Ep. 102 | Bringing Modern Marketing to the Manufacturing Industry

This week we chat with Bruce McDuffee, founder and CEO of the Manufacturing Marketing Group, who believes there is the window of opportunity for marketers working in the manufacturing industry by adopting modern marketing practices such as content marketing, marketing automation, lead scoring and more.

Bruce has been in sales and marketing in industrial companies for the past 25 years, some of it as marketing director with a global corporation and others with smaller companies. And for the last four years, he has been on his own as a marketing consultant and a marketing services provider focusing on the manufacturing industry.

Picture of Bruce McDuffee for the Rethink Marketing Podcast where he talks about modern marketing in the manufacturing industry

This transcript has been edited for length. To get the full measure, listen to the podcast.

How have manufacturers marketed, historically? 

Nathan: Historically can you tell us what marketing meant to manufacturers?

Bruce: Marketing is interesting in manufacturing. Because when you talk to manufacturers and say, tell me about your marketing program, it’s always the same. It’s trade shows, print ads, and maybe some Google AdWords for the more advanced. And Nathan, the sad truth is that this is a lost opportunity. Because those manufacturers who can embrace what I call modern marketing, using modern tools and modern buyer’s tactics, there’s a huge opportunity there.

And it’s a paradigm shift from marketing being the folks in the back who set up the shows, and make the brochures, and maybe edit the web pages, to having marketing be a strategy component of the business, which there’s so much power there, it’s really an opportunity.

Nathan: What do you think the reason for that might be? Is it they just don’t have a dedicated marketing team? Or is it just they’re doing it because that’s the way they’ve always done it?

Bruce: Well, if you think about the history of manufacturing, many times it’s somebody comes up with a product, so they have an opportunity to make a product, and they build a business around that product. And in the past, let’s say before 2000, they didn’t need marketing. All they needed was a good product that suited somebody’s needs, and they needed a network. And that’s how a lot of these manufacturing companies were built. So, they didn’t need a proper marketing strategy, or a way to connect with the buyers, or a way to increase awareness or engagement. It wasn’t needed. They just needed a sales team, a good product, and usually the owner’s or the founder’s network.

But then we got the internet. And how do we all buy these days? We buy, the first thing we do is we do a search on Google or Bing or whatever. That’s the disconnect. Because the manufacturers aren’t present there to get that engagement or they’re not good at it. And that’s really the reason behind it.

Check out our additional related content:

The Ultimate Lead Management Playbook

What is a modern marketer?

Nathan: It’s interesting too, because you mentioned there are some manufacturing marketers that are savvy to this and they’re expanding the base. So, your network is being infringed upon by somebody that might live geographically in another state or in another country. If you’re not being a modern marketer, your competition is taking that opportunity.

Bruce: Exactly.

Nathan: When we talk about being a modern marketer, what do you see that being?

Bruce: It’s mostly about the way you engage with the buyers. Because as I just mentioned, when any of us make a considered purchase, either personally or for a business, the first thing we do is search for information. Now in the old days, let’s say in the 1990s, the sales team, or the distributor, or the reseller, owned the information. And the only way for the buyer to get the information was to engage with a salesperson, call them up, ‘Hey can you come out and see me?,’ ask them what’s new in the industry, and all that.

Now, the information is available with a search. So those very manufacturing companies who share that critical information — and it’s not just the product, it’s the information about solving the buyer’s problems. The manufacturer who shares that information, they’re going to get found. If somebody’s searching for whatever the problem is, need a meter for a level gauge in a 100,000 gallon tank. The company who says, here’s how you measure a level in a 100,000 gallon tank, is going to get found. The one who just says, here’s the specs for my level gauge, is not going to get found. And that’s the big difference. And the sales team can’t do it anymore by themselves. Because they can’t scale. But that type of search engine optimization, that can scale. And that’s the big difference.

Bruce: Well, certainly the big B2B or business to consumer manufacturers got it down. The biggest of the big is Apple, of course. Yeah, we’re not going to tell them how to market. They’ve got millions of dollars, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars for marketing, and they’ve got hundreds and hundreds of people. So yeah, let’s set them aside. But we’re talking about say a B2B manufacturer, anywhere from a couple of million dollars in revenue, to say 500 million in revenue, maybe even a billion.

I don’t see a difference. For the most part a very small percentage are doing what I call this modern marketing strategy. Most of them, all of them, have a website, and on that website they’ve got their product specifications, maybe some information about the company, and that’s it. And frankly for the folks out there listening, nobody cares about your product, nobody cares about your company, right? What do they care about? They care about what it means to them. They care about their problems that they face every day. So manufacturers any size, any industry, who can address that, are going to win.

And that’s the key. It’s tenuous right now because most manufacturers aren’t doing it. So those who can jump in and market by sharing expertise, and not pitching that product, those first movers will kill it in their space. So I guess to answer your question, Nathan, other than the big B2C companies, I see it across the board, most, probably 95 maybe even more percent are just still marketing the old way.

How have manufacturers used content marketing?

Nathan: Interesting. We were introduced via the Content Marketing Institute, the folks behind the annual B2B manufacturing content marketing survey. And so my question is really, how have manufacturers used content marketing? Can you talk about successes, challenges or growth opportunities?

Bruce: Sure. That’s an interesting survey. And the way CMI does it is they send out an email and they invite people to participate. And the result of that I think roughly, correct me if I’m wrong, Nathan, but I think about around 87 percent of the people who responded to that survey said, yes, we’re using content marketing. And I think roughly 35 percent consider themselves effective.

But really I think it’s doubtful. And the reason I think it’s doubtful is, number one, there’s a self-reporting bias. People are going to reply to that survey if they have something positive to say. I don’t think too many are going to reply and say, nope, not doing it, we’re terrible at it. [LAUGHTER] And then the other question is, what is content marketing? If a manufacturer out there has a blog, or has done a couple of webinars, or put a couple of white papers up on their website, they think they’re doing content marketing. But they’re not. Because content marketing, it’s a strategy, it’s a philosophy, it’s almost a culture about sharing that expertise to gain that engagement and that awareness. And a lot of white papers, about the product, about the company. It’s not going to work.

So that’s kind of how I feel about it. I think there’s still a huge opportunity for manufacturers with content marketing. And I advocate it with all my clients. You’ve gotta be sharing that expertise with your content. That’s how you engage and that’s how you can win.

Nathan: It goes back to what you were saying, solving the problem. It’s not about your product, it’s about how your product solves your customer’s problem.

Bruce: And I can give you an example, Nathan.

Nathan: Sure, absolutely. I love examples.

Bruce: One of my clients makes measurement instruments for humidity. And most people don’t even think about this. But yeah, it’s very important for companies like drug manufacturing or electronics manufacturing. And this company, I was actually the marketing director, it wasn’t a client, I was the marketing director for this company. And everything was about product. We’re going to put the accuracy spec, the drift spec, all these different specifications. We get a new product, here it is, it’s a box with a probe on it, and here’s the spec. And it didn’t work.

So we dug into the audience and we said, okay, what does this audience struggle with? We found out that our audience has a really hard time measuring humidity. It’s a hard measurement to make. So we said, why is it hard? And the answer was because they don’t understand the science. So we said, okay, let’s stop talking about the product, stop pitching the product, let’s share with our audience, let’s share how they can understand the parameter.

So we did some webinars, some papers about here’s the science of relative humidity. And it was a huge success. So a product promotion example, we would get maybe — let’s say we get 25 clicks on an ad for the product. We promoted this webinar that here’s how you understand humidity theory, we got 600 people to click on that ad. That’s the difference.

Nathan: That’s fantastic. And it’s really something once you can start answering that question, you can create all sorts of different types of content around that. You can build whole campaigns around it. Fantastic.

Bruce: I could give another quick example if you want.

Nathan:  Yeah, absolutely.

Bruce: If we have time, yeah. This was a client of mine up in Massachusetts. And they make a digital meter — I sort of alluded to it earlier in the podcast — digital meter that measures all different types of measurement. Could be a 100,000 gallon tank, it could be flow, it could be anything like that. And it’s just a meter. Looks like a little box with some numbers on it. Pretty boring. And they were pushing that out in webinars every week. Here’s our new product, here’s how it works. And they would get maybe 10 or 12 people to sign up for these webinars.

So we dug into their audience. We found out one of the big challenges with their audience is they don’t understand how to wire these instruments or these meters. And it was called a 4 to 20 milliamp current loop, is the way it’s done. So they said, well everybody knows 4 to 20 milliamps, it’s easy. You just hook up a couple of wires on both ends and boom you’re done. And I said, well you’re getting a lot of questions at technical support about how to do it. Let’s try a webinar on 4 to 20 milliamp, how it works. They got 643 people to sign up for that webinar. There’s a thirst for that type of basic information. ‘Cause that was a problem. They solved the problem, said here’s how you can solve your problem. That’s what the audience wants.

How does a manufacturer become a modern marketer?

Nathan:  Wow. I love that example. When you’re thinking about the modern marketer, and if we’re thinking about just manufacturing businesses and how they can start taking advantage of these opportunities that you believe are there, how do they build that modern marketer? What does that team look like for them?

Bruce: Sure. That’s a great question. And it’s a challenge for manufacturers because it requires money and resources. And typically what you see now or what I see now is that most manufacturers, let’s say 20 employees, even up to 200 employees, looking at that size, believe it or not they might have one person who’s on the marketing team. And that person has to do everything for the so-called marketing tactics, which is very challenging.

So I suggest to manufacturers, let’s get rid of the marketing team, let’s get rid of the sales team, get rid of those names. And let’s make a revenue team. And the revenue team consists of people who happen to go out and visit with customers and do the bottom of the funnel actions, if you will. And it includes people who do the engagement, get attention and awareness to generate the leads. And let’s put them all on the same team under one leader who understands both sales and marketing, and make it that way. And the key to effective marketing function is you gotta have a leader of the function who again understands the sales part, understands the marketing strategy part, not just the tactics, but the strategy too, and who has a seat at the leadership table.

So when the CEO comes in, says hey, we’re not getting enough business, what’s wrong? Instead of the salesperson saying, well let’s just hire a bunch more salespeople, or let’s put some more money into this, the marketing person who’s good can sit back and say, well let’s talk about our audience, what kind of things are they facing, what kind of challenges do they face, and let’s build some engagement strategies around that.  So it’s kind of a general answer, but that’s my vision.

Nathan: I love it. Well it’s always important to have someone at the executive sort of level having support and sort of direction, whether it’s done internally or externally. And if they’re not able to build that revenue team, what are your thoughts on manufacturers seeking out outside help, that freelancers, or an agency, or a consultant like yourself? What should they be thinking about as they bring on some of this expertise?

Bruce: That’s definitely a viable alternative. Obviously that’s how I make my living, is offering services on a freelance basis. And the thing you wanna ask when you’re looking for a consultant in marketing or anything in manufacturing, is you wanna talk to somebody who understands the manufacturing, not so much making a product, but the engagement with the audience, someone who understands maybe the difference between a direct sales force, and reps, and resellers, and distributors, and understands how that product moves from the manufacturing and out to the actual end user, and someone who can address that. So someone who understands manufacturing.

Because it is, it’s different than IT or banking or real estate. And it depends on where the manufacturer is on their journey to their marketing function. If they just had one person, like I mentioned, who sets up the trade shows and does the brochures, you wanna think about hiring somebody who can give that strategic input, and even help the company formulate how they’re going to build an internal marketing team.

And then when somebody’s looking for a freelancer marketer or an outsourced marketer, they should ask themselves, what do I want out of this, what are my goals and objectives,  and can this person deliver on those, and then dig in even deeper. Is the person tech savvy, understands marketing automation, and CRM, and how that works to engage with the audience. Those are a few things.

Nathan:  Interesting. Is there any — I think we’re just kind of wrapping up — anything else that you think I should ask that I didn’t ask?

Bruce:  Well I guess to sum up I would say manufacturers out there, there’s a window of opportunity open right now. Not sure how long it’s going tobe open because manufacturers aren’t catching on to the idea of content marketing and sharing expertise. It’s slowly catching on, but it is catching on. So now is your opportunity. Think about the lean manufacturing back in the ’80s. And Toyota was coming in and revolutionizing the way the operations went. And many manufacturers in the US were slow to adopt that. Because it was different and some even thought it would pass. But those who did adopt it quickly did become much more efficient, they had higher profitability, and they really had a great opportunity during that window to gain a competitive advantage over their laggard competitors who didn’t adopt it.

It’s the same thing with marketing today. Now is the opportunity. This is like lean and Six Sigma was back in the ’80s. This is your opportunity to really step up and advance your marketing practice. And you can take market share. I’ve seen it over and over. Companies who can adopt this sharing expertise and not pitching the product for engagement, you can kill it right now. Huge opportunity.

Nathan: That’s awesome. If anyone wants to learn more about you and the Manufacturing Marketing Group, what can they do?

Bruce: Best thing to do is visit my website. It’s www.mmmatters.com. It’s short for Manufacturing Marketing Matters. And we focus on the B2B manufacturers. And the two biggest pain points my audience has is lack of awareness and not enough leads. And these are two things specifically that I can help manufacturers with. And a lot of manufacturers are frustrated with traditional marketing. They’re frustrated that it’s not working. And there’s some really specific reasons why it’s not working. We can help there. Check out my blog, it’s called Marketing Tips for Manufacturers. And I have my own podcast, it’s called Manufacturing Marketing Matters. There’s 90 episodes on the website .And folks can listen to those.

Nathan: That’s great. Hey, Bruce, I appreciate your time today. And I thank you for being on the Rethink Marketing podcast.

Bruce: You bet. Thanks for inviting me.