Diversity in Marketing
“What are these?” the fab shop owner asked his nephew as he picked up a puffy rectangular cube that had his business logo and contact info printed on one side. He had hired his brother’s son to do odd jobs around the shop and had recently put him in charge of marketing for the business. Tossing it to the young man, he speculated, “Square foam rubber footballs?”
“No,” the nephew replied with a smile, “they are stress balls made to look like our press brake.” Seeing his uncle starting to look concerned, he quickly added, “If an employee is feeling frustrated, he can squeeze one in his hand and the resistance it gives against his muscles actually helps him relieve mental stress.”
“I know what a stress ball is—what I’d like to know is why there is a giant box of these things sitting here in our office.”
“Well, you told me that when you took over grandpa’s shop you decided not to do marketing the same way he did. You said that all he ever did was put ads in the different phone books around the area. I’ve taken the bulk of this year’s marketing budget and instead put it towards something innovative, modern, and memorable! We can hand them out at our booth at the upcoming industrial show and give them to customers when we deliver orders.”
Sitting down with a sigh, the fab shop owner replied, “I didn’t mean that there was anything wrong with phone book advertising—some of the old timers still rely on it—I was only complaining that my father tended to ‘put all his eggs in one basket’ when it came to marketing. He didn’t invest in different approaches to reach different types of audiences. It looks to me like you’ve done pretty much the same thing with these knick-knacks.”
As the nephew started to stammer an apology, the fabricator cut him off. “It doesn’t matter—what’s done is done. Let’s make the best of it and then diversify our messaging a bit better with next year’s budget, okay? Now please hand me a couple of those—I need to work off a little stress.”
Putting Strategy Before Tactics
There are many different methods that can be used to market a metalworking business, and wise company owners and managers employ as many as are feasible to reach potential customers. Before looking at individual marketing techniques, however, it’s critical to distinguish between them and an overall marketing strategy for the company. Throwing money at different marketing tactics without a marketing plan guiding the process may bring a few immediate results but won’t be very effective in the long term.
Before you set out on an extended road trip, you likely will plan it out carefully. Sure, you may decide to take an interesting side road or two that pops up, but for the most part you follow the plan. On a map you look at where you are starting from, note where you want to be, and decide which routes to take to get you most effectively from point A to point B. As part of the plan, you will determine a budget of how much money you have available to spend and plot out where expenditures will need to be made for fuel, food, lodging, and recreation. You will map out alternatives for each in case of closures of roads or businesses. You will pack carefully, ensuring you have every necessary item that comes to mind, as well as spare clothing and cash in case of problems, but keeping things streamlined enough to be able to travel easily.
Before you leave, you will delegate responsibilities to those friends or family members who are journeying with you, discuss with them backup plans in case of any issues, and establish means of tracking your progress—both in distance and in budget—to make sure you are where you need to be on each leg of your journey. Without a strategy of what you want to accomplish and how to monitor your movement you might have a fun trip, but you will more than likely wind up running out of money, gas, time, or road. The effort to plan it all out might seem burdensome, but it will pay off in the end if you have a successful road trip.
A strategic marketing plan is like a travel agenda. It points out where you want to get to from where you are now, noting the methods needed to reach that destination. Planning strategy and tactics together is a very ancient concept, dating to at least 2,500 years ago when the Chinese text titled The Art of War was first distributed. Attributed to the military general and strategist known as Sun Tzu, The Art of War contains a piece of counsel often quoted in business planning today: “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
As in warfare, the best way to take the high ground against your competition in the world of metal fabrication is to carefully plan out strategies of success coupled with proven techniques that can help you reach your goals. Establishing a marketing plan before spending a single dollar on advertising is essential in today’s marketplace, so hire a consultant or do some serious study and create a detailed roadmap to success that your business can follow.
The advertising methods of 50 years ago—or even five years ago—aren’t going to be as effective today in reaching everyone in your target demographics, though they shouldn’t be completely discounted. While new marketing styles are constantly being developed, the tried-and-true approaches of the past will still have some effect, especially with industry veterans who haven’t gotten as tech savvy as the younger folks in their shops.
Traditional marketing consists of print marketing—information that is printed on paper or some other physical object—and broadcast marketing via radio and television.
Some types of traditional marketing techniques to consider include:
- Ads in local trade publications, newspapers, and phone books.
- Flyers or brochures.
- Business cards.
- Direct mail campaigns.
- Posters, signs, and window displays.
- Vehicle wraps on buses, company vans, etc.
- Giveaway items like pens with company info printed on them.
- Occasional radio spots.
Digital marketing isn’t that different than traditional marketing—it’s still a message about a product or service inviting potential customers to try it—but instead of ink or airwaves the media used to convey the message is the Internet. There is still a high correlation between new and old methods of displaying marketing information: ads in digital publications take the place of those in printed journals; banner ads on websites replace billboards; email blasts are alternatives for direct mail campaigns; and podcasts substitute for broadcasts.
While traditional marketing methods are memorable (and in the case of printed materials, long-lasting if they aren’t discarded), they can be expensive and are hard to measure for effectiveness. Digital marketing can be started with a very low expenditure of time and money and then expanded as budget becomes available.
While keeping in mind that digital marketing is an ever-evolving field and new approaches are constantly being developed, some types of digital marketing tactics to consider include:
- Company website (a must in today’s world).
- Email marketing (only to existing customers per current laws).
- Social media posts (a very inexpensive approach to reaching potential customers).
- On-line advertising, including pay-per-click (PPC) listings in search engines.
- Search engine optimization (SEO), which involves carefully crafting content on a website so that it is more readily found by search engines in an “organic” (non-paid) way.
- Blog writing (a good way to create SEO-friendly content on a website).
- Video creation (especially making how-to tutorials, which get more views).
- Creating or participating in podcasts that address issues in the industry.
- Issuing press releases to online (and print) publications.
The original marketing method of face-to-face contact still has relevance in our highly connected—yet often faceless—world of modern interaction. Even in an age of pandemics, there is something very reassuring about sitting across from another human being, associating in a way that allows relationships to be readily built and maintained. Meeting with others one-on-one or in groups allows your authenticity to come through in a way that can’t be duplicated through any other means, making it an important component of trust building.
Some types of interpersonal marketing methods to consider include:
- Cold calling. As awkward as it can be, there is no getting around calling on potential clients in person as a business owner, manager, or salesman. The great advantage it offers over contact via the Internet is giving your shop the ability to get a close-up look at what their business is like.
- Relationship marketing. Following-up with established customers to make sure they are satisfied with a finished job is good public relations and it gets you back in the door to propose possible future projects. The more your team interacts with them, the more your customers get to know the faces behind your shop and hopefully built trust in your business.
- Networking. Being willing to work with others in your industry and local market can be beneficial, even if some are direct competitors. From referrals of jobs that one shop can’t handle or doesn’t want to take on to partnering together on big jobs that neither shop could bid by themselves, networking can offer many mutually beneficial advantages.
- Event marketing. From participating in a trade show to sponsoring a workshop, event marketing gets you and your team out in front of a wider assortment of potential customers than other public promotions.
- Community involvement. Sponsoring a little league team or having employees volunteer at a charity event can give your company exposure to others in the community. While most participants probably won’t be in the market for your services, you can get some brand visibility while building good will among your neighbors, which down the road can lead to referrals.
Marketing as a Team
“I got into fabrication to do marketing,” said absolutely no metalworker ever. Yet the reality of business is such that you must let others know of your services in some way to keep jobs coming in the door. Unless you are a one-man operation, you have a group of people on staff at your business who each can take a small part of the burden to help spread the word.
In the age of social media, every employee can become a “brand ambassador” for your operation by posting images and videos online about your company, its projects (taking care not to disclose any proprietary information about a client), its events, and its people. Fabricators in your shop can write blogs about specific techniques in metalworking that can be posted on your website, and an accompanying video can be shot by someone on your staff showing that technique being performed. Half an hour can be spent twice a month to prepare a brief customer email detailing some of the types of projects you are currently working on with an accompanying photo.
There’s no single “best” marketing approach. If you are doing something that connects you with current or potential customers and down the road you can show that it provided a return on your investment, then it’s a good method. Write up a marketing plan—revising it as you go along—and set a strategy utilizing various tactics that you can currently afford to spend time and money on and just give it a try. You may be pleasantly surprised by the amount of new work that comes your way because of it.