The world of marketing can strike fear into the heart of many a manufacturing leader, but as a process it’s probably more familiar than you might think. Manufacturing Advisor Chris Manka breaks down what marketing really means and explains why, in the same way that you can adopt lean manufacturing principles in the factory, you can adopt lean marketing as well.
This is a blog about marketing, but it’s also a bit of a pep talk.
As my colleagues Phil and Martin have pointed out before, people in manufacturing tend to be excellent engineers and problem solvers, but not always excellent communicators. This means the world of marketing often feels outside the comfort zone, which leads to it being undervalued and misunderstood.
Lots of manufacturers get by not really thinking about marketing at all until it’s too late. Some started up just to supply one specific customer and rely on them staying in business. Many have got by simply through word-of-mouth and assume work will always come their way. Others believe they are too small to compete with larger companies in their market, so why bother?
I’m here to tell you three things:
- Marketing is important. It’s not just a ‘nice-to-have’ or the ‘cherry on top’ that sells your product, it’s something that runs through your entire business, whether you know it or not
- Marketing is a skill that can be learned. Even if it doesn’t come naturally to you, marketing is a competency that can be honed and developed. In fact, it’s a process mindset that may be more familiar to manufacturing than you think
- You are worthy of being marketed. Don’t hold back from projecting your business into the marketplace just because of your size. There is always someone out there looking for what you can offer.
What marketing is
If the word ‘marketing’ makes you think of pretty pictures on social media or a few carefully chosen words on a flyer, you’re not alone. But this is just the end result of what marketing really is. It’s actually a function within your business that forms part and parcel of everything you do.
Marketing, in its proper sense, is about having:
- the right product;
- in the right place;
- at the right time;
- at the right price.
Understanding each of these four aspects means asking yourself lots of questions, such as who is successful in your industry? What makes them different? Who buys your services and what are their purchasing decisions? What makes them tick? What are they actually looking for?
Once you start thinking with a marketing mindset, you will begin to amass information at every level of your business, and once you’ve got all of that data, delivering effective marketing activity becomes just the easy bit at the end.
A marketing mindset is a lean mindset
If good marketing is about continually asking questions, thinking holistically and incorporating information into your everyday decision-making, it’s not so alien from manufacturing after all – in fact, it’s just like lean thinking.
You can even follow the Plan, Do, Check, Act (PDCA) cycle of continuous improvement:
- Plan: start by identifying opportunities and setting objectives, using tools such as SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats), customer motivation or market positioning exercises to help understand what makes you unique
- Do: test and implement ideas. Can you experiment with a new route to market? Can you try different messaging on your website? Can you attend your next exhibition with a specific objective or strategy in mind? Be as targeted as possible
- Check: gather feedback and data. Ask trusted customers and partners for their thoughts and use quantifiable data such as leads generated, sales converted and digital engagement
- Act: evaluate your lessons learned and take corrective action.
Before you know it, you will always have one eye on the lookout for new marketing opportunities. Shopfloor walks won’t just be an inspection of processes or equipment, but an opportunity to share regular video updates with your LinkedIn network. Invoicing won’t just be an administrative activity, but another opportunity to promote your brand message. This is the marketing mindset.
This process can be kickstarted in-house without the need for expensive marketing support. If you choose to employ the services of a marketing specialist later down the line, you will be able to enter into that relationship already primed with data and specific objectives to get the ball rolling.
You don’t need to be slick to be successful
Over my career I’ve amassed plenty of evidence that anything is possible if you put yourself out there. That means making yourself visible online as well as in person, but you don’t need the fanciest website money can buy and you certainly don’t have to be on TikTok. A simple, effective website and an active presence on LinkedIn could be all you need for the right people to seek you out.
An introduction to digital marketing for manufacturers
The same goes for face-to-face marketing. With the right preparation and strategy, you can achieve far more with a small stand at an exhibition (or perhaps no stand at all) than shelling out for a big, expensive display with all the bells and whistles.
There are always opportunities waiting for you if you are visible. Several years ago I worked with a second-hand car dealer in the Midlands who received a completely out-of-the-blue website enquiry from someone in Ghana who was looking for four-wheel drive vehicles. Before long, he was exporting 20-40 cars a month to Africa. He had never even considered that exporting was a possibility for him.
Soon afterwards the same car dealer expanded into New Zealand after the country stopped the import of cars from Japan in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster. This time he knew he had the right product, in the right place, at the right time, at the right price, to take advantage of the opportunity. He went on to build a quite phenomenal export business, and it all began because a stranger on the other side of the world found him online.
For a more manufacturing-orientated example, look at Fox Timber in Lancashire – an upgraded website took the business from a position of deteriorating market share during the pandemic to doubling its turnover.