Social media, e-commerce, blogs, SEO… the online world can seem like a daunting space to an SME manufacturing business. Nevertheless, effective digital marketing is now a crucial consideration for even the most traditional of B2B manufacturers, explains Manufacturing Advisor Martin Hyman.
If you don’t come up on the first page of Google search results, do you even exist?
In today’s world, it’s a valid question. The old mentality of looking someone up in the Yellow Pages is no longer a viable marketing route for a growing manufacturing enterprise. Traditional marketing approaches are offering ever-diminishing returns, and eventually it will no longer be possible to survive without a strong digital presence.
This is where digital marketing and sales comes in. Examples include:
- Social media
- Online advertising
- Email marketing
- Content marketing (e.g. blogs and ‘how-to’ guides)
- Online chat boxes/chat bots
- Search Engine Optimisation (SEO).
If you haven’t used some, or any, of these marketing solutions before, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
Why do manufacturers struggle with digital marketing?
Without wanting to paint everyone with the same brush, I think it’s fair to say the manufacturing sector, on the whole, isn’t well known for its digital marketing prowess. For many SMEs, particularly B2B businesses, a very basic website with a phone number is still as far as things go in terms of an online presence.
There are understandable reasons for this. Manufacturing leaders are often engineers by trade and by passion – what excites them is the process of making a fantastic product; the process of marketing and selling it comes second. Besides, many manufacturers have made a successful living for decades relying purely on traditional networks and word-of-mouth.
As a result, digital marketing methods are often seen as a low priority, so investment in this area tends to lag behind other parts of the business. After all, why invest in a good website or social media presence with no guarantee of success, when you could spend that money on a new machine that offers a more tangible, easy-to-quantify impact?
Hopefully, what you’ll discover below is that digital marketing is a machine, and in the post-pandemic world, it may just be the best machine you can buy.
The game is changing (even in the B2B sector)
COVID-19 should have been a huge wake-up call for those yet to take digital marketing seriously. Companies that prospered most during the pandemic were those able to quickly pivot online, and many of the changes we’ve seen are here to stay.
The transition isn’t just a B2C phenomenon. Those responsible for purchasing your goods on a B2B basis are the same people who are now well-accustomed to researching and ordering their personal shopping online. They have high expectations for a good digital experience just like the rest of us, and they will bring those same expectations into the workplace.
Even before the outbreak of COVID-19, the number of industrial B2B customers using digital self-service channels (such as website FAQs, online chat boxes and social media) for research and product evaluation had increased by 50 per cent between 2016 and 2019. COVID-19 just accelerated the trend, as the below graphic from McKinsey & Company shows.
By mid-2020, 90 per cent of customers of industrial companies told McKinsey & Company they had transitioned to more remote sales. The majority said they preferred to re-order products digitally and found remote sales at least as effective as traditional sales.
(Source: McKinsey & Company, 2021)
What’s apparent is that traditional sales and marketing methods are offering diminishing returns. As customers go online, companies intending to grow need to supplement ‘old-school’ approaches – like networking, phone calls and trade shows – with a stronger digital offering.
There is a massive opportunity to jump ahead of the competition. McKinsey’s research shows that the vast majority of industrial companies are currently unable to meet their customers’ digital expectations. Just imagine all the potential extra sales waiting for you if you get there ahead of the pack.
The bottom-line benefits of going digital
Digital marketing and sales tools offer more than just the potential to increase revenue. They can also deliver a better customer experience, improve efficiency, free up sales staff to focus on more important tasks, and help with recruitment:
- A good digital presence creates warmer leads. If your customer can’t find everything they need to know about you online, your sales staff are already on the back foot. The ability to explore your product offering and learn about your company’s credentials in their own time will help to build trust with a customer before a ‘sales’ conversation even begins. By then, the customer may have already bought into your brand and the door will be half-open.
- Digital self-service tools save time and resources. Adding an automated self-service sales portal or e-commerce feature to your website allows customers to track and complete simple or repeat orders themselves. This not only saves them time, but also frees up your own staff to focus on actual sales work, rather than fielding regular enquiries. Similarly, online chat boxes for basic enquiries save time spent writing emails and handling phone calls. The human interaction element doesn’t need to be removed entirely – it can just be directed to where it’s most useful, such as products and services which require more consultative selling.
- Digital marketing is an opportunity to create a captive audience. If you can get people to follow your social media profiles or sign up to an email newsletter, you are able to freely and openly communicate with them in a way traditional marketing methods cannot (especially since GDPR regulations came in).
- Digital content builds strong relationships. Providing useful content for customers – such as ‘how-to’ videos, opinion pieces or newsletter updates – provides added value, which can increase customer loyalty and trust (as well as present additional sales opportunities). The amount of information and knowledge you can offer to customers in their own living room is a huge opportunity we could have only dreamed of 20 years ago. So use it!
- The digital world is where the next generation is. Digital marketing is not just important for attracting customers, but for attracting new talent as well. As younger people enter the industry, preferred communication methods will change, and prospective employees will want to see a digital presence.
If you don’t have the skills and knowledge in-house to deliver effective digital marketing activities yourself, you need external support.
However, not every marketing consultant or agency out there will understand the intricacies of what you do, and investing your hard-earned cash and reputation can feel like a big risk.
P&B (PBSI Group), a manufacturer of electrical protection, safety and control technologies in Manchester, is just one of many businesses we’ve supported in this very situation. Marketing had never been on their radar before, but a lack of visibility in the market was blocking business growth.
“Marketing didn’t really exist for us. Traditionally we’ve been very customer-led; customers usually came to us. That worked fine for a long time, but it did narrow our reach. We realised we needed a better platform to make ourselves more visible.”
That’s where we come in. Our Manufacturing Team is on hand to offer one-to-one guidance on your sales and marketing strategy, including areas such as market positioning, understanding your customer and digitalising your operations. Our colleagues in the Digital Team can also offer one-to-one support with your website and digital marketing methods.
So if you’ve never fully explored the potential of what digital marketing could achieve for you, and are willing to open your eyes to the possibilities, get in touch with one of our team today.
Micro SMEs looking to enhance their online presence and grow their business with digital technology are invited to our fully funded two-day Digital Springboard Cohort Programme in May 2022. Register your interest here.
Martin Hyman, Manufacturing Advisor
Martin leverages the skills and knowledge gained from over 38 years’ experience working in and supporting aerospace, aviation, engineering and manufacturing companies, to now assist Business to Business (B2B) manufacturers across a broad range of Sectors, to achieve their development and growth ambitions.
He works with Company Owners, Directors and Senior Management teams, to understand their needs and ambitions, diagnosing and identifying areas for improvement across the areas of Finance, Manufacturing Strategy, Marketing, New Product/New Process Introduction, Operational Efficiency (KPIs/Lean/5S Principles etc), and Supply Chains, as appropriate.
To view Martin's full profile including technical capabilities and industry experience, please click here.