Navigating the Digital Landscape: Industrial Marketing Challenges Faced by Manufacturers
In this Article
Selling industrial products today is harder than ever before. Manufacturers must keep up with rapidly changing customer needs and preferences, not to mention new technologies transforming every industry. As such, digital marketing presents vast opportunities but also unique hurdles for industrial companies.
Many industrial product marketers struggle with the transition and stumble when trying to adapt their strategies. From limited expertise in digital channels to creating content that resonates, manufacturers face obstacles not often seen in consumer marketing. In this article, we’ll dive into the core industrial marketing challenges encountered in the digital age and discuss practical solutions to overcome them. Specifically, this discussion will be invaluable to individuals seeking answers to questions like: How can manufacturers connect with customers in a crowded online space? What does effective content look like for the industrial audience? How can data and new information systems give an edge? Let’s do it!
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What Is Industrial Product Marketing?
Industrial product marketing encompasses the strategies and tactics manufacturers use to promote and sell goods intended for commercial, institutional, or governmental use – rather than for personal consumption. This includes heavy equipment, components, materials, and supplies used in complex manufacturing or construction processes.
For decades, manufacturers have relied on traditional channels to market and showcase their wares, and this approach mostly worked. But as the world matches towards complete digitization, industrial product marketers have come under immense pressure to revamp strategies to address industrial marketing challenges. To illustrate how manufacturers don’t have a choice in shifting the marketing approach to meet changing preferences, a recent McKinsey report revealed that although most business-to-business (B2B) buyers want an omnichannel approach to interactions with manufacturers, they prefer digital channels to traditional. Today, industrial product marketing is largely digital. This is essential because it helps manufacturers reach a wider audience and maximize their market share while overcoming industrial marketing challenges. However, to be effective, the strategy must be built on understanding the unique needs and challenges of B2B customers. The strategy must also effectively communicate the value proposition of the showcased products.
Industrial product marketing is more challenging than consumer marketing and involves more complex workflows. For instance, the latter includes longer sales cycles, centralized purchasing power, limited consumer brand power, and highly technical/complex products. Let’s see how ToolMaster, a hypothetical power tools manufacturer, navigates the industrial product marketing process to make sense of it.
The company typically follows these key steps, though the length of each stage varies considerably based on the product and customer:
- Lead generation – ToolMaster identifies potential organizational buyers through research and outreach.
- Lead nurturing – The company provides valuable content to prospective clients to establish expertise. This may include guides on selecting the right power tools, maintenance tips, and total cost of ownership comparisons. The goal is to provide value and gather insights into the prospect’s needs.
- Relationship building – Sales representatives connect directly with key decision makers at target accounts to understand pain points and keep the company top of mind. Numerous contacts are made over an extended period well before any sales discussions take place.
- Needs assessment – The sales team works with the prospect to fully assess their needs and map how the company’s products can save costs and accomplish goals. Extensive discussions around specifications, budget, testing, etc., take place.
- Proposal – Using the needs assessment, the company crafts a detailed proposal with recommended power tool models, prices, financing, maintenance contracts, training services, etc., explicitly tailored to the customer.
- Negotiation – The purchasing team may negotiate on price, servicing, or financing terms before agreeing to a final deal. Legal teams may get involved to review contract details.
- Purchase – Upon signing a contract, the customer adds the ToolMaster’s products to their approved supplier list. Tools get deployed across their facilities either as one large upfront purchase or staggered over time.
- Ongoing service – To win repeat business, the company provides high-touch service, support, and maintenance well beyond the initial sale.
In a nutshell, the industrial marketing process typically involves extensive lead nurturing and relationship-building with potential B2B buyers. Most importantly, marketers create targeted content and run campaigns to connect with key decision-makers well before any sales discussions occur. Building trust and expertise is critical.
However, as mentioned previously, some may find the current digital landscape challenging. For example, ToolMaster’s marketers may suddenly discover that the neatly organized marketing process is too slow to compete with more digital-savvy competitors. But what specific challenges can the company’s marketers expect when facing industrial marketing challenges?
Challenges Faced by Manufacturers in Industrial Marketing
1. Lack of Digital Marketing Expertise
Many manufacturers struggle to market their products effectively online due to a lack of digital marketing skills and expertise. This can put them at a significant disadvantage compared to competitors who have invested more heavily in these capabilities. Several factors contribute to this challenge, including:
- Rapidly evolving digital landscape – From social media to SEO to content marketing, the digital arena evolves quickly. As such, the manufacturers without the relevant expertise in-house struggle to keep up.
- Redirecting traditional marketing budgets – Shifting budgets from traditional channels like events and print ads to digital requires new mindsets and skills that take time to build. However, massive changes are happening in this area. Over the past decade, industrial marketers in the United States (and indeed globally) have consistently increased digital marketing budget allocation while cutting the funds for traditional channels. The average digital marketing budget increased by 8.2% as of February 2023, while traditional advertising spending fell by 2.6%.
- Fragmented customer journey – Buyers use so many touchpoints during their research process that orchestrating a cohesive digital strategy is hugely challenging without expertise.
Without urgent efforts to build digital marketing capabilities, manufacturers will continue to lag behind their competition and fail to maximize the potential of online channels. Investing in digital skills and talent acquisition should be a top priority.
2. Difficulty in Creating Engaging Content
Creating content that resonates with target audiences is one of the prerequisites for success in industrial marketing, yet many manufacturers struggle with these industrial marketing challenges. Developing informative and engaging content can be strenuous without the proper strategy and execution.
One prominent content challenge marketers encounter is appropriately understanding the target audience. B2B buyers have complex needs, technical knowledge, and specific pain points. So, your content strategy must be solid enough to pique their interest. For example, consider a ToolMaster customer who wants power tools for their lumber business. They have been in business for years, during which they designed standards for the tools they need. For ToolMaster’s content to resonate with the customer, it must align with their unique interests and mindset. Put simply, without in-depth buyer persona research, manufacturers risk creating generic content.
Another issue is focusing too much on product capabilities rather than value. While it’s essential to outline what your products can do, features and technical specs will not inspire or engage customers alone. Instead, content must convey a compelling value proposition tailored to what the target audience cares about most – like total cost reduction, increased efficiency, etc.
Many manufacturers also fall into the trap of overly self-promotional content. While it’s important to communicate competitive differentiators, appearing overly sales-y will turn off B2B buyers. Other common mistakes include using excessively technical jargon the audience won’t understand, straying from problems they actually face, and improper distribution through channels they don’t engage with.
Creating standout content for the industrial sector takes resources many manufacturers lack. But the payoff can be immense for those willing to invest in understanding their audience, conveying actual value, and mastering promotional content that attracts rather than repels amidst these industrial marketing challenges.
3. Limited Access to Customer Data
If you may recall, we stated earlier that industrial product marketing is nothing like consumer marketing. The latter is less challenging because it is easy to deal with individual consumers. Plus, marketers can anticipate many things (such as changes in tastes) because there is plenty of data on individual consumers. However, this is not the case with B2B customers.
Many B2B sellers struggle to access robust customer data, severely hindering their marketing efforts. Unlike consumer brands that can purchase demographic and psychographic data, B2B customer data is much more difficult to obtain, limiting industrial product marketers’ ability to personalize and target campaigns. A few key factors contribute to this data challenge:
- Organizational buyers are tight-lipped – they do not readily share details on their pain points, budgets, processes, etc.; therefore, convincing them to open up requires trust built over time.
- Limited shared databases – there are few industry-wide sources of aggregated B2B customer data akin to consumer data brokers. As such, companies must build their own customer intelligence.
- Silos within client organizations – manufacturers may interact with only one department, limiting the view of broader needs.
- Channel conflicts – Distributors often obstruct data gathering from end customers to protect their role.
- Privacy concerns – Businesses don’t want competitors learning about their suppliers, workflows, etc., so they hesitate to provide data.
Without access to detailed data on their customers and prospects, industrial marketers struggle to identify key decision-makers, tailor messaging, set accurate budgets, and quantify campaign ROI. Ultimately, every aspect of digital marketing becomes more challenging.
4. Inaccurate or Incomplete Product Data
Even the manufacturer with the smallest product catalog deals with thousands of products at any given time. If the product information is not well-managed, the marketing team may face severe difficulties in utilizing the data to support their digital marketing efforts. But precisely how does this challenge unfold? Let’s consider ToolMaster’s problems with inaccurate and incomplete data:
- The product details reside in various Excel files, legacy databases, CAD systems, and desktop publishing files across the organization. There is no central product information management (PIM) system to provide a “single source of truth.”
- Specs and feature information don’t sync automatically between engineering data and marketing collateral. Brochures or web pages often have outdated power ratings, dimensions, or compositions.
- The marketing team has to manually cross-check inventory databases, packaging details, warranty info, and compliance documentation to piece together complete data for a specific product SKU. This is hugely tedious and error-prone.
- The company’s global distribution partners frequently tweak product descriptions and specs in their localized portals without notifying the marketing team. They’ve found conflicting details on their own website vs. distributor sites.
- Disorganized media assets like product photos, videos, and manuals make finding suitable files for a campaign difficult. Tracking down the most updated versions is a constant battle.
- With incomplete data, the marketing team struggles to accurately complete lead profiling, build targeted campaign lists, properly tag products, and populate analytics dashboards to derive insights.
Otherwise stated, ToolMaster’s ability to market goods accurately and efficiently is severely impeded by the following factors:
- Reliance on outdated legacy systems like spreadsheets that lack the flexibility to capture comprehensive product attributes.
- The absence of a centralized product information management system leads to scattered, disjointed data.
- Overreliance on error-prone manual data entry done inconsistently across departments.
- Failure to maintain and update data as products evolve over their lifecycle.
- Complex manufacturing processes lead to gaps between engineering designs and as-built products.
- Distribution partners make unauthorized data changes outside the manufacturer’s view.
- Lack of data governance processes and controls to ensure accuracy.
Overcoming the Challenges
1. Invest in Digital Marketing Expertise
The name of the game in today’s highly digitized business world is developing deeper digital marketing expertise. There is no alternative to this strategy because, according to McKinsey, eCommerce is the most popular and effective sales route for B2B companies. B2B buyers have found much to like in digital sales, and there is no way anyone would want to go back to legacy business interactions. Therefore, developing more profound digital marketing expertise must become a top priority for manufacturers who wish to succeed in the digital age. While acquiring these new capabilities will require investment, the long-term payoff can be transformational.
There are a few key ways manufacturers can start building their expertise:
- Implement robust training programs – Formal certifications and informal hands-on training are crucial for getting existing marketing teams up to speed on digital strategies.
- Hire dedicated digital talent – Recruiting younger professionals native to digital channels, data analytics, and technical tools is vital.
- Learn from other industries – Retail, software, and financial services companies often have more mature digital practices. Adapting their strategies to industrial scenarios can provide a head start.
- Partner with digital marketing agencies – Agencies can provide support and knowledge transfer to build in-house capabilities over time.
- Emphasize company-wide digital literacy – Basic digital skills must extend beyond the marketing department.
- Provide ongoing learning opportunities – Digital is constantly evolving, so an institutional commitment to continuous skills development is required to keep pace.
2. Focus on Creating Engaging Content
Creating content that genuinely engages and resonates with target audiences is crucial for success in industrial marketing. To overcome common content challenges, manufacturers need to take a strategic, customer-centric approach:
- Conduct in-depth buyer persona research – Get to know organizational decision-makers and their values, pain points, and content preferences. This provides the foundation for relevance.
- Map the customer journey – Identify key stages prospects go through and content needs for each to create a tailored content strategy. Align topics to each stage.
- Highlight industry expertise – Showcase deep category and application knowledge versus focusing solely on product features to establish thought leadership.
- Co-create content with customers – Collaborate with clients to create content like case studies, eBooks, and webinars that directly address their needs.
- Promote customer success – Spotlight specific customer use cases that focus on their achievements enabled by your products vs. overt brand promotion.
- Leverage influencers – Engage industry experts, editors, and academics and lead users to lend credibility and perspective.
- Use multimedia formats – Combine engaging styles like video, podcasts, and interactive tools with traditional formats.
- Optimize for search visibility – Target relevant buyer keywords in headlines, text, URLs, and image names. Follow SEO best practices.
- Distribute on targeted platforms – Go beyond your own channels to engage target audiences where they consume content, including social media.
- Test and optimize – Analyze engagement metrics on content to identify high-performing styles and topics to produce more of. Iteratively improve content.
3. Leverage Customer Data
Access to robust customer data represents a significant opportunity for manufacturers to improve marketing performance, even if extracting these insights requires creative strategies. To build a rich customer data asset, companies should leverage tools like:
- CRM systems aggregate transactional data, contacts, and interactions in one place. Integrations with marketing automation and analytics tools are crucial to maximize value.
- Customer surveys and win/loss analysis to gather feedback directly from the source on needs, decision factors, and satisfaction.
- Support and service call logs to uncover pain points and improvement opportunities.
- Industry forums and social media listening to gain broader market intelligence.
- Co-marketing partnerships with distribution channels to share insights while respecting confidentiality.
Segmenting customers based on key attributes like industry, size, and technology adoption enables more targeted messaging. Thankfully, most tools, such as CRM systems, have built-in analytics tools to help derive insights from the data.
Equally important is structuring processes, teams, and incentives to foster a customer data-driven culture. Industrial product marketers can:
- Institute unified data governance policies for quality and security.
- Break down data silos by sharing key reports and dashboards cross-department.
- Motivate employees to gather and leverage data through training and performance evaluation.
- Develop customer advisory panels to provide direct data access in a structured format.
While obtaining rich customer data presents very real challenges in B2B scenarios, manufacturers who focus on extracting maximum value from the information they can gather will gain a competitive edge. The potential to inform highly targeted marketing strategies makes the effort more than worthwhile.
4. Implement a Single Source of Truth for Product Data
One of the critical questions this discussion aimed to settle was how data and new information systems can give industrial product marketers an edge in addressing industrial marketing challenges. Just as ToolMaster contends with data inaccuracy and incompleteness issues, most manufacturers face the problems and are hard-pressed to find solutions. Those who fail to solve the issues can never dream of a successful marketing campaign in the current business environment.
We learned that ToolMaster’s marketers face several challenges, including reliance on outdated legacy product content management systems (which do not provide the ability to centralize information management and require manual data entry), failure to keep product data current, unauthorized data changes, and the absence of proper data governance processes. With problems like these, no manufacturer can survive the digital landscape for two primary reasons: 1) the legacy systems introduce too many quality issues that adversely impact customer experience, affecting sales, and 2) many successful manufacturers who have adapted well leverage new information systems like PIM and digital asset management (DAM) solutions to deliver unmatched value to customers amidst industrial marketing challenges.
Simply put, the required solution for this problem is a robust PIM solution that combines all product content into a central repository, ensuring anyone with the proper credentials can access the most up-to-date information. Let’s revisit ToolMaster and see how the marketers can surmount the issues. To address the challenges, ToolMaster can acquire a PIM tool to gather and manage product information. However, marketers may want to use a tool that offers more extensive functionalities, such as a built-in DAM solution, to streamline the workflow. Most robust PIM solutions, including Catsy, have this feature, whereby users do not have to seek a different supplier for a tool for managing digital assets.
Like any solid PIM tool, Catsy PIM collects and stores all product-related data in a centralized repository. Assuming ToolMaster’s marketers chose such a solution, they could define consistent attributes, taxonomies, and values, allowing them to ensure consistency across all departments. This standardization ensures that product information is uniform and accurate, reducing discrepancies among teams.
Additionally, Catsy would enable ToolMaster to ensure all teams can track changes to data, revert to previous versions if needed, and maintain a complete history of product data modifications. This feature is critical for maintaining data accuracy and integrity.
Most importantly, ToolMaster wouldn’t need to worry about unauthorized manipulations amidst industrial marketing challenges. Most robust PIM tools have portals that allow external partners to access specific product data. For example, Catsy PIM’s brand portal allows brands to customize it the way they want while allowing manufacturers to deploy assets and other product content to a select group of users. These portals require authorization, removing the possibility of unauthorized access.
Another powerful feature that ToolMaster would greatly appreciate is readiness reporting; thankfully, many powerful PIM tools have it. In Catsy PIM, readiness reporting measures how ready product content is to be published on different channels. It also provides recommended actions for improving the product content. Some key benefits of this feature include:
- It ensures each product has a complete and accurate profile based on the brand’s standards and criteria.
- It helps to verify the actual ‘completeness’ of the product before it can be published on retail and distributor channels.
- It makes applying the same specifications across all channels connected to the brand easy, ensuring consistency and quality of product information and digital assets.
- It reduces errors and saves time by providing feedback and suggestions for fixing and optimizing product content.
Throughout this article, we set out to answer three key questions: How can manufacturers connect with customers in a crowded online space? What does effective content look like for the industrial audience? How can data and new information systems give an edge?
We have seen that the digital age presents both opportunities and challenges for manufacturers in the industrial sector. While the online space is crowded, manufacturers can connect with their audience by creating engaging content that resonates with their target audience despite the industrial marketing challenges, leveraging customer data, and adopting a customer-centric marketing approach.
In addition, effective content is founded on understanding the target audience, co-creating content with customers, promoting customer success, leveraging influencers, using multimedia formats, optimizing for search visibility, distributing on targeted platforms, and testing and optimizing.
Finally, we have seen that investing in digital skills and talent acquisition should be a top priority for manufacturers amidst industrial marketing challenges. This should also be accompanied by acquiring solid PIM systems that provide a single source of truth for product content, enabling marketers to overcome the hurdles of the digital landscape and maximize the potential of online channels.
If you’re ready to take your manufacturing business to the next level and explore these strategies in action, we invite you to schedule a demo with Catsy today!
They struggle with creating engaging content that resonates with their target audience. To overcome these challenges, manufacturers need to take a strategic, customer-centric approach by conducting in-depth buyer persona research, mapping the customer journey, and highlighting industry expertise.
They can create engaging content by co-creating content with customers, promoting customer success, leveraging influencers, using multimedia formats, optimizing for search visibility, distributing on targeted platforms, and testing and optimizing.
They can learn from other industries (especially business-to-customer, B2C) and adapt their strategies to industrial scenarios. Additionally, partnering with digital marketing agencies can provide support and knowledge transfer to build in-house capabilities over time.
They can track key performance indicators (KPIs) such as website traffic, lead generation, conversion rates, customer engagement, and return on investment (ROI).
The systems provide a centralized repository for product data and digital assets, ensuring consistency and accuracy across all departments. This helps manufacturers to streamline their workflow, reduce discrepancies among teams, and maintain data accuracy and integrity.