Published on 2019-11-15

The economy is strong, but manufacturing is in a recession. These five strategies can help you retool marketing to meet the challenge.

manufacturing marketers strategy

Manufacturing marketers have the opportunity to hit the reset button for their 2020 strategy.

November 14, 2019

By Aaron Horowitz, Vice President, Business Development, R2i

Despite the economy’s current strength, the manufacturing industry is in a recession according to some analysts who report manufacturers are struggling to acquire new customers and keep current business afloat. The Institute for Supply Management’s Factory Index also indicates that manufacturing activity is at its lowest point since the Great Recession.

As the new year approaches, it’s a good time to look at how your marketing channels performed last year and determine how you’ll need to step up your game in 2020. It’s also the right time to consider fresh perspectives that can improve customer acquisition. Here are five suggestions to retool your marketing strategy in 2020:

1. Shift from a product-centric to a customer-centric mindset. For a variety of reasons, including the fact that most manufacturers sell through distributor or dealer networks instead of directly to customers, it’s easy for manufacturers to focus on product features rather than customer pain points. Now’s the time to turn that model inside out.

Manufacturers should sell solutions, not products. To a fleet owner who’s buying trucks, a pitch that focuses on “uptime” is more appealing than marketing copy praising the vehicle’s “high-performance engine.” More broadly, customers should be centered in product development, R&D, etc. The “Voice of the Customer” matters now more than ever.

2. Focus on the customer journey. When done right, marketing should help take the friction out of making a purchase. Products are more complex today, and the sales cycle has lengthened. People possess more information about products on more channels than ever before, but ironically, that makes buying even more challenging.

  • As outlined by Gartner, a buyer enablement approach that provides “prescriptive advice” and “practical support” can remove the friction from the purchase. Forget the hard sell; leveraging a digital agency and technology partners to execute techniques like analytics and insights, journey mapping and identifying buying moments can point the way to influencer marketing strategies that bear fruit, even in a tough market.

3. Embrace your data. Manufacturers have access to a ton of data. As a marketer, you can leverage it to sell products more effectively. If you’re selling appliances that have AI embedded in the product, then your company receives copious data on usage and the product lifecycle. You can leverage this information to create marketing material that sells value.

Data is also a great way to bring customers deeper into your product portfolio and give them a role in driving innovation. Buyers are hungry for content, and with data, you can facilitate their decision-making in a meaningful way with data-driven tools like ROI calculators and other marketing material that focuses on the user experience.

4. Evaluate your technology stack. Boards and CEOs tend to be more focused on driving revenue than burnishing brands these days. The CMO role is changing — in some companies, it is even giving way to CROs who are focused on driving shareholder value. CMOs who want to keep their jobs need to embrace revenue accountability.

In this environment, it’s a good idea to evaluate the martech stack and make sure it’s delivering the reporting and insights you need to prove you’re delivering revenue. If you’re a performance-driven marketer who can demonstrate that you’re contributing to the bottom line, you’ll have job security, even in a recessionary environment.

5. Tell a new story about an established company. One of the toughest marketing challenges manufacturers face is how to make or keep strong heritage brands relevant in a transformed business environment. Technology and globalization have changed the manufacturing sector and upended the competitive landscape.

If you’re facing this dilemma, think about how to tell your company’s story in contemporary terms. Look at it from the buyer’s perspective — both the dealer or distributor and the end customer. Look for new ways to connect with those customers and have a way to complete the following sentence: “We’re still relevant because _______.”

No one can predict what the new year will bring with 100% accuracy, but in the short term at least, manufacturers will be marketing in a tough economy. That’s why it’s a good idea to evaluate the fundamentals of your strategy now and make changes to up your game in 2020. A revenue-focused approach is the key regardless of how economic factors play out.

Overall, the main takeaway is manufacturing marketers are selling value, not products. Keep the customer at the center of all your outreach, embrace data and technology, and tell a story that conveys the value your products deliver. When you take this approach, you can retool your marketing strategy to compete and win in the year ahead.

aaron horowitz r2i

Aaron Horowitz

About the Author
Aaron Horowitz serves as Vice President Business Development at R2i, a digital agency that helps marketers create more awareness, build deeper relationships, and drive measurable impact. Over the course of his career, Horowitz successfully led client development and growth for a number of award-winning agencies and has worked with many category leading challenger brands, including Beam Suntory, BCBS NC, Chicago Board of Trade, Coca-Cola, FedEx, Discover, Global Hyatt, NYSE, Highmark, Procter & Gamble, United Airlines, Sears, and Voya. He holds a BA in communications from Columbia.