5
Are Social Media Right For All Manufacturers? Maybe Not

Social Media these days may not be worth it for some manufacturing niches and their industrial marketing needs. At least not yet.

I’ve just read an article that eloquently and accurately explains the dramatic differences between industrial marketing and marketing for the consumer sector. It’s so good, that I wish I’d written it myself. I don’t care if you’re a small manufacturer in the heartland, a massive capital equipment OEM on the West Coast, an industrial marketing consultant that serves ’em, or anyone involved in the industrial manufacturing genome – stop what you’re doing:

Read it. Now. Because it’s great.

Great articles often transcend their initial concepts and take us to unexpected topics and conclusions. And this one does that. But more about that in a minute.

Mike Collins is an author and consultant. His article ‘Industrial Marketing Is Not Consumer Marketing‘ delivers an important message, because it goes to the heart of why most manufacturers have such difficulties with marketing.

Mike’s premise is that we need more industrial marketing in our colleges to prepare marketers and sales for the unique qualities inherent in capital equipment and other buying cycles in the industrial space. His reasoning – which is spot on – points out that simply replicating the techniques, strategies and tactics that are used to market to consumers just won’t work for manufacturers. And there sure is a lot of THAT going around in the industrial space these days.

I’m not so sure I agree with Mike’s solution of handing this off to academia – at least not traditional institutions. Those environments don’t offer the industrial & technical environments that enable the kind of experience & skills necessary to serve prospects in extended technology buying initiatives. But it’s a small point to nitpick on in an otherwise remarkable article.

Mike points to 7 main differences between industrial and consumer marketing: Product complexity; Industrial buyers; Bids and quotations; Advertising and promotion; Market information; Industrial market research; and Product range.

The gist of these 7 issues is that buyers, engineers, sourcing cats and purchasing teams are assessing complex technology purchases that are integrated into even more complex symphonies of innovation. These complexities equal much longer & more intricate buying  cycles that require approval across an entire enterprise. And add to that the dispersion of niches in manufacturing (food, aerospace, pharmaceutical, discrete parts, die/mold, chemical, raw material, etc.), and the game changes so drastically that many of the rules that drive consumer marketing could be down-right ineffective for industrial applications.

Simply put – buying a horizontal machining center, for example, involves behaviors & considerations that significantly transcend discovering and trying a new toothpaste. And you don’t have to be Fellini to figure out that branding, leads, messaging, customer service, promotion, and conversations are just plain different for a technology buy.

As I read Mike’s article, I realized it also provides compelling reasons why Social Media – despite its extraordinary adoption rates and promise – just aren’t up to the task of serving as many of the marketing  requirements in industrial as they do today for consumer marketing.

Here are 3 weaknesses of social media when used primarily to serve the manufacturing & industrial buying cycles:

  • Serving Discovery – There’s an old media adage that says, “Push media introduce buyers to things they didn’t know they needed. Pull media help buyers find information about things they already know they need, but don’t know where to find it.” While Social Media seem to be strong ‘push’ channels, they aren’t really – due mainly to slow adoption by manufacturers. Also, the effort and resources necessary to ‘push’ messages with the cadence necessary to possibly connect with someone receptive to your product or services at the right time and in context are prohibitive.
  • Serving Research Behaviors – The research-minded industrial buyer conducts an extraordinary amount of research to recommend a technology or services buy. To quote Mike, these cats are “very knowledgeable buyers (and often buyer teams) who analyze products and purchases in terms of user benefits often measured in dollars or as return on investment. In the case of capital equipment, the salespeople do not get to talk to the final decision-makers: the board of directors.” These prospects assemble information in the form of technical specs, applications, qualifications, certifications and other ancillary qualities to assess vast amounts of data. Social Media aren’t well-equipped to serve archival accessibilities as legacy data. (Hint: That’s what your Website is for.) Oh, and one other thing – buying events around discrete custom parts manufacturing or capital equipment purchases are episodic to the extreme. They just don’t happen frequently, which can somewhat lessen the importance of the ‘conversational’ qualities of Social Media.
  • Building/Sustaining Your Brand – Building an industrial brand – regardless of the size of the business – requires a focus often not experienced in consumer marketing. Here again , Mike’s words ring true: “… if you are a manufacturer of a machine that stacks 50-lb sacks of cheese whey, you will have to identify the market niches to succeed. The food industry has 23,000 plants in the U.S., but the buyers who would be interested in your machine are a niche of a niche, of a niche, of a niche. How you find these buyers is totally different then selling cell phones to young adults using television.” Or following the techniques that Social Media in their infancy provide, for that matter. Sure, you CAN brand via Social Media. But the traction manufacturers will see using these tools alone to do that will likely be disappointed because an industrial branding message won’t find large samplings of the right buyers on current Social Media platforms.

As Mike sums it up, “Marketing strategies change drastically with the type of product, length of the sales cycle, product size, and the number of decision-makers. For example, the selling, promotion, and pricing strategies used to sell low-unit-price standard motors to known accounts are fairly straightforward. On the other hand, capital equipment designed for production lines is usually large, complex in design, and has high unit prices that must be justified in terms of returns to the company and approved by the board of directors.”

Cookie-cutter approaches often don’t work. Not in marketing, and certainly not in the industrial spaces. And in most cases, one channel doesn’t cancel another. Expecting Social Media to offer discovery, serve research, or brand is like dancing about architecture.

Look, no one is more high on the potential of Social Media’s reach, adoption and potential than I. Heck, I’m on Twitter more than Anthony Weiner. (Albeit with, I hope, loftier intentions.)

But you must scrutinize your Social Media Strategies to play to your strengths and the real value to your prospects & customers, not those that you see or hear consumer marketers claim to be “all that.”

AJ Sweatt
Website
2 Comments
  1. Hi AJ,
    I agree that the industrial marketer needs to be aware that one cannot simply copy the social media strategy used by consumer marketers and expect success b/c of the very different nature of industrial buying. While using social media may be harder for the industrial sector, I don’t think it should be written off. I think that the relationship-building aspects of social media are tailored for relationship-heavy long buying cycle. I also think that while direct engagement with industrial buyers via social media may not work, it is still imperative for manufacturers to be there because of Twitter and FB’s integration into Google’s and Bing’s search algorithms which will help during the discovery process. Also, as smart phones become ubiquitous and the line between work and play continues to blur, I think that Twitter will become more useful for B2B and discovery or research.

    Just a few thoughts. Great post!

    BTW, I’m @NCStateIES on Twitter 🙂

    • KeAnne!!! Thanks so much for the great thoughts.

      The overall point I tried to make here is that the long-tail buying cycles that are present in industrial and custom manufacturing aren’t served well from traditional marketing approaches. In the past, a ‘lead’ was ‘passed’ to sales, where the extended conversations between the prospect, sales, applications engineering, support and executives took place away from the marketer that ‘brought’ the lead in house to begin with. That long-term ‘relationship building’ has been almost foreign to industrial marketers, and they need to become more engaged in those conversations. This is completely counter to the more ‘simplistic’ consumer marketing tactics, but they are far and away the most prominent examples industrial marketers use to guide their own strategies. So, it’s all a matter of focusing on the customers and how they research rather than overall adoption rates of platforms like facebook.

      Ultimately, in many manufacturing niche markets, buying teams and sourcing professionals won’t reflexively go to facebook or their smart phones to perform their most meaningful tasks toward technology purchases.

      And you’re right – it’s the relationships that can be established and strengthened in Social Media. But it could be irresponsible for some industrial marketers to see them as being able to do more than they are likely to in the industrial space. At least for my lifetime – but I’m pretty old!

      Thank you again. It means a lot that you’d stop by. I’ll see you on Twitter later. Keep up the fine work you guys do for manufacturing and North Carolina. You rock.

      AJ

Your Name Email Website