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Marketing and the maturing manufacturer

Your manufacturing business is poised for growth. You’ve just won that large client your sales team have been working on for years. You’re about to enter new markets that could create unprecedented opportunities.

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Your manufacturing business is poised for growth. You’ve just won that large client your sales team have been working on for years. You’re about to enter new markets that could create unprecedented opportunities. You’ve acquired another business and there are prospective clients you know are a perfect fit. You’ve created a new product that has the potential to put your company on the map.

These typical events in the lifecycle of a growing business signify a crossroads that can take your company from humble to great. The business implications are significant and all those questions of capability – manufacturing and management – are an immediate priority.

It’s at this point that the topic of marketing also tends to enter the conversation and move from the sidelines to the boardroom. And with good reason. Manufacturing businesses all too often employ far too junior marketing for the stage that you are at, or rather the stage you want to be at. Perhaps after many years in the business, the stage you deserve to be at.

Not all marketing is created equal

Is this you: “We have a PA-slash-marketing coordinator whose role it is to produce brochures for the sales team or a banner for the trade show. She also does a bit of Tweeting or Facebooking for our business.”

There’s marketing and then there’s marketing. The marketing above is not going to help you achieve your organisational business plan or win over stakeholders. It’s not going to incite passion in your employees or make your firm one that great talent aspires to work for.

Without doubt there’s always a need for a great tactical person to work with a designer and clean up the company website, the fonts, tidy up the signatures everyone uses in their email, make the brochures look the same and the logo stand out nicely. Yes that’s important. But the marketing I’m talking about, and I know this word is terribly overused, is strategic.

With the Australian dollar so high and the local manufacturing industry facing numerous challenges, it begs the question: Why should companies do business with you? What makes your company truly different from everyone else? What is it about your business that will take you beyond competing on price every time?

Brand new perspectives

Brand has somehow become a bit of a flimsy word and one that many people avoid using. But it’s actually a very good definition for when a business moves beyond what is physically does (we make specialised machinery for other manufacturers) to what owning one means to that buyer (their machinery is the safest and has the longest life of any in the market).

The easy piece is to launch into what should actually be a much later step, and that’s creating all those marketing materials with product specifications, case studies and pens with your company name on them. (And more recently social media, which many manufacturers really have no reason to be doing).

The hard piece is simplifying what is undoubtedly a very technical and complicated process, into a distinctive, clear positioning owned by your business that resonates with all your clients, existing and prospective.

In other words, if you could only use one sentence, tell me why I should invest in your products? It sounds terribly simple, I know, but when you start asking different people in your company to tell me what “that” is, they’re all likely to give me different answers. And when I ask your customers what clinched the deal that made them buy your products over another’s, what would they say?

Questions for you:

  • Does your company have a genuine point of difference in the industry and do you reinforce that effectively in your marketing?
  • Do you know the real reason your customers buy from you over others?
  • Do you know why you may lose tenders?
  • Has the perception of your company changed over the years and how?
  • Do you compete more often on price and cannot match the cheapest competitors without losing money?
  • Is your marketing spend helping achieve the goals you set out for the business?
  • Do your staff feel confident in defining exactly what’s better and unique about the business?
  • Do you feel your business deserves to be much further ahead than you are today?

These are fundamental questions for any company and are certainly not owned by marketing, but the point is that the most effective marketing needs to always support your business objectives.

If change can truly only be made from the top down, you need to ensure the people you entrust to manage the marketing of your manufacturing business can speak to stakeholders and key customers and articulate what makes you different and why they should purchase from you.

This article first appeared in Manufacturers’ Monthly 13 May 2013