It’s time for the role of marketing for manufacturers to change.
And my goal for this in-depth article is to empower you to be that agent inside of your company.
I’ll start by providing some context before diving deep into the following eight manufacturing marketing principles to understand, embrace and put into motion in 2023:
- Recognize the power shift from seller to buyer
- Understand who makes up the buying committee
- Create value to earn attention and trust
- Turn the knowledge of your experts into assets
- Capture demand where it already exists
- Create demand among the rest of your audience
- Communicate regularly with your sales team
- Measure results (but exercise patience)
Shifting the mindset from expense to revenue engine
If I’ve learned anything from over a decade as a manufacturing marketing consultant, it’s this:
Manufacturers are traditionally not marketing-driven companies.
Largely, what you have instead are hard-working second-, third- or even fourth-generation family-owned businesses who have built their success on the backs of loyal, repeat customers and referrals.
And the manufacturers who have developed more active business development functions have tended to lean sales-heavy (rather than marketing-heavy).
In fact, when the word “marketing” is spoken inside the walls of many OEMs, custom manufacturers or contract manufacturers, it’s often in the context of an expense.
You know — necessary evils like:
- Making the trade show booth look snazzy
- Designing printed materials for the sales team to leave behind after meetings
- Updating the website with new features and benefits
- Adding new SKUs to the product catalog
- Posting photos from the company picnic (or of Suzie’s cute new puppy) on LinkedIn
Meanwhile, in places like the B2B technology sector, or even professional services, you have marketing-driven organizations that are investing 3-5% of sales back into marketing programs that serve as the revenue engine for their companies.
There’s a big gap here
In the years ahead, although I don’t believe marketing for manufacturers will catch up all the way, I’m encouraged to see the mindset beginning to shift. Here’s my quick take:
In this article, I’ll create a window into that shift for you. Specifically, I’ll take you through eight guiding principles to shape your mindset for 2023.
I’ll start by explaining how B2B buyers are evolving in their information-gathering processes throughout an often-long and complex buying process.
I’ll talk about how reaching different members of the buying committee is so crucial (rather than engaging in a race to the bottom on price with procurement).
I’ll describe how to tap in the brains of your company’s deep subject matter experts, leverage their knowledge and be a resource to both your current and future customers.
I’ll talk about capturing demand where it currently exists in your market, but also generating demand among the rest of your audience (so they think of you first when they do enter a buy cycle).
And I’ll conclude by encouraging healthy, regular dialogue with your sales team and working with them to measure marketing success in a way that lets you win both the short game and the long game.
Ready? Let’s get into it.
1. Recognize the power shift from seller to buyer
Transport yourself back in time 20-some years.
You’d probably be sitting in front of a big clunky off-white computer monitor, waiting on your AOL dial-up connection to lock in before you could Yahoo whatever you were looking for.
Now come back to the present day. So much has changed, and so fast.
Think about how easy it is to collect information about anything now. Whether you’re starting the search for a new car, deciding which Yeti cooler you want to spend your entire next paycheck on or simply looking for a list of birthday present ideas for your mom, the buying power is in your hands. Not the seller’s.
So, what’s that mean for you as a manufacturing organization?
- Your prospects are actively looking for answers to their questions online
- They’re consuming written, video, audio and visual content along the way to learn
- They’re comparing their options
- They’re pricing out potential solutions
- They’re evaluating prospective vendors and partners
- Then, they’re revealing themselves for a sales call
So while a majority of manufacturers are busy tasking their marketing managers with print brochures and product catalogs, the smart ones are out there in the digital world providing answers to questions, talking about solutions to common problems, comparing methodology for doing it one way vs. another way, educating about timeline to ROI and total cost of ownership and sharing success stories to make everything more tangible.
Most importantly, the smartest manufacturers are recognizing that they’re not going win solely based on their historical reputation, their existing customer base and referrals. Because that alone won’t cut it anymore.
Instead, they’d adapting to how buyers are buying right here and right now. And they’re meeting those future customers where they are.
2. Understand who makes up the buying committee
I say this often:
If your first touch is with procurement, you’re already too late.
Look all the way to the left in this graphic.
These people are physically using your product day in and day out.
Look in the middle.
These people are trying to solve problems on the plant floor, with your customers and throughout your organization.
Look to the right.
These people are ultimately writing the checks (but only after those to the left of them have weighed in).
If you can learn what matters to each of these key buying process influencers and earn their attention and trust by helping and guiding them, they’ll be your advocates when the buying process eventually does move into procurement’s hands.
But if you only focus on the far right, you’ll brand your company as an interchangeable commodity and find yourself in a race to the bottom on price time and time again.
3. Create value to earn attention and trust
Next, let’s talk more about what it means to create value for your audience through your marketing activities.
Look back at all the buying process influencers (or buyer personas) we just talked about. We could do one of two things in our communications with them:
- Try to sell them stuff
- Earn their attention and trust by being their best resource
Don’t get me wrong. Number one is the end goal!
And we need to get your sales team to that place. But right now we’re talking about marketing for manufacturing companies. And marketing is not the same thing as sales.
Think for a moment about those early-stage influencers in the buying process (often engineers or other technical professionals).
Then ask these questions:
- What challenges are they facing that your experts know how to solve?
- What questions are they trying to get answered?
- What do they need to know to help them advance the buying process?
All of this should form the foundation of your content strategy.
The best sales professionals understand that you have to connect with the pains and desired futures states of prospects. The same goes with marketing.
If you talk all about yourself first, no one listens.
But if you talk about what your prospects care about, genuinely help them and demonstrate thought leadership along the way, you’ll then earn the right to talk about yourself.
Developing a content strategy as a manufacturing organization can lead you down a number of different paths.
There are many ways to achieve this goal:
- Written blog content (educational in nature)
- Videos of your experts talking about key topics
- Webinars where you’re actively teaching and answer prospects’ questions in a live setting
- Audio content (like a podcast or being a guest on other industry podcasts)
Decisions about which channels to use should be made based on a combination of the resources and skill sets at your disposal, as well any insights you have about how your audience prefers to consume information.
4. Turn the knowledge of your experts into assets
The best content comes from the brains of your company’s subject matter experts.
We’ve already talked about identifying the challenges, common questions and desired future states of your prospects. And we’ve talked about tactical ways to create content that will address those things (written, video, webinar, audio, etc).
So how can you actually go about creating those content assets?
After all, when’s the last time you met an engineer who’s gung-ho about spending a full day of his or her time writing a 1000-word blog post?
From my perspective, the job of a marketer in the content creation process is to be the facilitator or the knowledge extractor.
Here are a few ways we get it done with our own clients:
We’ll identify the SME (subject matter expert) in our client’s organization. Then we’ll book a 30-minute interview to extract the key insights around the topic from that person.
Ahead of the interview we’ll do the prep work, so we’re asking the right questions and not starting from ground zero.
Following the interview, we’ll often do more research to help clarify points that were made. Or maybe follow with some clarifying questions for that SME. And finally we’ll send a draft for our client to review.
But notice that the insights come from the brain of the SME. That’s what matters.
Like with written content, we’ll prep an outline for the conversation by doing the upfront legwork. Then we’ll set up a camera, lights and audio on site. Because this is a bigger production, we’ll always batch content creation. We call it “Knowledge Extraction Day” and the goal is to record a variety of content from a variety of SMEs that can be used for months and remain evergreen. In this case, the final product is the SME on camera, teaching.
Here’s an example we produced after filming on site with one of our clients:
We’ve created a variety of resources about tapping into the brains of your experts. Explore at will!
- Podcast: Extracting Expert Knowledge for Content Marketing (from our podcast, The Manufacturing Executive)
- Article: How to extract expert knowledge from your team and turn it into incredible content
- Article: How manufacturers can generate content marketing ideas
- Content Planner Worksheet for manufacturers
5. Capture demand where it already exists
A majority of your total addressable market is not in buying mode at this exact moment in time.
Let that sink in for a moment.
If there are 1000 companies that could conceivably be your customers, maybe 10-25 are actively looking for a solution today (or let’s say this week). That number likely climbs the closer your product approaches commodity status. Conversely, that number likely shrinks the more specialized, complex and bigger-ticket your product is.
Regardless, when those active buyers are looking for a solution, they go to places like:
- Their network
- Industry resources or organizations
We may not know exactly which organizations are buying right now, but we want to make sure they know you.
We call this “capturing existing demand”.
This is where both search engine optimization (SEO) and paid search enter the picture.
SEO is a long game. You need to build authority in the eyes of Google (or other search engines) just as you build authority in the real world. It requires time. It requires high-quality, genuinely resourceful content. It requires inbound links from credible sources to your website that help Google validate your own credibility. Most importantly, it requires a sound strategy to pull all of this together.
SEO matters. But it’s hard to win in the short term if you’re just getting started.
On top of all this, the way Google populates search results is changing. You could have the best SEO game and be at the top of search results, but as many as 57% of searchers don’t click on a result due to enhanced SERP features that make it easy to get quick answers to questions without having to read an entire article.
The compliment to SEO (and in most cases, a way to move more quickly toward meaningful results) is paid search. With paid search (think Google Ads), you’re essentially paying for website traffic by selecting and bidding on keywords.
It’s very easy to waste money doing lead generation with pay-per-click (PPC) ads. One of the most strategic pieces of advice I can offer is to focus your PPC spend on high-intent keywords. Let me illustrate with an example:
For Gorilla, we’d rather bid on keywords like “industrial marketing agency” — not “industrial marketing strategy”.
Because those who are specifically searching for an agency are exhibiting signs of buying intent (those searching for strategy are probably trying to learn). While we love visitors from both categories, we don’t necessarily want to pay for visits from the latter. We’d rather earn their attention organically and through other more cost-effective marketing channels.
Aside from going to Google, prospects who are actively looking to buy will likely tap into their referral networks and visit industry forums, directories and/or associations websites. Methodology for creating visibility in these places will vary, but don’t overlook them as sources for capturing existing demand.
6. Create demand among the rest of your audience
Now let’s come back to our hypothetical total addressable market of 1000 customers that we described at the beginning of the last section. If 10-25 of those 1000 might be active buyers at this moment in time, that means 975-990 companies that fit your Ideal Customer Profile remain.
These organizations are not in buying mode right now.
Many of them will be in a week or a month or a year.
But right now, they’re not.
So how do you think a “Buy Now” message resonates with that vast majority of your audience?
They’re ignoring you. Or worse, they’re writing you off because you’ve done nothing but blast unwelcome sales messaging in their ears for weeks or months or years.
Most manufacturers (and frankly, most companies in general), fail to acknowledge that just because someone in your audience isn’t buying right now doesn’t mean they’re a “bad” prospect or lead.
It just means that they’re not ready for sales messaging.
So let’s bring this back around to the concepts we’ve already talked about:
- Knowing who the buying process influencers are
- Understanding what matters to them
- Creating amazing content that will earn their trust and attention
Now it’s time to go actively distribute this content to them to assure that the messaging is actually consumed by the right people from the right companies.
This strategy is called demand generation.
Most manufacturing organizations don’t have the luxury of sitting back and waiting for future customers to show up at their door steps.
They need to proactively get out into the world, build personal connections and earn trust. Read: GENERATE demand.
For most, these are sales activities.
But marketing has a major role to play here as well.
Content distribution can take on many forms. Here are a few worth noting:
- Paid social. Target people with specific job titles from specific types of companies in specific geographic regions with specific interests and tell Linkedin (or even Facebook), “Show this content to these specific people. And after they’ve seen it three times, show them this related video. And after they’ve seen that a few times, show them this case study that puts it all into context.” Here’s a webinar recording we did on the topic: Facebook and LinkedIn Ads for Manufacturers.
- Email. Stop thinking of email as a channel for announcing that you’ll be at booth 33 of the trade show next week and instead think of it as a medium for distributing all of the amazing, helpful thought leadership resources that you’re creating. Here’s a webinar recording we did about revamping your email strategy.
- YouTube. Turn your channel into a wealth of tutorials and resources around your expertise.
- Guest podcasting. This medium is growing exponentially. Have your SMEs appear on niche industry podcasts as guests to teach about the same topics you’re writing about and filming videos about.
Here’s an in-depth conversation about different channels for content distribution:
The biggest takeaway here:
Capture demand among those who are buying. Then start generating demand among those who aren’t (but will be somewhere along the way). When they enter a buy cycle, you’re the first one they’ll call.
7. Communicate regularly with your sales team
This one may sound like a no-brainer on the surface, but I’ve looked inside dozens of manufacturing organizations over the past decade and very few have successfully created any kind of meaningful or productive alignment between their marketing and sales personnel.
I believe the core of this problem lies in what I stated at the very beginning of this article:
Manufacturers are traditionally not marketing-driven companies.
If a manufacturer’s sales team has always viewed marketing as the folks who make brochures, update the website and post on Facebook, what motivation will they have to spend valuable hours (or even minutes) of their week with the marketing people? They’re busy killing what everyone else will eat, right?
Throughout this article, I’ve been laying the groundwork for a mindset that needs to transcend a manufacturing organization’s marketing department.
So, if you’re on board with the principles that have been laid out thus far, it’s time to get sales on the bus too.
Start by shifting dialogue with your sales team from a tactical to a strategic conversation:
- What are the new sales targets for this year (or quarter)?
- Where do the biggest growth opportunities lie?
- Where can the company be most profitable?
- What’s the current sales pipeline look like?
- Where are future customers getting stuck?
- How are they tracking deals in the CRM (or elsewhere)?
As these conversations become more productive, turn them into recurring meetings. Set an agenda, learn from each other and develop strategies together.
It’s easier said than done, but marketing-sales alignment must start somewhere. And regularly-occurring open dialogue will get you moving in the right direction.
8. Measure results (but exercise patience)
Here’s the harsh reality:
You don’t grow an effective marketing program from the ground up overnight. In fact, the number one ingredient missing from most manufacturing marketing programs is this:
Ultimately, marketing success should be measured on the basis of contribution to pipeline. But remember what we talked about earlier: A majority of your total addressable market is not actively buying at this moment in time.
Will there be low-hanging fruit? Sure. And you should go get it (see the earlier section about capturing demand where it exists).
But I can promise you that throwing 100% of your marketing resources at generating revenue over the next quarter will fail for most companies.
Effective marketing for manufacturers is a process that involves:
- Incrementally generating awareness
- Building trust by establishing a position of thought leader in your space
- Capturing demand where it exists while building demand where it doesn’t
- Analyzing your marketing KPIs to create a flywheel of continuous improvement
- Rinsing and repeating
Along the way, you’ll measure things like:
- Organic search rankings
- Website traffic growth
- Volume of form submissions on your website
- Engagement rates with content
- Consumption of video content on YouTube or LinkedIn
These are often referred to as “vanity metrics,” but these marketing KPIs will serve as barometers for you. Are we moving in the right direction as we build this sustainable revenue marketing engine?
Just recognize that it takes time. And frankly, the key ingredient (patience) is one that many nearsighted organizations unfortunately won’t tolerate as they remain trapped inside an endless hamster wheel of marketing mediocrity.
Need some help?
I recognize this was a lot to digest. But hopefully, it has you thinking differently already.
If you could use some advice about where to get started, consider requesting a consultation, and we can talk strategy.