Posted by Todd Hockenberry ● Jan 23, 2023
How to Market a Manufacturing Company
Manufacturing marketing is still about them and not you. That is the first thing to understand before you start thinking about updating or improving your marketing plan. Sounds easy right, pretty obvious even. But this is the number one area I see manufacturers miss.
Manufacturing executives and business owners tend to come from the product or engineering side of the business and think about products and features instead of outcomes and results. This is not a new idea, I am sure you have heard it before, but I will keep saying it until I see evidence that more than a few manufacturers practice it.
What's your why?
If you have ever read Simon Sinek's book Start With Why you understand this idea. You need to figure out your "why."
Why are you here? Why is your business one a customer should choose? Why should your people care, much less your customers?
What you do for them is about your why; it is not what you make. In many ways, it is tied to what your product or service delivers.
Here are a few examples from our clients:
A packaging equipment company's "why" is to help companies reduce damage and waste in the supply chain, helping their customers save money while contributing to making consumer packaged goods more sustainable. They happen to build packaging machines to do it.
A laser system manufacturer enables product personalization and unique item-level identification, facilitating sales and internal and external process controls. They allow the transfer of data from a PC to an item's surface made of virtually anything.
Another client builds tube and pipe fabrication equipment that enables product designs for form and functionality to be converted into reality. They make machines that turn designs into things that are manufactured.
One more develops fuel additives that protect and improve fuel, so vehicles and engines keep running when needed. Their products deliver insurance that engines will keep running and have a minimum of maintenance due to fuel issues.
When you know your "why," it makes it much easier to communicate what you do to whom you want to hear those messages and point to the tactics of how you go to market.
OK, so you figured out your "why," the next thing to consider is the "who."
Who are you trying to reach?
Ask Yourself These Questions:
Do you know your target market, or is it anyone that might want your product? Ask who needs the "why" of our business.
Is there an ideal market segment or customer type that is the most profitable? The best customer to work with is who?
What is the persona of the ideal customer? Is it the CEO, the engineer, or purchasing? More than one? Whom do you have to deal with to make a sale?
Do you know the buyer journey they take? What steps do they go through to make a buying decision? Is it a complex sale? A component sale? A consumable sale? Do you know the buying journey differences?
Do you know what the persona wants? What motivates them to start the process? What do they search for online? When do they reach out to sales?
Have you ever talked to your existing customers and asked these questions? Do you ask prospects why they didn't buy from you? Do you speak to others in your ecosystems, like channel partners, suppliers, and competitors, to learn what the market tells them?
A strategy without a defined target ideal customer and a developed buyer persona is bound to be less effective than one that does. You can't be everything to everyone. You have to choose who you best serve and then focus on them.
What is your strategy?
I don't mean your pricing, distribution, or technology/engineering/product strategy. You need a real innovative strategy to engage and build relationships with people.
You should focus on this helping strategy first because of this simple stat and the reason behind it.
74% of sales go to the first company that was helpful (there are various sources for this stat and others like it, here is one).
Dr. Robert Cialdini described why this is so in his book, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. He talks about the six principles of persuasion, the first of which is reciprocation.
"The implication is you have to go first. Give something: give information, give free samples, give a positive experience to people, and they will want to give you something in return".
This powerful principle is backed up by the data showing that 70% or more people buy from the first company that is helpful.
Mind you helping is more than educating. Help is active participation in improving their situation and moving them to an improved state.
Helping people is bound up in your why definition. It should be a part of who you and your company are.
So what is your helping strategy? How helpful are you?
That is what your customers want. That is what they will reward. The company that gives it to them is the company that has a defensible competitive advantage. I am not talking about marketing tactics. Helping is about fundamentally improving your customer's world, helping them solve problems, and delivering the change they need.
Can you help them so that you create an experience that the customer has to return and have again? That is what you are shooting for.
Helping comes first. Relationships come after helping, and they are built on trust.
So what is your strategy to be the first company to help?
A few options for manufacturing marketing strategies include Inbound marketing, content marketing, thought leadership, account-based marketing, outbound marketing, research marketing, and doing nothing.
That last one is more popular than you might think. Just let the sales team connect with prospects and generate leads. Marketing is just creating brochures and prepping for the trade show in these types of companies. And it is a strategy by choice, not a good one, mind you, but it is a choice.
Today's successful manufacturing marketers combine all of the above options - other than doing nothing - into a strategy that connects them to their ideal audience with a high engagement rate.
Other critical aspects of strategy development are the resources available and the timing of your goals.
Successfully marketing a manufacturing company requires a commitment of resources and time to build an engine that consistently drives leads and customers.
One thing is for sure; your marketing budget should not just be what is left over after all of your other expenses are accounted for.
Remember your Peter Drucker, who said, "The business enterprise has two - and only two - essential functions: marketing and innovation; all the rest are costs.
Do not confuse the cost functions with the revenue-driving ones like marketing. Typical marketing budgets for industrial and manufacturing companies run from 4-7% of revenue. Many are far lower, in my experience.
The key is to match your business goals with an appropriate amount of marketing spend and then hold the marketing team to those goals using analytics for everything they do and measuring ROI. Vanity metrics like impressions and views are far outweighed by measuring and tracking actual lead generation from the source of that lead all the way through revenue.
You need to know the customer acquisition cost and where your sales come from. Gone are the days of not knowing what your marketing dollars are returning. If your marketing team is an outside partner and is not held to the same revenue generation standards as sales, you have a problem.
Where are your prospects?
Where do your target prospects go for information? What do they read? Whom do they listen to?
You have the opportunity to influence prospects at three critical points in the buyer journey:
Awareness - before they know you or that they even know they have a problem you can solve
Consideration - when they understand the issues and are deciding on the solution they are focused on
Decision - as the lead weighs options and brings stakeholders together to choose to move in a particular direction.
In general, you have three types of places to influence your target audience:
Owned - website, social media, email marketing, collateral, sales teams including all branding and out appearances of your business
Paid - print ads, Pay-Per-Click, trade shows, etc
Earned - editors, publishers, reps, distributors, partners, suppliers, or any other influencers whom you build relationships with and collaborate with them to create content or promote your business
Manufacturing businesses must dominate their owned marketing assets first. Many manufacturers skip over the owned assets and head right for the paid. Buy a list, pay for an ad, and go to a show. But their website looks like a circa 1997 version of a catalog. Or their printed materials are shoddy. Or they send a garbage e-newsletter every other month sometimes. Or they don't tell their unique story or understand how they help their customers.
Manufacturers must optimize their own marketing first. Say you run a paid Google Adwords campaign and send the clicks to your home page. This effort is mostly a waste of money and time. You need a specific page worth reading that matches the search that generated the click. It would be best if you had site management tools and CRM that allow you to understand that click and convert them to a lead at some point.
Or do you have a shabby-looking lobby that your prospective customers come through? Or have a sloppy-looking shop floor. Or have a poorly kept exterior of your buildings. These things all matter to your customers and are within your control. They and many more owned opportunities make a huge difference in today's digital-driven customer hyper-competitive world.
Get your own stuff right first. Then invest in paid and earned marketing.
How to implement the strategy?
Did you notice how you had to answer the why, who, what, and where questions before getting to the how question?
The bottom line, everyone in the company has a role in marketing the company. Everyone.
Disagree? Please comment at the bottom of this post and tell me the person in the company that does not have a role in marketing, and I will take a shot at telling you how they do.
Janitor? Ever had a client visit? What tells a visitor more than an unclean office or plant is that you do not sweat the details. Or care about your employees. Or take pride in your place of work. Why would you take pride in the product you supply if you can't keep a neat and clean workplace?
Accounting? Ever sent the wrong invoice? Or at the wrong time? Ever forget to send one? Have you ever had an accountant or finance person tell you to cut your marketing budget because it costs too much? Ever had your finance person talk to you about how to make a marketing investment with a measurable return?
Receptionist? That's a tricky one. You fired them in a cost-cutting move and have one of those annoying-as-hell 'click one for service' answering systems. Your customers and prospects noticed. They see by this action that you don't even care enough to have a human being answer the phone.
Loading dock worker? What if you did everything right in the factory, and the last guy to seal the box forgot to put in the paperwork or manuals? Or does a lousy job packing the parts? Or count them wrong?
I could go on, but you get the point.
How you implement your marketing strategy is to get everyone to buy into the why of your business and what role they have in delivering it.
The rest of the how question for manufacturing marketing relates to your tactics to reach your target persona.
Remember, you determine your strategy; your customers choose your tactics. You must fish where the fish are and adopt marketing tactics that reach your intended audience. Please don't chase the shiny thing when it comes to tactics. If you are unsure about something, run a small controlled test, measure the results, adjust, decide if the tactic is worth pursuing or move on to another.
A few other keys on how to market for manufacturing include:
Do sales and marketing enablement have the tools and training to succeed?
Sales alignment with Marketing - are the groups working together to achieve revenue generation goals?
Are you marketing across the entire buyer journey at all touchpoints? Don't forget the after-sale aspect of marketing.
Is your service team proactive or reactive? Do they work with marketing to continue the conversation with your customers?
"Are you listening? If not, then someone else is."
Thanks to the ultra-smart Ben Stroup for that gem of a quote. See here for the entire interview.
Don't forget to do the essential task of listening.
Examples of not listening include:
- Sending emails from email@example.com - this screams, "please don't email us."
- Not using chat. They want immediate access to subject matter experts. Are you holding out?
- Not responding to all comments, ratings, and reviews on your site and your Google Business page.
- Not surveying customers to see how they are doing with your solution.
- Senior executives do not spend time in the field, phone, or on Zoom calls with actual paying customers.
- Not monitoring website data and tracking time on page, bounce rates, and page views to see if you create content people want to consume.
- Ignoring SEO. SEO is all about understanding what people are searching for online regarding information, answers, and solutions.
Growing your business today will rely on the habits of you and your team. Those that improve their individual and company-wide ability to listen will be the ones buyers want to work with.
Is It working?
Measure everything. Insist on data, so your marketing strategy and tactical decisions are measurable.
You know the line about what you can measure; you can improve. Your marketing efforts should be held to the same data and measurement standards you keep on the shop floor.
You always know how you did by your revenue, but you can only get better at your manufacturing marketing if you can measure it.
If you aren't sure how to measure your marketing efforts, contact us, and we will show you how!