Manufacturing is Changing — and Your Marketing Operations Must Keep Up

With new markets opening around the world and marketing channels multiplying, both established manufacturers and startups challenging the status quo need to be nimble and aggressive.

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Many industrial giants built their fortunes on manufacturing excellent products, creating reliable and recognizable brands — who doesn’t recognize Caterpillar Yellow? — and providing great sales follow-up and customer support. 


With new markets opening around the world and marketing channels multiplying, both established manufacturers and startups challenging the status quo need to be nimble and aggressive, embracing everything from white papers to YouTube videos and mastering a broad array of both traditional and unconventional channels. These multichannel approaches require far more sophisticated marketing operations and increasingly depend on enterprise-quality platform solutions purpose-built for today’s manufacturer marketing teams.


Large manufacturers offer products and solutions that often require buyers to bring to the table multi-faceted teams to evaluate purchases on the basis of product function, technical specs, financial merits, and other critical considerations. A hospital evaluating a new MRI console, for example, requires input from physicians, technical staff, financial experts, and building and maintenance crews. Each one of these constituencies has a different decision-making process and requires different information and marketing materials, and the resulting sales process can be long and extremely complex.


The most successful current marketing teams know how to reach these various decision-makers at the right times and with the right messaging over a long sales cycle. That process involves tailoring campaigns not only to different levels of an organization but also to specific regions and languages, using a complex mix of social media, how-to videos and other storytelling assets. All of which requires a strong system to manage it.


Global Opportunities


It’s no secret that the manufacturing landscape is shifting at a breathtaking clip, as automation makes production more efficient and companies travel the globe in search of competitive labor and new markets. 


Manufacturers need to expand their marketing strategies as well. “In today’s market, it’s not just about having the ‘best quality’ product or having that ‘98 percent on-time delivery rate,’” wrote Andrea Olson in Manufacturing Global. “Manufacturers need to go back to their entrepreneurial roots and identify new, innovative ways to serve their markets like their forefathers did.” 


Manufacturing firms were often founded by engineers and other inventors who began with a keen understanding of their customer needs and built their factories, processes and products to fit. These days, though, even long-established firms are having to contend with lean newcomers and  increasingly diverse global markets. 


For companies that take advantage of important new consumer trends, opportunities abound. Take, for instance, the worldwide market for “green” packaging. As demand grows for packaging materials that are recyclable, reusable and biodegradable, Zion Market Research predicts that global demand will grow from $250 million in 2017 to $400 million in 2025. 


Some marketing opportunities are clear, such as the booming industry in packaged food and beverages, according to Zion. But others cry out for innovation, as in emerging economies where there’s a need for educating consumers, businesses and government leaders about the financial and environmental benefits of “going green.”


Catching Up


Manufacturers have historically excelled at adapting their products and processes to meet customer needs and industry advances. When it comes to marketing, however, manufacturing executives say they can use some help, according to a 2019 report produced by Content Marketing Institute. 


A survey of key executives found that only 16 percent of manufacturers consider their use of content marketing technology “expert” or “advanced,” while 41 percent label themselves as operating at the “novice” or “beginner level.” 


Manufacturers need to put the informational needs of customers ahead of traditional product pitches. They need help in tailoring content to multiple decision makers and in using new tools such as big data and customer personas to increase the reach of their marketing campaigns.  


Technology can help. Some manufacturers are turning to industry-specific marketing and content management platforms to manage their increasingly complex campaigns. 


Rockwell Automation is one such company. With 22,000 employees and $6.3 billion in worldwide revenue, Rockwell and 260 members of its marketing team needed a better way to coordinate campaigns in numerous countries and offices to eliminate redundancies and to repurpose content for different needs. Like other companies, it found that old tools such as spreadsheets and email strings could not keep pace. 


By organizing its efforts using a specialized management platform, Rockwell marketers were able to personalize and target their messages and to localize content from one region to another. 


Clear Results


When was the last time you reached for a printed user manual to trouble-shoot a problem or train a worker in operating a machine? Increasingly, customers want to go to a company’s website or search YouTube for a video that gives easy to digest how-to advice. Manufacturers that know how to create and deploy such customer aids are the ones that hang onto market share and make it grow. 


The best platforms allow manufacturers to plan and execute initiatives in multiple countries and across a variety of channels, measure the effectiveness of those campaigns in real time, automate routine tasks so teams can focus on building market share, and eliminate the bottlenecks that can hinder campaign execution. That frees up time and creative energy to develop the kinds of content that build loyalty among existing customers and help draw new ones to a  brand. 


Caterpillar is among those companies that have combined their track record in manufacturing excellent products with getting the word out through increasingly sophisticated marketing efforts. 


According to an article by tech analyst Jon Markman in Forbes, the company has stayed strong by allocating resources to areas of the business that show the greatest return on investment. For the excavator maker, the results are undeniable: strong earnings, surging stock performance and a renewed sense of America’s industrial clout. 


As Caterpillar, Rockwell and other companies have found, the key to success is getting their stories out in a way that will echo across their industry — and around the world. 

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