Marketers in the industrial space continue to face a number of significant challenges this year, most notably that their budgets have been cut; their target audience often isn't buying; and they're under more pressure than ever to prove—and improve—marketing ROI.
As a result, industrial marketers are heavily focused on lead generation and customer acquisition, said Chris Chariton, VP-marketing services and product management at GlobalSpec, a search engine and information resource for the engineering, industrial and technical communities. In fact, according to the company's annual Industrial Marketing Trends Survey, conducted during the first quarter of this year, 73% of respondents said customer acquisition or lead generation was their primary marketing goal. (The survey had 555 respondents—sales and marketing executives representing a variety of company sizes, with annual marketing budgets less than $50,000 to more than $1 million).
“When times are bad, things a lot of times shift from a branding perspective over to a lead-generation and hard-bottom-line focus on generating revenue for the company,” Chariton said. “So we've certainly seen that as a top priority.”
Mark Rentschler, marketing manager at Makino, a global manufacturer of machine tools, said his company's goal is to find customers and prospects that are ready to buy equipment. “Even though we may continue to operate a fully integrated campaign, which includes all facets of print media, PR, events and so forth, we're focused on finding ways to reach those that are willing and able to purchase equipment at this time,” he said.
For Makino, one of the most important ways to find those buyers—or rather, to be found by them—is on search engines, Rentschler said. “I think a studious and effective search engine optimization program is absolutely vital in today's world, given the way in which the engineering community now hunts for information,” he said. “That is a requirement for marketers today.”
Providing potential buyers with extensive information about products and services is critical, said Susan Orr, senior director of strategic marketing at ThomasNet, an online destination for buyers of industrial products and services. “Suppliers that don't have the content, the functionality and the searching capabilities to help buyers find what they need online and make a decision to buy are going to lose out,” she said.
That product and service information should be easy to find and in multiple formats, said Brandon Rhoten, account supervisor at Cincinnati-based b-to-b marketing agency GyroHSR, Makino's agency of record. “[Potential buyers] aren't just seeking a brochure or just one contact. They're really seeking a whole host of information because they know they can't purchase today; or, if they can purchase today, they have to be very, very careful with their dollars—so their selection has to be backed up with volumes of solid information,” he said.
Makino and GyroHSR have made an effort to provide every type of information a prospect could want, he said. “If they're looking for information via Twitter, we're there. If they're looking for information that's video-based, we've got a webinar to help fulfill that. If they want a technical article, we have that,” he said.
A manufacturer's Web site is a critical piece of the equation, said Mike Hannigan, managing partner of Koch Group Inc., an industrial marketing consulting company that works with small and midsize manufacturers and industrial service providers. “Today, if you don't have a site that will rank [high on search engine results pages] and provide information buyers are searching for, or if the site isn't easy to use, you're making a big mistake,” he said. “It works 24/7, 365 days a year; and you're not going to get a salesperson to do that. It's a tremendous tool if used properly.”
In addition to having rich, in-depth content, a manufacturer's site must load quickly, be user-friendly and be easy to read, Hannigan said. He advises against using Flash intro pages. “In the manufacturing world, more than 98% of people tell us they skip it immediately,” he said.
Orr said ThomasNet recommends that clients evaluate their Web site the same way they would a sales representative. “You have metrics for your top salespeople—they need to sell this much to this target market, what the average sale is, how long did it take for that sale to be made, etc.,” she said. “We recommend to our clients they look at their Web site in the same way. What do you expect the Web site to contribute to the bottom line? What are the metrics associated with it being successful?”
Webinars have been particularly effective for Makino, Rentschler said. The company has run more than 100 webinars in the past three years and houses them in a library on its site. Makino hopes to expand this program going forward, Rentschler said.