Industrial Marketing Blog

Understanding the Age Gap is Important in Digital Marketing for Industrial Companies

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If you are using digital marketing (You are, aren’t you?) to market your industrial company, its products and services, then you need to understand the importance of the age gap and its impact on digital media usage.

I’m sure you have read many of the dire headlines about the critical skills gap in the industrial sector and how it could threaten the competitiveness of manufacturing in the U.S. If you read between the lines, the underlying cause of this problem is the age gap. Here are a few recent headlines and direct quotes to drive home my point:

  • New talent needed as baby boomers age and jobs continue growing in the industry. (U.S. News & World Report)
  • “The senior geologists will soon retire and there is no one to take over except much more junior geologists. The age demographics among geologists has resulted in a skills, mentorship and leadership gap, which is becoming a concern.” (Deloitte)
  • The demographic age gap is expanding at an alarming rate because the aging workforce will be retiring within the next 5 – 10 years and not enough young people are finding the industry attractive enough to join. (World Petroleum Council)
  • Oil field workers are retiring in huge numbers, leaving a workforce that’s younger and — more importantly — less experienced. (NPR)
  • “When the Deepwater Horizon exploded, no one in the BP engineering team had been on the job for more than six months.” (John Konrad, author, ‘Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster’)
  • Put simply, we are experiencing a growing age gap in engineering-focused fields. (
  • The reasons for the dearth of qualified job candidates are varied. Both Mercer and Manpower cited age, disruptive technology like hydraulic fracturing and education as key drivers of the problem. (NBC News)

I don’t want to get into a debate about all this being just a ploy for companies to ship jobs overseas for cheaper labor. The fact is we have a problem. Enough said!

Let’s look at how this age gap impacts digital marketing for industrial companies. I just finished reading the IHS GlobalSpec research report, 2014 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector. At first glance, there are no major revelations, but there is a significant difference this year that caught my attention. The results from this year’s survey show key differences in the use of digital media by age.

For example, 42% of this audience of technical professionals visits more than ten work-related websites each week. In the under 35-year-old age group, significantly more respondents than any other age segment visit more than 20 websites each week.
Number of wor-related websites visited in a week by industriual professionals - by age

The primary uses of the Internet for technical professionals are to find components, equipment, services and suppliers (74 percent); obtain product specifications (73 percent); compare products across suppliers (69 percent); find pricing information (68 percent); and perform research (66 percent).

This has not changed much over the years. However, it is interesting to see how various age groups use digital media at various stages of their industrial buy cycle. The age of your target audience has become an important consideration for industrial marketers when developing marketing plans and content. The survey found some important differences by age in how they consume and use digital media in work-related decisions.

Age differences will influence the content you create for top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel. They also have an impact on the stage of the buy cycle – Needs Awareness, Research vs. Consideration & Comparison and Procurement. Technical professionals under age 35 are more likely to use the Internet for research and product comparisons, whereas those over age 35 are more likely to be obtaining product specifications and finding components, equipment, services and suppliers.

The IHS GlobalSpec survey states that “Year-over-year comparison shows the growing importance of general search engines, industry-specific search engines and webinars among the under age 35 group, whereas online catalogs and supplier websites grew in importance among those over 35.”

The age gap has a strong influence on the usage of social media and mobile devices for work-related tasks.

Woirk-related performed on social media by industrial professionals - by age

Work tasks performed on various platforms by industrial professionals - by age

Independent research studies are great for stats and facts but anecdotal evidence is even better for a reality check. I had a very interesting conversation with a client who is a manufacturer of leak testing equipment and sells primarily to the Automotive and the Medical Device industries.

One of his customers told him that his (my client’s) biggest challenge wasn’t newer competitors but younger engineers who didn’t have the personal experience of the technical problems that my client’s company had solved. Many of the senior engineers on the customer’s side who knew about these engineering solutions would be retiring soon. His advice to my client was to win the mindshare of these newer engineers if he wanted to continue to grow his sales and yes, he may lose some in the short run.

The impact of the age gap on digital marketing for industrial companies is significant. Understanding and being aware of these differences will help you develop more effective industrial marketing strategies.

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. Amen!

  2. @Paul and @Tom,

    Thanks for your comments.

    Industrial branding is very important in creating trust which in turn has a big impact on lead generation and sales. Unfortunately, it is much misunderstood and often neglected beyond creating a logo and/or a clever tag line.

  3. Hi Achinta,

    You are dead on. I recently read GlobalSpec’s 2014 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector as well and noticed the same conclusions as you. I have had recent “reality checks”…just this week. I just met with a local manufacturer of industrial chillers and they are struggling to find good engineers. I also have a good customer that manufactures hydraulic cylinders, having the same issues.

    Clearly, industrial marketers need to examine their go-to-market strategies and shift budgets to attract the younger crowd.

    I also came away from GlobalSpec’s survey with another conclusion. More and more industrial marketers are paying attention to their brand message and brand awareness. I posted this on July 23rd. Enjoy.

    Thanks Achinta.

  4. Agreed with information provided. Knowledge of demographics is very important.

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