The manufacturing industry is not renowned for its great marketing, yet as consumption patterns and consumer expectations are changing, manufacturing will need to get a better grip on its marketing. For a long time, CEOs and CFOs in manufacturing saw marketing as nothing more than a cost centre that had no connection to the business. “Marketing has become the least fluffy part in the manufacturing business,” said my colleague Richard Henry, during a recent conversation. I came away from the conversation with new insight on how manufacturers need to radically rethink the way they are marketing today.
Think customer, not product
Richard Henry has over 30 years’ experience in manufacturing, having worked at various companies in operations, marketing, digital and IT. A lot has changed in that time and has forced the manufacturing industry to adapt. “Traditionally, manufacturers work back to front. Now they need to reverse that. Some of the buyers are millennials now,” said Richard, “and they expect the same customer experience in B2B buying as they do in the B2C experiences in their personal lives. This ranges from finding product info on a website, to getting the order delivered and having visibility on the entire supply chain.” Marketers in manufacturing were traditionally product marketers but are now forced to switch to customer marketing. “This is even more important now that many products are turning into services. In a few years’ time for example we may no longer own cars, but simply get picked up by a different car every day, as automotive suppliers move to a service-based model.”
Develop a vision
To focus on the customer, you need to develop a vision. “In the nineties, we had less data to base our marketing on. It would sometimes take several months before we were able to analyse the results of a marketing campaign.” Thanks to digitisation, that has changed, and marketers can now get feedback much faster.
“Companies that used to do mail order have easily made the switch. This is because customer focus and data management have always been part of their DNA.” Becoming customer focused means doing research to understand the customer journey. What content are prospects consuming? What channels do they use? How do they purchase? “The use of data in manufacturing traditionally relates to improving the internal operations. This feedback loop now also needs to be applied to data collected from customer behaviour,” said Richard.
Hire the right people
To make the switch to customer centricity, manufacturing will need to attract new blood. “When you’re graduating from university and have different work options, a job in manufacturing usually doesn’t top the list,” said Richard. “And the compensation and benefits that the industry pays, doesn’t help either.” Manufacturing needs marketers now who can perform research, analyse the data and adapt their marketing to cater to customer needs and behaviour. “Manufacturing could use a dose of innovation, for instance, by applying new technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence or using augmented reality to enhance the customer experience.”
Get yourself a single source of truth
To put the customer first, we need pertinent, up-to-date data. “Manufacturing should focus on gathering data from their customers and incorporate that in a CRM system to get a 360 view on customers.” While manufacturing companies have enormous amounts of data, especially with the advent of the Internet of Things, most of this data has an internal focus. “This also means that most of the data is buried in ERP systems or spreadsheets. In this day and age, many manufacturers still have most of their inventory management hidden in an Excel file, believe it or not. I would urge any manufacturing company to invest in a platform that holds all data on customers, on marketing, on billing,…” Successful manufacturers have a streamlined operation that starts with getting data from prospects and customers, and the right tools to support the business processes.
To some companies, putting the customer first will be easier than for others. Component manufacturers that are a few steps removed from the end user, are having a hard time in adapting to customer centricity. They too will need to develop a vision, focus on customer experience, hire the right talent and acquire the right tooling.