When industrial electrical contractor Northern Kentucky Electric Service (NKES) was founded 16 years ago, the company got its start by launching an aggressive, highly successful marketing effort — that it never repeated. Once the company's customer base had been firmly established, marketing expenditures dwindled. “We spent maybe a couple of hundred dollars a year [for marketing]” says NKES president Mike Wissman. But then, seemingly overnight, the electrical contracting marketplace — and the business models of NKES' clients — changed dramatically. Costs increased. Factories closed. Competition grew fierce. And, NKES' customer base began to erode.
Throughout the industrial and manufacturing sector, companies like NKES have had to step up their marketing game to survive. Traditional and online direct marketing is ideally suited for these b-to-b, niche market enterprises that are often global in scope. Experts suggest that long-term success may hinge on retooling and adapting marketing techniques proven in other industries. In addition, it will depend on finding ways to bring excitement to a sector whose overall marketing has often been derided as being stodgy, boring and hopelessly stuck in the '60s.
“Just because you manufacture some widget doesn't mean you have to sacrifice personality. The sector desperately needs that. People buy people; they don't buy widgets,” says Rodger Roeser, president of the Cincinnati-based Eisen Management Group, which works with NKES and other clients, including Honeywell, US Steel and GE. “We have to come at things completely differently in the industry.”
In addition to other categories, John Swieter, founder and director at Dallas-based marketing firm Range US, works with venture capital companies to help brand and launch new manufacturing companies. “The creative part is easy, but you have to go through the hard work [first],” he says. “You have to create the identity, and extend [it across] channels.”
Besides brand management, Swieter says, global competition has also triggered product innovation. “Industrial design is making even mundane products interesting and new,” he adds, pointing to the success of a manufacturing client's innovative redesign of grocery carts and related accessories.
Sue Reninger, managing partner of brand strategy at Columbus, OH-based RMD Advertising, agrees — but adds a note of caution. “People are trying to duplicate products. It's become a real problem in some segments. Strong, sustainable brands are smart about how they do things,” she says.
Another emerging trend is the relatively new phenomenon of industrial and manufacturing sector customers going online for information. “It took [the sector] a while to get beyond the technology curve,” deadpans Reninger. She says this acceptance requires changes in messaging and segmentation.
It's also led to a willingness to try new online sales and marketing technologies. Earlier this year, New York-based machining and copper welding company Zak Incorporated began testing KinetiCast, an online multimedia presentation and tracking tool.
“[KinetiCast] provides us with the ability to target our messages using customized communications for qualified accounts, existing customers and new targets,” says Zak VP Michael Dagle. He expects KinetiCast will help his company achieve a 30% savings in its travel budget. “Times have changed. Don't be afraid to experiment,” he adds.
As for NKES and its survival, the company has made a commitment to fund ongoing marketing. The first in a series of direct mailers to launch the newly revamped NKES brand went out just last month.
Does adding a little pizzazz to industrial and manufacturing sector marketing obtain strong results? Wissman says, laughing, “We're trying to figure out what we're going to do with all the money we'll make.”
Northern Kentucky Electric Service
Direct mail campaign
After 10 years without marketing, Northern Kentucky Electric Service called on Eisen Management Group to create branding, messaging, competitive positioning, collateral, a sales kit and a multifaceted, highly targeted direct mail campaign. Eisen's Rodger Roeser says response to the first mailer — a survey to serve as a touch point and “mitigate the freakishness of the cold call” — was overwhelming, yielding double-digit response rates within the first few days.
Online presentation and tracking
Established in 1937, large machining and copper welding specialist Zak Incorporated serves specialty melting, power generation, aerospace, and oil and gas industries. Like most manufacturers, Zak relied heavily on sales visits and in-person presentations to communicate with and sell to customers until skyrocketing fuel costs led the company to find an alternative. Using KinetiCast, an online presentation and tracking tool, Zak expects to achieve a 30% savings on travel costs.
Gorman-Rupp Pumps manufactures high-performance, high-quality pumps and pumping systems for municipal, water, wastewater, sewage, industrial, construction, petroleum, fire and original equipment manufacturer markets. Facing competition from lesser-quality copycats as it entered its 75th year, the company called on RMD Advertising to re-establish its long-held position as “the most sought after pump on the planet.” The edgy multimedia, multichannel viral campaign touts Gorman-Rupp's 75 years of reliability and innovation.