Industrial Marketing Blog

Are Manufacturers Turning a Deaf Ear to Content Marketing?

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Despite all the published reports about the great results that businesses are deriving from content marketing, it seems manufacturers and industrial companies are still stuck in their old ways of marketing. According to a recent commissioned study done by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Act-On Software, SMBs (small and medium-sized businesses) prefer the more personal touch of face-to-face marketing tactics for customer acquisition.

Marketing Tactics Used by SMBs

Even though the study included 208 SMB decision makers, it is very relevant to manufacturers and industrial companies because 40% of the respondents were Manufacturers from various industries.

What surprises me is the fact that the top three marketing tactics all require large amounts of both time and money. In addition, they are all outbound marketing initiatives. So why is it that less expensive digital or inbound marketing techniques are not being used more often by manufacturing and industrial companies with smaller marketing budgets? Content marketing is only at number 4.

Guy Kawasaki (@GuyKawasaki), the author of Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, former chief evangelist of Apple and the co-founder of Alltop, once said, “If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”

The 2013 B2B Content Marketing Benchmarks–North America: CMI/MarketingProfs had also reported the same preference for in-person events in their survey of 1,416 B2B Marketers from North American companies.

CMI/MarketingProfs 2013 B2B Marketing Trends

I realize that it is easy to present selective data to reflect and validate a particular point of view (“Lies, damned lies, and statistics”). Here’s a reality check from my personal experiences. My industrial clients are following a similar path. Yes, they are doing more content marketing today than before but they have not abandoned traditional marketing tactics such as trade shows, print ads and direct mail.

There are many reasons why manufacturers and industrial companies continue to use these traditional marketing tactics. Three that I see most often are:

  1. These companies are sales dominated and marketing has always played a secondary role as sales support
  2. Instant gratification fits nicely into the existing mindset versus the long-term commitment required in content marketing
  3. Direct response results are easier to measure than inbound marketing leads that take longer to nurture and convert

Because of this type of thinking, industrial companies tend to put very little faith in their marketing efforts. This point is very evident in the chart below from the same Forrester /Act-on study.

Marketing's contribution to the sales pipeline

Whether you are an in-house Marketing Director or an external industrial marketing consultant like me, one thing is certain as we move into 2013 and beyond, our work is cut out for us in educating and helping industrial companies becoming better content marketers.

Share your thoughts and experiences with content marketing if you work for or with industrial companies.

Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 35+ years of practical manufacturing and industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., a manufacturing marketing agency in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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  1. great article, I do all I can to generate great content for our company. It is not a question of “what is it that we do that people want to see?” but rather “what do we use to leverage the content that we have?”

  2. Great information, Achinta, thanks for posting. My experience with content marketing and marketing within manufacturing companies supports all of these comments and conclusions. Jeff makes the strongest point. Many manufacturing companies ‘grew up’ in the days before buyers were able to get their information from the web. So, they are highly sales centric and most sales and marketing decisions are made by the sales organization. The 70, 80 or 100 year old culture is one where the marketing team consists of the girls (not being sexist here, just an observation) down the hall who make the brochures, place the ads and set up the trade shows at the behest of the sales team.

    At present, I am a global marketing manager for a faux-global company that manufactures weather measurement instruments. The culture is heavily sales dominated. The sales team is 98% men and the marketing team is 98% women. Note, I am in the 2% of the men on the marketing team. It has now been a 5 year ‘fight’ to change the culture and to get Marketing a seat at the table and a real voice in business strategy. It’s a 75 year culture of ‘who needs marketing, our products are so good, we don’t need no stinking marketing’! Attitudes are changing. Over the past three years, I’ve implemented a pretty good content marketing plan and this year, our business will have a growth rate of more than 30% while the industry is growing at about 2%.

    Last year, I interviewed with 2 manufacturing companies for Marketing Director level positions. One was a half billion USD company that manufactures various systems and instruments targeted to life science and semiconductor industries. I was literally shocked when I learned this company has no idea about how to engage in the modern marketing era. Any and all reference to marketing was centered around product development. They have no concept of content, marketing automation, how customers buy, etc. Another manufacturing company I interviewed with is an 80 million USD manufacturer of instruments for critical environments in life science and semi conductor. Again, they are clueless about content marketing and other modern marketing strategies and tactics. Walking into their building was like walking through a time-machine back to the 1990’s.
    It is really a shame that manufacturing companies don’t recognize the potential of embracing the new world of modern marketing. Think of the advantage one manufacturing company could gain over their marketing clueless competitors.

    • Bruce,

      Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughtful comments and for sharing your own experiences with content marketing at a manufacturing company.

  3. Being owner of Market Pipeline I have a significant amount of relationships with owners and VPs of Marketing for mid-size manufacturers and industrial suppliers based in the Midwest. I would have to say that I probably know the rust-belt market and these owners as well as anybody.

    I agree with Achinta concerning why these companies are not adapting content marketing.

    I would add one critical point.

    Industrial companies are used to making investments in assets where they can easily measure ROI. If they purchase new equipment for the plant floor they can tell you when that machine will be paid for and the exact ROI they will received from that investment. If they hire a new salesperson it is easy to measure ROI as well.

    With traditional marketing our beloved industrial marketers have difficulty measuring anything…so they fail to adapt.

    That is about to change!

    The web is fast becoming the industrial marketers’ most important channel for lead generation. Their company’s customers, prospects and potential leads are lurking 24/7 on the web.

    With increasing sophistication of automated/integrated marketing software the “old school” marketer can now watch his online marketing campaigns fail or succeed in real time.

    We now have techniques that can measure a company’s “share of the voice” or “share of the conversation”. In other words… what impact is the content marketing campaign having on the company’s brand.

    Again, I agree with Achinta… our work is cut out for us.

    However….the companies that embrace content marketing and do it well have a significant upside opportunity in front of them.

    • Tom,

      Thanks for adding your thoughtful comments and sharing your experiences with manufacturing and industrial companies. As you’ve correctly said, measuring every marketing initiative has become very important. I just did a print ad for a manufacturing client that will run in a niche trade publication. I added a QR code on the ad to make it mobile friendly and drive visitors to a specific landing page with a relevant offer for conversion. This will tie together the client’s digital and traditional marketing while making it possible to track and measure ROI.

  4. Yes, age, and the resultant ingrained ways of doing business probably play a big role. Yet, in the vein of “lies, damned lies etc.”, I suppose the methods in the study weren’t mutually exclusive.

    In other words, if 95 respondents out of 100 used face-to-face, it doesn’t say they aren’t included in the 83 out of 100 who do content marketing.

    Also, when talking about SMBs, it just might be that referrals and word-of-mouth are important and work well. This environmental factor, if you will, could put the whole issue in a slightly different light.

    The saddest thing in my opinion is that marketing and sales don’t play together. Combined with the preference for face-to-face customer acquisition, what a terrible waste of money.

    • Kimmo,

      Thanks for sharing your views. As always, your perspective is much appreciated and very useful.

  5. @Jeff — yes, to put it mildly, marketing consultants are sometimes guilty of using too many buzz words. What is missing from those proof points is the time to produce results and therein lies the rub. Decision makers don’t want to hear about building communities, they want sales now. Can’t blame them entirely, it’s their money that pays the retainer.

    @Ramona — agreed about relationships. That’s where valuable content can help in setting the table for more productive face time. See my post Inbound Marketing Must Set the Table for Industrial Sales.

    Thanks to both of you for your comments and insights.

    • @Achinta…thanks for the article and calling out our research. We are working on a content marketing event just for manufacturing companies (in September), so hoping that helps a bit.

      • @Joe,

        You are welcome. CMI’s research is always top notch and I find the reports very helpful. Thanks a lot for joining the conversation here and adding your valuable input. I’ll keep a lookout for the announcement for your event.

  6. Great article! I believe that the average age of the management/ownership has a great impact on how these companies interact within their specific industry. We’ve found that its also about building a relationship, low/no pressure approach with a heavy emphasis on the consultative selling which means, “face time”. The handshake method still means something to most of them.

  7. Agree in full. The business case for content marketing is clear-cut. Especially since most manufacturers and industrial suppliers sell (at least partly) through distributors, dealers and re-sellers, it’s critical to have good content so partners can share with end-users.

    The question is, given all the business proof, why can’t marketers “sell” the idea of content marketing to management?

    Perhaps because of language like this used to describe “content marketing”:

    “A powerful content strategy enhances delivery of effective and synergistic messages across all brand touch points and channels…”

    Source? American Marketing Association!

    We have met the enemy and he is us.

    • Jeff…I read your comment and just had to laugh…and you are absolutely right. There we go, complicating things that don’t need to be complicated. Those that develop useful content that solves customer problems get attention and earn trust. That’s about all we need to say about that.

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