The State of Marketing in B2B Industrial Manufacturing
Industrial Manufacturing vs. Other B2B Industries
The consequences of coming late to the marketing game? This means that many manufacturers are behind every other industry in terms of marketing.
As a manufacturer this provides manufacturers an opportunity to get ahead. Check it out: less than 20% of SME manufacturers had a dedicated marketing team in 2022.
Among the manufacturing companies that had a marketing team, 1% of them rated their marketing as “sophisticated.”
Marketing Challenges B2B Manufacturers Are Facing Today
B2B Manufacturing Challenge: Disruption
The business world has changed and continues to change rapidly. In our opinion adaptability, not brute strength or customer loyalty, is the only thing that will keep your company above the water. Don’t doubt the digital revolution As a manufacturer Kodak failed to embrace digital technology. Kodak, despite having invented the digital camera in the 1970s, failed to fully embrace digital technology and capitalise on its potential. The company’s late entry into the digital market and its inability to adapt quickly enough contributed to its loss of market dominance.
The challenge is that technology has not only changed the industry, but also how the industry communicates. Marketing isn’t just pamphlets and direct mail anymore. It’s not hampers at Christmas to strengthen customer relationships (though who doesn’t love a good hamper?). It’s happening online. It’s a battleground of optimised websites, strategic and targeted messaging, strong innovation and differentiation.
Manufacturing Marketing Challenges
1. Changing approaches to how people adopt new technology
People used to adopt technology for work, and then for their personal lives. Now it happens simultaneously, or, more often, the opposite. That makes the way people browse online different (mobile searches now dominate the Internet), and therefore how your website will be viewed by potential customers. The need for a responsive website is no longer a nice to have its an essential requirement.
2. Customer’s expectations
Today customers and business buyers are more educated on products than ever. They know what they want and they can find it with a click of a button. They aren’t expecting you to be their go-to source because they’re already knowledgeable. As a manufacturer you need to be their best option.
3. Industries are converging rather than operating in verticals
In recent years, a notable shift has been occurring in the business landscape, where industries are increasingly converging rather than operating in traditional verticals. This convergence is driven by various factors, including technological advancements, changing consumer behaviours, and the growing demand for seamless and integrated experiences.
One of the key drivers of industry convergence is technology. The rapid development of digital technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, and big data analytics, has blurred the lines between different industries. These technologies provide a common foundation for various sectors, enabling them to collaborate and share data more easily. For example, healthcare and technology companies are joining forces to create innovative wearable health devices that can monitor patients’ vital signs and provide real-time data to medical professionals. This fusion of expertise from different sectors leads to breakthrough innovations and enhanced customer experiences.
Moreover, the changing preferences and behaviours of consumers have played a crucial role in pushing industries towards convergence. Modern consumers seek convenience, personalization, and interconnectedness in the products and services they use. This has driven companies to rethink their traditional approaches and look for ways to combine offerings from multiple industries to meet these demands. For instance, the rise of online shopping and e-commerce platforms has prompted collaborations between retail and logistics companies to offer more efficient and seamless delivery services.
Additionally, the rise of platform-based business models has facilitated industry convergence. Platforms act as intermediaries that connect different industries and facilitate the exchange of goods, services, and information. As more industries participate in these platforms, they naturally converge, blurring the boundaries between them. For instance, a ride-hailing platform may offer not only transportation services but also food delivery, bike-sharing, and other related services, effectively bringing together various industries under one digital roof.
Furthermore, regulatory changes and globalisation have encouraged industries to seek new opportunities by converging. Some regulations might be loosened, allowing companies from different sectors to collaborate more easily, leading to the creation of new products and services. Additionally, as businesses expand internationally, they encounter diverse markets with unique needs, which may require them to adapt and combine offerings from different industries to succeed.
4. Personalisation is increasing
In recent years, industries have been leveraging technological advancements and data-driven approaches to offer greater personalisation in the manufacture of products. The rise of Industry 4.0, which emphasises the integration of digital technologies and automation in manufacturing, has played a significant role in enabling this transformation.
One of the key drivers of personalisation is the use of advanced data analytics and artificial intelligence. Companies are now able to collect vast amounts of customer data from various sources, such as online behaviour, purchase history, and preferences. By analysing this data, manufacturers gain valuable insights into individual customer needs and preferences, allowing them to tailor products to meet specific requirements. For instance, in the fashion industry, AI-powered algorithms can analyse customer data to suggest personalised clothing styles, sizes, and colours, resulting in a more personalised shopping experience.
Additionally, advancements in additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, have revolutionised the way products are made. 3D printing allows for the creation of complex and customized designs with ease, making it possible to produce personalised products at scale. This technology has found applications in various industries, including healthcare, where personalised medical devices and prosthetics can be created to match individual patients’ unique anatomies.
Furthermore, collaborative customisation has emerged as a promising approach in product personalisation. Some companies now involve customers in the design process, allowing them to co-create their products. Through interactive online platforms or mobile apps, customers can choose from a range of options, customise features, and visualise the final product before it’s manufactured. This not only increases customer engagement and satisfaction but also reduces the likelihood of returns or unsatisfactory purchases.
Supply chain innovation has also contributed to personalisation capabilities. Smart manufacturing technologies, such as the Internet of Things (IoT) devices and sensors, enable real-time monitoring of production processes. This level of transparency and control allows manufacturers to adjust production parameters on-the-fly to meet individual customer demands. Consequently, lead times can be reduced, and products can be made-to-order more efficiently, minimising waste and inventory costs.
Lastly, personalisation is not limited to physical products alone; it extends to digital products and services as well. In the software and entertainment industries, for instance, companies offer personalised recommendations and content based on users’ preferences and viewing history. This enhances user experiences and strengthens customer loyalty by catering to their individual tastes and interests.
B2B Manufacturing Challenge: Balance
Striking a balance between finding a way to make sure your existing base’s needs are met and finding new ways to serve both them and new customers is the next challenge to overcome. Traditional methods of reaching prospects and customers don’t cut it anymore. Door knockers have their place – we still encourage the use of them depending on the needs of the customer – but the idea is that you’re going to need to both digital and traditional methods.
Targeting Buyers in the Manufacturing Industry
How are manufacturers approaching B2B marketing in 2023? Better still how should manufacturers approach marketing in the future?
What Is B2B Marketing Today and Why Do You Need It?
There’s no question that in the last decade or so, a dramatic shift has taken place from a more traditional approach to a digital one – and it has many manufacturers scrambling to catch up.
This shift is reflective of the changing behaviours and attitudes of your prospective buyers; the manufacturing consumers who are either influencing or making buying decisions about the products and services your company provides. As your customer base continues to evolve, so must your marketing strategy. But what factors are driving this shift, and why does it warrant a different approach?
Factor #1: Trust-building – Search engines are taking the place of in-person.
A few years ago it was perfectly adequate for a manufacturer to rely on a firm handshake at a tradeshow, or a connection cultivated during a site or product demonstration. Recently these companies have felt the pressure to think outside the traditional marketing box.
To remain competitive, a solid search-engine optimisation (SEO) strategy i.e. getting found on Google is critical. This doesn’t mean that in-person marketing is no longer effective. But relying on traditional methods alone means you may not be reaching a large segment of new prospects; that is, your online searchers.
So approximately how much of your target audience is online? Studies show that 68% of researchers today use search engines for their business purchases.
Factor #2: “Solved to.” – Today’s B2B customers do not want to be sold to
Your manufacturing customers are actively seeking information that will help inform a sound purchase decision. They do not want to be sold to, but rather “solved to.” That makes content marketing more important than ever. Defined, content marketing is solutions-based content that delivers engaging educational material that is relevant to the buyer and his journey.
Content marketing comes in all different formats, of course. In addition to a well-optimised website, there’s everything from blogs to infographics to reports to videos. Whatever format your content takes, the purpose is the same: to position yourself as a trusted, credible resource and a provider of solutions.
Factor #3: Non linear sales processes – your B2B marketing should reflect this.
With so much changing in how customers are making purchase decisions, the role of sales has changed considerably as well. Historically marketing and sales followed a somewhat linear path: prospective customers saw an advert, became interested in a product or service, then engaged with a salesperson for additional information required to make a purchase.
Today, that path is anything but linear. As we saw previously with search, potential buyers are able to empower themselves, with self-education propelling them through the buyer’s journey. Their online research can be multi-dimensional — often happening over time, in irregular intervals, and through multiple touchpoints.
The amount of time that decision makers invest in the process defines their buying process. For instance, Garter research shows that B2B buyers spent 17% of their time meeting potential suppliers and just 6% engaging sales people, as 82% of B2B decision-makers find sales reps to be largely unprepared. On the contrary, decision makers spend at least 45% of their time researching offline and online sources prior to making a purchase decision.
Before a customer engages with your sales team, the majority of your prospects will be “getting to know you” on their own, so they are likely to be convinced of your company’s value well. In turn, sales and marketing must work together to deliver the content that’s best-suited for buyers in this mindset – and that means content that is data-driven, personal and highly relevant.
Data-driven marketing leverages customer information (collected through consumer interactions and engagements) with the goal of creating highly targeted messaging that informs buying decisions.
Buyer Personas: An Essential Step for Manufacturing Marketers
Good content marketing creates value for manufacturing companies, but there’s an important footnote to that success. The effectiveness of your content marketing hinges on how well-targeted your content is.
Creating content bites that your customers don’t have an appetite for is a waste of your time and marketing budget. In fact, without personas, “approximately 60 to 70% of B2B content goes unused, representing wasted cash wasted on irrelevant content.”
That’s exactly why the creation of buyer personas should not be considered a nice-to-have, but an essential preliminary step. Personas are connected to a whole slew of statistics that prove their effectiveness and positive impact on ROI
Buyer personas have longer lasting value, too. In today’s world, where SEO rules and search algorithms seem to evolve by the day, having a well-developed buyer personas in place can typically help steer your marketing strategy for quite some time before updates are required.
How to create Your Manufacturing Buyer Persona
The purpose of your buyer persona, of course, is to answer important questions about your buyers: who are your manufacturing customers? What do you know about them? How do they make or influence purchase decisions? Persona research gives you a much-needed deep dive.
Start by pinpointing your ideal customer or customers. (Most manufacturing companies will find there are two or three different types of target customers.) Next, determine what those prospective buyers are searching for, as well as their unique role they play in the decision-making process. Not all manufacturing-solution seekers are final decision-makers; a factor that will influence how you talk to those audiences.
How to Target and Tailor Your Marketing Message
There is no one-size-fits-all messaging strategy, of course. Just as engineers may not be concerned about per-unit pricing, manufacturing buyers may not be familiar with the differences in specs from one product supplier to another. This means, your content should not only address your buyers’ unique interests and pain points, but strike the correct tone with target customers.
To help identify a content marketing strategy, we’ll look at some common manufacturing personas, and see how the purchasing and decision considerations vary.
While a heartfelt, emotionally charged message may be ideal for an organisation like a non-profit, just the opposite is true for engineers. Engineers like efficiency. They are typically hard-wired problem-solvers who prefer to get to the point without distraction.
Brevity is key, when appealing to engineers. Take a no-frills, no-fluff approach that cuts down on marketing hyperbole. Also, avoid overstating or overselling the value of your B2B solution. Most engineers prefer to draw such conclusions own their own.
- Technical guidance
- Innovative solutions
- Product specifications
- Updates on industry trends
- Instant information access
- Accessible design help
- Specific application solutions
How do you appeal to readers who are not direct buyers but decision influencers? When creating content for this group, it’s wise to focus on building a business case for your solution. In turn, this will help managers present the information to their boss. For example, how exactly will a manufacturing solution improve operations? Why is it a worthy investment? Hard proof (numbers and statistics) and past cases are extremely valuable. This messaging can be especially important for a large capital expenditure (take, for example, a large piece of plant customised to reduce cycle time for a specific manufacturing application) that may not show immediate value.
- Ability to keep manufacturing lines optimised
- Tight shipping deadlines
- Connection with a live person for answers to a problem
- Service from a trusted source
- Quality products
- Fast delivery
Messaging for Direct Buyers
Similar to writing for engineers, your content should cut to the chase. When writing for a direct buyer, avoid spending too much time discussing the problem. You’ll want to skip long and rambling lead-ins that highlight the “pain points” that a buyer is be facing. If something truly is a problem, your reader will not need convincing.
Blunt honesty can also be effective in your messaging. While most marketers are uncomfortable surfacing imperfections – for example, a potential caveat with a manufacturing solution — a direct and honest writing approach can actually help create an environment of trust with your direct buyers.
- Consensus between purchasing and engineering
- Superior pricing
- Strong relationships
- Competitive value
- Superior service
- Solid vendor partnership
Key Differentiators for B2B Manufacturers
How Is Marketing for the B2B Manufacturing Industry Different?
The modern B2B buyer wants to be “solved to” rather than sold to as previously mentioned. Additionally marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, especially when you consider the broad spectrum of industrial manufacturing businesses and the different types of customers they serve.
There are a number of distinct qualities that set manufacturing marketing apart from the approach one might take when selling, for example, professional services or software. Below are a few factors manufacturers need to consider when putting together a robust marketing plan:
Lengthy sales cycles:
- Business-to-business (B2B) sales cycles are customarily much longer than their business-to-consumer (B2C) counterparts. The typical manufacturing sales process is stretched out due to an array of factors, ranging from Request for Proposal (RFP) review and response times, custom design and product testing to transportation and logistics.
- The sales cycle can last anywhere from six months to a number of years, depending on
- the size and value of the order,
- the level of technical know-how needed to assess the product,
- the number of specifications,
- the number of regulations with which the product must comply,
- the number of decision makers involved in the process.
- Therefore, lead nurturing; or the process of staying in front of leads by sending them relevant informational content aligned with the buyer’s journey is essential to moving prospects through the funnel.
Selling to multiple decision makers:
- In industrial manufacturing, there tends to be a direct relationship between the number of purchasing decision makers and sale price ( the bigger the spend – the more people involved in the decision).
- It’s not just the number of decision makers and influencers that require convincing. B2B manufacturers must have informational content that addresses the needs of each buyer persona at each stage of their journey.
- E.g., a CEO is likely to respond to a different series of messages than the value propositions you might pitch to a Director of Engineering or Technical Manager.
- Be aware, the information gatherer may not be the decision maker, so it’s important that your marketing also speaks to whomever is conducting the research.
- Additionally, if you serve multiple industries where these roles are drastically different, you may need to create buyer profiles for each of your target verticals.
Building partnerships with distributors in a virtual world:
- Cultivating relationships is really important for B2B manufacturers; strong ties with a happy customer means repeat business for a potentially long time. The importance of customer lifetime value is covered in greater details in this article. Building partnerships online, albeit convenient for the buyer conducting her preliminary research, poses its own set of challenges – “humanising” your business being primary among them.
- Many manufacturing firms are selling through distributor channels, which further compounds the challenge of selling to multiple audiences. So it’s critical that your company website and marketing collateral speaks not only to your standard buyers but also to distributor reps
Breaking the “commodity product” mould:
- If your business manufacturers small parts, containers, packaging or other materials involved in creating an end product produced by another manufacturer, it’s challenging to differentiate yourself from the plethora of competitors who provide a similar product.
- Firms that sell what can be considered commoditised products are often pressured to slash prices and rely on regional sales that truncate shipping costs. Alternatively maintaining a benefits-focused marketing strategy (as opposed to touting features) will help your buyers understand why your product is better than the next one, and potentially enable you to execute on a value-based pricing model.
Customers looking for something niche (very specific)
- Compared to selling commodities, the likelihood is that the product or part you’re selling is extremely niche. In these circumstances there’s a good chance most people haven’t even heard of it, even within your industry.
- Publishing content that educates your audience about your solution (and where it applies) is that much more important (Mass marketing is not going to work in this case)
- Manufacturing buyers are often looking for something very specific – they want a product that’s going to exactly match their technical needs and requirements. Therefore, effective manufacturing marketers must tap into the problems their buyers are trying to solve, and align their marketing efforts with the language the audience is using.
- These firms must provide a streamlined digital approach for prospective buyers to submit their specs, request quotes, and research your product line or catalogue via the website.
From a digital marketing perspective, some things are NOT so different.
There are core marketing principles that hold true in the manufacturing industry just like in any other.
- B2B manufacturers must attract the right prospects.
- They must convert prospects into bona fide leads.
- Leads need to be nurtured– and build relationships with them in order to close deals.
- A variety of sales conversion points need to be offered,
- A great experience must be provided all the way through the sale and onward as the partnership continues to develop.
The thing is, today all of this must be done online.
Exhibitions, phone conversations, trade show appearances and in-person, on-site meetings matter just as much when creating an impression and conducting business. It’s important to recognise that your website and digital marketing presence is not a supplement to everything else. It should be at the heart of what you’re doing, providing perceived value into every element of your business.
It is important to recognise that your buyers are most likely online at work. Investigating and researching companies like yours.
- Over 60% of industrial professionals visit six or more work-related websites each week,
- 50% spending six or more hours on these sites every single week.
- Over 50% are using websites to directly request price quotes!
If your manufacturing business isn’t investing in digital marketing, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to generate leads, sales and revenue. This potentially means your prospects are visiting your competitors websites instead.
The Best Tactics B2B Manufacturers Can Use to Differentiate
The business buyers of today, including those purchasing from industrial manufacturers, instinctively turn to digital sources for information and knowledge well in advance of the decision making process.
Gartner research shows a steady shift of customer preferences from in-person sales interactions to digital channels. B2B buyers spend only 17% of the total purchase journey with sales reps. Because the average deal involves multiple suppliers, a sales rep gets roughly 5% of a customer’s total purchase time. And 44% of millennials prefer no sales rep interaction at all in a B2B setting
- over 80% of industrial professionals use the web to source information for work.
- Almost 70% are specifically using the web to find components, equipment and services.
- Over 60% consult supplier websites for this type of information.
- Well over half are actively comparing products across supplier sites.
This change from the referral-based and traditional advertising growth strategies to a reliance on digital savviness for bringing in new business is intimidating for many manufacturers. Many manufacturers struggle to know where to start, and how these intangible marketing techniques really supposed to contribute to generating revenue?
Marketing in 2023 is
- a highly data-driven approach to getting found online
- about cultivating interest, engagement and trust with your target prospects
- ensuring you differentiate your business from that of your competitors
- giving target prospects the experience they’re looking for as they navigate the buyer’s journey
Marketing is a highly data-driven approach to getting found online, cultivating interest, engagement and trust with your target prospects, and differentiating your business from your competitors’.
In Manufacturing what marketing approaches to use
In the modern business world it’s time to reconsider cold calling, sending unsolicited emails, and critically evaluate the amount you’re spending on print ads and other traditional forms of advertising. These techniques are not performing in manufacturing or any other sector.
Industry Trade Shows : trade shows and events should only be an additive to your overall marketing strategy, not the central focus of your entire year.
Inbound marketing (or just ‘inbound’) is about organically attracting interested prospects through website optimisation, producing content that engages, educates and excites your audience, and promoting it through the digital channels they’re actually using. It’s about converting visitors into contacts on your website with strategically placed Calls-to-Action and lead generation forms. Additionally it’s about nurturing them with high-value (potentially FREE) content that caters to their specific needs, expands on a solution to a common problem they’re experiencing. It should then carefully introduce why your product / service makes the difference and is a far more effective (and far less expensive) means of expanding your customer base and nourishing your existing one.
As a manufacturer what you should be doing in order to attract the right traffic, up your lead count and close more business.
#1. Provide informational Content on a Company Blog
Blogging is one of the basic building blocks for a strong marketing foundation. If you think your manufacturing business is better off without putting time into a blog? Think again.
Over thirty percent of engineers use blogs as sources of information for research and needs analysis in the early stages of the buyer’s journey. More than half of industrial professionals do not contact a vendor until they’ve compared and evaluated several vendors based on their website content.
Primarily a blog should be considered as a complimentary resource for your website visitors. Its uses range from discussing important industry topics and publishing educational content that helps your audience solve problems, through to announcing company news and introducing staff members.
The benefits of blogging / creating new web content
- Provides website visitors with content that addresses their pain points
- Demonstrates your firm’s industry expertise
- Establishes trust and credibility early on in the sales cycle
- Answers common questions received by your sales personnel
- Keeps your website fresh for Google and other search engines
- Helps you get found when prospects conduct searches online
Another advantage of blogging is that it provides the opportunity to provide myth-busting information to your readers. Say, for example, your company produces a tubular loading shovel attachment solution that is far superior to its box section counterparts. Why not publish a blog post explaining how tubular attachments have become more effective in several specific contexts?
It’s important that you publish content on a consistent basis. Begin by publishing one post per month, and then increase to one post per week. Once you get to this stage, it’s a good idea to create a quarterly content calendar that incorporates the topic, writer, keyword and goal of each post so that you’re able to keep up.
Be aware that results from blogging may take time. But as you continue to publish informative articles, you will improve your company’s rankings in search engine results pages and the organic traffic you generate for your website compounds as your “authority” and “relevance” (as deemed by the search engines) increases.
#2. Gate High-Value Content Behind Forms
While it’s important to offer “ungated” informational website content to your audience (a blog, for instance), it’s just as important to position some of that content behind lead generation forms. A lead generation form lives on a website landing page that promotes a content offer, an industry report, fact sheet, a webinar recording, etc. The form acts as a gate; once a visitor submits their contact information (or whatever other information you decide to ask for…name, email, telephone.), they receive the content in exchange and they’ve become a lead!
The whole point of creating gated content is to facilitate visitor-to-lead conversions. If a prospect isn’t ready to buy, you’re offering them something of value that they can use in the Awareness and Consideration stages of the buyer’s journey – and you’re successfully building trust.
Plus, you now have their contact information, providing a natural opportunity to follow up with the lead, present them with related material, gauge their interest in your business and more. Lead generation forms even help you segment your potentially messy contact database, enabling you to sort contacts by their answers to specific form field questions!
With trade shows becoming more and more expensive, using lead generation landing pages to promote gated content is a productive way to produce a similar amount (or greater amount of qualified leads) at a MUCH lower cost. The more landing pages you have, potentially the more leads you can generate.
#4. Serve Up Social Proof
Social proof can take many forms, testimonials, customer reviews, case studies, certifications, etc Social proof is a powerful marketing and sales tool.
Social proof validate the benefits of your products and services, helping answer prospect questions about a niche product that would otherwise be difficult to understand.
Customer success stories serve as a tipping point for prospects who need additional insight to fully grasp how your business will make their jobs (or lives) easier – and how your product is the right solution to their problem.
#5. Maximise the use of Video
A well-optimised video can be used to attract traffic to your website, support visit-to-lead conversion efforts, serve up how-to’s and tutorials, share your company story. Videos are a great way to showcase the success stories of your customers, demonstrate your company culture in an industry that may not always be perceived as “exciting”, and the list goes on. However, it’s most important function is arguably to cultivate audience engagement, from both qualitative and technical perspectives.
Video is known to raise the average amount of time visitors spend on your pages and significantly lower website bounce rates. This signals to Google that your video is well worth watching (and in turn, your site is well worth visiting). A video link in an email even leads to a 200-300% increase in click-through rates! Simply including the word “video” in your subject line is going to send open rates through the roof.
With the advent of Smartphones and simple video editing software you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to produce effective video content. Posting short videos of a product in action, a company event, your production line or interactions with customers can make for great material if positioned correctly!
#6. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly
Over half of searches today are being conducted via mobile devices? Because of this, Google has made recent changes to its algorithms that give even more weight to mobile-friendly websites, so if your manufacturing business doesn’t have a responsive site, you’re likely being penalised in search results (even if your audience is largely comprised of desktop users).
A responsive website design adapts to a visitor’s browser size and resolution, automatically reformatting and scaling page layouts to accommodate. A responsive design can also adjust the actual content that’s displayed – so page elements like contact info or directions render more prominently for non-desktop visitors. Since mobile-friendly sites adapt to any mobile screen (smartphone, tablet, etc.), prospects will actually be able to see it and use it should they find you via their mobile device.