At a recent conference a presenter on Marketing for manufacturing businesses confined his discussion entirely to the topic of Marketing Communications. This was not much of a surprise, as the two disciples are often used interchangeably. What was more surprising was the fact that over half the presentation was devoted to Social Media. Despite this, most effective techniques for manufacturers to communicate with customers was still considered to be Trade Exhibitions, Direct Marketing (mail shots) and advertising in Trade Journals.
The thought of potential customers checking out Facebook for plastic masterbatch suppliers or of chemicals purchasers entering a Twitter dialogue with fellow purchasers to rate solvent suppliers is difficult to imagine. Yet, as the results of my simple survey shows, 85% of UK-based chemical manufacturer and distributor B2B companies have some presence in Social Media platforms. The offer to website visitors and customers to “sign-up to our newsletter”, once common place on company websites is now restricted to small and micro-businesses, which have largely left their website design unchanged for years.
On the surface, the majority of the UK-based chemical manufacturer and distributor B2B companies surveyed have a social media presence with LinkedIn constituting the main social media presence, followed by Facebook and Twitter (Figure 1).
The true picture is that active use of social media is restricted to 15% 0f companies surveyed (Figure 2). Most of the surveyed companies merely had a “place-holder” presence i.e. little or no active social media activity. This indicates an awareness of the future importance of social media, but no marketing communications strategy that incorporates social media channels in place.
There are very good examples of the coordinated and complimentary use of social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter such as Melrob Ltd., Aesica Pharmaceuticals Ltd., AEI Compounds Ltd., Scott Bader Ltd., and Chemoxy Ltd. These examples show that at its best, a B2B company’s multi-platform social media presence can engage customers, investors and future talent as a dynamic (Twitter), growing (RSS Newsfeed) and future-orientated business employing friendly, enthusiastic (Facebook) and experienced business people (LinkedIn). Looking at the news archives of most of the businesses surveyed it is clear that most of the companies surveyed are active in overseas expansion, opening new facilities, exhibiting, launching new products, signing new deals etc. Yet potential customers will be unaware of this unless they make an active decision to visit the website and trawl through the news articles.
Should B2B manufacturing businesses care? I think so yes. They are solid bricks-and-mortar businesses that have more often than not been in operation for decades. These businesses are lean, innovative, strong technically and sustainably profitable. The most active users of Social Media platforms are Distributors, Formulators and Speciality Chemical manufacturers (Figure 3), businesses that typically have the broadest, most fragmented customer base. The Social Media communications are largely supporting marketing communications; promoting new products and exhibitions, but also celebrating the personal and external achievements of their employees.
For SME’s the old adage that “people do business with people” is most acutely true. The combination of commercial and personal awareness provided by active Social Media engagement provides a warmer, more personal engagement with customers, prospective employees and small/medium investors. The use of social media may in future be used as a tactic to demystify specialist manufacturing as an investment opportunity and hence reduce the perception of risk to potential crowd-funding investors.