Janet Ady of Ady Voltedge shared her insights at a recent WMEP Lunch & Learn

by Rich Rovito, WMEP Industry Reporter

ADYWhether targeting consumers or other businesses, manufacturers need an effective marketing plan.

“You want to understand all you can about your customer groups so that you develop messages and programs that are of most value to them,” said Janet Ady, president and chief executive officer of Ady Voltedge, a Madison firm that creates branding, marketing and communications solutions for a wide range of business-to-business clients, including many manufacturing companies.

“Selling business-to-business is a lot different than hawking shampoo,” Ady said. “The risks tend to be a lot higher in a business-to-business purchase. It’s not all about the sexy ads and the trade show booths.”

Relationship building is much more important on the business-to-business side because of the complex decision making process, she said.

“Your front page is the most expensive real estate on your website. We don’t want to hear about all the equipment you have, at least not right up front, or that the third generation is taking over. We want to understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different.”

In a recent Lunch & Learn presentation sponsored by the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Ady focused on steps small and mid-size manufacturers can take to improve their marketing and grow their business. She offered insights on gaining higher-value customers; finding and serving new markets; differentiating product and service offerings from those offered by competitors; diversifying customer bases; and finding more customers for existing products and services.

Prioritizing marketing goals is a key first step in developing a specific plan, Ady said.

“First, start by thinking about your current customers and products and think about what we might be able to do to make them buy more,” she said.

Then the focus should shift to figuring out how to sell existing products to new markets and new products to existing customers.

Marketing often is key to business growth, Ady said.

“If you don’t have marketing people on staff your sales people are probably doing a lot of your marketing functions,” Ady said. “We like to say that sales and marketing are a very symbiotic relationship. You need both.”

Markets, messages and media are three key elements to any marketing plan, she added.

“I always start with understanding your current customers. I want to understand why people buy and how often they buy.”

Another essential aspect is determining how much realistic growth is expected for a business over the next three to five years.

“Let’s really lay out the growth plan so we know what it is we are trying to accomplish,” Ady said.

Ady Voltedge has been in business for 11 years and its clients include manufacturers and economic development organizations.

“I started out as kind of a general marketing agency. I decided a few years in that I should specialize,” Ady said.

Marketing includes a variety of aspects, even those that may seem trivial, she added.

“The way that you answer the phone, the on-hold message that you get and what your name badge says or your business card says is all marketing. Anything that reaches to the outside world is marketing.”

Websites and social media also have developed into pieces of a company’s marketing efforts.

Clear positioning is a key aspect of an effective website.

“Your front page is the most expensive real estate on your website. We don’t want to hear about all the equipment you have, at least not right up front, or that the third generation is taking over. We want to understand who you are, what you do and why you’re different,” Ady said.

As for social media, Facebook makes a lot of sense for business-to-consumer firms but not as much for business-to-business, she said.

YouTube can be an effective marketing tool for manufacturers because it is a means of explaining processes and showing off equipment in a plant.

For manufacturers that sell to other businesses, Ady recommends setting up a LinkedIn company page.

“One of the biggest benefits of social media is competitive research and customer research and prospecting.”

Ady admitted that measuring the effectiveness of a marketing plan can be a challenge.

“You can measure your expenses and the reach that media companies say you are getting but you don’t know if that ad led to awareness that led them to your website or led them to a trade show.”

Establishing a marketing budget also can be challenging.

“One of the big questions we get is how big should our marketing budget be,” Ady said.

Manufacturers, on average, tend to spend 2.5 to 5 percent of their total budget on marketing, Ady said.

”If you have high brand awareness, maybe you can be on the lower end, but if you have low brand awareness you may have to spend a little bit more.”