In today’s B2B manufacturing market, prospective clients are increasingly reliant on online research to help them determine which companies to work with. According to Gartner, over 79% of B2B buyers use supplier websites at every stage of the buyer’s journey, from problem identification to creating internal consensus about which supplier to purchase from. When it comes to selecting a B2B supplier, the number of purchasers relying on online information is as high as 86%.
This data supports something those of us in the B2B marketing business have known for some time now: Buyers depend on digital channels to make decisions, and businesses across all industries must embrace digital marketing in order to stay top of mind. For manufacturers, this starts with crafting a B2B digital marketing plan that educates both prospects and channel partners, positively differentiates your company from your competitors, and responds to your target audience’s needs.
We’re here to help you create such a plan.
B2B Manufacturing Marketing Considerations
Marketing is not one-size-fits-all — it needs to be tailored to its intended audience. To that end, here are a few things to keep in mind when creating an B2B manufacturing marketing strategy:
- Know your audience. This is one of the guiding principles of marketing and should be the foundation of your manufacturing marketing strategy.
- Know where your audience is. Where do your buyers do their research? Do they spend time on LinkedIn, read industry publications, consult experts in their field, or all of the above? Your marketing strategy should be designed to reach prospective customers through the channels they’re most likely to frequent.
- Take a targeted approach. B2B industrial buyers are typically in the market for specific, niche products, so your marketing strategy needs to be equally specific and niche. The more targeted your marketing, the more effective it will be — there’s no room for mass marketing here.
- Know what information is valuable to your audience. B2B industrial buyers want to see technical specifications, detailed product descriptions, and specific benefits in the form of ROI and other metrics.
- Plan for a longer sales cycle. The manufacturing sales cycle tends to be longer than the sales cycle for most other industries — anywhere from months to years — so your manufacturing marketing strategy needs to include multiple touchpoints.
- Consider all the players. For most B2B industrial buyers, deciding which product(s) to purchase is a team effort. Therefore, it’s important that your marketing strategy communicates your value to each member of that team, starting with the researcher. Doing so will not only improve your chances of making the sale but of developing a long-lasting partnership with the customer.
Why is Digital Marketing Important for Manufacturers?
Many manufacturing companies got where they are through offline tactics such as word-of-mouth, referrals, trade shows, and sales calls. But to stay relevant, it’s absolutely essential that manufacturers make the leap to digital marketing.
Why? It’s simple — your customers demand it.
As more and more millennials age into decision-making roles in business, the B2B sales journey is evolving to fit their digital-first preferences. In fact, research shows that close to 70% of the B2B buyer’s journey is completed before the first contact with a salesperson.
This means that even the most “traditional” manufacturing companies need to make it easy for these buyers to conduct research and make decisions on their own, via channels such as manufacturing websites, social media, video, blog posts, and email. If your digital presence doesn’t tell the story of your manufacturing company’s value to your audience — your competitors will.
5 Steps to Build a Strong Foundation for B2B Manufacturing Marketing
Any successful B2B manufacturing marketing strategy needs to begin with a solid foundation. Here are the steps we take at Vital to ensure that our manufacturing clients are set up for success before they even get started on deploying their digital marketing strategy.
1. Learn Your Competitors’ Strengths & Weaknesses
If you want to outperform your competition, you’ll need to beat them at their own game. To do so, consider the following:
- How do my competitors position themselves in the market?
- What are their top-performing products?
- Which industry trends do they seem most interested in?
- What marketing strategies do they use?
- Which segments of the market do they target?
By researching your competitors, you can develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses and manipulate them as necessary. From a digital marketing standpoint, you’ll also want to analyze your competitors’ SEO and paid advertising performance.
To illustrate, here’s a screenshot from SpyFu analyzing the paid advertising budgets of laboratory fume hood manufacturers and resellers:
This type of competitive analysis enables you to view not only your competitors’ paid advertising budgets, but also the actual keywords and ad copy that they’re using. Armed with this information, you can make more strategic decisions about how to market to your designated audience. We also highly recommend adding SEMrush to your toolbox to further analyze organic ranking strategies.
It’s important to note that although we’ve listed competitor research as a pre-plan step, it’s really an ongoing process. By keeping tabs on your competitors, you can better position yourself to respond in the event that they change tactics or that new competitors arise. Fortunately, technology makes it easy to stay apprised: You can set up monitors that will automatically alert you via email any time a competitor makes a change to their website, as well as set up Google Alerts for brand names.
2. Create B2B Buyer Personas
Remember when we said that “know your audience” is one of the guiding principles of marketing? It comes into play in a big way here with buyer personas.
A buyer persona is a fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and actual data. Buyer personas enable manufacturers to identify which key customers or customer segments they want to target and how to refine their B2B marketing campaigns to reach those audiences.
When developing B2B buyer personas, keep the following questions in mind:
- What are the persona’s job responsibilities?
- What do they need to be able to do in order to fulfill those responsibilities?
- What specific challenges or pain points does this persona face?
- How does this persona go about finding information and resources to address their challenges?
- Where do they spend time online?
- What are this persona’s goals?
- What type of companies does this persona work with?
- What are this persona’s motivations?
- What kind of language would resonate with this persona?
- What concerns might this persona have about our company’s products?
- How can our products alleviate this persona’s pain points?
You can glean this data from customer interviews, surveys, competitive analyses, sales team input — essentially, anything that might provide valuable insight into how your audience thinks, feels, and acts.
3. Understand the Buyer’s Journey
Again, we alluded to this earlier when we talked about the fact that the B2B manufacturing sales cycle is longer than that of other industries; according to some industry experts, it involves as many as 15 distinct steps!
Now, that isn’t to say that every single industrial buyer goes through an incredibly drawn-out, complicated buying process — after all, every prospective customer is unique. Odds are, their process more closely resembles the three-step buyer’s journey as defined by HubSpot:
- Awareness: The prospect realizes that they have a problem and starts to look for a solution. Through their research, the prospect becomes aware of your product.
- Consideration: The prospect shows interest in learning more about your product and begins to engage with your sales team. As the seller, this is your opportunity to demonstrate the value of your product and your company to the prospect.
- Decision: The prospect is on the precipice of converting into a lead or a new client.
Each of these stages represents an opportunity to demonstrate your deep understanding of B2B manufacturing topics and trends, the ways in which your products can eliminate the prospective client’s pain points, and the value your company can deliver as a business partner. The most effective way to accomplish all three is by developing a targeted content marketing strategy (more on that in just a bit).
4. Define Your B2B Manufacturing Brand
Now that you know what your competition is up to, and what drives your audience, it’s time to take a look at your B2B manufacturing brand. It’s not uncommon for B2B companies to downplay this step. After all, you’re not a B2C company like Nike — do your customers really care about your brand?
The truth is, building a strong brand is just as important for B2B manufacturers as it is for B2C companies. Business buyers are only human, and therefore prone to making decisions based on emotions, especially when overwhelmed with options. By developing a strong brand, B2B manufacturing companies can appeal to both the emotional and rational side of prospects and can build trust with the buyer, thereby making it easier for them to say “yes.” Surveys have even shown that B2B brands that connect with their buyers on an emotional level earn twice the impact over those that try to sell purely on business or functional value.
A strong brand enables your company to:
- Tell a simple, memorable, and repeatable story of its value to its audience — even if your products and services are anything but simple.
- Be instantly recognizable in a crowded marketplace.
- Shift the customer conversation from price to value.
- Build long-term equity across your digital touchpoints.
At Vital, we help our manufacturing clients define and strengthen their brands through positioning, messaging and storytelling, and visual identity. These elements act as the foundation of pretty much everything we do for our clients, from website design to content marketing strategy. Here are a few pointers drawn from our experience:
- Take a look at all of the places where your audience comes into contact with your brand and ask yourself, “What does each piece say about my brand as a whole?”
- If your brand encompasses several sub-brands or subsidiaries, make sure to strategically audit your brand architecture to leverage maximum brand equity.
- Above all, make sure your brand is consistently represented across all channels and media, including your logo, website design, advertisements, social media profiles, sales collateral, and more. Studies show that consistent brand presentation can increase revenue by up to 33%, so you literally can’t afford to have inconsistent branding.
5. Nail Down Your Digital Marketing Budget
The final stage of pre-planning is to determine how much you’re actually willing to spend on a marketing plan for your manufacturing company. In an ideal world, money would be no object, and you could dedicate as much funding to marketing spend as your heart desired. In reality, you’ve got a bottom line to think about. How much you’re able to invest into your marketing budget will dictate what goals you’re able to focus on, how you prioritize those goals, what resources you have access to, and whether you’ll be able to extend your digital marketing efforts for a month, a quarter, or a year.
10 Digital Marketing Tools Manufacturers Need
Every digital marketer’s toolkit should consist of a wide variety of software solutions and platforms designed to give them an edge. To help you start assembling your own B2B manufacturing marketing toolkit, here are a few of our tried-and-true favorites:
1. Content Management System (CMS)
What It Is: A CMS is an online platform that enables you to design and build websites either using pre-made themes or custom designs.
Why We Love it: Your website is your way of selling products, connecting with customers, promoting new content, and showcasing your brand — basically, the central hub of your business. A CMS platform gives you the tools to turn whatever vision you have for your website into a reality.
Platforms We Recommend: We’re pretty partial to WordPress, and we use it for almost all of our client sites. Check out this blog post on the benefits of WordPress for enterprise websites for all the details on why we choose it to build flexible, scalable, and secure websites for our manufacturing clients.
2. ECommerce Platform
What It Is: An eCommerce platform is a software application that supplies the client-facing component of an online business. ECommerce platforms enable businesses to manage online sales, marketing, and operations.
Why We Love It: Once the domain of B2C businesses, eCommerce has become more popular with B2Bs in recent years for its ability to increase order values, boost sales team efficiency, and extend customer reach.
Platforms We Recommend: Here at Vital, we’re fond of Magento — and not just because we’re an official partner. Magento is the most popular eCommerce platform on the market today, powering well over 250,000 merchants.
3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) Tool
What It Is: A CRM is a software system that enables businesses to gather and analyze customer data to improve customer service, sales, and marketing efforts.
Why We Love It: A CRM system provides a solid foundation for any B2B manufacturing marketing strategy because it enables you to drill down into customer data and even segment your audience for additional insights. When integrated with other tools in your tech stack, a CRM enables your manufacturing company to drill down to the value of your marketing tactics in terms of actual revenue generated. Learn more about how to accomplish this in our blog post about marketing attribution.
4. Email Marketing Platform
What It Is: Email marketing software is designed to help businesses plan, execute, automate, and monitor the success of email marketing campaigns.
Why We Love It: Email marketing gets results: For every $1 you spend on email marketing, you can expect an average return of $36. If that weren’t enough, 81% of B2B marketers say that email newsletters are their most used form of content marketing.
5. Marketing Automation
What It Is: Marketing automation basically refers to a software system designed to make it easier for businesses to streamline repetitive tasks and market across multiple channels at the same time.
Why We Love It: Why do more work than necessary? We’re big fans of marketing automation because it takes care of tedious tasks, so we can focus on the important stuff.
6. Live or AI Chat
What It Is: A live chat is a module that appears on a website — generally in the bottom right-hand corner — that enables visitors to interact with live customer service representatives in real time. If your company doesn’t have the capacity to staff live chat, an AI chatbot gives your customers another way to interact, cutting down on response time and reducing friction.
Why We Love It: Both live and AI chat are proven to generate more leads — plus, they’re a great way to reduce a website’s bounce rate, enhance customer service, and build customer loyalty. You can also mine data from your chat sessions to better understand your audience’s needs and build out content to address those needs.
Platforms We Recommend: Olark, Intercom, Drift, and LiveChat are some of the biggest names in the game right now and are all used by enterprises around the world. For chatbot functionality, we like SnapEngage and HubSpot.
7. Exit Overlays
What It Is: Also known as an exit-intent overlay, an exit overlay is a pop-up that appears just as a site visitor is about to close the page. Exit overlays typically advertise some sort of special offer or discount to recapture the visitor’s interest and lure them back in.
Why We Love It: We know just how effective exit overlays are because we’ve seen the results first hand: Using an exit overlay prompt, we were able to grow our email list subscription rate by 97%.
Platforms We Recommend: There’s no contest here for us — OptinMonster is the way to go.
8. Website Call Tracking
What It Is: Website call tracking enables businesses to trace the origin of phone leads by inserting a tracking number into paid ads, emails, landing pages, and more.
Why We Love It: Call tracking fills in gaps in reporting by providing you with a wealth of data-driven insight into which components of your marketing strategy are working and which aren’t.
Platforms We Recommend: CallRail is the call tracking software of choice here at Vital because it allows for both source-level and keyword-level tracking.
9. Google Analytics
What It Is: Google Analytics is Google’s free web analytics tool that tracks and reports website traffic. As of 2019, Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service in the world.
Why We Love It: Here at Vital, we use Google Analytics to generate detailed reports on everything from search traffic to social media ROI to page performance. It’s pretty integral to how we do business.
Platforms We Recommend: You know what to do.
10. Heat Mapping
Heat mapping is a data visualization technique that enables businesses to track the actual time visitors spend interacting with various elements of their website using a warm-to-cool color spectrum.
Why We Love It: Heat map analysis provides a window into how people think when they interact with your website — for example, a move map can show you where visitors are looking as they navigate a page. It gives you actionable data for improving your page’s conversion rates.
9 Steps to Plan Your B2B Manufacturing Marketing Strategy
1. Know Your Goals
Start by asking yourself some questions about your business. Where is there room for improvement? What opportunities are available to you? What do you need to do in order to stay one step ahead of your competitors? The answers to these questions should serve as the foundation for B2B manufacturing marketing goals.
Make sure your goals are either quantitative or qualitative in nature or, ideally, some combination of the two. For example, if you experience a high rate of one-off purchases, your goal might be to generate 20% more sales from your existing customer base by the end of a fiscal year. If you recognize growth opportunities in other verticals, your goal might be to diversify your customer base in a new market by the end of a quarter. Use key performance indicators wherever possible to quantify your success and set milestones to make each goal more digestible.
By the time you’re finished, you should have two primary goals and three to five supporting goals; each of these goals should be challenging, yet attainable, and should support your business’s overall mission.
2. Tell Your Unique Story of Value
Look, we get it — when you’re producing industrial equipment, determining what makes your company “special” can seem insignificant in the grand scheme of things, if not downright silly. And “storytelling?” Surely that’s for brands aimed at children, not B2B customers like yours who are focused on their bottom line.
But your value story needn’t be frivolous; it simply requires that you put yourself in your audience’s shoes and determine how your manufacturing products, processes, or services make their lives better compared to the competition. (The competition might include the status quo or life without your products.)
The main key here is to shift your focus from features and functionality to benefits. In other words, your unique story of value is about your customer, not about you. Sound abstract? Let’s look at a few examples from Vital’s manufacturing clients.
Texture Plus manufactures wall panels for home and industrial construction in a variety of (you guessed it) textures designed to realistically mimic natural materials. Their benefit-focused value story is right on their homepage: Get the high-end look, without the high-end price.
American Modular Systems
As one of the largest modular manufacturers in the country, AMS focuses on building solutions for schools. Their value story focuses on what’s most important to their audience: affordability, innovation, fast and flexible deployments, and healthy, durable materials.
Learn more about how Vital helped AMS tell their story through their website design.
3. Build a Website that Works
In this day and age, it isn’t enough that B2B manufacturing companies simply have a website — they must have a website that is easy to use, easy to update, scalable, flexible, and secure.
Oh, yeah. It also needs to function as the foundation of your digital marketing strategy, which means it should be an engine for leads and conversions.
There’s a science to good web design, but the short story is, make sure your company’s website:
- Offers content that’s valuable to your audience
- Has clear calls to action (CTAs) that stand out in design
- Is built using mobile-first design principles
- Communicates your brand’s value through copy and design
Want the long story? We wrote a book about it.
When updating and optimizing your website, you’ll get the most bang for your buck by working with an agency like Vital that has an integrated digital marketing team to ensure that your site is the cornerstone of a comprehensive lead-generation strategy.
Check out these examples of websites we’ve designed and built for our manufacturing clients.
4. Get Found Online with an SEO Strategy
As you already know, SEO is short for “search engine optimization.” A successful SEO strategy will boost your manufacturing company’s website search engine rankings in Google, thereby making your company more visible to a larger audience. Without an SEO strategy in place, prospective customers looking to purchase your products will have a harder time finding you.
In addition to on-page SEO elements like keywords, your site’s technical architecture — sitemap, encryption, responsive design, page load times, and so on — must be well-organized and thought through. Additionally, your B2B digital marketing plan must involve backlink building, creating content that draws new business to your website, and continuous education about ever-changing search engine algorithms.
5. Generate Leads with a Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) Strategy
While SEO is about driving traffic to your company’s website, CRO — short for conversion rate optimization — is about making that traffic usable. This generally involves getting a site visitor to fill out a form with their contact information or to contact your company directly. CRO testing is crucial for manufacturers because, as we’ve mentioned, the B2B manufacturing sales cycle tends to be longer, so the earlier and faster you can convert new leads, the better.
Our client Rose Displays manufactures visual communication systems for some of the biggest retailers in the world, including Best Buy, Kohl’s, and Columbia. Given the custom nature of their work and the average size of their deals — for example, manufacturing signage systems for 300+ Best Buy store locations — their sales process is long and intensive. In order to convert more of Rose Displays’ site visitors into leads, the Vital digital marketing team created gated content in the form of an eBook to help visitors with their research, which we regularly promote on the company’s website.
To download the eBook, prospects must fill out and submit a form with their contact information, which provides the Rose Display’s sales team with leads to nurture. By being able to influence the purchase decision of prospects much earlier in their buying journey than its competitors, Rose Displays has a distinct business advantage.
Other ways to increase your website’s conversion rate include:
- Chatbot tools
- Webinar offers
- Newsletter subscription offers
- Pop-up CTAs
- Exit overlays
Whatever your CRO tactics, be sure you have the analytics tools in place to run A/B tests and determine what’s working (and what’s not).
6. Increase Your Reach with a Paid Digital Advertising Strategy
There are three types of paid online advertisements that manufacturers should consider:
- Search ads. These are the ads you see when you type keywords into a search engine; each one has a small “Ad” icon next to it.
- Remarketing ads. These are ads that “follow” you around after you visit a website; they can appear on other industry publications, media sites such as the New York Times, or social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
- Prospecting ads. The only real difference between a remarketing ad and a prospecting ad is the intended target. While remarketing ads target prospects who have previously visited your website, prospecting ads target potential customers who have not — you simply choose the target demographics that you want to see your ad, and you’re good to go.
By incorporating all three of these paid advertising techniques into your B2B manufacturing marketing strategy, you’ll ultimately increase sales — that is, if you use a data-driven approach to advertising. Data-driven ads use customer data to refine the target audience for different campaigns based on a variety of factors, including demographics, interests, location, what stage they’re at in the buyer’s journey, and so on. This not only ensures that your ads are seen by the right people, but also adds a touch of personalization that can increase target audience engagement.
7. Nurture Leads with an Email Marketing Strategy
For B2B manufacturing companies, a strategic email engagement plan requires the inclusion of a few different types of email campaigns in order to be effective. Let’s start by talking about email segmentation.
Email segmentation refers to the process by which email campaigns are segmented based on target audience. So, rather than send out the same email to your entire mailing listing of 10,000 people, you’d break that mailing list up into five separate mailing lists, each one based on a particular buyer persona, and customize the email copy to each persona.
Next up are lead nurture campaigns (also known as drip campaigns). Lead nurture campaigns (LNCs) are a great way to send highly personalized and relevant emails to prospects in order to capture their interest and, eventually, prompt them to book a meeting with your sales team. LNCs are typically triggered by a specific action on your website, such as filling out a form to download an eBook. In the case of an eBook download, once the prospect fills out and submits the form, they’re automatically enrolled into an email workflow that includes several follow-up emails based on the same topic as the eBook.
By using a combination of email segmentation and LNCs, you can stay top of mind with your target audience and build a relationship with them by delivering content tailored to their interests. You can even measure the impact of your email campaigns to see which ones were the strongest performers and how to refine your email engagement strategy.
Pro Tip: For even more B2B email marketing tips, check out our definitive guide on the subject.
8. Deliver Value Across the Funnel with a Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing is all about using informative and engaging content to capture prospective customers’ attention and establish your company’s authority as a thought leader in your industry. This content can come in any number of forms, including blog posts, eBooks, white papers, case studies, infographics, videos, testimonials, how-to guides, and more. High-quality content is typically actionable, educational, or thought-provoking — or some combination of the three.
Ultimately, your content marketing strategy should highlight the value you bring to potential customers, deliver information that is as educational as it is promotional, and build trust with your audience. To make sure your content reaches the right audience, incorporate SEO keywords and phrases into your copy for maximum reach.
9. Measure, Improve, Repeat
It’s imperative that you use KPIs and other metrics to regularly re-evaluate your manufacturing marketing strategy and see how well it’s performing against goals. If you’re seeing returns from your strategy, keep doing what you’re doing and apply it to new goals. If, however, your strategy is falling short of expectations, take a step back, figure out which parts work and which ones don’t, and refine your B2B digital marketing plan accordingly. Marketing involves a lot of trial and error, so don’t be discouraged if your first campaign isn’t the rousing success you thought it would be — there are valuable insights to be gained from every experience, you just need to know where to look for them.
The Future of Marketing for Manufacturers
A nimble and creative digital marketing strategy is a must for any B2B manufacturing company seeking to maintain a competitive advantage and win market share. In order to devise such a strategy, you need to have the support of an open-minded, forward-thinking internal team and a marketing partner with manufacturing industry experience.
Vital has a proven track record of helping our B2B manufacturing clients leverage data analytics, marketing technology, and the latest and greatest digital marketing trends to reach their target audiences and drive business growth. Are you ready to get ahead? Give us a shout.
Stay ahead of your competition. Fill out the form below to download Vital’s Marketing Plan Template, which features lead-driving strategies we implement for our clients.