This article appeared in the August 2019 issue of MiMfg Magazine. Read the full issue and find past issues online.
How manufacturers market their products has changed with the rise of new technologies. Whether it requires a reinvention of current strategies, the development of new processes, or connecting with knowledge experts, manufacturers can no longer trust their products to sell themselves. They have to market what they make in a way that connects with 21st century consumers.
Today’s customer experience is far different than decades ago. The power to influence product cost, quality and efficiency is in the hands of the consumer. Technology allows customers to conduct a worldwide search for the perfect product rather than rely on what’s available locally.
A strong digital marketing strategy can help manufacturers of any size and any location connect with customers and potential future employees in a way they never could have only a generation earlier. Digital marketing is a strategy employed by many of the world’s leading brands and it’s worth a look.
“The main pillars of digital marketing are lead generation, lead nurturing, and customer delight,” said Chris Beecher, president of The Whole Brain Group (WBG), an Ann Arbor-based MMA Premium Associate member. “By focusing your company’s marketing resources — internal or through the hiring of an outside firm — on these pillars, you can set yourself up for stronger sales, more valuable connections and a greater confidence that, regardless of company size, you can successfully market to consumers in 2019 and beyond.”
But how can a manufacturer with limited resources build up their marketing efforts when so many other aspects of the business demand their time? To answer that, the WBG team and Jim Richards, CEO of Total Security Solutions and the 2018 recipient of the John G. Thodis Michigan Manufacturer of the Year Award, provide insights to developing your own marketing strategy.
The Steps to Build Your 2019 Strategy
“Digital marketing strategies should always support your current business goals and a good first step is to diagnose how you currently sell your products — and your overall brand — and then build a marketing strategy from there,” Beecher offered.
Once a strategy is built, some foundational work will be needed, including developing customer personas and understanding the buyer’s journeys.
“There are plenty of popular marketing tactics you can begin incorporating — content marketing, video marketing, search engine optimization (SEO) campaigns and e-mail campaigns; but it really does begin by understanding the audience you want to reach,” Beecher said. “The tactics you choose should align with the best way to reach that audience. SEO plays a significant part of everything you do digitally; effective marketing strategies must have a strong foundation in SEO.”
Wait. Personas? Buyer’s Journey? What are those?
“When we get started with a client, we first analyze their current performance so that we can make recommendations to solve their biggest problems,” said Megan Sherwood, WBG’s director of client production. We’ll ask about your website, what relevant keywords you use, how leads are generated, overall traffic and ways you currently promote your business.”
From there, the WBG team prioritizes next steps, including helping you to nail down what they call the manufacturer’s “marketing foundation,” including:
- Ideal Customer Profile (ICP): outlines the types of businesses you want to work with if you are a B2B company like most manufacturers.
- Personas document common decision makers and influencers at those ICPs, including job title, motivations, commonly asked questions, places they find information about your solution and even a name and age range of the persona to make them “real” to you.
- Buyer’s Journey outlines the initial trigger that would guide customers down a path that could lead them to your company’s solution.
- Keyword research — 75 percent of users will do online research to find a solution to their problem. You need to know what people are searching related to your industry so that when you market to them you are speaking their language.
Okay, we haven’t been doing that. Is it time to start over?
“One of the biggest mistakes you can make is throwing everything out and starting from scratch,” said Jackie Ranoni, WBG’s visual designer. “There are probably things you can repurpose, like existing content just requiring an update or fresh look. You could also source content from your sales team or from frequently asked questions found during the sales process to create something quick, and get it up on your website to start capturing better and more reliable leads.”
Before you rethink an existing strategy, make sure that you’re not having a knee jerk reaction — look at the data first (begin by adding the free Google Analytics to your website to help locate that data), then decide if you need to change your entire strategy, or just implement some new tactics.
“It’s time to make a change when your business has hit a ceiling — whether that ceiling is operational, sales-related or connected with your leadership,” said Richards. “When you hit a ceiling you need to take a step back and look at the issues at hand, determine what it takes to solve them, and who is the best person to solve them, and empower those people to take you forward.”
“If any or all of these five signs apply, it’s a good idea to consult with a marketing professional,” suggested Donna Campbell, WBG’s leading content strategist. “Plenty of agencies, including WBG, offer a free consultation and that can be a good way to determine if you are in a good place to tackle these issues with some new strategies.”
Marketing is just a lot of testing and failing. We don’t have the resources to commit to something that may not generate results right away.
The fact is, industrial buyers do 70 percent of their research online before they ever reach out to sales and 40 percent of those doing the research are millennials — the generation that will be dominating the purchasing of manufactured goods for the next few decades.
“Your marketing budget should be seen as an operational expense because you cannot afford to sit this dance out,” Campbell said.
Millennials pay attention to your website, your market presence and brand strength, plus they search for case studies and follow you on social media. Manufacturers need to provide them with a positive experience; just as manufacturers sought to do in the 1950s, the 1980s and at the turn of the century, only now that experience must include digital.
“Today’s industrial buying journey begins online,” Campbell acknowledged. “The more data you have to establish what works and what doesn’t the more successful you’ll be. By putting in the resources to test and fail, you are actually reducing the likelihood of these strategies failing over the long term because you can learn, adapt and get better at it over time.”
Time to Market: Do it Yourself Strategies
Before you allocate the responsibilities of a marketing strategy to a current employee or search to hire someone new, get your leadership team together to develop realistic goals and plan a support system so you can manage the influx of new leads.
“Initially, we saw so many leads come in from the digital marketing side that my sales team could not keep up with them. That was exciting, but we didn’t want to waste their time talking to unqualified leads who weren’t ready to buy,” said Richards. “We worked to automate as much as we could…over time, we shifted our focus from measuring quantity of leads to the quality of our leads, measuring things like deal size and repeat business.”
Without defining what you want out of your marketing leads, any strategy — no matter how good on paper — can still fail in application. This can include the common expectation that one person will solve all your marketing needs and position your brand to magically discover all sorts of untapped talent.
“Often we see many small- to medium-sized manufacturers discovering their limited resources so, instead of trying to build a whole team, they search for one person who can do everything. We call this person a Unicorn,” explained WBG’s inbound specialist, Justine Jahnke. “Why? Because these unicorns either don’t exist or they are extremely hard to find. Don’t wait around forever to locate one person capable of everything that a qualified team of specialists can do.”
“We recommend that you hire at least one junior marketing team member and provide training, internal support or freelance support for the areas they don’t know,” suggested Jahke. “Once you have them on board, don’t expect your new marketing folks to work miracles or bend time and space to give you the results you wanted yesterday. Give them a chance to do their best job by setting realistic expectations and providing the support and technologies to help them succeed.”
Time to Market: Hiring an Outside Firm
Rather than place the burden of reimagining your marketing strategy on an existing staffer or new employee, many companies look to hire outside marketing firms. This can reduce the amount of “hit and miss” trial-and-error marketing and allow your internal staff to learn essential strategies without feeling the pressure to do it all themselves.
But not all marketing firms are created equal. What’s the right one for you? How do you locate it?
“It’s important to screen potential marketing firms as you would any other partnership,” said Jessica Haywood, WBG’s inbound specialist. “There are plenty of questions you should ask to ensure you’re comfortable and everyone involved shares the same goals.”
“If you look to hire an outside firm, you want to work with people who know your business, understand your needs and vision for growth, and assist you in building a repeatable marketing machine that will drive leads and sales to support that growth,” explained Richards.
Time to Market: What’s Next?
Manufacturers should make marketing a priority regardless of their current size. Small businesses can grow faster and hire better with it while large businesses can develop a more stable, structured, reliable brand with a focused strategy in place.
“Today’s consumers are looking for the perfect products,” said Beecher. “You could very well meet every standard they have from cost and quality to environmental footprint and customer service. But if they can’t find you, they can’t buy from you. A sound marketing strategy might matter more today than it ever has before. It’s worth it to your business to develop the best path forward for creating yours.”