What is marketing communications and what can it do for your business? When done well, marketing communications is one of the core organisational pillars delivering powerful outcomes that underpin business strategies.
In my 25-year career I have seen how it can help drive a business’ agenda forward. But what about the manufacturing industry? Is it making the most of this powerful weapon? While some companies within the manufacturing industry, especially those serving the general consumer, have taken steps to embrace marcomms as a core pillar of their operations, I believe there are still too many that lag behind. As a result, many companies within the industry are missing out on the opportunity to leverage the true power of marcomms.
The main reasons behind this vary from organisation to organisation, however, it’s fair to say that marketing communications within the manufacturing industry has always had a strange relationship with the business. Recognition of the importance of the marketing communications teams seems to differ dramatically across the sector but in some organisations, it is seen as the team that ‘sprinkles fairy dust’ on a CEO’s or leadership team’s presentations. At worst, it’s seen as a place to move senior employees who want a change from their role - often engineers looking for a change - ignoring the fact that they will not have the necessary skills for the role despite their technical knowledge. After all, how often do you hear of the director of marketing communications transferring to become the head of engineering? Fundamentally, the main issue stems from the fact that marcomms is not recognised as a core pillar to deliver on the business’ overarching objectives. Business leaders in the industry still treat marcomms as a ‘nice to have’ when they should be treating it as a ‘must have’.
Right time, right audience
Having worked in or consulted to some large and diverse engineering and manufacturing businesses over the past two decades, I have seen first-hand some of the most common mistakes that are repeated time after time. Perhaps the most common one is tech-led storytelling trap. This means that the majority of the business content - including branding, sales pitches, media relations and overall narrative - focuses on the technical wizardry of the products and services. Now there is definitely a time and place for this and it’s vital to communicate these elements, but at the right time and to the right audiences. Most audiences - with very few exceptions - primarily care about the problem your product or service will solve, how it will deliver on their strategies and whether it will create economic value for their business. Understanding the technical brilliance is most certainly part of the credibility strategy, but way further down their list of priorities.
How do new prospects, suppliers, customers, and potential advocates know who you are, what you offer and how you stack up against the competition and trust what you offer? Usually it’s not through tech-led messaging. From my experience, sales pitches or media briefings that are technically led, end up either never getting to the point or losing the audience halfway through which is a lost opportunity and an open door for the competition. The key is to shape a powerful narrative that communicates the big, bold and simple messages to quickly establish a voice and reach your key audiences with these messages at the right time. A good real-life example is the world of satellites and connectivity which I have worked in. It involves technical brilliance, innovation and rockets – all exciting! However, some businesses in this space fall into the trap of focusing on complex messaging around the satellite build, speed, spectrums, rocket launches, etc. Instead, customers need to hear a simpler message that communicates how “all that innovative and technically brilliant wizardry” translates into real beneficial solutions to the bottom line such as; revenues, end-customer satisfaction, efficiencies etc.
Another worrying phrase I have heard on occasion is: ‘we’re a B2B organisation, we don’t really need to do marketing’. Wrong. There is more than enough evidence out there to show that B2B organisations need to do more marketing than B2C because their audiences are much more cautious and discerning when buying for their business. Remember the phrase from the 80s’ ‘No one got fired for choosing IBM’? That sums up what goes through B2B decision-makers’ minds, a rollercoaster of emotions and analysis as to whether they should buy your product. Also, often in B2B sales, the buying cycle is much longer than the consumer buying process, so it’s vital to treat your marcomms strategy like a long road trip ensuring that the important milestones on the journey are the building blocks all the way to success.
The creative spark
Don’t treat marketing communications as a department that can be led by someone without the necessary skills. Adopting a customer-centric messaging strategy that communicates the key benefits to your customers may sound simple, however it’s a skill that good marketers have perfected by getting under the skin of the business they represent and its unique market proposition including innovations, products and people. This in-depth knowledge of the business combined with their experience in developing impactful messaging create a dynamite marketing package which can excite and engage customers and employees alike. This customer-led approach differentiates many businesses but also underpins the long-term strategy. If you want to make a real difference and harness the power of marketing communications, the starting point is to recognise its importance. That means setting it up to succeed, not fail, establishing a team that is experienced and skilled led by professionals with the right skills. Remember: “everyone is creative – not everyone is a creative”. Many people can read, write and draw, that does not make them authors or artists.
Essentially it all comes back to recognising the true value of marcomms and re-shaping the conversations around its importance. Creating a powerful function with the right disciplines and skills will help you deliver on your strategy and become a pioneering voice within your industry.
Author of ‘Cutting Through the Bull - Harnessing the Power at Your Fingertips’, Dominic Walters advises ambitious businesses and leadership teams on how to shape effective marketing communications strategies that drive business growth, launch or transformation objectives. A leading marcomms professional with more than 20 years' experience he specialises in delivering effective strategies with practical solutions helping to underpin reputation, credibility and sales. He has advised and held senior roles in a range of organisations, including BAE Systems, Network Rail, Inmarsat PLC, BP, Shell, PizzaExpress Hong Kong.