Although it’s nearly impossible to believe, we’ve all found ourselves close to wrapping up Q4. For many businesses, that means finalizing budgets for the coming year—including where your marketing dollars will go. Digital engagement by manufacturers has run the gamut over the past 18 months, from full stop to full speed ahead, and now it’s time to start finalizing decisions of where your money will go next year. This can be overwhelming, especially as it continues to be difficult to make long-term plans in the environment in which we’re all living.
When it comes to prioritizing where you’re going to spend your digital marketing and engagement dollars, we find it helpful to think of a three-pronged approach of understanding.
Understanding the Actual Customer’s Need
Manufacturers are often one layer removed from their true primary customer because they sell through distributors, wholesalers and the like. As a result, they have many personas they’re selling to and layers to get through for complex goods and services, and this can make knowing where to spend your money even more challenging.
Having success in this arena is really about laying the correct groundwork and truly knowing who your end customer is and what they want. We often hear a lot of things like, “oh, our sales team can tell you everything you need to know about our customers.” But while the sales team is often an invaluable wealth of information, what they’re going to tell us often differs slightly based on the customer research we do because they’re inherently biased (and human!).
Furthermore, they’re overloaded with work and it’s hard for them to do their own jobs well and tell you exactly what you need to know to optimize your marketing.
To spend your digital marketing dollars well, you have to know your target forward and backward, and the foundation of that starts with strong customer research. It needs to be your very first step.
Understanding the Real Business Objective
Part of running a business is understanding that you can’t do everything at once and being able to prioritize goals in a way that benefits the company. The second step in figuring out how your digital marketing dollars are best spent is making sure your budget is aligned with pushing you toward your most important business objective. Is it revenue growth? Maybe you’re trying to reach new markets? Or are you striving for operational excellence? Whatever the answer is, it can’t be all three, or any more than one thing.
In dealing with manufacturers, we’ve found that most of them operate within a closed-loop market; in other words, there is a fixed number of customers that buy the goods they make. A good example is Boeing; there are only so many customers who buy commercial airplanes, and that number does not fluctuate. With these types of customers, it’s much more about brand stickiness and making sure that, when these customers need a plane, they’re choosing Boeing. In that way, brand loyalty has become their primary business objective. Make sure you’re identifying your own before you’re spending money on marketing.
Understanding the Right Tools for Your Job
Once you know your customer and your objective, it’s easier to clearly think through the correct tactics and tools for getting the job done. When it comes to digital marketing and engagement, the possibilities are truly endless. Digital marketing is marketing now, and it has become more important than ever in the past 18 months.
A good starting place to think from, and one that can apply to nearly any business, is to ask yourself, how can we drive more self-service applications for our company? Self-service is a phenomenal margin driver and, ultimately, it’s what your customers want right now, no matter who they are. Whether it’s your ecommerce experience, customer service, or broader marketing initiatives, try to be guided by the idea that your customers want to do as much for themselves as they can.
What do all three of these ideas add up to? You need to have a plan that’s actionable. It’s not enough to say “we really need to think more about digital” anymore. Being smart about digital engagement can feel like scaling a mountain. But if you take the time to dive into what an actionable, prioritized plan means for your business, you will be ahead in thinking smart about your marketing dollars for 2022.
Randy Higgins is chief strategy officer of Shift7 Digital, an agency that specializes in developing digital experiences for manufacturers and their customers.