Not a lot of surprises . . . but some trends to watch!
By Mark Semmelmayer
Chief Idea Officer
Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications
For a fifth year, Gardner Business Media has released the findings of its annual Media Usage in Manufacturing study. As I did a set of posts on the 2014 survey, I thought you might find it useful to get a top-line view of what’s changed . . . or, more importantly, what hasn’t . . . in a brief year-on-year comparison.
I like surveys like this. They provide a basis of study for students of the B2B game. At the same time, I’m also a functional 40-year-plus B2B marketer. I’ll synopsize the findings from the perspective of an active marketer who wants to apply them to improve marketing strategies and tactics today.
Picking Meat from the Bone: A Comparative Overview
1. Some things never change
It makes no difference which media, channel or format is used in your marketing program. Brand is the most influential factor in vendor selection. Buyers rely on sources and suppliers they recognize and trust. Brand impact is evidenced in the way they view searches, visit possible vendor websites, consume product/technical information or even notice ads. Recognizable brands overwhelmingly get their attention first.
2. Buying Cycle, Vendor Selection and Buyer Profile
In terms of the buying cycle and vendor selection, the data hasn’t changed year-on-year:
- 70% of buyers still look for products or services at least once a week
- The most influential criteria in selection is technology, followed by service and reputation
- Buyers trust (in descending order) peers, technical articles and tradeshows to form perceptions of vendors
That said, some interesting nuances of the 2015 results, compared to 2014, reveal a slightly changing picture of the buyers themselves:
- Buyers in age of 51+ grew 5%, to 65%, year-on-year . . . mostly at a cost to 21-30 year olds, which declined 3%
- Buyers who said they held a corporate management position grew 5%, to 20% of the total
- For the first time in survey history, sales and marketing showed up in the hierarchy of buyers, representing 13% of the total respondents
3. Search and Web Use
- Search engines remain an essential research component for buyers
- 93% of buyers using search are most likely to select search returns featuring known companies, up 7 points from last year
- Probable click-through to search results from companies they don’t know dropped 11%
- 43% of buyers are likely to click through to a supplier website, up 13% from 2014. This now surpasses clicks to articles and content, at 39%, which led this category in 2014
- Trade magazines remain the leading push media for delivering content, preferred by 55% of buyers
- That’s down slightly (3%), losing share to digital magazines, which climbed from 20% to 22%
- Trade shows’ relevance, as a primary source of information, rose 5% from 2014, to 63%
- Preferred pull media is dominated by supplier websites (93%) and industry websites (92%), with only webinars (54%) as the other pull vehicle to crack the 50% mark
5. Social Media
- Social media adoption increased 5% from 2014; however, perception of usefulness remains flat
- On a scale of 1 (Waste of Time) to 5 (Invaluable) social media influence is a below-average 2.64
- LinkedIn and YouTube continue to be the most useful social media sites for buyers, but both are just barely at “average”
- Twitter and Facebook are blocked at many responding companies. These outlets, as well as Google+ and Instagram were in the low 2 to sub 2 rating range for relevance
6. Mobile Usage
- Overall mobile adoption is relatively flat
- The only significant gain was in smart phone usage, up 8% compared to last year
- Tablet gained 5% in usage, primary as an email platform
- Manufacturers prefer browsers to apps when accessing web content on mobile devices
Trend Watch: Implications of the 2015 Survey for Marketers
• Buyer Profile
The increase in 50+ buyers, while not huge, may be significant. Coupled with increased respondents identified as corporate management, it seems manufacturing companies see procurement as a task for seasoned hands. Similarly, the appearance of Sales/Marketing in the buying dynamic seems to signal a “give all of our business teams a seat at the big table” approach in corporations. Implication: marketers need to plan for and bolster their marketing at the C-Suite level.
• Search and Web Use
Brand awareness and presence is still paramount. Investment in and augmentation of search marketing, especially Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical, because buyers prefer organic search results over paid-for search results. As they rely, to a high degree, on search results to lead them to supplier websites they recognize, keeping websites consistent in brand, up-to-date, user friendly and loaded with the product/technical information they seek, is key.
As the buyer’s consumption of information from various channels proliferates, it becomes increasingly important to have a 360° view of your marketing efforts. That’s Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC). IMC is: 1) Completely understanding your target audience and their habits; 2) Crafting compelling messages appropriate to the selected media/channel; 3) Delivering that message to your target how, when and where they want/get their information; 4) Establishing plans to measure response and using those results to craft the next plan. Google IMC. Learn IMC. Make it part of your marketing DNA. Also, maybe the improving economy has put trade show travel back in buyers’ budgets. An increased preference for trade shows as resources may mean reexamining your trade show strategy.
• Social Media
For the time being, at least where the industrial buyer is concerned, this is the least of your worries. That’s not to say you should ignore social . . . it has some value to buyers in their 360° product investigation (and younger buying influencers are heavier social users than older) . . . but focus on it for what it provides. A way of deepening interaction with possible customers and not an end-point selling tool. Keep your social strategy simple and focused on the apps, especially LinkedIn and YouTube, that are meaningful . . . for now. Stay tuned.
In some ways, mobile is merging into the web/search arena. First, you need to understand that configuring your website to be mobile-friendly is important to your ranking in search returns. New Google algorithms penalize sites that are not, or only poorly, mobile enabled. Second, growth in the use of smart phones is an indication more buyers are using them to instantly access information. That’s not to say they are necessarily searching potential vendors, but searching for useful information on a relevant topic. That’s where a good content strategy pays dividends. If they’re looking for information and you just happen to be one of the first to provide it, you’re already half-way home with them.
MARK SEMMELMAYER is the Business Marketing Association’s (BMA) 2015 recipient of its prestigious G. D. Crain Jr. Award and an Inductee into the Business Marketing Hall of Fame. He is a former national Chairman of BMA and past President of BMA’s Atlanta Chapter. A 40-year B2B marketing veteran, including 32 years with Kimberly-Clark in its B2B sectors, he’s the founder and Chief Idea Officer of Pen & Inc. Marketing Communications, a consultancy in Atlanta, GA.