Shiny and sounds good

Expertise is a journey.  Early on, superficial attributes get the attention, but as time passes and expertise increases you quickly learn that “what’s under the hood” and later “what’s inside” actually matter more than shiny chrome, buffed paint and a throaty roar.

But how many B2B manufacturing company CEOs/presidents move beyond the sparkling paint and resonating rumble of their marketing?  I know from experience, not many.  I’ve observed two reasons.  First, there’s a disengagement from marketing – what’s important is the product.  “If it’s as great as it is, it will largely sell itself” goes the thinking. Second, the marketing folks themselves can do a heck of a job with their digital Meguiars and pulsating surround sound.  “It’s looks so slick it must be good, and it’s not really my expertise anyway.  Leave that to the marketing experts”, they think – but sometimes the substance isn’t so solid.

And then there’s the question of results.  For so long B2B marketing has been based on vapid ‘metrics’ like impressions, that nobody actually was held accountable to results – was there adequate torque? could the engine sustain extended operation near the red line? were the driver’s intuition and responsiveness adequate? and who ultimately crossed the line in the top ten (or even made it to the line)?

But what’s the drive train made of?

dyno testing a B2B marketing programIn today’s B2B marketing world there are detail shops on every corner…that purport to be performance engine tuners.  The problem is that despite the comfortable waiting room with wifi, an espresso machine (maybe even the kegorator that seems common in current creative culture), nobody there (often not even the owner, much less account managers and reps) has ever rebuilt an engine.  And tuned one?  Forget about it.

Nevertheless the message, delivered with reassuring confidence, is “We’re going to detail your car monthly for a year.  We’re even going to put on new wheels.  And you’re going to win the race.  We’ve never done an engine job before but that’s OK becuase we’ve buffed lots of paint.”

But keep in mind:

  1. design is not marketing (just as detailing isn’t mechanical)
  2. marketing is not lead generation (just as changing oil isn’t building an engine)
  3. lead generation is not business creation (just as an engine rebuild isn’t optimized tuning)

Marketing agencies are generally very good at marketing their marketing services.  That’s not the same as being very good, or even adequate at marketing your B2B products.

You, and more importantly your prospects & customers operate in an entirely different world.  And all the glitzy websites, functionally perfect landing pages and professionally produced content in the world are irrelevant to your business growth if they don’t really, really fit to your company, your products and your prospects business challenges.

Too invert the analogy now, there is simple mechanical execution (which lots of folks can do – and which dominates most inbound marketing conversations) and then there is the real expertise which tends to quickly stratify agencies by areas of expertise.  We find that the B2B industrial space is particularly problematic for marketing agencies.

So before you pick an “agency”, put their capabilities on the dyno and see whether there’s any substantive HP produced or if that shiny website is just matched up with an awesome surround sound system that you felt through the floor.  Is there any dirt under their nails?

Data driven marketing, NASCAR & millenials

As long as we’re talking cars, tuning, industrial marketing and B2B business development, here’s an interesting article on NASCAR’s marketing.

Yes, it’s B2C, but that’s not the critical aspect. Three important and relevant points are embedded.

  • importance of data and ‘surveys’
  • effectiveness of localization
  • approach to millenials

How are these relevant to your marketing as a B2B manufacturer?  Directly.  Here’s how.

First, you probably don’t really know your prospects and customers as well as you think you do.  Sure, you may have a beer with them at trade shows, and you ask them technical questions.  But you don’t know the bigger stuff.  You need to survey them – not through some cheesy SurveyMonkey tool or a focus group, but good questions.  You’ll have to come up with your own, but here are some examples:

  • “There must be something that drives you nuts that I simply don’t seem to understand about your job/company/industry – that if I did I could help you better.  What is it?”
  • “Every product has problems.  What’s the biggest bitch folks have with ours that nobody bothered to tell us about because they figured they were stuck with it?”
  • “Folks I talk to in your position often tell me about how much time they spend working on XXXX, and how necessary but unproductive it is.  What’s your biggest time sink that I should know about?”
  • “What was the best suggestion anyone ever dropped in the suggestion box about XXXX area here that never got acted on?  How come?”
  • “If you were running this department, what’s the first thing you’d change to save money/improve quality/increase output/etc?”
  • “Often customers use our product in creative ways that we never thought of.  What do you do with ours that’s not in our manual?”

And you can use data in other ways too.  For instance, volumes of traffic an leads coming from a couple focused foreign markets might give you some solid indicators of where to start focusing a global expansion/export sales effort.

Second, if your selling B2B, a Hispanic focused program like NASCAR created for their B2C effort may not be relevant.  But certainly industrial conditions vary by region in the US and by industry.  The northeast’s high cost, older buildings environment is different than the southwestern “maquiladoras.”  Should you localize some of your marketing by region?  Or more likely by target vertical market?

Third, and most importantly, millennials.  Not relevant you scoff?  After all you’re B2B right?  Well if your product is sought, researched, bought and used only by middle aged senior executives, then you’re off the hook.  But if young engineers, procurement or maintenance folks are involved somewhere in the process, then you’d better get savvy about how millennials research products, consume content and make decisions.  And you’d better ensure that your marketing takes that into account – including mobile responsiveness and tools for engagement just as NASCAR found.

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