After years of trailing behind other industries, manufacturers are shifting gears and creating buyer-focused digital journeys.
As progressive as their products and processes are, manufacturers have struggled to keep up with digital marketing. They will be quick to embrace new automation machinery, network integration and every other defining feature of Industry 4.0. Yet when it comes to their own websites, which are undoubtedly less intricate than 3D printing and robotic integration, manufacturers have been stuck in the past.
Luckily, this is slowly beginning to change. Websites that were once digital versions of outdated print materials are being replaced with strategic digital journeys that are designed to convert. We spoke with a number of manufacturers to hear their goals and intentions behind their websites, what they’re doing differently compared to what they’ve done in the past and how they’re continually monitoring their efforts and reassessing their digital experiences.
Establish What You Do & Who You Are Right Away
Many manufacturers offer complex products and services that require further explanation. But when someone first visits your website, they don’t want to be hit with the specifics. All they want to know at this point is that they’re in the right place to learn more. Chase Bodor, Inbound Research and Marketing Specialist at Plastics Plus Technology, Inc., explains that, “At the top of the fold I make it clear who we are, what we do and who we do it for.”
In addition to making it clear what you do, an effective website should also convey who you are, as explained by Sue Nordman, President of Obsidian Manufacturing Industries, Inc.: “A website should always project the culture of the business, reflect its mission statement and give the viewer a glimpse of the values of the business as a whole.” What do you stand for and what are your values? What are you doing to impact not only your customers’ lives, but the world as a whole? Once manufacturers establish what they do above the fold, they should be conveying their personality further down the homepage and across other pages such as “About Us,” “Why Choose Us?”, etc.
Make It Easy for Visitors to Navigate & Experience Your Site
Whether it’s a page that loads too slowly, a graphic that isn’t transitioning to mobile or an overwhelming amount of links and pop-ups, there are way more reasons why a visitor will leave your website than stay on it. Unfortunately, even if a manufacturer is the perfect fit for a certain customer, this will often get lost in translation because the company’s website is outdated, cluttered and confusing. In order to keep visitors engaged and moving through the funnel, manufacturers must make their digital journeys as easy and seamless as possible. Organized navigation menus, responsive design that is mobile-friendly and clear call-to-actions are some of the many ways manufacturers are catching up and catering to the user experience.
Bodor discusses the importance of not only providing the right content, but also providing the right guidance:
The most underrated part of building a web page is telling the reader what to do with the information they just received. For example, if your viewer just finished a content piece about crystalline vs semi-crystalline plastics (and we assume it was helpful) you should then give them a direction on what to do now. “Did you find this article helpful? Share with your engineering team by clicking the button below.” Or, “ Do you need further help with selecting the right material for your project? This isn’t something I really thought about when I first built the site, but I’m starting to incorporate that now into other pieces of content.
Don’t assume that visitors know what to do after reading your content. Whether you want them to schedule a call, complete an online contact form or subscribe to your newsletter, include clear call-to-actions on every page of your site.
When revamping their websites and improving the user experience, some companies are drawing from their own personal experiences to separate what’s valuable from what’s offputting. When asked what kind of experience she wants viewers to have on her website, Nordman said, “A positive one! Our marketing team tries to keep in mind their own personal pet peeves with viewing websites when designing or updating them.”
Websites that come across as too boastful, salesy and disruptive will be abandoned for those that provide valuable information without hounding visitors. This brings us to The Golden Rule of digital marketing: to treat visitors the way you would want to be treated.
Show That You Understand Your Customers & Can Solve Their Problems
Throughout their websites, manufacturers must demonstrate a clear understanding of their customers’ challenges and more importantly, how they’re best equipped to solve said challenges.
Rebecca Hart, Marketing Manager at DSI/Dynamic, Inc., explains how her company designs its website to be a valued resource and problem-solving tool:
The ultimate goal is not only to educate viewers about our company and what sets our products apart, but also to help resolve problems. We manufacture eddy current variable speed drives and related equipment, and while so many people are familiar with variable frequency drives, it’s up to us to explain what eddy current is, what it does and why it’s best in certain applications. We use our website for this purpose.
Whether a company produces highly specialized equipment like Hart’s or commoditized products that are integrating more and more technology, manufacturers are often tasked with being educators as much as suppliers. Hart demonstrates how her company’s website not only addresses customers’ problems, but presents a solution that most people don’t even know exists.
Another way manufacturers can quickly connect with customers is by speaking their language right on the website, as explained by Bodor:
When they click on one of these [industry-specific visuals] on the homepage, they are directed to a specific landing page where the top fold is customized to match their language. Someone making medical parts and someone making automotive parts have clearly different goals. I do my best to match our language to those goals.
Since manufacturers often serve several industries, many of them are developing separate industry pages that speak the language of each individual audience. It’s an effective way for manufacturers to create valuable content for each audience as opposed to painting a broad brush with general content that misses the mark for everyone.
Continually Monitor & Reassess
All of the manufacturers we spoke with agreed that continued web maintenance and improvements are absolutely critical. This includes using tools such as Google Analytics to understand how visitors are reaching their sites and interacting with it, meeting regularly as a team to discuss web improvements and continually updating the site with new content, product announcements and important updates.
Slowly but surely, manufacturers are building digital journeys with the understanding that they can’t let their websites sit stagnant as they have in the past. Just as they continually monitor and maintain their production equipment, manufacturers must treat their websites as a valued business asset that, when executed properly, will go to work for you 24/7 as a lead-converting machine.
Paul Kiesche is the President of Aviate Creative, a branding and creative agency with an edge in manufacturing. Paul applies decades of experience and award-winning work in branding and marketing to the manufacturing industry. In addition, Paul is an adjunct professor, speaker and author of branding, graphic design and marketing subjects. His objective is to help educate and grow manufacturers through effective, proven strategies.