B2B Manufacturers & the internet marketing paradox

Ed Marsh | Sep 13, 2013

Stuff in one door - better stuff out the other

Manufacturing is cool.  Seriously.  I'm not just talking Discovery Channel "How it's Made" but the amazing diversity and ingenuity represented by the vast array of products available for us to buy.  It's great to be in an office full of smart people creating software and massaging ideas, but there's nothing like being in a buzzing manufacturing plant where things are made.  The smells, sounds and sights all convey that something is being birthed.

That 'making' almost always originates with 'stuff' dug from the earth and ends up in the form of products that enhance and ease our lives.  And at numerous steps along the way a raw material, or component of some sort, is manipulated and/or combined with others to produce a next level product which is either in its final form, or one step closer to final products.

So the manufacturing process is about the 'stuff' that you work with and the 'stuff' that you produce.  And management of manufacturing is largely about small incremental changes in the 'stuff' put in, or the process that can either improve quality, reduce cost or both.

So it's a generalization, but by design, aptitude and necessity, folks in manufacturing tend to be very product (stuff) focused.  

Carefully thought through

And none of this happens by accident.  Sure there are some great stories about serendipitous discoveries, but in general innovation; invention; design and manufacturing require very deliberate, linear thought.  Folks in this world plan things carefully, think through steps, test & validate and run trials.  They have seen things go awry when poorly vetted schemes are implemented.  They are skeptical of those who take a less deliberate approach to analyzing and solving problems.

It's another generalization, but in short, there's a right way to tackle problems.  Approaching them differently is fine for other people, but not really sensible if efficiency is your primary goal.  That framework shapes their perspective (as is true for all of us) - there's a right way to do things, and people with a similar mindset tend to approach problems with a similar framework.

This is particularly pronounced among senior management and owners - especially founders of B2B manufacturing businesses. These are folks who fit the mold well enough to be accepted and advanced.  And now they are proponents and enforcers of the framework within which their careers developed.  Those that started businesses overcame a myriad of challenges, doubters and naysayers.  They have succeeded by selecting a path and persevering even when others have scoffed.  They have a track record of intelligence, savvy and determination trumping all else.

So it's easy to see why marketing has always been considered an outlier.  After all, serious people touch products and consider specs.  Some 'artist' who can't quantify outcomes or define the process by which their activity will generate results is, whether stated or not, simply a quack.  So marketing for B2B manufacturers has traditionally been reduced to trade shows, spec sheets, magazine ads and bingo cards.

Are you screaming at me yet?

Good.  You're engaged.  I'm sure you've picked out several holes in my argument thus far.  That's OK.  Let's take it a couple steps further.  Maybe we'll actually end up closer than you think.

To recap:
  1. B2B manufacturing executives tend to be very product focused - on the details, features and benefits of those that they make and sell
  2. Their world is pretty linear - materials come in one end of the building and leave the other with carefully orchestrated steps in between
  3. There is a proven "right way" to do things - carefully considered, trialed and consistently executed
  4. Folks that are successful follow similar approaches - after all quality is designed in
  5. Founders tend to have a "my way or the highway" approach
  6. Marketing hasn't ever earned real credibility among serious B2B manufacturing minds because it has insisted on faith in a process that can't be clearly defined, measured or managed
Here's the rub - the world of marketing for B2B manufacturers has now been turned on it's head.  The traditional shortcomings that were anathema have been overcome.  But can the folks who would stand to gain most, overcome their marketing prejudice?  It's no longer about marketing, but rather about mindset.

The internet has fundamentally changed the B2B marketing world.

Tools & habits

Bromidic for sure; we all know it's true.  But what specific internet driven changes impact marketing for B2B manufacturers?  There are two key areas:

  1. B2B manufacturer marketing bookThe proliferation of information and efficiency of search engines (both cataloging and serving up the most contextually relevant results for a given search) - There was a time when you had to solve your own problem and then find the 'stuff' required to implement your solution.  For instance, if you had too much unplanned downtime due to equipment failures you might decide to implement sealed bearings, central lube systems or some similar solution devised to reduce inopportune failures.  You'd then use an index like Thomas Register to find various suppliers of sealed bearings and analyze the specs to find the right ones for your application.  The internet meant you had access to a broader range of bearing suppliers (not just those who paid Thomas Register for listing) and so the next step was searching sealed bearings on the web.  But search improved quickly - and so the subject of searches has quickly evolved.  'Sealed bearings' (solution) became 'reduce machinery downtime' (problem) and then 'improved machinery performance for manufacturing efficiency' (outcome.)  Now, in fact, a search for sealed bearings could well yield a whitepaper regarding "Preventative Maintenance Best Practices" from a firm which manufacturers dust control systems.
  2. Proliferation of metrics, insight and manageability of marketing - Thought that Demming was incompatible with marketing?  You used to be right.  But no longer.  Internet marketing isn't just about a brochure website (which was pretty cool when you first published one.)  Now it's about an ongoing, high level dialog with the world.  Everything you do can be measured & managed.  "Plan, Do, Check & Act" - OK, maybe in slightly different words... - is exactly the mantra and strategy of remarkable B2B marketing today.  And linear thinking and creative folks have collaborated to create amazing tools to simplify the process (even automate it in many cases, including A/B testing!) for you.  No longer will you wait 6 months to see if "branding" or some amorphous "campaign" delivers results.  Now you begin with a clear roadmap that defines the requisite, definable steps based on your explicit, defined and measurable objectives.  Then you execute, check and adjust continuously.  You observe, measure and manage toward your ROI real-time.  It's a analytical types dream, and a business persons prayers answered.
Here's the irony and the paradox - what's perceived by many B2B manufacturers as a forum for the capricious B2C world is actually an incredibly effective B2B marketing tool.  Marketing can now be designed, executed, measured and managed with predictable outcomes and clear ROI.  There are defined action steps that correlate to certain outcomes, and nearly real-time insight into effectiveness of comparative tactics.  It's a linear thinkers paradise!  Want proof?  How about the growing presence of engineers in the marketing world?  And not just software engineers, but take for example a chemical engineer, successfully managing sales and implementation of marketing solutions?

Overcoming hang-ups

But the condescension towards marketing may be so strong that those that would benefit most refuse to even consider the opportunity.  That's tragic.  The question is no longer whether marketing can dramatically impact B2B manufacturers, but rather whether you will let it.
  • You want info?  You 'Google' it.  Guess what?  So does everyone you're selling to (or wish you were!)  That means your success depends almost entirely on being the solution that pops up when searched and speaks most authoritatively and genuinely to the person searching - at the moment they looked and over the period during which they mull solutions
  • Your product is awesome.  You know that and I believe you.  But nobody cares.  Seriously.  They're interested in not getting called by 3rd shift that everything has run off the tracks.  Your features and benefits only matter to the extent that it provides the outcome they want.  If you can't get over your 'stuff' focus you'll never realize the potential of internet marketing
  • Marketing needn't be a black hole into which money simply disappears.  It should be more than an irritating line on your P&L that sits there year after year...just because  
But deep in your amygdala is a subconscious voice that is screaming right now.  Hear it?  "Yes, OK, BUT INTERNET MARKETING IS REALLY FOR B2C.  IT'S GOOD FOR OTHER COMPANIES, BUT NOT FOR OURS.  AFTER ALL, WE ALREADY HAVE A WEBSITE."

I learned a long time ago that there's no point in trying to convince someone to do something that they are opposed to - particularly when that opposition comes from a place they may not even consciously recognize.  So if you've read this far and think I'm nuts, I'm sorry to have squandered your time.

But if you're a manufacturer who senses that:
  • you are still selling to others as you traditionally have - even as you have changed how you buy
  • something's not quite optimized as it could be
  • your investment in 'marketing' as you currently do it isn't really returning measurable and substantial results
you're on the right track.  Don't be satisfied! Maybe we should chat?  Or if you'd rather read first, check out the download below.

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