Digital Marketing Strategy for Manufacturers: The Ultimate Guide [2024]

Adam Smartschan

Partner & Chief Strategy Officer

Digital marketing has heavily influenced the buying behavior of B2B buyers. Before making a purchase, people tend to conduct online research about products and services. To meet this demand, all industries must adopt marketing strategies aimed at providing prospects with the information to make informed purchases.

A recent Databox report indicates that manufacturers are already attuned to this reality. They’re spending $1,803 on average each month on Google Ads alone. That’s a sizable number, particularly for smaller manufacturers. It suggests a high level of adoption of digital marketing tactics. However, it doesn’t say whether manufacturers have taken the time and effort to build out effective digital marketing strategies.

In this ultimate guide, we will explore the shift from traditional to modern digital marketing approaches within the manufacturing sector. We’ll look at when traditional marketing was effective, and how that can play into today’s digital reality. And we’ll explore several key digital marketing strategies that manufacturers can use to drive leads and grow their businesses.

Digital Marketing Strategy for Manufacturers

What’s In This Guide 

  • How Manufacturing Marketing Moved from Traditional to Digital
  • What Made Traditional Marketing Effective?
  • The Rise of Digital in the Buyer’s Journey
  • Inbound Marketing: A Vital Strategy
  • Why Digital Marketing is Essential Now
  • 10 High-Impact Digital Strategies for Manufacturers
  • The Future of Digital Marketing in Manufacturing
  • Frequently Asked Questions

How Manufacturing Marketing Moved from Traditional to Digital

For more than 100 years, manufacturing companies relied on traditional marketing methods to reach customers. These companies mostly used print ads in magazines and trade journals, direct mail and sales calls.

These methods helped spread the word about businesses. And they got results for decades!

Sales teams built relationships and made sales happen. Marketing played a smaller, supporting role to sales. This model worked well until the internet transformed how buyers research and find companies. Suddenly, traditional tactics weren’t as effective.

Digital marketing started accelerating around 2006. Search engine visits surged to about 6.4 billion each month. Then Web 2.0 allowed people to connect and share online.

Manufacturing marketers and advertisers wanted in on the action. They started using cookies to collect data about users and serve targeted ads. They bought search ads by the thousands. They leveraged social networks and purpose-built marketplaces like Thomasnet to capture potential buyers in the research phase.One major strategy was tracking browsing history to customize ads and content. Using cookies this way revolutionized how marketers collect data.

Some of it worked. Some if it didn’t. But successful strategies tended to harken back to what had worked for so long.

What Made Traditional Marketing Effective?

Let’s examine why traditional marketing strategies worked for so long in the manufacturing space:

  • TV and radio reach a huge audience. People trust what they see and hear.
  • Print ads are tangible. Buyers can hold and read them, making an impression.
  • Traditional marketing had less competition, especially for local companies.
  • Strategies like TV ads effectively create emotional connections to brands.

Marketers were trying (and often failing) to repeat these outcomes in a world that no longer supported the underlying methodologies. Manufacturers had to adapt – bringing trust, tangibility and emotional connections to a digital space.

The Rise of Digital in the Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s journey starts when a problem is identified and ends with a purchase solving it. For manufacturing equipment or services, gathering data can be difficult. There’s just so much information out there, of varying quality and usefulness.

  • Supplier websites have detailed technical specifications and capabilities.
  • Some websites offer unbiased third-party reviews and feedback.
  • 3D models from online catalogs show specifications.
  • Search engines help find products and vendors nearby.
  • YouTube provides product demos, reviews and applications.
  • LinkedIn has groups and forums to discuss challenges.
  • Downloadable eBooks and blogs give tips and best practices.

The result is a level of confusion and diffuse activity by buyers. Savvy manufacturing marketers have learned to harness this by delivering the right information at the right time. This is the core of “inbound” marketing methodlogies.

Inbound Marketing: A Vital Strategy

Inbound marketing attracts customers by creating valuable, tailored content and experiences. Broad outreach can be unfocused and disruptive. Inbound concentrates on delivering value at every buyer interaction.

Manufacturers become trusted advisors by building relationships and delivering value. Inbound ensures brands can be easily found and contacted when solutions are needed.

Inbound marketing focuses on content, including blogs, eBooks, case studies, and assets addressing pressing buyer needs. Other inbound tactics include:

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Paid advertising like PPC and social ads
  • Marketing automation
  • An optimized website experience

Basically, inbound seeks to answer prospects’ questions, then convert them to potential buyers. It builds on the trust that traditional marketing techniques built, but in a screen-first world.

Why Digital Marketing is Essential Now

Manufacturing companies were relatively unaffected by initial digital change. Most old-school buyers were find with print catalogs. But as more digitally native companies and buyers emerge, digital marketing is essential for success.

Millennials now occupy senior roles, leveraging digital to find solutions. They prefer engaging with companies online. Buying committee members extensively research digitally before involving their teams.

Modern buyers have shorter attention spans. They expect to quickly and easily find information. For lengthy sales processes, digital nurturing and engagement can secure sales by educating and advising buyers.

10 High-Impact Digital Strategies for Manufacturers

To fully benefit from digital marketing, manufacturers must properly leverage tactics. Here are 10 high-impact digital strategies to strengthen manufacturing companies’ online presence:

  1. Creating Detailed Buyer Personas

Gaining insight into ideal buyers by developing detailed buyer personas is key for effective digital marketing.

Identify their roles, demographics, behaviors, challenges, and motivations. This helps create content they find interesting and valuable. It ensures relevance for potential buyers.

Buyer personas are fictional, generalized representations of your target customers. Follow these steps to build the right personas:

Step 1: Identify Buyer Roles

Analyze existing customers and prospects to see their purchasing roles. For manufacturing, some may be:

  • Engineers/Technical Experts
  • Plant Managers
  • Procurement/Purchasing Managers
  • C-Suite Executives
  • Quality Control Specialists

Step 2: Categorize into Persona Types

Identify common traits and patterns in current customers and prospects: job roles, sectors, challenges, goals and behaviors. Segment similar traits into personas. Name each and create a fictional profile embodying those traits.

Step 3: Build Persona Details

Treat them as real people. Define demographics: age, gender, income or education. Add personalities, motivations, and challenges you can solve. Be specific to guide strategies.

Step 4: Map Their Buyer’s Journey

With the persona defined, outline their journey. What triggered their need? Who influences them? How do they research? What do they consider when buying? Defining these factors informs messaging for each stage.

Step 5: Create Profiles

Bring personas to life through profiles. Outline details on who they are, what they like, their journey, and how they benefit. Include an avatar, descriptive name, psychographic details, and journey highlights. These are the targets of the marketing team.

Step 6: Curate Content

Certain strategies address each persona’s needs. For those focused on specifics, product catalogs work. For visual learners, product videos are better. Each strategy should engage the persona. With well-defined personas, you can deliver valuable, resonant content.

Creating detailed buyer personas can feel overwhelming. Like, where do you even start?

What’s worked for many marketers is to try to imagine ideal customers (ICPs) as actual people. What’s their day-to-day life like? What motives them? What kinds of challenges are they facing?

A good place to start is looking at your current customers and leads. See if you notice any common patterns in their roles, pain points, goals, etc. Use those insights to come up with fictional but realistic profiles.

Bring the personas to life by giving them names, pictures, personal details. Do they have families? What hobbies do they have? What brands do they like?

Adding in these vivid, human-feeling details helps you make real emotional connections through your marketing.

  1. Produce Engaging Content

It is essential to develop content like blogs, videos and case studies that attract buyers and keep them engaged in your site. Your content must tell a good story if you want your psoepcts hooked. Show them how your equipment and products can solve their problems.

It’s best to prioritize visual elements when creating content. They’re easier to understand, and they’re great for customers who have very short attention spans. Create charts, tables, and other infographics to help make information engaging and easily digestible.

It’s also a great idea to create high-quality videos. These are way better than images, and they are way more engaging. Ensure the video can still pass the message, even without a sound. Sometimes, watching the video with sound may not be an option, so adding text can help ensure your video is still understandable.

Remember that creating thought leadership is essential to stand out from competitors. Thought leadership means you do something to establish yourself as an authority or a leading expert in your field. This may be through deep expertise, innovative ideas, or unique ideas that can help advance and develop your industry. 

Regarding content, thought leadership can come as long-form articles for industry publications. You can also do interviews with industry experts and collaborate with other companies.

  1. Prioritize Search Engine Optimization

Your website is one of the first contacts you’ll make with your prospects. It sets an impression of whether you’re the brand they want to work with. That’s why people must see your website so you can show them that you have the solution to their problems.

Search engine optimization (SEO) is a set of practices that aims to improve the placement of your web pages in search engines. Organic searches are the best way for people to discover you online. SEO will help you appear on the first page of search engine result pages or SERPs.

When people search for keywords relevant to your manufacturing company, your website should be one of the first websites they see. This happens when you identify keywords that will lead people to your content and utilize them to optimize your website. You must add these keywords in your metadata, alternate text, and other content parts.

You must also improve on technical elements like site architecture, user experience, site speed and mobile responsiveness.

Measuring the traffic from organic searches and identifying which keywords are performing well is essential. You can focus on these keywords to attract organic traffic to your website.

  1. Define Your Brand Voice

Content guidelines will ensure that your digital marketing campaigns are consistent, accurate, and all adhere to brand compliance. Having a consistent brand voice in all your advertisements is essential to help your audience get to know you better.

Content guidelines will ensure the marketing and sales teams know how and when to use assets. It clearly defines how teams can access and utilize marketing content. This ensures that everyone involved in marketing is aligned with how you want your target audience to perceive your manufacturing company.

It’s important to update everyone involved on any marketing content development and product information. This is important, especially for the manufacturing industry, because details of products and equipment are vital to businesses and other consumers.

  1. Track Website Interactions

Understanding what parts of your website receive the most engagement and what don’t will help you improve your website for your prospects. This identifies the strengths and weaknesses of your website, and since it is one of the first contacts with your prospects, you want it to be the best it can be.

Google Analytics is beneficial in monitoring on-site interactions. You can track metrics like page views, bounce rates, user demographics, and session durations. Based on these metrics, you’ll know what kind of content resonates well with your target audience. 

Other helpful tools to use are heatmaps and tracking tools. They can track website interactions and help you visualize where users are clicking and strolling on your website. This identifies popular areas of interest, user navigation patterns, and potential areas for improvement in your website.

Heatmap example

This data can improve your user experience, content quality, and website performance. It gives you trends and patterns in user behavior, which can help you predict future user actions.

  1. Invest in User Experience

For manufacturers, your website sets the first impression of your brand. It gives your prospects an idea of what kind of manufacturing company you are in. This is why ensuring your website is user-friendly and informative is essential. The main goal is to ensure that your visitors find what they need in the fastest and easiest way possible.

Simply having a website containing your manufacturing company’s information and all the products and equipment you sell is insufficient. It has to look good since it represents your brand, and it has to be intuitive, which means that users should be able to find what they’re looking for. This is why you must have the following:

  • An easily identifiable call-to-action button
  • Appealing images and videos that tell your story and message
  • Easy to fill out lead forms for user’s contact information
  • Relevant content that addresses the challenges and needs of your target audience

Let’s look at GE, a manufacturing giant. They’re a massive company with a massive digital budget, and they’ve done a lot of things right.

Example of intuitive navigation on a website
Examples of engaging visuals on a website
  1. Implement Marketing Automation

Long sales cycles and marketing automation in manufacturing are invaluable. Thus, it would help if you used it to deliver content drip campaigns based on lead interactions and profile data.

Remember to know your ideal clients and their pain points and preferences before automating your lead nurturing. You can create buyer personas and place them into segments to help you tailor your content and offers. Consider using data from CRM, surveys and web analytics to develop detailed profiles of the target audience.

With your buyer personas and segments, map out the actions your lead requires to move from one stage to the next in the buying process. This is what will help you design your lead nurturing campaigns. 

Also, remember to score leads in real time based on activities. Automated email workflows also help convey the right message at the right time to each prospect. 

  1. Maximize Paid Digital Ads

Understanding your target audience is key to maximizing paid ads for manufacturing companies. Put yourself in their shoes to create tailored ad campaigns that resonate.

Utilize different forms of paid ads. Use PPC on search engines and social media ads on platforms your audience frequents. Since most researchers and decision-makers are on LinkedIn, prioritize advertising there.

Ensure your ads are compelling to pique interest and convey how you’re better than competitors. Use high-quality images and videos to communicate professionalism.

  1. Utilize Email Marketing

Email marketing can powerfully engage prospects, nurture leads, and retain customers. Building a targeted email list helps curate content relevant to their buyer’s journey stage.

Create content that informs readers about your products vs. competitors. This constant communication builds relationships, drives engagement, and increases sales and retention.

  1. Measure Digital Marketing’s ROI

Platforms like GA4 provide abundant data to set ROI-based goals. Also monitor campaign performance and optimize accordingly.

Establishing clear metrics is foundational to long-term success. Being data-driven matters more than ever.

The Future of Digital Marketing in Manufacturing

While the above strategies serve manufacturers well today, change only accelerates – customer behaviors evolve, algorithms change, new platforms emerge constantly. To remain successful, you need to stay on top of key trends and innovations. Being nimble and adaptive is vital. Here are five upcoming trends to keep in mind:

  1. Video-First Content Experiences

This trend is creating video content first and deriving other content from it. Note short-form video and live streaming may become outdated as the market becomes saturated. Technologies like augmented reality and interactive 3D also enable immersive product experiences.

  1. AI-Driven Personalization and Content Curation 

Remember that manual content creation can be time-consuming and labor intensive. The process can be overwhelming and you may need a significant amount of resources, making it difficult to scale

But when AI is used, it helps to overcome these kinds of limitations. That’s because platforms powered by artificial intelligence in manufacturing can automatically curate and deliver hyper-relevant content to each prospect based on interests and stage. 

  1. Attribution Modeling Using Big Data 

In this trend, clients’ data gets analyzed to estimate the role of various marketing channels in generating revenue. Remember that marketers interact with potential clients through different ways including social media.

But once a user converts, it becomes difficult to identify their touchpoint as the sole revenue generator. That’s where analyzing cross-channel customer journeys through multi-touch attribution comes in. It provides a holistic view of marketing effectiveness, and big data serves to fuel these insights.  

Conclusion

Results in digital marketing take time. You also need to have patience, enough data, and work with talented digital marketing experts. This can help you build an effective, high-quality marketing program that aligns with your budget.

Get reputable experts who can tell you what’s working, what’s not, and what needs more time for results to start showing. Additionally, you must be careful not to use a cookie cutter approach. Finally, keep in mind that every business is unique. As such, your manufacturing business deserves to be understood by the folks who handle your marketing.

As we wrap up this guide, it’s important to underscore that marketing today is about creating meaningful connections and delivering personal value, not just promoting products.

Modern buyers want to feel understood. They expect any interactions with a manufacturing brand to be helpful, not salesy.

That’s why taking the time to build detailed buyer personas, craft useful content, and nurture relationships is so crucial. These strategies make outreach feel more genuine and human.

The advice is to keep the focus on the customer’s experience – solve their problems, educate them, and guide them to the solutions offered.

If this humanized approach is taken in all digital marketing efforts, it will be possible to strengthen trust in the brand and drive more sales over time.

Hopefully this guide provided valuable insights and ideas that can be applied to grow a manufacturing business in the digital age. Please reach out if any further advice is needed!

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take to transform a manufacturing company’s marketing digitally?

For most manufacturers like yours, plan on 12-18 months to fully integrate digital marketing across strategy, content, automation, and analytics. Committing the needed resources and getting management onboard is key.

What challenges can companies face with digital marketing?

One big challenge is resistance to change. Some team members may not want to adopt new systems. Only certain staff may have the digital skills needed. It can also be tough to accurately track ROI of digital efforts without expertise.

What metrics should be tracked for digital marketing?

Focus on metrics like website visitors, traffic sources, lead conversion rate, cost per lead, and marketing’s impact on closed deals. These show how digital efforts are performing.

Should manufacturers hire dedicated digital marketing staff?

Having staff focused solely on digital marketing is crucial for manufacturers to succeed online. Rather than overload existing teams, bring on experts specifically skilled in areas like content, SEO, and automation. For smaller companies, training current marketers on digital skills can also work. The key is having knowledgeable professionals who can optimize your digital presence and strategy. With a digital-savvy team tailored to online audiences, your company will be set up for digital marketing success.

Adam Smartschan

Adam Smartschan heads Altitude's strategic marketing and branding efforts. An award-winning writer and editor by trade in a former life, he now specializes in data analytics, search engine optimization, digital advertising strategy, conversion rate optimization and technical integrations. He holds numerous industry certifications and is a frequent speaker on topics around B2B marketing strategy and SEO.
Adam graduated from Northeastern University in Boston in 2007. He grew up in Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, just miles down the road from Altitude's headquarters in Emmaus, Pennsylvania.