Manufacturing marketing can be a tough nut to crack. And you’ve got plenty of other things to worry about as it is. So we wanted to try to shed a little light on manufacturing marketing—what it is, what it isn’t, what it should be, and how to win at it.
Because the better handle we have on all of that, the more intentional we can be with messaging.
The more intentional, the better the experience.
And the better the experience, the better you’ll be positioned to win in the marketplace.
So let’s dive in.
Similarities & Differences: Industrial/Manufacturing Marketing vs. Consumer Marketing
If we want to really understand how you should be marketing yourself as a manufacturer, it helps to first define what we mean by manufacturing marketing. Because in some ways it’s very similar to consumer marketing—and probably should be more similar than it often is, but we’ll get into that in a bit.
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In other ways, it can be very different.
For our purposes today, when we talk about manufacturing marketing we’re talking about the B2B marketing you’re doing to support your sales force. It’s the collateral, online advertising, trade publication ads, websites, trade shows, product videos, dealer or distributor sales pieces, and all those other tools you might use to persuade B2B buyers to choose the things you make.
That’s different from consumer marketing—the ads and messaging persuading end-users to buy a company’s goods or services—in a few ways.They’re making a decision on behalf of their organization. They’re often decisions with a lot of zeroes attached. Stakes are high. They have to be thought through, reviewed, researched, recommended, reviewed again, and approved. They are the opposite of impulse buys.
But, as different as the decision process can be in the B2B manufacturing world, there are underlying aspects that are exactly the same as consumer marketing. Or they should be. Because consumer marketing is great at understanding a customer’s state of mind and answering their questions. Addressing their fears. Maybe most importantly, making an emotional connection.
And that’s exactly what the best manufacturing marketing needs to do, too.
It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about B2B or B2C marketing, those Bs and Cs are all human. And humans don’t make decisions based purely on rational facts. We’re emotional creatures, and no matter how rationally or logically we approach a problem, in the end we’re making an emotional decision.In fact, studies show emotion is even more of a factor in B2B industrial/manufacturing marketing.
“On average, B2B customers are significantly more emotionally connected to their vendors and service providers than consumers.” — Think with Google
5 Challenges of B2B Manufacturing Marketing
With all of those factors making manufacturing marketing its own kind of animal, it naturally leads to some specific challenges. Your mileage may vary, but these are all problems most manufacturers will need to grapple with to some degree when planning their marketing strategy.
1. Higher-consideration purchases
Consumer marketing is trying to influence a purchase of something relatively small and relatively affordable. Manufacturing purchase decisions are often a much bigger deal. It could be a million-dollar purchase order or a long-term relationship you cannot afford to screw up. People’s livelihoods often depend on the decisions they’re making in the B2B space.
2. Super specific needManufacturing customers usually have a very specific need for a part or component. They’re not deciding between apples and oranges. They’re deciding between apples of a very specific size, color, weight, flavor and texture—and other apples of a specific size, color, weight, flavor and texture. They know exactly what they need and they’re looking for someone they can depend on to supply it.
3. Long sales cycle
B2B buyers do a ton of research. Because they need to know they’re making the best decision they can.
Think of it this way … you probably try on your pants before you buy them. And they’re just pants. It won’t sting that much if you make the purchase and it turns out not they’re not the right choice. Now expand that out to 500,000 pairs of pants. You’d probably take a little more time before pulling the trigger. That’s the same deal with B2B purchases. So you have to plan marketing based on a long, research-heavy decision process.
4. Complex products
In manufacturing marketing, one of the hardest things to do is figure out how to describe your products and services. Because they can be highly technical, highly specialized, or just plain tough to explain without a lengthy conversation.
But the best marketing is simple, memorable, and makes an emotional connection. Getting from specs and tolerances and materials to a single, emotionally compelling message is a tough row to hoe—but when you do it well, it’s what separates mediocre marketing from the best in the field.
5. More people to convince
In consumer marketing your job is to convince one person to make a purchase. Maybe a few if it’s a big-ticket item. Industrial marketing often has to speak to an entire team of people. And then it has to hold up when that team presents options to the decision-makers who approve company purchases.
3 Manufacturing Trends Influencing Industrial Marketing Today
On top of all this, there’s the layer of “what’s going on in the world of manufacturing” that we have to consider.
They say change is the only constant, and few people know that like manufacturers do. Here are 3 of the most significant changes that wield some influence on how manufacturing marketing needs to happen these days.
1. The battle for talent
It’s on and everyone is feeling it. But it’s an especially big problem in manufacturing. Because you’ve got two problems combining here … lack of people and lack of skills among those people.
Manufacturers are crawling all over each other to attract the few people there are to attract. Some studies indicate that by 2028 more than 2.4 million manufacturing jobs could go unfilled. That means manufacturing marketing needs to work extra hard to not just help you make sales, but to position your company as a place where people want to work. And, of course, you have to actually be that before you can create marketing that says it.
2. Industry 4.0
The changing nature of manufacturing plays a big role in that talent gap. We’ve entered what some call the fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, where the pace of technological innovation is changing the face of manufacturing.
Big data and analytics, automation, AI, additive manufacturing, the industrial internet of things—they’re all changing how manufacturing works, as well as the skills manufacturing will depend on to compete. Manufacturing marketing needs to rise to the level of sophistication that matches the state of the industry.
3. The customer’s expectations
We said before that, believe it or not, B2B buyers are people. And as people, they have lives. Lives outside of work, where they do all sorts of normal-people things like go to restaurants, shop for groceries, or poke around Amazon, you know, researching pants.
While those B2B buyers are out there in the world, they’re reacting to, evaluating, and making note of the experiences they enjoy and the ones they don’t. And there are some incredibly good experiences out in the wild—experiences that then become the measuring stick for all the other experiences they have with the companies they interact with. Like you.
Your customers are expecting better and better experiences from B2B suppliers, because that’s the world they live in. Your point of comparison isn’t just XYZ Machine Company down the road … it’s Warby Parker and Home Depot and the Starbucks barista who always remembers they want their mocha no whip.
Simply put, manufacturing marketing must be about creating a fantastic experience everywhere a customer might interact with your brand.
3 Steps to Get Your Industrial Marketing Strategy Started
So how do we take that information and turn it into action?
Every good manufacturing marketing plan needs to start with strategy. People often want to jump straight to tactics, but without a plan that’s just random acts of marketing. If you want to be effective in your marketing, start here:
1. Understand your audience
This has to be your starting point. You want to know as much about who you’re selling to as you can.
What’s their job title? Age? Gender? Location?
How do they like to communicate? What’s most important to them? What fears or concerns keep them up at night? What problem are they trying to solve, and what’s been getting in the way of solving it?
That’s where creating a buyer persona is a hugely valuable exercise. It will force you to focus in on who is the single most important potential customer you want to speak to. Yes, you have lots of customers—when we’ve asked clients who their audience is I don’t think I can count the number of times they’ve said something to the effect of, “Everyone!”
But no, everyone is not your target audience.
Because it’s impossible to effectively speak to everybody at once—and that’s what marketing is, a conversation. Your audience is an audience of one. Speak directly to that one person, addressing their fears, aligning with what they’re aspiring to do, showing true empathy and understanding for whatever they’re up against. That’s where true connections are made. Sales will follow. And you’ll bring along more of that “everyone”—except they’re the most qualified “everyones”—as a result.
2. Identify your goalsGet very intentional about what you want to happen as a result of your marketing. And we don’t just mean “generate sales.” Of course that’s what you want, but manufacturing can have a long sales cycle. You’d never expect a customer to just buy the first time they hear your name. Identify specific, measurable goals for every stage of the customer’s buying journey.
What’s your goal? Is it:
- To improve your number of qualified sales leads coming through your website?
- Increase word-of-mouth referrals?
- Double your contacts?
- Add a certain number of distributors?
- Increase engagement on social media?
- Something else?
And why are those your goals? To what end?
Random acts of marketing are helpful to no one. Be as intentional as you can by setting specific goals.
3. Get sales and marketing on the same page
Manufacturing marketing is hard enough as it is. The last thing you need is misalignment between sales and marketing making it harder.
But sometimes that’s what you get.
Sales gets frustrated with marketing because they don’t feel like they’re getting the right support. Marketing gets fed up with sales for demanding one-off pieces that don’t fit with the strategy and brand that marketing is trying to support.
The crux of the issue, though, is not simply getting sales and marketing to play nice.
It’s getting both teams to understand, buy into, and be passionate about the overall vision of the company.
They need to both be aligned with who you are and what you’re trying to achieve. Then, when they have the same starting point and motivation, when they’re all pulling in the same direction, your sales and marketing teams will be able to join forces to make each other and your overall experience better.
What to Include in Your Manufacturing Marketing Strategy
So we’ve set the stage for what manufacturing marketing is, what it isn’t, and what to consider when planning for it. Now we can finally talk about the tactics and initiatives you might put into your manufacturing marketing plan.
Consider this a starting point. These are some of the heavy hitters, but each of these could be an article (or four) on their own. For now, here’s a quick overview of some of the most important things to consider when assembling your marketing plan.
- A simple, clear and compelling message. We mentioned this earlier, but it bears repeating. Manufacturing marketing can often get too complex for its own good. Because there’s so much to talk about and so many intricate details your customers may need to know. That’s how we get messaging that’s full of impenetrable technical jargon, websites with more words than anyone wants to read, and confused customers who leave to check out a competitor who better understands them. As important as the details and specifications are, the first priority has to be connecting with your customers emotionally. That requires simplifying those complex product features into “what this will do for you” and “how this will make you feel.”
- Content marketing strategy. Not much can help you build relationships with customers and position you as an authority in your industry quite like high-quality content. Give away truly useful knowledge that answers your customer’s questions and provides real value (remember, you’re having a conversation with an audience of one). It’s a powerful way to build relationships that can develop into sales relationships.
- Digital marketing strategy. According to an Acquity Group study, 94 percent of B2B buyers conduct research online before making a purchase. They want to get as far down the road as possible before they have to contact a sales rep. Which means it’s critical that you be one of the companies they find when they’re researching online. And you get found when you have a solid digital marketing strategy. That means smart search engine optimization (SEO) and well-planned search engine marketing (SEM).
- A killer website. Because so much research is happening online, you need your biggest means of online communication to be a great experience. Your customers know what great websites should look, feel, and act like—and they won’t give you a pass on a bad website experience just because you’re a manufacturer. Your website needs to load fast and look great on a mobile device. It needs to pull visitors in with engaging design and content. And it needs to meet the needs of the customers who visit, not just offer information in the form of a digital brochure.
- Video. According to predictions by Cisco, video could account for 82 percent of all internet traffic by 2022. People love video. And it’s for good reason. Video is more engaging, more entertaining, more memorable, and uniquely able to make strong emotional connections (and we don’t just mean emotional as in making you cry—being curious, amused, intrigued, entertained, feeling valued or understood … they’re all emotional responses). There’s a ton of potential for manufacturers who embrace video content as part of their marketing strategy.
- Social media. Not all social media makes sense in manufacturing marketing. But some certainly does, especially when you get into employer or recruitment messaging. Social media is great at showing culture and starting conversations. Use it to connect with job candidates and give your customers an inside look at who you really are and what a relationship with you could really feel like.
- Email marketing. Every so often somebody says email is dead. Just as often that person is wrong. Email is still one of the most effective and efficient ways to communicate with your customers directly.
- Direct mail. Even more often, somebody will say print is dead. And, you guessed it … wrong again. Not only is direct mail not dying, it’s been having a bit of a resurgence in recent years. Don’t count it out. Just make sure you’re doing it in a way that takes into account everything you’ve learned about your customers and their needs. And don’t be obnoxious.
Of course, from our perspective, the linchpin in this entire strategy is aligning and engaging your entire team around delivering a fantastic customer experience. A customer experience that connects with your customers on an emotional level. That helps them see who you are and why you care about their success.
That doesn’t happen by accident.
But when you get intentional about your experience and design a manufacturing marketing strategy around bringing that experience to life—that’s where the hearts and minds and loyalty of customers are won.