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Manufacturing Companies Address Business Marketing Challenges With External Resources
By Norwin A. Merens, Managing Director, NM Marketing Communications

Changing economic times require that manufacturing businesses remain savvy about marketing.

Customers have also become increasingly sophisticated and expect a higher, more professional level of quality from their suppliers' marketing efforts. At the same time, manufacturers are addressing the perception of their products becoming commodity purchases.  

According to a survey published this month by the Institute for the Study of Business Markets (ISBM), the top challenge of business-to-business marketers is to better understand customer needs, segmentation and opportunities to add real value.  ISBM ( is a network of researchers, educators and practitioners in business-to-business marketing at organizations throughout the world, and is a center of excellence in the Smeal College of Business Administration at Penn State University.  ISBM conducts the study of marketing trends every two years.

Other trends cited in the survey include the need for innovation to drive growth, new organizational models and linkages and better ways to measure the ROI of marketing programs.

As a result of the increasing sophistication of marketing programs, gone are the days when an administrative person or inside sales person can take over the marketing function without specialized training. Manufacturing organizations now realize that effective marketing requires expertise across a variety of disciplines.  These include:

  • Branding
  • Advertising
  • Trade Show Management & Promotion
  • Collateral & Sales Support
  • Public Relations
  • Website Development
  • Targeted Marketing

There are many options for tactics within each of these categories. The development of a strategic marketing plan should include an analysis of the most effective mix of elements to achieve your objectives within the parameters of your marketing budget.

Marketing Resource Options

Most manufacturing companies are too streamlined to support the resources it takes to do an adequate job of all the various aspects of integrated marketing. Fortunately, you have many options besides staffing up - you can hire marketing expertise in the form of independent consultants or agencies of various sizes.

Independent consultants offer expertise for hire without the burden of paying for their benefits package or other associated employee costs. The downside of hiring individual consultants is that you may need to work with several consultants to access the various types of experience necessary to develop and execute effective integrated marketing programs. Also, you need to have sufficient expertise in-house to manage and oversee the consultants.

Another option is to work with an agency. While the bigger agencies offer all the various types of expertise you need to develop an effective marketing program, they still carry high overhead costs (which they pass on to you). Many of the larger agencies also are biased toward creating high-cost advertising campaigns, instead of taking advantage of the ways technology has made targeted marketing more available and easier to use.

As most manufacturing companies are business-to-business advertisers who spend far less on marketing and advertising than their consumer-oriented counterparts, they often find that the big agencies are not the most cost-effective option. Fortunately, as the traditional high-overhead, big agency model begins to crumble, smaller agencies have begun to proliferate with specialties in various areas. The key is to find an agency that can cost-effectively meet your marketing needs, both in terms of marketing expertise and knowledge of the manufacturing industry.

Choosing The Right Agency Or Marketing Professional

When choosing an ad agency or hiring internal marketing people, manufacturing professionals should always ensure that their potential colleagues either already have an understanding of the industry, or appreciate the importance of developing one, through market research or tapping into the expertise of manufacturing professionals.

If an ad agency or marketing professional claims to have experience with manufacturing clients, do not be afraid to ask for samples of their work and examples or case studies of campaigns they developed dealing with specific issues or focused or achieving specific objectives. However, keep in mind that finding smart, strategic marketing and advertising professionals who develop creative solutions to meet their clients' business needs is better than finding bread-and-butter professionals with the right specific experience. In fact, marketing professionals without direct experience may question things industry insiders take for granted, or they may bring crossover ideas from another industry that have yet to be attempted in your industry.

Whatever choice you make, be sure that the proper focus is placed on understanding your customers ? their needs, preferences, characteristics and tendencies. Your peers are focusing on the customer, according to the ISBM data, and your marketing program needs to emphasize the right mix of tactics to get results that will justify the investment.

Norwin A. Merens is managing director of Glenview, IL-based NM Marketing Communications, an integrated B2B marketing, public relations and trade show/ special events management firm. He may be reached by calling 847.657.6011 or at Find out more at

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