Is Industrial Digital Marketing an Oxymoron?

Ed Marsh | Sep 22, 2023

Tl;dr - Most industrial manufacturers have digitized large portions of their production. CNC machines, laser cutters, 3D drawings, virtual diagnostics, et. Yet many of them claim that digital marketing and sales aren't appropriate for them because their buyers are different. How silly is that? Let's look at how manufacturing marketing should approach the digital imperative. 

Does Industrial Digital Marketing Work if Buyers Aren't Digital?

"Our industry is different. Our buyers don't use Google, chatbots, or the internet the same way they do in other businesses."


I hear that comment frequently. And I cringe.

Do your buyers use email, or fax machines?

Do your prospects expect hand-drawn mechanical drawings, or 3D digital files?

Does your team deliver the best customer experience when they have to go to the warehouse to find old machine documentation in dusty file boxes, or when they access a customer portal that has most of the relevant information organized for efficient and accurate service?

Of course, your buyers are digital in many ways. It's second nature regarding the operations and engineering side of things.

And yet, this enormous gap exists between how companies think about production, operations, and engineering vs. how they think about revenue growth.

In that context, it's easy to see that #OurBuyersAreDifferent is a crazy premise.

Of course, your prospects use the internet to research vendors, trends, and problems/solutions.

Here's the rub....industrial digital marketing for most manufacturers means doing a bit of what they've always done, now in a digital format.

They convert printed data sheets to PDFs and provide a website to distribute information.

But digital marketing isn't just the execution of traditional activities in some ethereal format. Digital enables entirely new opportunities to engage with prospects, buyers, and customers.

Machine function animations and intelligent chatbots are simple examples of new engagement methods, but those generally apply only after a buyer has defined their problem and identified you as a vendor of a possible solution.

That's just a small part of their activity.

In this video, Rand Fishkin of SparkToro explains that a whole universe of thought and engagement precedes that. He says "pre-funnel activity is essentially: 'Where do I go to learn about this topic that I have interest in or this problem that I have or might have in the future?'"

industrial digital marketing is an important tool in the manufacturing marketing toolkit

If Your Marketing Mix Doesn't Match Your Customer's Journey... You're Gonna Have a Bad Time | 5-Minute Whiteboard - SparkToro

Yet most manufacturing marketing focuses just on capturing the small audience (often estimated at 3% of the total market) who is now considering a purchase, by using traditional tools of SEO for manufacturers, which are decreasingly effective on their own.

There's a disconnect.

Referrals, References & Recommendations - Partner Marketing & Sales

To build a successful digital marketing program for an industrial manufacturer, we need to make two big mindshifts.

First, we must recognize that our "pre-funnel" activity should drive a huge portion of our future pipeline.

Second, as Fishkin highlights, perhaps only 25% of that is likely to happen through traditional website and content SEO (vs. 90% some years ago before an explosion in content.) Today, email newsletters (not announcements and promotion, but personalized insights), podcasts, webinars, subreddits, video, and events are important. 

Even if you do all that well, you still have a problem. Prospects are overwhelmed with information. They have too many "nice to have" projects, while "must have" projects are fully budgeted.

It's really, really hard for your sales team to initiate conversations with new prospects.

Part of that is sales skill, competency, training, and coaching. But part of it is finding digital analogs to time-tested fundamentals of B2B sales. Referrals, introductions, and recommendations.

Today, digital marketing must include a partnership angle. Your prefunnel efforts must include collaboration with other trusted vendors with whom your prospects already do business.

If you're a professional cleaning company targeting industrial manufacturers, an accounting or IT-managed services firm specializing in manufacturing could be a good partner for content creation and introductions.

And guess what.....if you're a machine builder, all three could be appropriate and effective avenues for your partnership marketing and sales!

Each of your "pre-funnel" content will reach different audiences. The podcast or webinar discussions will create awareness of topics and opportunities that prospects might not have considered and wouldn't have spent the time to digest had the info not come via an already trusted resource.

So your digital industrial marketing not only needs the reach of distribution and promotion that partners should provide but also the imprimatur of relevance and credibility.

Of course, it must be insightful, actionable, non-promotional, thought-provoking, and digestible. All of those are responsibilities of your digital marketing team.

Inbound & Outbound

Ten years ago, inbound marketing yielded a huge first-mover advantage. Start writing well-optimized website content and a consistent blog, and small players could quickly leapfrog industry giants.

Today, the opportunity is diminished by the ubiquity of the strategy and the Cambrian explosion of content.

Traditional outbound sales is as important as ever.

Partnership sales and tactics like an entry sale (small transactions that establish you as a vendor and involve access to customers to facilitate research) can help sales teams access new accounts.

But you need more.

Digital marketing can help here, too.

Sales Enablement

"Checking in," "Follow up," "Circle back," and similar statements are so monstrously inane that simply using them in outbound sales today is to emblazon your brand with a big label announcing mediocrity.

In contrast, great sales enablement content for each stage of the buying journey and each buyer persona on a typical buying team gives a well-trained, coached, and rehearsed sales team a suite of tools to engage prospects with legitimately helpful information proactively.

It may take some time to get a meeting - maybe you even have a target account goal of the first meeting within the next year - and your insights may not resonate with a particular buyer at a particular time.

In aggregate, though, something will. It may not earn a meeting immediately, but it will establish you and your company as a competent resource. If it helps a prospect reframe how they consider a problem or situation, it will be particularly impactful.

Don't Let Your Mindset Hold You Back

It's actually pretty bigoted to think of your prospects as some non-digital Neanderthals....

Don't let yourself get caught in that trap.

The onus is on you. You must do the research. Create the right types of content around the right topics. Establish effective partnerships. Provide value for prospects, buyers, customers, vendors, partners, trade associations, and more.

Industrial digital marketing provides an enormous range of options and tools to do that.