January 25, 2021 Michael Mayday
Manufacturers face a multitude of challenges at any given time. There’s the day-to-day employee management to handle, not to mention the work that goes into keeping facilities up and running.
But these challenges often crowd out other aspects of the manufacturing business — especially when it comes to marketing, which needs to balance the needs of an industry leaning on in-person activity to fuel a business landscape that’s becoming increasingly digital-centric.
So, how can manufacturing marketers overcome a growing manufacturing skills gap and increase competitiveness? We explore five challenges these marketers face and potential solutions they can use to overcome them.
Challenge 1: Multi-generational Workforce and the Growing Manufacturing Skills Gap
While change in manufacturing is nothing new, the challenges the industry faces today arise from much different than those faced even a decade ago. For example, the manufacturing industry needs to nurture and grow a new workforce as the baby-boomer generation continues to retire and technological change continues to accelerate.
Manufacturing’s multi-generational gap — where a younger, inexperienced workforce replaces an older, retiring workforce — is a massive challenge. That’s because as the baby boomer generation exits the workforce, knowledge leaves with them. As a consequence, younger generations have fewer opportunities to learn from boomers and keep the industry’s wheels turning.
But manufacturers have an opportunity to overcome this challenge. Modern technology empowers organizations to capture, process and transfer knowledge easily. With digital solutions like webinars, experienced workforces can easily record lessons they’ve learned and share insights to industry newcomers. Organizations can even help produce these lessons to engage and educate a younger workforce.
Building out a “digital university” not only helps manufacturers train employees (both old and young), it also helps foster a future-forward mindset. By producing educational digital experiences, manufacturers are investing in a skillset that can scale to other areas of the business and accelerate digital adoption across marketing, sales and product teams.
Challenge 2: Bringing Digital Transformation to Industrial Sales and Marketing
Digital transformation in the manufacturing industry focused on changes on the factory floor for a long time. Innovations like QR codes, predictive maintenance and machine learning helped streamline production. But this focus on transforming production often came at the cost of investing in marketing and sales.
Today, manufacturers can’t afford to leave any part of the business behind. Digital adoption needs to be balanced and bring a holistic transformation to the organization.
To bring digital transformation to sales and marketing, start with data.
Adopting new digital tools like sales force automation technology, customer relationship management software and marketing automation platforms can help sales and marketing teams collect important insights on audiences. With these insights, marketing can create collateral that connects and the sales team can learn how interested a prospect is and understand the prospect’s pain points. Ultimately, these digital tools help automate the mundane data collecting and analysis so teams can focus on streamlining processes and drive results.
Challenge 3: Automation In Manufacturing Marketing
Manufacturing is familiar with automation solutions like robotics and machine learning. In fact, many businesses are looking to deploy robots for anything from handling materials and assembly to packaging and shipping. As a general trend, robotic and automated solutions work alongside employees on the factory floor as collaborators, taking over tedious, repetitive tasks and, in turn, freeing up personnel to focus on more engaging work.
This same principle — that machines and programs can enhance the workforce — applies to marketers in the manufacturing industry as well. Marketing automation platforms, like Marketo and Eloqua, helps digital marketers to automate rote, time-consuming tasks like data analysis and email. With automation, marketers can easily identify priority markets, free up time to focus on more engaging work and, in general, accomplish more with less effort.
But marketing automation has its limits.
First, there are a lot of fundamentals — primarily a robust, healthy marketing database — automation solutions require before marketing teams can automate. Second, teams need to understand that automation isn’t a one-and-done tactic — it needs to evolve with the needs of the leads within the database. Third, automation, without a plan in place, can nurture bad marketing habits and damage a brand’s reputation by encouraging impersonal messaging that doesn’t resonate with an audience.
Three Automation Hurdles to Keep In Mind:
- Foundations – Have the foundations — from a healthy and robust database to a general plan for automation — in place.
- Maintenance – Make sure automation is a part of the marketing process and is constantly updated to engage with the latest audience.
- Personality – Automation without a usable plan can encourage bad habits and hurt your brand’s voice — make sure you don’t let your martech drive your reputation.
Automation is an important element of any marketing strategy. Still, marketers need to understand automation’s limitations and what it can — and cannot — do.
Challenge 4: Competing in a Global Marketplace
The manufacturing sector is competitive and sensitive to conditions around the world. Supply chains, resources and production and more depend on resourcing, local talent and transportation. Talent, the cost of operations, research, regulation and revenue generated also affect how competitive a business can be.
This is not news for manufacturing professionals except for one point: those same global factors affect marketing as well.
Marketing in the manufacturing industry relies on being able to connect with specific audiences — engineers, resellers, distributors, end consumers — and detailing everything there is to know about any given product. That means producing collateral on a product and scaling that information to meet the needs of an audience.
Take a moment to think about the supply chain required for that. Copywriters need platforms and positioning. Video producers need studio time and, if necessary, time in the field. Spokespersons and salespeople need hands-on time with both a product and a product marketing team to understand the benefits and limitations of a product. Marketers need to ensure their messaging reaches its total addressable market, which can be anywhere in the world.
Each element in the marketing supply chain depends on a well-coordinated and organized process. They also depend on platforms that can help facilitate coordination at a distance and to promote the final messaging to anyone, anywhere at any time.
So, how can manufacturers ensure their messaging connects on a global stage?
First, they need to ensure the foundations are in place. Can they:
- Coordinate campaigns at a distance?
- Identify and acquire the skills and resources needed to create campaigns?
- Ensure marketing team members are aligned on audiences, personas and marketing’s impact to the business?
With those foundations in place, marketers need to make use of the platforms available to them to promote a firm’s messaging to a specific audience. For example, making use of social media, like Twitter and Facebook, to drive an awareness campaign is great when targeting end-consumers and sending them to a product landing page.
To target professionals, marketers can turn to channels like LinkedIn, active engineering forums and more to promote content that provides value. For example, promoting a webinar marketing campaign that offers continuing professional education credits or provides a deep-dive into materials, products or techniques is a compelling offer for professionals needing to stay at the top of their game.
To take their efforts to the next level, manufacturing marketers can make competitive inroads by localizing materials, making them available on-demand (which allows audiences to review content on their own time) and matching their content to a regional market’s maturity level.
Challenge 5: Attracting Qualified Leads
One of the biggest challenges manufacturing marketers face today is attracting qualified leads. A qualified sales lead is a prospective who is ready for the sales team to contact them and potentially make a purchase. It is a customer who has already had extensive contact with the company, usually with the marketing team providing the first touch.
As marketing moves online, digital experiences can provide companies with the opportunity to learn more about prospects and “warm” them up to the brand. By warming prospects up, companies can engage with interested prospects, familiarize them with the company’s offerings and qualify them for sales, rather than making “cold” outreaches and hoping for the best.
In a digital-heavy world, being able to get qualified leads is more important than ever. Here are a few things to keep in mind when working to generate demand and qualify leads:
- Create Quality Content
Content is king, and high-quality content that attracts a consumer and keeps that customer engaged. It’s worth taking the time to produce good content — that is, content aligned with business objectives that address an audience’s specific pain points — across multiple platforms.
For manufacturing marketers, that means providing material that answers questions partners, distributors and end-users may have and making that material available on-demand globally.
- Be Accessible to Mobile Users
Creating high-quality content also means creating content designed to be convenient for audiences to consume. Often, this means crafting content and digital experiences with mobile devices in mind.
Product portfolios, webinars, videos and website articles need to be as viewable on mobile devices as they are on desktop browsers. This can also include interactive materials like form-fills and email signups. To find out if your website is mobile-friendly, check out Google’s Mobile-Friendly test tool and its basic documentation on designing websites with mobile in mind.
What good is great content if your audience can’t find your page? To make your material discoverable, it’s important to optimize content for search engines. SEO optimization, like using strategic keywords in an article or page description, helps search engines to identify and index your site to make discovery easier.
For the manufacturing industry, conduct keyword research into target audiences to ensure all of your content — not just written content — aligns with what your audiences are looking for.
- Social Media Marketing
There is always a good chance that most, if not all, of your potential qualified leads are social media users. Having a presence on these platforms ensures you can engage with these audiences, discover new trends and topics and promote campaigns.
Keep in mind that social media marketing isn’t limited to sites like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. In fact, those sites may not be the best channels to engage specialized, niche audiences. Do your research, discover where your target audience hangs out online and reach out to drive engagement.
- Landing Pages
A landing page’s main goal is to convince a visitor to take a specific action, such as fill out a form or complete a purchase. Many factors make a landing page a great one, such as page design, form design, ease of navigation, and a call to action.
Keep in mind that landing pages — especially those promoting an event like a webinar — shouldn’t be the end of the visitor’s journey on your site. Offering more content after a landing page goal is met can help keep your audience engaged and informed and help your company get a better understanding of what your audience needs.
Manufacturing marketing has come a long way in a very short amount of time. But meeting some or all of these digital challenges will help an organization to meet its digital transformation needs and compete in a global marketplace.