Mid-Size Manufacturing Firms Need Better Marketing

If you’re a small to mid-size manufacturing or services firm which sells to other businesses (meaning, you’re a “business-to-business marketer”), you probably need to pay more attention to marketing and advertising because a lot has changed over the last several years.

Before we explain what has changed, let’s first define “marketing” in the business-to-business world.

Marketing defined
Many business owners think that “marketing” means “advertising”. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Advertising is easy to define: you put an ad in your industry’s trade magazines or in a journal or a directory or the yellow pages; maybe you do some direct mail; you get a booth at the trade show; maybe you try some banner ads online; you send stuff to customers. Audience plus an ad equals advertising.

You might also see your website as “advertising” but actually it’s not, because your site is not “targeted” to anyone; it’s just out there.

So, what is marketing?

Well, marketing does include advertising, but your advertising is only one ingredient of marketing – kind of like tomatoes being just one ingredient of a great pasta sauce.

Or, compare marketing and advertising to a football team: the quarterback may be the most visible (advertising) but the other players, both offense and defense, combine to make a winning team. And they work together, as they are trained and coached to do.

So, marketing is a mix of ingredients that helps you develop and sell your brand and your products, retain customers and build market share.

Look at it this way: if your team members such as management, engineering and product development, sales, customer service, parts and service, all work independently (which is very common in small and mid-size manufacturing firms), they do so as team members with no captain (marketing) – and then your brand and market share and lead generation all suffer because of it.

In other words, marketing is the discipline that brings it all together. In fact, in the strictest sense, marketing is a discipline.

The marketing expert
Successful business-to-business marketers, large and small, employ a marketing manager who ensures that sales, advertising, management, customer service and after-sales service are all on the same page in terms of their integrated marketing plan.

However, many firms can’t afford a full-time marketing manager. This is where a marketing-advertising agency comes into play, or at least, a consultant who can help you develop a marketing / advertising / communications plan.

More later on hiring marketing talent… but now, back to “what has changed in the business-to-business marketing and advertising field” over the past several years. Well, a lot, with one factor leading the way: the Internet.

The Internet has changed the way we do business, period. And by “we”, we mean both sellers and buyers.

Buyers get their information differently then they did several years ago; a shift from trade journals and directories to online searches and opt ins and recommendations from their peers over social media networks.

And sellers have changed the way they market their products; from cold calls and telemarketing and direct mail to websites that are “optimized” for the search engines (SEO), combined with online pay per click advertising, online press and publicity, helpful “how to” white papers available for download, and a whole lot more.

New tools, methods
And the Internet has spawned dozens of methods and tools to help business-to-business marketers market their products faster and better – and at far lower cost – than “traditional” methods such as trade advertising, standard press releases and direct mail.

Not only are these new tools less costly; they also make marketing more measurable.

For example, e-mail marketing, which can be a significant tool for a new product launch, a customer retention plan and for ongoing customer relations and brand building, is not only low cost but comes with real-time analytics that allow you to see how your e-news or e-mail efforts are performing.

Website analytics, many of which are free, allow you to instantly analyze not only how many visitors come to your site (both new and returning visitors), but what they are most interested in, how they navigate, how long they spend on various pages, even what page they left your site from.

And getting your press release out to an audience of thousands or tens or thousands of prospects will cost you about the same as a new toner cartridge.

Web “optimization” (or SEO) is often ignored by marketers yet it’s a reality that must be part of your marketing plan. And optimizing your site does not have to cost an arm and a leg; you may not need a new (and costly) design – it may be that just need to refresh your content and make sure it’s aligned with what the search engines are doing with their ever-changing algorithms.

The plan is critical
First, you need a plan; a sound marketing plan that defines your business and branding and market share objectives, the strategies that will help you achieve those objectives, and the tactics that spell out how you will implement your strategies. And you need a budget. The tactical plan, if done right, will help you arrive at your budget.

Hire an expert to do this; someone who is knowledgeable on today’s business-to-business landscape. And make sure that you get buy-in from management, sales, customer service and other team members so you’re all on the same page.

If you sell through dealers, agents or distributors, include them in your planning and in the plan itself. Link to them and drive sales leads to them.

Make sure that you define what sets you apart; your USP, or unique selling proposition (sometimes called your value proposition) so your prospects know what makes you different.

Ensure that your whole team delivers the same message. Messaging – and living up to the “brand promise” – is a very important part of marketing.

You may need to re-visit your brand identity as part of your branding or re-branding strategy, but do this only if necessary, as it can be costly and time consuming.

The marketing action plan: a very wise investment
Then, put your plan into action. A sound marketing plan based on careful market analyses, with a tactical roadmap and timeframes and a budget, will be one of the best investments you can make in your company.

These tactics – which are the specific marketing to-do’s such as press, publicity, online banner ads or pay-per-click ads, e-mail marketing or e-news, customer retention, search engine optimization, dealer support, maybe social media, must be managed by people who have the expertise and the time to get you the traction you need.

So maybe it’s an internal person, or a marketing agency, or a combination.

The marketing-media budget
Well, this is always an “it depends” topic. The important thing, again, is the marketing plan: it tells you what you have to accomplish – so you have your homework laid out.

A solid plan will define the tactics (tasks) you need to employ to meet your strategies, and if you use something called the task budgeting method, then those tactics each have a cost, so there’s your initial budget outline. You can always adjust the intensity or frequency of the tasks if you need to adjust the budget, but stick to the plan: your objectives, strategies and tactics.

Some medium-size firms use a percentage of revenue as a guideline for their sales-marketing-advertising budget; it usually runs between.5% and 3.0% of sales depending on the size of the company. So a firm with $10 million in sales should budget, say, 2%, or $200,000, and a firm with $100 million may budget.5%, or $500,000. Note that this budget is not just for “advertising” but for the whole marketing mix, including various media, production, website work and fees paid to your agency or consultant.

However, the objectives-to-tactics budgeting approach is always more realistic than a percentage of sales since it’s based on your competitive situation, your branding goals, and quite probably the fact that you need to get caught up on many of the important marketing tasks that you have been neglecting.

Next steps
Hire someone who knows business-to-business marketing inside and out, including today’s emerging, e-based tactics. Get consensus on the (written) marketing-media plan. Set a budget and stick to it. Implement your plan aggressively and quickly. And measure your results so you can track progress over time and determine your ROI from your marketing spending.

Twin Captain’s Beds – Why Parents Should Consider a Captain’s Bed

Are you looking for an appropriate bed for your kids? There are actually a lot of kid’s beds available in the market. These are twin-sized beds. What you need to choose now is the one that can satisfy your convenience as well as the needs of your kids. You can always choose the typical types. As a practical parent, you will need to check the alternatives. One of the options that you can consider is the twin captain’s bed.

This is a particular type of platform bed which includes storage area in the arrangement of the bed. The storage space can be drawers that are placed underneath the bed. This is a sound choice if you have limited space in the bedroom. As a background, the origin of the captain’s bed comes from the beds that were used during the old times on the board ship. Since the little living space in the ships should be maximized, the captain’s bed or also known as cabin beds were conceptualized. Up to our present time, these beds are still popular especially for kids.

Using a captain’s bed, you essentially save a lot of space as the things of your kid will be placed on the storage area underneath the platform. The space you will take up is equivalent to the size of a twin bed. You can also neatly organize the things of your kid depending on the number of drawers included in the bed. You can separate the toys, clothes, books and other stuffs.

Normally the captain’s bed is made of wood which is sturdy compared to beds made of metal. It can indeed last a lifetime. Your child will be able to use this as he or she grows up. Eventually, this can be used by his or her younger siblings. You do not have to worry that the captain’s bed will look boring. You have plenty of styles to choose from. You can select antique, contemporary, oak, cherry and other various finishes. Some captain’s beds are offered with kiddie themes like cartoon or movie characters.

Besides the usual drawers, you can get captain’s bed with a headboard which can be useful for books and other school things. You can also include a trundle or pull-out bed placed underneath the platform. If you have two kids sharing the room, this is a practical approach. For this type of bed, the storage space is now placed in the trundle.

Aboard the SME Market

In the UK there are around 4.5 million enterprises that are defined as SME by ONS. Interestingly 75% or 3.3 million of these enterprises do not employ staff i.e. sole traders who should be considered more as self-employed jobs and therefore should be excluded from the numbers.

Based on the EU employee definitions of the remaining 1.2 million businesses 83% (968,000) employ under 10, and are classed as micro enterprises, 15% (172,000) employ more than 10 and less than 49 employees and are classed as small enterprises and only 2% (26000) employ more than 50 and less than 250 employees and are classes as medium sized enterprises. (Source B.I.S Survey 2010)

The demands of these three segments are completely different and the complexity of transitioning from micro to small and small to medium brings totally different issues.

Let’s have a quick look at how businesses in each of these segments can behave.

Level 1 The Power Boat Phase

Micro businesses behave like a power boat. They are nippy and manoeuvrable. Flexibility is their advantage beating other boats to the action. They are quick to react to the conditions as they are very close to the sea. They can see things coming but have to constantly focus on the moment.

To ensure the other power boats (competition) don’t steal a march on them the skipper (business owner) is constantly on the lookout for the next job and keeping in front of the game. If the skipper (business owner) takes their hands off the controls for a moment disaster can ensue.

The ride is always very bumpy but exhilarating.

The skipper fixes the engine, maintains the boat, makes sure they have the right crew and gets stuck in when they arrive at the next job.

With never enough time to properly maintain and improve the boat means the boat and the small crew taking such a prolonged pounding the speed may be slowed to make it a more comfortable ride. This results in them being beaten to the jobs by other new boats in the area.

However the main problem is that in choppy or stormy conditions they can easily be sunk- losing everything.

Level 2 The Fishing Boat Phase

Small businesses behave more like a Fishing Boat, the sort that battle the storms of the North Sea. It’s built to weather the conditions but it relies on the skill and knowledge of the skipper to keep it safe. From his experience the skipper knows where the fish are most likely to be and keeps an eye on the weather.

The skipper doesn’t have to get stuck in hauling the nets or sorting and storing the catch. Oh no! The crew just get on with that.

So what does the skipper do all day?

The skipper works long, hard hours to ensure the boat and crew are safe as well as finding the catch to feed all on the boat.

The boat is built strong enough to face most conditions but will often have to limp back to port to face long and expensive repairs. Past profits are pumped into the boat just to keep it afloat. If its condition is not kept up to scratch then the stormy seas will claim it.

The boat can easily become top heavy (too many overheads) and capsize.

Without the skipper the boat would drift and eventually flounder.

The skipper works from their gut backed by their experience. What they do can’t be easily taught and so it is difficult to hand over to the next skipper. Indeed it needs years and years of hard graft to develop the next skipper.

Level 3 The Cruise Liner Stage

Medium sized businesses behave more like a Cruise Liner. The captain spends some of his time on the bridge but he doesn’t have to be there all the time. There are competent crew who can man the bridge whilst the captain is spending time with the passengers (customers) and crew (team) ensuring smooth passage for all on board.

How would the crew feel if the captain spent all his time down in the bowels of the ship in the boiler room keeping the engines going? The safety of the ship is the responsibility of the captain so they need to be kept abreast of all the relevant information to make informed decisions.

On board the communications crew (accounts and administration) who are constantly check the depth of water under the ship and that the ship is on course. The wireless section (Marketing) are monitoring what is going on around the ship and getting all the weather updates. Radar (KPI’s) is looking out forward to avoid the icebergs so that the captain can be secure in keeping the course and speed. The Purser department (Customer Relationship and Marketing) ensure the passengers are happy and informed with what’s going on. The Entertainment Department (Sales Team) are down in the bar or in the Jacuzzi schmoozing the passengers!

Only joking unless it’s after 3 pm of course!!

The Liner is large enough and built with stabilisers to face large swells with ease and can also survive major storms relatively untouched.

It’s much easier to replace the captain than it is the skipper in small boats. The boat continues on its chartered course with all the crew knowing where they are headed and their role and responsibilities in reaching the planned destination.

The captain does not have to be the business owner. The business owner has the freedom to be onshore if they so desire. The owner knows the condition of the ship, it’s crew and passengers at all times. They know where it is headed and whether it is on course. The owner however has the freedom to be onshore knowing his ship is in good hands.