Tl;dr - If you've built your revenue growth function on the assumption that marketing's sole purpose is lead generation, you've hobbled your customer-facing revenue function. It kind of makes sense if your marketing program is trade shows and some journal ads. Given that framework, there's not a lot else they could do. In contrast, a complete strategy for digital marketing for manufacturers anticipates and delivers a much broader impact across the enterprise and entire customer lifecycle.
What is the Role of Marketing for Manufacturers?
In order to build a digital marketing function for manufacturers, you first have to define what you need it to accomplish. Let's unpack that.
What are the goals? Whom should it engage? How should it achieve that?
Many manufacturers start with a default position that the goal of marketing is to create leads. Certainly, that's an important part of the function - one that requires careful definitions of "lead", "contact" and other terms as well as integrated "in" and "out" bound efforts, technology, and more.
But lead generation isn't the only objective of industrial marketing. Digital marketing for manufacturers should consider:
- Branding, competitive positioning, and partnerships
- PR and Opportunities for executives to share expertise
- Product marketing and competitive intelligence
- Sales enablement and acceleration
- Customer Experience, onboarding, and support
- Lifetime value including replacement parts and machine reorders
A robust strategy for digital marketing for manufacturers needs to account for each of those, and we can categorize them loosely as follows:
- Market perception
- Product/market fit
Let's look at each.
Marketing needs to shape the way the market perceives your company and products - essentially your brand.
Now, the reality is that most middle-market companies shouldn't concentrate on "brand" with major marketing investments. Many transactions start with search for help with specific problems, or requests for referrals. Brand isn't terribly important in either of those situations. Your product isn't one type of dish detergent on the shelf adjacent to 5 others; a scenario in which consistently reinforced branding may influence the purchase.
But while you won't invest countless thousands in ads to just put your logo in front of people, there's no reason that every marketing effort shouldn't also support brand strength and reinforce a positive and meaningful market perception.
Style and brand guides are important (small things like using the same logo, with the same colors) help, as do document hubs which help ensure your team all work from the same consistent slide decks, distribute the most current literature, and share the most up-to-date information. Consistently discussing industry topics and your prospects' business (vs. your machines) helps to establish your brand as more substantive than competitors that yammer on about technical differentiation.
Public relations can help your message reach broader audiences and secure speaking and industry organizational leadership opportunities for your executives.
Partnerships with OEM component suppliers and related vendors can be a powerful tool.
Much of your success here should follow as a byproduct of careful work in the other areas, but attention to detail, some guidelines, and some outsourcing will increase the impact.
Product Market Fit
Are you selling the right solution to the right people? Is it priced correctly? Do you understand the impact it has on your customers' business?
In my experience, most machinery companies prefer to invent and build things that are interesting to the owners and engineers. Often early in their evolution, this worked - the company was founded because an owner's insight into unmet needs inspired the creation of a product that was then iterated to help address those needs. They lose sight of the fact that their invention was in response to needs and come to believe that they can conceive, invent, and succeed in a vacuum.
Too often arbitrary product development to suit internal interests, and perpetual iteration are the default - and frustrated mid-level folks who see today's unmet needs but are unheard by management leave and repeat the cycle.
Some justify their cycle with Ford's argument that if he built what people wanted, it would be faster horses (instead of cars.) In some cases, there's truth in that argument and creative thinkers and inventors understand what companies could use and benefit from. But too often they treat R&D as a hobby.
Breaking this mold takes a focused effort, diligent research and continuous work. Product marketing and competitive intelligence are two pieces that are often missing from most middle market company marketing teams. These roles take special skills and are hard to simply append to someone's to-do list.
When companies fail to do so, however, they risk creating over or under-engineered solutions for poorly understood market requirements and force themselves into niche or irrelevant roles inadvertently.
Marketing should be a sales multiplier.
Sure, beyond trade shows and journal ads it generates leads through the website, email, social media and other digital platforms. But it needs to do more.
Marketing should be an adjunct sales team for products, machines, service, replacement parts, new products, expertise (e.g. audits and consulting), and "entry sales" opportunities.
Marketing should provide sales enablement content (battle cards, persona-specific content, email templates, presentation decks), technology to improve sales effectiveness and efficiency, a knowledge base and customer portal, data tools, and a vision for how to leverage data and technology to improve the customer experience (e.g. with custom CRM objects.)
Today's reality is that many prospect interactions happen virtually. Marketing controls the platforms and owns the responsibility to move those to sales interactions and/or meetings as quickly as possible.
It's amazing how many industrial companies that generate >50% of their business from existing customers also fail to engage them in any way other than processing reorders and spare parts transactions. What a missed opportunity!
- How many of your customers buy some of their replacement parts from other "cheaper" sources without realizing the net negative impact on production output?
- How many endure degraded performance because they just assume as machines age, they'll deteriorate?
- How many would prefer self-service access to order history and maintenance details in the depths of 3rd shift?
- How many feel abandoned as soon as the flurry of activity concludes when an order is placed, and months-long lead-time ensues with no contact?
- How many new project engineers have the same information needs as QA and maintenance team leaders?
These are just simple examples. The point is that throughout the lifecycle of a customer there are enormous unmet needs that cost a company revenue in the short term (3rd party MRO) and long term (reorders and upgrades.)
Successfully meeting these takes a deep understanding of the customer experience. For instance, what would be the "unboxing video" equivalent in your industry? Why not have a separate "Tech Notes" blog for the maintenance team and different info for each of the >10.2 buyers on the buying team and others that live with your machines?
A 25 Year+ Engagement
Once you understand marketing as a fundamental business function throughout the customer lifecycle (prospect, transaction, customer, upsell/cross sell, reorder, follow to different companies, etc.) then it's easier to envision how it could work.
But it all comes back to thinking like your prospect, buyer and customer. Incessant, or more commonly intermittent publication of pablum focused on technical features and your "system" approach won't resonate with your contacts at any stage of their lifecycle journey.
A Resource Commitment to Digital Marketing
There's another huge mindset hurdle - budget. Companies that traditionally think of marketing as tradeshows and journal ads have built forecasts and P&Ls on an annual investment of .5-1% of sales. Even accounting for the fact that an integrated strategy for digital marketing will supplant some of those, the budget will have to be increased.
Some of that increase can be shifted from sales, as robust marketing amplifies sales efforts (assuming management can overcome cultural, silo, org chart, budget, and ego barriers to this realignment!) But even then, more resources will have to be allocated.
If the best practice is 5% of sales for a marketing budget, even half of that will require doubling or quadrupling the traditional marketing budget. And some of the investments will be particularly unwelcome. Technology, for instance, rankles many who object to ongoing SaaS subscription costs in companies that used to buy locally hosted licenses only when upgrades were necessary.
There's enormous opportunity in manufacturers' digital marketing improvement, but real success will only be found in a comprehensive strategy that embraces the full range of potential marketing impact across the entire customer lifecycle.