Many forces are contributing to changes in the manufacturing buying process, especially the uncertainty of what is to come next for trade shows and in-person sales calls. But the most recent impact that should shape marketing strategies is that buyers require more business justification (i.e. why they should buy your product) than even 12-18 months ago, according to the State of Sales Enablement 2020 report. Manufacturing clients are demanding reduced cycle times, higher quality parts and products, and lower costs.
So, while many small and medium-manufacturers (SMMs) may think they have a reach problem – they believe they simply need to generate more awareness to find more buyers – it’s often a messaging issue. Is their messaging customer focused? Does it address questions and describe solutions? How are they delivering value? Do they have the right mix of tactics to convert leads?
Purse strings have loosened quite a bit among SMMs in recognition that people are spending more time online than ever before and increasing traffic to a website doesn’t come without a cost. Effective digital marketing requires an investment. For SMMs just getting into the digital game, or manufacturers due to revisit their tactics, it’s best to focus on the five key priorities for a digital marketing strategy.
1. Personas and Targeting: Who Are You Trying to Reach and Why?
A persona is a detailed description of your ideal customer based on market research and real information about your existing customers. Knowing your buying personas is key to any successful marketing plan.
Much like the larger world around us, the industrial information ecosystem has become very fragmented. Manufacturing buying cycles are longer and less linear. The marketplace has grown, but it has grown by niches. This fragmentation makes it more important than ever to know who you really want to reach with each marketing tactic.
You may need to win over multiple stakeholders at a key company to close a sale, and that task has probably become more complicated if the engineer wants to learn about your products by watching videos and the purchasing manager is looking for white papers and case studies. By taking the time to define your buying personas, you will better understand who your customers are and the challenges they face – helping you to know where to focus your time and resources.
2. Messaging: What Does Your Website Content Say to Customers?
Your prospects and customers are consuming information about new products and product innovations in all sorts of ways through all sorts of channels. While advertising helps manufacturing buyers get to know the company’s brand and story, website content will show them if a company offers the specific solutions that fills their needs.
Here are some key indicators if your website content is on the right track:
- You have solutions-oriented blog posts and case studies that outline the successes of your customers.
- You have product catalogues and brochures that can be found via search.
- Your keyword intent (i.e. words or phrases that make it possible for potential customers to find your site via search engines) aligns with the messages on the corresponding landing pages.
- You account for key personas and different stages of the buyer journey, varying your content depending upon whom you are targeting and what questions they are asking.
Appeal to the nervous buyer: Tactically, this means including customer references, reviews, expert opinions, awards, and other validation as part of your appeal. Show you are an experienced, reliable solution.
With the massive increase in digital access, it’s easy to see how videos have become a more powerful tool to tout product benefits and tell success stories and provide testimonials. Don’t underestimate the power of video and other visuals, such as CAD drawings and diagrams.
3. A Competitive Review: Knowledge is a Powerful Tool
If you have a good idea of how your competitors are going to market, you will be in position to not only compete but also identify opportunities to seize that no one in your competitive set is exploiting.
- Where do they show up that you don’t? Or where do you show up that they don’t?
- Who are they targeting? With what tactics?
- What is their message? How does their content address the market?
Global supply chain disruptions have created many gaps and opportunities, and agile companies are taking advantage of their strengths to grow their business.
You can protect your own competitive advantages in areas of strength. Think of it like a Venn diagram: You are identifying the intersection with your competitors with a goal of growing your portion at the expense of theirs.
4. Engagement: How Do You Regularly Engage With Key Constituents
One long-lasting impact of the pandemic is that your industrial salespeople have fewer chances to interact with buyers and are probably doing so after buyers have done significant online research and vetting.
Here are ways to regularly engage with prospects, customers and former customers:
- Produce a monthly or bi-weekly newsletter: Distribute your solutions-oriented content, success stories and video testimonials. Use whatever candence works best for your company, but be consistent.
- Develop email campaigns: Depending upon your email provider, you should be able to segment your subscriber list by personas or solutions of interest. You will get better results by sharing content that is personalized to a particular segment’s interests.
- Leverage social media: Yes, social media is now a must-do for manufacturers. Develop a strategy that aligns with reaching your key personas. Know that you do not need to be on all the major social channels. Choose what is manageable for your company and share content on a consistent basis.
5. Qualifying and Converting Leads: Create a Feedback Loop For Sales People
A marketing automation platform is a tool to plan, coordinate, manage, and measure both online and offline marketing efforts. The cost of marketing automation platforms have decreased significantly in recent years and are typically within reach for even the smallest manufacturers. These tools can help you measure the ROI of your digital marketing.
The essentials for determining your ROI for industrial marketing include:
- Having tracking in place so you know where your leads come from.
- Developing a lead scoring system to determine what are your best leads and where they come from.
- Tracking conversions, which is extremely important for the long buying cycles in industrial sectors.
The ROI of industrial marketing is not just about saving money and making money. It’s also about knowing how your investments perform so you can be more strategic with your future marketing spend.
Don’t Overlook Your Current Customers
Many customers now consider their experience with a company to be as important as your products and services, and digital marketing is a way to enhance the customer journey. If you have done a good job of onboarding and communicating with your current customers, and you understand their expectations, you are at a significant advantage in terms of potential organic growth. The MEP National Network is here to help you build a better digital marketing strategy and enhance the customer journey. Contact your local MEP Center to get the conversation started.
About the author: Kim Lloyd
Kim Lloyd is Director of Special Projects for FuzeHub, which is part of the MEP National Network. She is responsible for guiding the efforts of several programs targeted at helping small to mid-size manufacturers including supply chain projects, as well as overseeing the technology driving the FuzeHub B2B Connection portal.