Getting the Most Out of the Internet: Advice for Foundries
Foundries are used to dealing in absolutes: supply, production and delivery. In fact, the entire manufacturing industry is built around tangible products. Whether you're talking about automobiles or fidget spinners, manufacturing means products you can see, touch and use.
Maybe that's why so many of us are hesitant to break into the ephemeral, digital world of the Internet. As the industry changes, and as younger generations take over engineering, purchasing and executive positions, digital presence is becoming more and more important for foundries.
At the Eagle Group, a Michigan-based manufacturing team comprised of three foundries and a CNC machine shop, we effectively began our journey into the digital realm in 2014. Comparatively, we were early to the game. Except for larger companies and national corporations, many of the companies in our immediate sphere–competitors and customers alike–had yet to revamp their websites or put any serious effort into social media or content marketing.
Recently, things have changed. We're seeing more and more of our peers join the digital sphere. Based on our own experience over the years, we're glad to share the following pointers for foundries looking to vamp up their web-based marketing.
1. Websites aren't just pretty things to look at
The single most time consuming and expensive investment in digital marketing is your company's website. The site itself should be an ambassador for your brand, equipped with shiny pictures of your products and an aesthetic that reflects your company's quality–but that's definitely not all it should be.
Your site should function as a 24-hour, 365-day sales rep. In the not-so-distant past, prospective customers would learn about a foundry and immediately contact the company with questions. Today, purchasers are accustomed to gleaning more and more information from web-based materials before making the initial phone call.
That's why it's imperative to include robust, specific informational content on your website. Let visitors know exactly who you are and what values you represent. Create opportunities for visitors to interact with your content throughout the site, whether by sharing articles, videos or photos, or by offering easy-to-find links to additional information.
In short, no one should leave your website without knowing who you are, what you do and whether you could work together.
2. Social media is not a waste of time
The stereotype of the lazy employee spending all their time on Facebook is a thing of the past. These days, social media should be ingrained into the marketing routine. Between bids, phone calls and factory tours, your sales and marketing teams should be online, interacting with current and prospective customers through social media.
Here are a few suggestions:
- Make sure all of your Facebook friends, and those of your colleagues, have been invited to 'like' your company Facebook page. You won't generate leads from these folks directly, but they can provide a needed boost to your posts that help them get noticed by the right people.
- Give your current customers digital high fives by sharing their posts on Facebook and LinkedIn. As the network of manufacturers on social media grows, they'll start returning the favor.
- Upload company videos to YouTube, and share videos through other social outlets. Don't make the mistake of self-hosting company videos, a practice that essentially places your videos alone in a vacuum. Instead, put them on YouTube, where they can be appreciated by one of the world’s largest social media networks.
3. You're already an expert, so start acting like one
Whether you represent a fledgling foundry or an established brand, you have a story to tell. Tailor your website's content to reflect your unique knowledge, and pass that knowledge on to your customers.
Our sales teams often experience a disconnect when interacting with new customers. We find ourselves devoting initial conversations to summarizing our casting processes and materials, instead of getting down to the brass tacks of capabilities, lead times and pricing.
This knowledge gap actually represents an opportunity: we're experts in metal casting, and our customers are experts in other things. Therefore, we try to produce online content that answers those preliminary questions. This content strategy can result in real gains: if you answer the questions that purchasers are asking Google, you can keep bringing them back to your website, positioning your company as a useful resource.
4. Don't stop producing content
A strong content marketing strategy doesn't maintain itself. Just like any inventory, you have to constantly renew and update content. While old blog posts and web pages can keep delivering leads based on searches and directory listings, they'll be ignored by the ever-changing sphere of social media. If you don't regularly update your blog, website or social media accounts, you're missing out on countless opportunities to get your content in front of new eyes.
In our circle, we adopted a content-forward strategy early in the game. But we're glad to see that changing. When we browse the sites of our suppliers and customers, we're happy to see more and more content that we can share, 'like' and otherwise promote. More than just buying into Internet Karma, we're acting on the idea that we're all in this together. If any link in our supply chain starts to do better–or worse–everyone up and down the chain feels the effects.
After all, digital marketing is a perfect example of the unified system of American manufacturing. Not just foundries, but all of our suppliers, and all of our customers, are part of this great system. By leveraging the Internet to bring us together, we can promote a future where American manufacturing continues to thrive both at home and around the globe.
Jeff Cook is Chief Sales and Marketing Officer for Eagle Alloy in Muskegon, Michigan. His passions include educating young people on the careers and advancement available in the metalcasting industry. Jeff is past President of the American Foundry Society.