Skip to Content
Main Content

Hiker Looking Out Over Mountains

Northwoods Team

Your Trusted Digital Trail Guides

For more than 20 years, the digital experts at Northwoods have been helping clients improve their websites, software, and digital strategy and marketing. How can we help you meet your goals? 

Learn more about our services.


Digital Marketing Blueprint for Manufacturers

March 16, 2017 | Northwoods Team, Your Trusted Digital Trail Guides

15 Minute Read

(July 20, 2015 -  Updated March 16, 2017)

Twenty years ago, the marketing budget for a B2B manufacturer covered trade shows, conferences, and catalog development. Marketing existed to disseminate product information and create “impressions” on potential customers. The net effect of these impressions on actual sales was nebulous. And that was fine.

The Digital Age has completely changed the purpose of the B2B marketing department.

Today, marketing direct levers sales growth. Manufacturers expect websites, SEO, social media, and email to deliver actual sales leads. If metrics show that a media channel isn’t delivering, they revise or cut it. Web metrics drive business decisions on what markets to target and what products to develop. Marketing has taken on an executive role in business.

Digital marketing came late to B2B manufacturing. Within many B2B manufacturers, marketing remains “the department of pretty pictures.” If you’re a marketer in such a business, it’s time to create a strategy and assert your proper role.

How do you that? In 13 steps, broken into three stages: Plan, Build, and Report.

Stage 1: Plan

1. Define Your Goals

“Sell more” reigns as the topmost goal at most companies.

What can marketing do to support that goal?

  1. Draw more potential customers to your product pages, and
  2. convert a higher percentage of those viewers into buyers.

Businesses that sell directly from their websites can measure marketing success or failure directly and easily. But most B2B manufacturers don’t sell directly from their websites, so they commonly have difficulty developing useful metrics.

Without metrics, goals become unclear and marketing devolves back into a focus on creating impressions and pretty pictures with little clear ROI. Digital marketers absolutely must develop alternative sub-goals and performance indicators.

For example: If your company has a big focus on new product development, a key sub-goal would be to drive traffic to web pages dedicated to newly launched products; the key performance indicator would be the numbers regarding that traffic. Another example: If your company wants to target a certain industry, a sub-goal would be to drive traffic, by means of a targeted keyword campaign, from that industry to your website; a key performance indicator would lie in the amount of traffic generated by those industry-specific keywords.

Even if you do sell direct or gather direct leads on your website, you need to define these types of sub-goals and key performance indicators. The sub-goals all work together to meet the topmost goal of increasing sales.

The sub-goals will also drive tactical decisions. As you consider implementing each new possible digital tool, ask yourself: “Does this support my business objectives?” If it doesn’t, move on.

2. Define Your Brand

Ask your CEO to describe, in one minute, what your company is about. Note that. Then ask others in your company the same question under the same time constraint. Do they agree? Confusion and disagreement about company identity within the company will muddy your outward-facing communications.

The marketer’s job is to spell out the company elevator speech. You should be able to recite what your company does, who your customers are, and who your company is. You should be able to clearly articulate what makes you special. You should formalize and publish that message internally. Mission confusion within the company is marketing failure. It’s on you.

Why do most manufacturers have a hard time with this seemingly simple task? Because the full company picture is complicated and political, so people fight over every nuance.

But do persevere. To create compelling marketing materials, you need a compelling entry point into your company narrative. It must be simple and strong to get potential customers in the door and onto your website. Once in, they can follow their curiosity and click through to the About Us, Industries, and Product Catalog pages.

This down-and-dirty approach to brand definition will shape all your marketing materials. Your banner image will be more than a pretty picture; it will support the company narrative. When you create content and post to social media, the topics and tone will support the narrative.

Brand definition will also help you weed out the contrary and the generic and keep your message pure and undiluted.

This approach will not only make the design of each individual piece more compelling, it will also unify your marketing materials to create a consistent, strong public face.


3. Evaluate Your Competitors

Identify your top five competitors. Review their content, including website pages, social posts, e-newsletters and catalogs. You’ve already defined your own goals; now, you can infer your competitors’ goals from the thrust of their marketing materials. You can evaluate their brands in much the same way you evaluated your own.

Write down the goals and sub-goals that your analyses reveal, along with the supporting evidence gained through your research. Share them with your CEO; the boss always appreciates a little competitive insight.

If your competitors turn out to be unsophisticated and lacking in discernible goals and the attendant marketing tactics and strategy, you’ve identified weaknesses – areas where your company can gain advantage.

4. Study Online Analytics

Review your website’s analytics. Focus first on how visitors land on your site. Note your top pages and those that attract little or no traffic. Develop what works and reevaluate or cut what does not.

Use a keyword tool, such as SEM Rush, to study your ranking keywords and those of your competitors. The queries within Google Search Console are another valuable resource.

Review your social media analytics. Which of your posts – and of your competitors’ -- resonate with your audience? Follow their lead by expanding informal social media posts into more robust content.

Ultimately, you should develop goal paths in your analytics package based on your business goals and key performance indicators. You’ll present these metrics to your company leadership and use them to build business cases for further marketing development. (More to come on this later in the article.)

The analytics can overwhelm. If they overwhelm you, an external vendor can boil them down and help you make sense of them. The important thing is that you can make your key business goals and performance indicators clear to that vendor.

5. Be Social

B2B manufacturers ignored social media for years. Many executives argue that these channels fail to generate sales. That’s true up to a point – B2B manufacturers don’t win sales directly from social channels.

But social media play a crucial role in creating awareness and brand identity in the B2B environment. Clients and customers will talk about your company on social media whether or not you’re on it. You want to be in front of that discussion. Social media lets you hear the voice of the customer. If you want know what people really think of your company, see what they say on social media.

As your digital strategy matures, you can distribute and amplify the marketing content you’ve created. Strong content linked via Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn allows your social business contacts to become your evangelists and pass that content on. Thus social media can introduce your company and its message to a new and expanding audience.

Even if you’re not ready to implement a content and social media strategy, don’t let squatters take control of your name. Claim your user name ASAP on the major social channels - Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+.

6. Plan Your Content

Imagine being handed a microphone in front of a huge crowd and thinking, “Gee, I should have prepared a speech.”

Social media and other digital communications are like that microphone -- a great opportunity for mass exposure and a great way to screw up. If you lack anything smart to say, you won’t win new customers. You’ll stammer and grope, and your audience will tune you out.

LinkedIn, Facebook and the rest broadcast to a lot of people. Give them compelling content, such as savvy articles, engaging videos, and useful infographics. Without rich content, investing in email blasts, social media, and advertising is worse than useless.

Use a content inventory template to get organized. Start with the company catalog. List all products and description information. Note any marketing efforts underway for specific products. Once you know what you have, you can identify gaps and fill them with new content. 

Use a content inventory to keep your content organized.

Marketers usually set calendars for content creation and publication. How often should you publish? Two or three times a week? Once a month? Typically, more content means more visits to your site and greater recognition for your company.

Give your audience good, useful content on a regular basis. It should not be all about you. Write about industry-wide news and trends. Write about the things customers care about – you know what they are, because you’ve analyzed their search keywords.

Once you’ve drawn readers/viewers to your content again and again, they become more and more likely to proceed to your product pages.

7. Define Calls to Action

The point of the content is to prompt action. If you’re not sending customers to a shopping cart, what exactly do you want them to do? These calls to action should correlate with your business goals and key performance indicators. Some possibilities:

  • Fill out a Contact Us form
  • Sign up for a newsletter
  • Fill out a Request for Quote form
  • Download a white paper or e-book
  • Sign up for company-run webinars or live seminars
  • Subscribe to you company’s YouTube channel
  • Follow on Twitter or Like on Facebook

All such actions help cement potential customers to your company. Even if they don’t need your services or products today, by getting them into these channels you will be top of mind when they are ready to buy. Keep them engaged.

8. Set Up Reporting

Every marketer would love to be a hero and hand the CEO a report that says “We did x, and sales increased y.”

B2C marketers who sell products on their websites might actually pull that off now and then. But you have to think harder in the B2B manufacturing world. You can’t report actual direct sales. Instead, find other connections to show how you have bolstered the business.

Let’s re-examine an example sub-goal from Step 1. If the CEO has set a goal to increase new product sales this year, then plan to show her how your content and channel efforts have increased traffic to specific new products pages on the website. After all, customers must become aware of your products before they can buy them. You might be the only one in your company who can actually measure this product exposure.

Outline the key performance indicator metrics you plan to report after you have implemented your strategy. These metrics will factor in as you design the website and other channels.

You don’t need to come up with many metrics in order to create powerful performance reports. Design the report to be simple and strong. Focus on a small number of concrete goals and create bold visual charts to show how your efforts paid off. You can do this in Excel and PowerPoint.

Don’t do metrics for metrics’ sake. Anyone can pull lots of numbers and charts out of Google Analytics. You may think your 60-page PowerPoint looks impressive, but if your charts and graphs and analytics jargon do not connect solidly to business goals, your report means nothing to everyone else. Long, bland reports of click-through rates and website page visits put leadership to sleep.

Measurement becomes even more important if you have a low budget. If you can define a sub-goal that directly serves larger business goals and then show clear reports of quantifiable improvement, leadership will be inclined to invest more in digital marketing.

Stage 2: Build

9. Build Your Website

Conversations with others about digital marketing strategy often gravitate around social media, CRM, SEO, digital advertising, email marketing, product databases, mobile apps, videos, blogs, and on and on. Many people consider all these moving parts to be the bread and butter of digital strategy.

Those channels are certainly important. But don’t forget the good old fashioned website. The website should stand above all other initiatives. When done well, it provides:

  • The ultimate model of brand messaging and look-and-feel
  • Product brand/sub-brand architecture
  • Product/services taxonomy
  • Targeted user groups and messaging
  • Marketing/sales funnel and calls to action

A well-made website provides an overarching information architecture that binds your brand, products, and content into one intuitive user experience. Nothing else does that. No other marketing effort is as all-encompassing or as rigorously tasked as the website.

If and when you bring together everything that is your business into one intuitive website experience, congratulate yourself. Aside from giving you a great web presence, you have also created an authoritative, solid model that will shape the rest of your marketing efforts.

When you create a catalog, an article about your products, or a video, your vendors will ask how your brand looks and talks, or what your products can do, or how your graphics and colors look, or who your customers are. You needn’t explain it all in the abstract. You can direct them to your website as the master model. You’ll still need to define a few things, such as your social media voice. But you build those details on top of the solid foundation of your website. Thus grounded, your wide-spectrum digital strategy develops more organically and in a unified fashion.

10. Build Your Content

Launch the core of your website, your explanation of your brand and products, first. Then create a content library and fill it with such items as videos, blogs, calculators, and infographics.

Content first, media channels second. Please.

Again and again, we see businesses leapfrog over website content development and jump into inbound channels, such as social media and marketing automation. Marketers assume they will be able to generate content later.

Big mistake.

They get smacked by the very real difficulty of generating content. They flounder for years and can’t catch up. Customers, drawn by inbound platforms, arrive to find no there there. The whole mess wastes money, wastes time, and makes digital marketing look like a bad investment.

Resist the temptation to create an inbound highway to nothing.

11. Inbound Marketing

Let’s say you have a solid, compelling website with at least a small library of content.

How do you get those who don’t know you exist to consume that content, and thus make them aware of your company and its products? The answer: Advertising, social media, and email marketing.

These tactics rarely generate leads and sales directly, and they should not be measured on those criteria. They shine at creating awareness and positive impressions within an industry and at driving key industry people to valuable content on the website.

Choose channels thoughtfully. Too many and you’ll stretch your resources thin. Too few and you won’t achieve the impressions and SEO impact you need. Select the three or four social media channels that resonate in your industry. Next, set up the chosen channels so they look professional and on-brand, with your website design as a master reference. If this is beyond your resources or expertise, turn to a creative vendor.

After you are set up in different channels, do not devote too much time to each individual post. Once again, it comes back to content. If you have a great new video of genuine interest, all you have to say in your post or email is, “Hey everyone, we have a new video about ____! See it here.”

If you lack such content, you will struggle to come up with ideas, and your posts will take longer to write. Tarting up weak content to try to make it seem valuable is exhausting and, finally, futile.

12. Design Your Conversion Paths

Congratulations. You have defined your goals, clarified your brand, built a compelling website based on those ideas, and built a small library of content on the website. You’re ready to post links to that content in your email blasts, social channels, and advertising.

Let’s step back and look at the bigger picture.

If you clearly defined your business goals and determined the main calls to action that correlate to those goals, then you know what you want your potential customers to do on your website. How do you keep them treading the path, from clicking on a link you put on Facebook to reading that article on your website to proceeding to a product page to clicking your call to action button?

Here is a conversion-path example, culminating in filling out a Contact Sales form on the website:

Facebook > Blog Article > Product Detail Page > “Contact Sales” form

After you plan your conversion path – and you will plan it, right? -- optimize the design of each page to entice people onto the next step. For example, if your blog article is about various  materials used to construct mousetraps, conveniently place a link on the page in the midst of the blog article to details about a specific mousetrap your company makes from the latest space-age alloys. The hard work here is determining the placement of the link to get the most clicks, without being so gratuitous that your whole article comes off as a self-serving advertisement.

Earlier, in the planning stage, you defined your main business goals, several sub-goals designed to meet those main goals, and calls to action to support those sub-goals. Now you should map out conversion paths for each of those calls to action.

Once again, quality content matters. Without it, you have no way to create a starting point for each conversion path. You may need different content to serve as trailheads for each of the paths.

Stage 3: Report (and Repeat)

13. Report Your Successes

Now that you’ve mapped a conversion path, it’s easy to understand the purpose of online analytics. For the conversion path example above, you need to find out:

  1. How many people saw your Facebook post
  2. What percentage of those people clicked on the link in the post
  3. How many people stayed on the blog page long enough to read the article
  4. How many clicked the link embedded in the article to get to the product page
  5. And finally, how many on the product page clicked the Contact Sales button

At each stage, the number of clickthroughs will be a subset of the number before it. If you can get 3,000 people to see your Facebook post, maybe three of them will make it all the way to the Contact Sales button. Those who click on that button are bona fide leads.

The goals for ongoing development have become clear. To increase leads, you must increase the initial exposure and/or raise the percentage of people converted to move to each next step.

How do you do that? Great content, and ever-improving page design.

But you may not be collecting direct leads on your website. Let’s say your goal is just to expose more people to your products and deepen their interest.

Do you think that sounds soft and unmeasurable? Think again. The secret sauce of reporting lies in the very term key performance indicators.

Which pieces of information would indicate – not prove, but indicate – that more users are getting more of your product information?

To get a sense of this, let go of the idea of absolute proof and look for broader sets of convincing evidence. For example, if your goal is to have more people view your product information, and you see visits to your product pages rising month after month, longer dwell time on your product pages, increased specification sheet downloads, and increased numbers of plays on related product videos, gather those indicators into a simple, yet impressive report for your CEO. Together, they paint a convincing picture of one goal achieved.

Once you can show traffic rising through each of your defined conversion funnels and gains in your key performance indicators, seek qualitative feedback from your sales force and customers.

Combine all these graphic-friendly metrics into one report. Your CEO will get the message loud and clear: Business goals accomplished.

Now, what to do with that extra budget they award you next year?

You’ve got a plan. Because that’s how you roll.

Epilogue: One Year Later…

You have a strong identity. You have goals. You have tactical smarts. Your business is a place where things happen, not just a place where things are.

In other words, you are now a marketer of the digital age. Lucky you.

But this process keeps evolving. You will never stop learning. This article covered many subjects that deserve expansion. Check out these related blogs to dig deeper.