Digital marketing represents a larger share of manufacturers’ efforts than ever before and is proving to be a differentiator for those who embrace it.
Time and again, manufacturing industries have been at the forefront of global technology innovation. From robotics driving change on factory floors, to AI advancements that make supply chains more resilient, few industries have embraced cutting-edge tech and digital opportunities to such an extent.
Despite their leadership in the digital technology space, manufacturing companies have historically been slower to adopt innovations in their sales and marketing operations. However, recent trends are pointing to a shift in this mentality and have only been accelerated by the changes forced upon industry by the pandemic.
Here are the three broad trends and opportunities we’re observing in the market, and how marketing pros at manufacturing companies can operationalize them in ways that drive results.
The importance of branding and digital channels’ role to play
In general, manufacturers have placed less emphasis on branding initiatives than other industries. This is especially true in the digital space, as any digital marketing initiatives have been strictly focused on lead generation efforts. While we view brand establishment as a necessary component of long-term marketing success, this is becoming even more crucial in today’s marketplace.
Why the added urgency?
For one, the level of competition in manufacturing-based industries is higher now than it ever has been. This is due to many factors, including:
- International pressure that has been mounting for decades
- The smaller pie to be divided up due to COVID-related reductions in order sizes and quantities during the past year-plus – while recovery has begun, this will be a long-term effort
- Technology innovation has reduced the barrier to entry for competition, meaning there are more players with whom to compete
Nearly universally, the companies that are successfully separating themselves from the increasingly noisy competition are focusing on establishing their brand. They know that doing so can create long-term positive impacts on top-of-funnel activity – in short, it is easier to make it into a buyer’s consideration set if they recognize your brand.
An established brand can be a sales team’s best friend. During a recent conversation with a sales executive from a manufacturing company, it was pointed out that the first twenty minutes of nearly every half-hour initial sales appointment are spent introducing the company to the prospect. When every minute a sales rep gets in front of a prospect is worth its weight in gold, spending two-thirds of that time accomplishing exactly what a proactive branding strategy would have done is a missed opportunity.
Another benefit of establishing your brand is that, particularly in manufacturing and other B2B industries, purchasing cycles can be long and unpredictable. An inherent benefit of digital branding initiatives is that they keep your company in front of your target audience on a regular basis. When the time to build a consideration set finally arrives for a prospect, companies that have focused on steady brand-building can benefit from recency bias.
Another trend in manufacturing that relates to this point is the large number of companies that are exploring (or have already embraced) a shift from B2B to B2C. Selling directly to end users has myriad benefits, including better control over product pricing, increased profits, and stronger command over one’s own brand.
Selling directly to the end customer places even greater importance on establishing brand to stand out from competitors and to build customer relationships and loyalty.
Manufacturing lead generation and nurturing
Sales and marketing professionals in the manufacturing space who have not fully embraced digital marketing channels often recite some version of the following to explain their reticence: “Buyers do not make enterprise-scale, B2B purchase decisions because they saw an ad on Google.”
What we know those folks actually mean is: “I’m skeptical that we can build relationships and demonstrate value in the ways we know our buyers require through digital channels.”
We would challenge this thinking by citing two important facts. One, it takes between six and eight touchpoints to generate a quality sales lead, though this number can average as high as 10 in certain B2B industries. Two, the average consumer now uses 10 channels to communicate with businesses.
So, let us turn the argument on its head and instead ask: is it possible for companies to remain competitive without using all channels available to them? Every day, the industry is getting further and further away from the time when tradeshows, industry trade publications, and in-person site visits by salespeople formed the cornerstones of branding and customer relationship building. COVID accelerated an already established trend, and early signs are pointing to the shakeup being permanent.
Read our post: "Tradeshows are Gone... Now What?"
Digital channels add far too much value to a company’s sales and marketing capabilities to be ignored – there is no alternative to digital in terms of its ability to target audiences, engage users where they spend time, and automate for scale. To be effective, of course, there needs to be a strategic plan that establishes a cohesive set of tactics that provide value to prospects and integrates human touchpoints in the sales process, but that is true of any sales or marketing strategy.
Employee recruitment through digital marketing
The current employment market is hyper competitive, and not in the way that favors employers. This is particularly true for skilled labor, where a long-standing shortage adds further difficulties to attracting new employees. As a result, manufacturers are turning to digital marketing to give them an edge.
On corporate websites, digital recruitment has evolved from single pages with job listings to full-blown career sites featuring testimonials from current employees, details about career paths and advancement opportunities, and even job suggestions based on a user’s location and search history.
Employers have also realized that it is no longer enough to put up a job posting and wait for qualified candidates to come banging down their doors. Successful companies leverage sophisticated digital advertising strategies that are tailored to specific job opportunities to get in front of ideal candidates. For example, jobs focused on a younger audience, entry-level positions, or those on a factory floor may lean into platforms like Facebook, while management positions and white-collar opportunities often leverage LinkedIn’s robust targeting capabilities and various search advertising strategies.
Relative to other marketing strategies and tactics, putting brand building campaigns in place is relatively cost effective and can yield some of the highest long-term return on investment that you will see in the manufacturing industry.