This post was originally published in May 2022 and has been updated for relevance and clarity.
While many marketers face the same hurdles in their departments, each industry brings a unique angle to these roadblocks. For example, scaling and maintaining your lead generation efforts will always be a focus area for marketers, but depending on your type of business, the details of why this is a challenge can vary.
That said, marketers in the manufacturing industry face a variety of commonly stated challenges that are reflective of their specific companies and environment.
To get a better understanding of what life is like for these marketers, we’ve published the first State of Digital Marketing for the Manufacturing Industry research report in which we surveyed almost 200 marketers in this demographic. We wanted to know specifically where they were at in their marketing practice, what they found important, and, of course, what they were having trouble with accomplishing.
We’ve pulled out the top three challenges stated by these marketers in this post, as well as insights on how to solve these problems to see success and to get ahead of competitors.
Building upon our findings from the 2022 survey, it is evident that the challenges highlighted continue to dominate the thoughts of manufacturing marketers today. Over the past few years, marketers in the manufacturing sector have undergone remarkable growth and transformation. The industry’s landscape has been significantly impacted by the pandemic, leading to a profound shift from conventional marketing approaches to an intensified emphasis on digital strategies.
Considering these developments, we have revised this post to incorporate a dedicated “2023 Notes” section. Within this section, we will explore strategies to overcome roadblocks, enabling marketers to effectively promote their products or services in a rapidly changing market.
Challenge 1: Keeping up with the competition
In 2023, keeping up with the competition has emerged as the biggest challenge for manufacturing marketers, with 36.2% of respondents citing it as a challenge they face.
The shift from the number one challenge in 2022 of “transitioning to digital marketing activities” to “keeping up with the competition” in 2023 reflects the industry’s progress in embracing digitalization. To stay competitive in the evolving landscape, manufacturing marketers can take proactive steps to ensure they are up to speed with their rivals. Here are key actions they can implement:
- Competitor Analysis: Conduct thorough competitor analysis to gain insights into their strategies, tactics and positioning. Identify their strengths, weaknesses and unique selling propositions. This analysis can help manufacturing marketers understand the competitive landscape and make informed decisions about their own marketing approaches.
- Continuous Market Monitoring: Stay vigilant and continuously monitor the market for new trends, emerging technologies and evolving customer preferences. By staying up to date on industry developments, manufacturing marketers can proactively adapt their strategies to remain competitive.
- Embrace New Technologies: Embrace new technologies and digital tools that can enhance marketing efforts. This may include adopting marketing automation platforms, leveraging data analytics for insights, or exploring emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence or virtual reality.
- Customer-Centric Approach: Prioritize a customer-centric approach by deeply understanding and anticipating the needs of the target audience. By delivering exceptional customer experiences and tailored solutions, manufacturing marketers can gain a competitive edge and foster customer loyalty.
- Agile and Adaptive Strategies: Embrace agility and adaptability in marketing strategies. Test and iterate on campaigns, messaging and channels to optimize performance. Continuously assess the effectiveness of marketing initiatives and be willing to adjust to stay competitive.
- Collaborations and Partnerships: Explore collaborations or strategic partnerships with complementary brands, influencers or industry leaders. Leveraging their expertise or expanding reach through joint marketing efforts can help manufacturers gain a competitive advantage.
- Brand Differentiation and Positioning: Develop a strong brand identity and seek ways to differentiate products, services or brand positioning apart from competitors. Clearly communicate the unique value proposition and consistently deliver on brand promises to establish a strong competitive position.
2022’s Challenge 1: Making the transition to digital marketing activities
Nearly half (46%) of those surveyed in 2022 said that “making the transition to digital marketing activities” was the top challenge they were facing this year. That honestly comes as no surprise, especially after we’ve spent the last few years helping these companies survive and thrive during the pandemic, employee shortage crisis and supply chain issues.
Growing your company in a digital space can be incredibly difficult if you’ve been accustomed to conducting business in person for the history of your organization. Coronavirus hit and all of a sudden, manufacturing marketers were faced with a world with no tradeshows, no conferences, no meetups and demos and networking. This came as a shock to many manufacturing companies, especially those who admittedly weren’t as well-versed with digital marketing and technology tactics.
As COVID-19 and comfort levels of the world continue to wax and wane, it’s no breaking statement to say that the digital environment will be a mainstay indefinitely. There is no “going back to normal,” and instead, marketers in the manufacturing industry will need to adjust to this new consumer landscape.
Manufacturing marketers need to focus on their website
When working with various manufacturing marketing clients, we’ve seen that many of these organizations haven’t put the time into creating a functional, lead-generating website. This is absolutely square one for making the transition to digital marketing activities — your website is your biggest marketing tool. It’s a hub for your consumers to learn about your products when they can’t visit your in-person booth at a tradeshow, a way to bring in new customers through SEO techniques and a useful tool to tell your story and to showcase your products and process.
Here’s an example of how 3M is using content on their website to showcase their company in a compelling way. Their 3M News Center is filled with articles about how their products help their customers, from Cottage Grove, Minnesota, to Ukraine.
Brainstorm digital translations of your existing efforts
There’s nothing marketers love more than a no-holds-barred, white-boarding session. (Please don’t hold me to this statement! It was not part of our survey!) If you haven’t already, dedicate a meeting to brainstorming around how all of your successful in-person marketing tactics can be translated to digital efforts. Include your marketing team, stakeholders, client-facing staff, product leaders, etc. Here are a few ideas of how to upgrade traditional efforts to digital:
- In-person demos > explainer videos
- Direct mailers > email campaigns
- Physical catalogs > high-quality product landing pages
- Networking events > virtual lunches and happy hours
Challenge 2: Demonstrating the value of your products
Despite being a challenge in 2022, demonstrating the value of products and services remains a significant struggle for manufacturing marketers, as it has retained its position as the second biggest challenge in 2023, with 35.7% of survey respondents listing it as a top challenge.
To effectively address this ongoing obstacle and showcase the unique benefits and advantages they offer, manufacturing marketers can take proactive steps. Here are key actions they can implement:
- Clear Value Proposition: Craft a clear and compelling value proposition that succinctly communicates the unique value and benefits of the products or services. Clearly articulate how the offerings solve customer pain points, deliver tangible results, or provide a competitive advantage.
- Visual Storytelling: Utilize visual content such as infographics, images and videos to tell a captivating story about the value and impact of the products or services. Visual storytelling can effectively engage and resonate with the target audience, highlighting the practical applications and benefits.
- Social Proof: Leverage social proof to validate the value of the products or services. This can be achieved through testimonials, case studies, success stories and reviews from satisfied customers. Authentic and positive feedback serves as powerful evidence of the value delivered.
- Demonstrations and Trials: Offer product demonstrations or trials to allow potential customers to experience the value firsthand. By showcasing the features, functionality and benefits in action, manufacturing marketers can effectively communicate the unique value their offerings bring.
- Thought Leadership Content: Establish thought leadership by creating informative and insightful content that educates the target audience about industry trends, best practices and innovative solutions. This positions manufacturers as trusted experts and reinforces the value they offer.
- ROI and Business Impact: Quantify the return on investment (ROI) and demonstrate the business impact that can be achieved by using the products or services. Provide data-driven evidence of cost savings, productivity improvements, revenue growth or other measurable benefits.
- Customization and Personalization: Highlight the ability to customize or personalize products or services to meet the specific needs of customers. Emphasize how this tailored approach adds value by addressing individual requirements and delivering personalized solutions.
- Continuous Improvement and Innovation: Demonstrate a commitment to continuous improvement and innovation in products or services. Highlight updates, upgrades or new features that provide enhanced value and address evolving customer needs.
2022 information: A curse of many manufacturing products is that sometimes they’re very niche, complex and maybe hard to explain. Attending tradeshows or doing demos can help you explain in-person what exactly your product is and the benefits of it, but as we all know, relying on IRL events like these isn’t a reality, which is why 42% of our survey takers stated that demonstrating the value of their products was a challenge they’re facing.
As you’re researching new techniques (see above!) and learning about new digital tactics (see above again!), you’ll hopefully get a few new ideas on how to demonstrate your product’s value digitally.
Video, video, video!
Adding a variety of video content to your manufacturing marketing arsenal is a great way to personalize and humanize your brand, while also adding clarity to how your product works (and why your customers should purchase).
Explainer videos can detail exactly what you’d showcase during tradeshow demos and are easy for your clients to share with their teams or other buying stakeholders. Longer-form webinars can underline the authority your thought leaders have in the industry, as well. More casual live or short-form videos for social media can also help your brand awareness, demonstrating the value that your company itself brings to the consumer.
In this full post by my colleague Grace Hallen, she lays out some really great examples that manufacturing marketers can use in their video strategy: Video Marketing Ideas for Manufacturing Companies.
Consider an influencer strategy… really!
Manufacturing companies have influencers, too — namely, happy clients. Use testimonials or user-generated content from your customers to advocate for your business. Maybe your manufacturing product isn’t Instagram-worthy, but a good case study or video interview with a client shared on their social media page can make a huge difference in getting your name out there, as well as your product’s value.
Challenge 3: Understanding your audience
In the ever-evolving landscape of marketing, a paramount challenge for manufacturing marketers in 2023 has been understanding the audience, replacing the previous year’s struggle of keeping up with new marketing techniques. 32.9% of those surveyed said that audience insights and understanding who they’re trying to reach is a major hurdle.
The shift highlights the evolution from a technique-focused approach to a more audience-centric approach in order to create meaningful connections and deliver value to the customers. To effectively connect with their target audience and tailor their strategies accordingly, manufacturing marketers must take deliberate steps to gain a deep understanding of their audience. Here are some key actions they can take:
- Market Research and Segmentation: Conduct comprehensive market research to gather valuable insights about the preferences, needs and pain points of the target audience. By segmenting the audience based on demographics, behaviors or psychographics, manufacturers can develop more targeted and personalized marketing campaigns.
- Buyer Personas: Create detailed buyer personas that represent different segments of the target audience. These personas should capture key characteristics, motivations and goals of the ideal customers. By referring to these personas, marketers can align their messaging and content to resonate with the specific needs and desires of their audience.
- Data Analytics and Insights: Leverage data analytics tools to gain actionable insights into audience behavior, engagement patterns and conversion metrics. Analyzing data from website analytics, social media platforms and customer relationship management (CRM) systems can help identify trends, preferences and areas for improvement.
- Customer Surveys and Feedback: Engage with the audience directly through surveys, polls or feedback forms to gather their opinions, preferences and feedback. This firsthand information can provide valuable insights into the audience’s perceptions, challenges and expectations, enabling marketers to refine their strategies accordingly.
- Social Listening and Monitoring: Monitor social media platforms and online communities to gain real-time insights into conversations, sentiments and trends relayed to the industry and the target audience. Social listening tools can help identify emerging topics, influencers and opportunities for engagement.
- User Testing and Feedback: Conduct user testing sessions to gather feedback on products, websites or marketing materials. This allows manufacturers to understand how their audience interacts with their offerings and identify areas of improvement or optimization.
- Continuous Learning and Adaptation: Embrace a culture of continuous learning and adaptation. Stay informed about industry trends, changes in consumer behavior, and emerging technologies. Attend industry conferences, workshops and webinars to stay updated and gather insights from experts in the field.
2022’s Challenge 2: Keeping up with new marketing techniques
The second most common challenge that manufacturing marketers say they face is the struggle to keep up with new marketing techniques. 43% of those surveyed stated that this was a top problem in 2022. Digital transformation is still a train rolling full steam ahead, and it can be difficult to find your place in a landscape that keeps shifting.
There are a few things that you can add to your regular workflows and plans to make sure that your wish to “keep up with new techniques” isn’t a one-and-done activity, but a long-term solve to an ongoing problem.
Audit your own marketing practice (and your competitors’)
As a marketer, conducting audits can be an incredible way to get the pulse of what’s going on with your competitors, as well as the performance of the activities you’re currently doing. By looking at what your direct analogs are up to in addition to the “big names” in the space, you’ll be able to see missing holes in your own strategies. Add this activity to your roadmap, as well, and keep up on this research on a regular basis.
Set up innovation meetings with various staff members
Something that I always make sure to do when brainstorming messaging and campaign focuses is to reach out to a handful of people who aren’t in my department. Staff like customer service reps or account managers who work with our current clients directly, sales team members who hear firsthand about reasons why or why not a customer wants to sign a contract with us, or product developers who are spending time day-in-day-out with the core of your business are all good options to consider meeting with regularly to hear new ideas on tactics or adjustments to services.
Additionally, be sure to reach out to a diverse variety for these innovation sessions. Younger generations might have more ideas on up-and-coming platforms and trends or demographics close to the ones you’re targeting, which can provide valuable info on what may or may not work to convince them if they were a potential lead.
Don’t be afraid to admit you can’t do it all
Truth be told, most marketers have felt the crunch the last few years. Other issues listed in our survey for challenges faced include reaching the right audience, inability to measure ROI and traffic generation — struggles that sound familiar with marketers in MANY industries, not just manufacturing.
Working with a third-party agency can be the best thing a company can do to home in a full digital strategy, especially a content-first one, which Brandpoint specializes in. From maximizing budget to content creation to auditing to web dev, finding an agency with specialized strategists can help fill in the gaps you have on your existing team. 63% of those surveyed say that they currently work with a third-party agency to create and execute their marketing plans.
More resources for manufacturing marketers
- The 2023 State of Digital Marketing for the Manufacturing Industry
- Examples of the Best Website Design for Manufacturers
- Why Email Marketing Matters for Manufacturers
- SEO for Manufacturing Marketers
- Video Marketing Ideas for Manufacturing Companies
Want to learn more about how you can grow your manufacturing business with marketing to earn more leads, get more traffic and scale your efforts to affect your sales? Reach out today! We’d love to work with you.