This previously-published article was updated on September 19, 2017.

“Manufacturer”. It’s one of those all-encompassing words that can carry so many different meanings for so many different types of companies. And that’s exactly why there’s just no one-size-fits-all manufacturer marketing strategy.

Think about all the things a “manufacturer” can be.

Some produce and sell off-the-shelf, commodity products that require little pre-sale interaction with the buyer. Others sell highly-customized, complex products through long, consultative buying processes.

Some reach their buyers through distributor or dealer networks, whereas others sell directly to the end user. OEMs sell equipment or components to other manufacturers along the supply chain, while value-added resellers build on top of those products and repackage them into something entirely new.

And contract manufacturers don’t sell products at all, but instead manufacturing services to anyone just mentioned.

We’ve written before about how industrial marketing is very different than consumer marketing. But even within its own category, marketing for “manufacturers” can (and must) take on many different shapes and forms.

As you read on, we’ll ask you to answer the following four questions about your manufacturing organization. Then we’ll examine how your answers to those questions should impact the marketing decisions you make for your business.

  1. Is your core offering a commodity product, or a customized product / service?
  2. Does your buyer tend to be an individual person or a committee of buying process influencers?
  3. How heavy is competition within your industrial sector niche?
  4. Do you sell through a distributor or dealer network? Or direct to the buyer?

Marketing for manufacturers of commodity vs. customized products

QUESTION 1/4: Is your core offering a commodity product, or a customized product / service?

If the former, your buyers likely care most about three things:

  • Do you have what I need?
  • How fast can you get it to me?
  • Can you sell it to me at such a low price that there’s essentially no margin left for you to feed your family?

On the other hand, if your company falls closer to the customized product / service category, your sale is likely more complex, and your customer’s buying process more involved.

Scale showing commodity products sale is faster than custom product

Just as your sales approach will change depending on where your company falls on this spectrum, your marketing approach must as well.

What this means for your manufacturing marketing strategy

At Gorilla, we’re huge advocates of answering customer questions and helping solve problems through helpful marketing content like educational articles, white papers, videos and case studies. And when done well, this approach can drive incredible results for companies with longer, more consultative sales processes. The 5-minute video below explores this topic.

On the other hand, the more your offering resembles a commodity, the less education your buyer probably needs on how to make the right buying decision. In these instances, technical information like product specifications, data sheets and pricing become some of your most valuable marketing assets. Your buyers want the facts, and quickly. So give them what they’re looking for.

One of our clients – American Piping Products – is a steel pipe distributor. While they DO offer value-added custom cutting services, ultimately their offering is more commodity than it is custom. As a result, their SEO and online lead generation success has come through Google searches for products specifications like “a106 pipe” and “a53 steel pipe”. (“Do you have what I need?” “We sure do and here’s all the information you’re looking for.”)

marketing commodity products

On the flip side, another client of ours – CK Power – sells highly-customized gas-powered engines and generators. Their sales cycle is much longer and their customer buying process is more complex. Rather than selling off-the-shelf products, their sale is more solution oriented. They’ve translated the consultative nature of their sales process into a consultative approach to marketing as well.

CK Power’s Learning Center is filled will content that answers common customer questions and helps solve problems. That content exists not to replace their sales efforts, but to attract the right buyers, educate them, earn their trust and attention and prompt sales conversations that wouldn’t have otherwise occurred.

marketing complex products

Manufacturer marketing to individual buyers vs. buying committees

QUESTION 2/4: Does your buyer tend to be an individual person or a committee of buying process influencers?

When you think about your ideal customer at a company level, how many people ultimately influence the buying decision?

Generally speaking, here’s what we’ve found to be true. The more complex and expensive your product or service, the larger the “buying committee”. In B2C terms, think about buying a t-shirt vs a car. You can buy a t-shirt in a few minutes off the rack at the mall and it probably won’t leave a big hole in your wallet. And when you spill spaghetti sauce on it or shrink it in the dryer, oh well. You can buy a new one without feeling too much pain.

On the other hand, if you’re married with two little kids and shopping for a new car that you plan to drive for the next 5-10 years (this is me), chances are you’re not making a decision on the fly. You’re doing your homework. And you definitely aren’t making that decision without the input of your spouse (right, Julie?)!

In the B2B manufacturing world, the same concept applies. Take a look at the graph below.

complexity of market vs price graph

The closer you are to the bottom left, the more likely you’re dealing with a Procurement Manager. The more you move up and to the right, the more likely you’ll also have to win the hearts of Plant Managers, Design Engineers, CFOs, CEOs and others.

This is why developing and documenting your buyer persona profiles is so important. As the complexity, customization and cost of your sales grow, so do your prospects’ questions and concerns about buying it.

What this means for your manufacturing marketing strategy

We’ll never stop preaching the importance of being the thought leader in your space – the education source for your customers around the things you sell. And the more your products or services fall into the “highly-customized, complex and costly” department, the more people you’ll probably need to educate.

Just as your Sales professionals spend their days answering pricing questions for Procurement folks, technical and operational questions for Engineers and Plant Managers, and ROI-driven questions for C-Suites, so must your marketing content.

Your version of educational articles (like this one), videos, white papers and case studies should revolve around answering the questions and solving the problems of these key buying committee members of your ideal customers.

Manufacturer marketing in heavy vs. light competition

QUESTION 3/4: How heavy is competition in your industrial sector niche?

Let’s say you’re a contract manufacturer selling injection molding services to any plastics OEM on planet Earth. Sorry to say it, but you’re neck deep in competition. Now on the other hand, if you’re selling injection molding services specifically to automotive component manufacturers, you’re a little bit more differentiated. And just like in real life, your online competition will thin out a bit as well.

The purpose of this article isn’t to call you out for a lack of specialization. But I do want to show you how a differentiated product or service opens the door to highly-targeted marketing and lead generation.

What this means for your manufacturing marketing strategy

Speaking about content marketing in an article on his website, B2B marketing thought leader Marcus Sheridan describes what he calls the “Content Saturation Index”:

“The more content an industry/niche has written about it, the harder it is for a blog to make headway and find success in that field. And when an industry has very little online content available to the masses, it can often be gobbled up within almost no time at all.”

We have some very differentiated manufacturing clients that operate in tight niches. For them, sometimes one great article, paired with a little bit of press from some industry journals has been enough to rank first or second for the best related Google searches. And that has resulted in a high volume of qualified traffic and associated leads. For other clients who are either less differentiated, less established as a company or just happen to be selling in a crowded space, it’s taken months (or more) of strategic SEO and content marketing efforts to take ownership of that key Google real estate.

Just like in the physical world, your level of competition in the online space needs to influence the marketing decisions you make.

Manufacturer marketing through outside partners

QUESTION 4/4: Do you sell through a distributor or dealer network? Or direct to the buyer?

In many cases “both” might be the answer. Our clients at Gorilla fall into each of these buckets, so we’ve had to solve marketing challenges both ways.

In its simplest form, the inbound marketing approach that we practice for our B2B industrial sector clients can be broken down into the following three stages:

  • Attracting your ideal prospects to your website
  • Converting them from anonymous visitors into tangible leads
  • Assisting them through the buying process to the sale

But when your sales team sits outside the walls of your organization, things get a bit more complicated. Stages one and two are not only about generating awareness, traffic and “leads” among your buyers, but also attracting and building the network of distributors who can sell to them on your behalf. And when you make it to stage three, you hand over control of the sale to partners outside of your company who are often selling your competitors’ products as well.

What this means for your manufacturing marketing strategy

Once again, everything comes back to your ideal customer and buyer persona profiles. If you’re dealing with that extra layer (a distributor / dealer network) in the sale of your product, you have an extra persona to attract and please. It’s your job to understand what makes your best distributors or dealers tick, and to develop your inbound and content marketing strategies accordingly. Then, as you build that distribution network, you need to arm them with the tools – from educational content to spec sheets and other resources that will help them win customers for you.

Wrapping it up

The bottom line is this. Just as your place in “manufacturing” is very different from that of the hundreds of thousands of other companies that call themselves manufacturers, so is your place in the online manufacturing environment. And your marketing strategy must follow its lead.

If you could use a hand developing a manufacturing marketing plan for your company, please request a consultation. We’d love to talk. Otherwise, consider subscribing to our industrial marketing newsletter to keep up the learning. Thanks for reading!

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