4 October 2023

Marketing For Manufacturing: 7 Deadly Sins

Written by Selina Noton

Marketing is an oxymoron. On one hand, the fundamentals are deceptively simple: product, price, place, people and those other Ps we love to quote. Under the bonnet, it’s a complex machine of constantly moving parts; one which looks slightly different depending on the make and model of the business or industry in question.

The Marketing Centre has centuries of combined experience in our team of part-time, senior-level Marketing Directors. Our work has spanned the majority of industries, giving us a firm grasp of each one’s quirks.

A significant proportion of our work is in manufacturing - where marketing teams and business leaders make common mistakes time and time again. Over the last twenty years, part-time Marketing Director Selina Noton has worked with national and international B2B clients in the manufacturing, engineering, agriculture, construction, property, transport and logistics, and automotive sectors.

Here, Selina reveals the 7 deadly marketing sins of which she regularly finds manufacturing firms guilty.

#1: A lack of senior-level marketing staff

Often, manufacturing companies will have a combined sales and marketing department - run by a director from a sales background. “They just don’t have the right staff and skill sets,” says Selina. “The sales director will often not completely understand marketing, and there will generally be a marketing intern in the summer. That intern will need guidance and development help, which isn’t there, because the sales and marketing director has essentially inherited a job title.”

Selina found herself in this situation at a large distributor for a global haulage business: “They had one internal marketing person who was fresh out of university, and had lots of theory but no experience. She tried hard to keep things moving but was just too inexperienced to suggest improvements.”

Selina worked with her to write a marketing strategy, and to explain the why as well as the how. “By tying the marketing activity to financial results, the marketing team showed its worth, the internal reputation of the team improved, and we were able to take on more marketing staff. In turn, this allowed us to improve the sales lead generation process, providing the sales team with qualified leads.”

#2: A lack of customer insight

Manufacturers and engineers may create products that they think are amazing - but are they what the customer wants? “Manufacturing firms need to start thinking about holding more focus groups and forums where they ask their clients what they actually want,” says Selina. “If they were aware of the customer’s pain points and created products to solve those pain points, it would be a much easier sale.”

The result? A product and messaging around it that addresses problem resolution rather than a simple ‘this is great’ approach.

Selina cites the example of a tractor manufacturer that implemented an annual product focus group, giving engineers the rare chance to meet with end users. For them, it was an opportunity to understand what customers really wanted, and they subsequently changed their product range. “Within 12 months of the first product alterations hitting the market,” says Selina, “sales increased by 34% compared with the previous year.”

#3: Failing to revisit marketing budgets

Marketing budgets should be flexible - but this is not always the case in the manufacturing sector. “There will be a marketing budget that’s probably set as part of the new product development plan, and an ongoing annual budget for things like trade shows, exhibitions, print advertising and digital”, says Selina. “However, they don’t really revisit the percentage of the budgets that are spent on each tactic.”AdobeStock_105298748

As a result, manufacturers are still spending the same amount of money on declining types of communication as they were ten to fifteen years ago. “When dabbling with the new with no ROI measurement, they don’t realise they should be dropping their budgets in one area and increasing them in another. Their return on investment is shocking, but they don’t realise.”

#4: Failing to measure marketing tactics

Implementing communication tactics is one thing, measuring them is another. “Many firms have no idea whether anything has worked,” says Selina. “They rarely have tracking methods or KPIs set up, which is surprising: typically, any factory environment will have gone through a Six Sigma and Lean management programme. This means they’ll be very hot on KPIs, measuring improvement and cutting out waste in operations, but this doesn’t translate to their marketing teams.”

She uses the example of a hydraulic component manufacturer who continued to pay for significant print advertising in hard copy magazines. “There was little to no proof of ROI, but they felt inclusion was necessary for brand awareness. We decided to trial the use of tracking mechanisms such as dedicated URLs, landing pages and call tracking for a particular audience in the boating and yachting sector.

“After a six-month product marketing campaign, we could clearly prove enquiries were coming from three particular magazines, but five others had not returned a single enquiry. For the next six months, we only booked advertising space with the first three, and dropped the spend with the others. We increased the bookings from the three successful titles, and despite spending less on print advertising in total and dropping over half the magazines in which the company had always featured, we showed a 22% increase in sales enquiries.”

#5: A failure to adapt marketing strategy

Often, manufacturing firms fall foul of adopting a ‘one size fits all’ marketing approach and fail to realise that a significant shift in strategy is needed as a product reaches maturity.

“Too often, the marketing departments in manufacturing facilities don’t adapt their marketing strategies to the product life cycle,” says Selina. “Mapping the product life cycle itself isn’t the problem: engineers will start with an idea, create a prototype, build and test it, and - when they’re happy - start thinking about a product launch marketing plan.

“A new product will evolve. In the early days it appeals to the early adopters: the product launch marketing will and should focus on ‘great new innovation, great new product.’”

With the move from early adopters to appealing to the masses, however, the messaging often stays the same.

“Typically, the masses won’t buy something that’s innovative and new”, says Selina. “They like to buy something that’s tried and trusted. If the marketing team doesn’t update their messaging to reflect these different expectations, the new product will fail to gain enough sales traction to succeed.”

She invites us to consider a company which had created a new disruptive technology for a specialist commercial market. “The product had been on shelves for eight years,” she says, “when sales hit a plateau. Their existing marketing was still promoting an ‘innovative’ product, despite the emergence of a number of challengers. The marketing team had failed to realise that their product was no longer new and innovative, and that early sales were to early adopters.

“By developing a new value proposition and creating market segments with their own individual messages, sales were rejuvenated without having to re-engineer the product - which the team, being product-focused themselves, had thought was inevitable.”

#6: A lack of inbound strategy

An effective inbound marketing strategy will attract a steady stream of marketing qualified leads to your business. The sixth deadly sin is a manufacturer’s failure to connect with and create value for their audience in order to generate these leads.

“They don’t really focus on creating content that’s relevant to target audiences, and they don’t address pain points. It’s very much still, ‘We’re great, you need to buy from us.’”

As a result, these businesses are led by sales, rather than marketing, meaning that salespeople are still out knocking on doors instead of taking orders.

Inbound marketing strategy

“A switch from engineering or sales-led to marketing-led can impact on a manufacturer’s bottom line very quickly”, says Selina. “A brick manufacturer I work with saw this impact first hand. Their content strategy was ineffective: they had plenty of social media accounts, and some eye-catching photography of the buildings in which their bricks had been used, but they simply posted pictures of their projects online. There was no explanation, no links to drive fans to landing pages, no calls to action - just product names.”

Thanks to Selina, the firm launched a monthly social media competition, complete with custom hashtag, offering followers the chance to win a prize. The team also started a Twitter Hour for architects to ask questions about product use - particularly in conservation areas, where the product is more suitable than other competitor products. “This, combined with an AdWords campaign for these bricks used in conservation areas, led to 300 leads in just three months,” says Selina.

#7: Not monitoring online comments

While more and more manufacturers understand that they need to use social platforms to engage, they still tend to broadcast, rather than engage - and set up accounts on platforms irrelevant to their audience.

Instead, Selina believes they should focus on reading, responding to and learning from online comments about the brand, thereby improving customer satisfaction and the customer experience, and potentially even increasing sales.

“Manufacturers tend to ignore the negatives, as they’re worried about engaging,” she says. “What they don’t realise is how many other people will see that comment, and what a great customer service opportunity they’re missing by not dealing with it head-on.”

Seeking out positive social media mentions can also create great testimonials, while general engagement in more positive chat can improve social reach. In certain cases, social media monitoring can even open up new markets and revenue streams too.

Selina recalls a former client that manufactured electric tug vehicles to move products around large warehouses and factory sites. “Originally, they began monitoring online mentions to measure social media ROI, but soon discovered a group of customers suggesting they re-engineer the product to create a solution for the postal industry to use for deliveries within city congestion zones.”

A number of conversations took place, leading to the creation of a new product into a new industry sector, and very public online praise for the brand. This won’t happen for everyone, but it’s a clear demonstration of the possibilities in engaging with customers properly online.

With much of the marketing effort at some manufacturing firms being the responsibility of the engineers themselves or a sales and marketing director with a manufacturing background, there is plenty of scope for improved marketing processes and tactics, leading to better ROI, increased revenue, high levels of profitability and less waste. These seven sins may be deadly, but with the right staff, the right planning and the right approach, they can easily be avoided.

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