What’s the difference between a handful of unroasted coffee beans and a steaming cup of joe from your neighborhood Starbucks? Aside from one being bitter and unpalatable, the former is among the most traded commodities in the world, the latter is a leading global product.
The same idea applies to manufacturing products versus commodities. That’s why it’s key for manufacturing companies to come up with a powerful marketing strategy — one that leans into what separates your product from a commodity.
In Economics 101 classes, the difference between a commodity and a product seems so clear-cut. Commodities are basic goods that are more or less interchangeable with similar goods of the same type: crude oil, metals, grains and those coffee beans, for example. A product is the finished good that ends up in the hands of the end user.
But a product can quickly start to look like a commodity to buyers if there isn’t something that clearly sets it apart from the competition. It gets lost in the noise, leaving buyers with no real incentive to purchase your product over any other option on the market.
Price is one of the ways to compete in the manufacturing market, but odds are the value you provide to customers goes beyond simply being the cheapest. What other variables make your product stand out from the competition?
It could be anything from your organization’s core values, commitment to sustainability, innovation, customer experience and support, product features, manufacturing reliability, quality, product bundles, etc. The possibilities really are limitless.
Manufactured products that lack distinguishable features — or features that aren’t thoughtfully communicated to potential buyers — are vying for attention in a world where growing global competition, outsourcing and offshoring are all driving down prices. This can often lead to dwindling profit margins and shrinking market share.
A thoughtful, integrated marketing plan combats this effect. It helps attract new buyers, nurtures relationships with prospects and engages current customers by drawing the key differentiators of your products to the forefront.
Like all good marketing strategies, a manufacturing marketing strategy must communicate your brand story and provide value to your audience. The most fundamental marketing mantra of the right person, right message, right time applies as much to manufacturing as any other industry.
The key starting point is knowing your audience and understanding the buyer's journey.
Think about the different types of people involved in the buying process — not just the ultimate decision-maker, but also the people who influence that decision. This could be a C-suite executive, but it could also be a procurement manager, engineering manager, or product manager, to name a few examples.
Create buyer personas — semi-fictional representations of these different people — through a mix of research and interviews to gain a deeper understanding of your customers’ pain points and priorities. From there, consider various stages of your target audience’s decision-making process, from that initial point of awareness to the evaluation of different products.
A solid understanding of the buyer’s journey will help your marketing and sales teams tailor your product messaging to resonate with each type of buyer and meet them where they’re at.
You can’t commodify this type of in-depth insight into your customers, which ultimately helps set your product apart. Manufacturing companies often have longer sales cycles that require significant lead nurturing, so understanding your audience is foundational to moving buyers down the funnel and supporting a successful, ongoing relationship.
A second important piece of the decommoditizing puzzle is to tell a powerful brand story that elevates your manufacturing product and your company above the competition.
Regardless of what sets you apart, you should be able to communicate your value proposition in just a few words. Creative value propositions like Apple’s “The Experience IS The Product” and Slack’s promise to make “Working lives simpler, more pleasant, and more productive” aren’t limited to the tech industry. Big Bolt, a manufacturer of fastening products, sums up what they do in a concise, memorable manner: they’re industry studs, delivering quality that’s nuts, while being equipped for bolt speed with next-day manufacturing. How’s that for packing a punch of key differentiators?
Product marketing messages need to go beyond just what your product is and get to the heart of the why behind it. Why it meets your customers’ needs and solves their problems, why it delivers better value than the competition, or why your organization does what it does.
There are as many ways to tell a good story as there are stories themselves, but the most effective ones always start with thought and care. Spend time developing a strong value proposition in conjunction with audience insights from your buyer personas, and you’ll have the roots to develop a compelling story that resonates over time.
It can be easy to get lost in the weeds of how and where to tell your brand story. Does your website need to be redesigned or updated? What about social media marketing? Do you regularly publish blog posts? Are you running ads that convert? How does SEO fit into all this?
That’s where inbound marketing comes into the picture.
Strategic inbound marketing for manufacturing companies takes the foundation of understanding your audience and clarifying your key messages and fuels measurable impact.
Sales demos, trade shows and cold-calling potential customers are all common marketing and sales tactics for manufacturers. While there is still room for some of those tactics, inbound marketing helps turn cold calls into warm calls and makes the rest of your sales tactics more effective. By consistently developing relevant content for your audience, you can target buyers at all stages of the journey, when they are the most receptive.
Let’s think about this in the context of a manufacturer of cases for consumer products. A blog post or infographic that highlights examples of successful unboxing experiences may draw in someone initially searching for solutions to your website. Or an interactive resource such as a video about the latest packaging trends could engage a potential buyer just starting to interact with your brand. You could have an email marketing campaign to existing customers about how you’re using in-house capabilities to develop other parts and products for customers to alleviate supply chain disruptions. Meanwhile, a case study showcasing these capabilities in a real-world example can help someone on the fence make a purchase decision.
The options are endless, but the most important part is that the content is helping your audience solve a problem and meet their goals. Not only does this prevent your manufactured product from looking like a mere commodity, but it helps build brand awareness and positions your company as an industry thought leader. And that, in turn, generates new leads and grows revenue.
Once these fundamentals are clarified and goals are established, you can implement your manufacturing marketing strategy through a combination of inbound (and outbound!) marketing tactics — a list that includes SEO, content marketing, pay-per-click advertising, social media marketing, website development and demand generation efforts.
At Kuno Creative, we’ve partnered with a wide range of manufacturing companies to help them develop and implement the right marketing strategy to differentiate their products and combat commoditization in competitive markets. To learn more about how we can support your efforts, schedule a consultation.