional B2B market-message company,” he said, Avnet draws inspiration from companies such as Starbucks, Zappos, and TOMS, which make their purpose key in their messaging.
“You have to follow a similar playbook, filling out the whole funnel and having a bigger and bolder message,” Sellers told CMO.com
For Avnet, part of that message is about how it’s “morphing from a distributor of components to a provider of solutions,” he said. To share that message, Avnet has adopted a storytelling approach about what is possible to build with its goods and services, Sellers said.
“Now in this new world of solutions, there are many companies that could use our services and they don’t know who we are,” he said. “We’re doing customer-facing marketing more than we used to do.”
Additionally, in all the brand work leading to the rebranding, Avnet focused on getting to the core of what was authentic to the company and to its people: “We looked at what is unique and special about this company. What is the soul of this company?” Sellers said. “That is what we tried to preserve.”
More specifically, “What we want to demonstrate is you can do well as a company by doing good with technology,” Sellers said. “We’re starting to get new and nontraditional customers ... especially the ones in the healthcare space where the application of technology can make a difference in people’s lives.”
That mission informed its partnership with Not Impossible Labs to produce a line of wearables that enables hearing-impaired concert-goers to experience the full sound range of live music. The products were introduced during a performance at the Life is Beautiful Music and Art Festival, co-sponsored by Zappos Adaptive, the e-tailer’s unit offering clothing for special-needs customers. In addition, the partnership with Not Impossible also includes creating podcasts and content.
Going forward, storytelling, content, and digital channels will take on even more importance in Avnet’s marketing efforts, Sellers said. “Regardless of the channels, great storytelling still wins,” Sellers said
And as much as Avnet has added to its digital marketing efforts, Sellers said he doesn’t expect he will ever be done improving that channel; the pace of change is too fast.
“Digital has told us there is no goal line for this transformation. ... The tools change, the ways people engage with content, the way storytelling can happen is changing so fast,” he said.
That is why Sellers said his biggest current challenge—and for marketers, overall—is staying ahead of the pace of the change.
“It’s dizzying and overwhelming and intimidating, but it’s also exciting and really, really fun at the same time,” Sellers said. “I never come to work bored. I never come to work wondering what I’m going to do.”