There’s more to digitalisation of marketing than just online

Marketers in manufacturing say that their top two marketing objectives are (1):

  • presenting the quality of the product (or service) effectively;
  • and winning sales leads among prospects.

Now, online tools are great for achieving these objectives. At the last count (2) there were over 5.000 software products for marketing, in categories like Advertising & Promotion, Content & Experience, Social, Relationships, Commerce, Sales and Data Management.

And there are endless opportunities for combining them. So yes, both those objectives can be achieved via online techniques. Tick that box.

The bigger picture

But the fact remains: these are not the only tools in the Marketers box.

Offline communication continues to be vitally important for B2B marketing (3). Articles in the trade press are highly rated as information sources by buyers. Printed materials still have a place in pre-sales and post-sales communications.

Trade shows don’t suit every company. But organisations that do take part in trade shows invest heavily, typically devoting over 40% of their marketing budget to them.

Face to face communication – for the time being at least – continues to be the key element of B2B sales.

Why? Because it is essential for building the business relationship that leads to the sale.

Especially for sales that involve any of the following classic B2B characteristics:

  • technical complexity (expertise of the supplier)
  • company-specific solution (many questions to be answered)
  • high price tag (commitment to the supplier)
  • long-term implications (partnering with the right company?)
  • complex decision processes (impact on multiple departments)

I think the biggest hurdle to the digitalisation of marketing is in our heads. To the person with a hammer in their hand, there is a temptation to treat everything like a nail.

Questions that are prompted by technology, or that focus on technology are most definitely not the questions that help us address business issues.

  • “How do we create a strategy for digital marketing?” describes a lop-sided and incomplete view of the issue.
  • „What can we do with this shiny new tool?“ starts with an assumption that we need this particular tool, that the purpose which this tool addresses should be our main priority at this point in time.

The best questions – the ones that lead us forward – are the ones that seek answers to business objectives independently of technology:

  • „How can we understand and satisfy customer needs more effectively?“
  • “How do we improve our marketing processes for finding / winning / keeping customers?”

If we formulate the question this way we are more likely to select and use technology in an effective manner.

So our first priority is to develop a clear vision of what we want to achieve. Once we have that, we can explore the most appropriate technologies for implementation. For example:

  • „how do we structure offline interactions with prospects and customers so that they generate data that can be measured and analysed?“
  • “how can we combine the data from both online and offline interactions to create more efficient / effective marketing processes?”

The expression „form follows function“ sums up centuries of experience in architecture and design. I believe Marketers today need a similar credo.

Technology follows business objectives“ reminds us to focus on the goals, rather than being distracted by the means.


(1) „Marketingstudie im technischen Mittelstand – Maschinenbau“, Saxoprint Branchenbericht 2016, Seite 8

(2) Over 5.000 at the last count by Scott Brinker:

(3) „Marketingstudie im technischen Mittelstand – Maschinenbau“, Saxoprint Branchenbericht 2016, Seite 12, 14 und 17