Digital disruption in manufacturing

Manufacturers were slow to adapt to the ecommerce revolution. And it’s understandable why. Their businesses had always relied on partnerships with distributors, and there was no reason to suspect that had to change. So, they kept delivering high-profile ad campaigns to drive awareness, while relegating control of the buyer/consumer relationship to their channel partners.

And then Amazon happened. As customers can buy almost anything they want, cheaply and quickly, through large online marketplaces, they need bigger reasons to seek out and buy from established product-makers. This left manufacturers in a difficult position — all of a sudden they needed to gain control of their customer experiences to stay relevant in the new digital era. But how?

A recipe that savvy manufacturers can emulate

Start-up manufacturers have hinted at the answer — taking on multinational corporations in well-established verticals such as personal grooming (shaving), and winning. They’ve achieved this by selling directly, collecting the data from these transactions, and applying learnings to more efficient marketing and better products. It’s a recipe for success that’s tricky for more traditional manufacturers to replicate — but not impossible.

The main issue is data. Because this sector previously relied on channel partners, even large, established brands didn’t have access to basic levels of customer information. But now that everyone is realizing how crucial customer data is, most of the industry is scrambling to not only access it but to analyze it for insight and apply this insight to their businesses.

It’s an industry-wide challenge

This was demonstrated clearly in Econsultancy’s recent survey, carried out in partnership with Sitecore. Just 34% of manufacturers said they make “regular use of data to decide when to contact customers,” while the same amount said they have the ability to “collect data consistently at different stages of the customers’ buying journey.”

In a similar vein, only 29% have “a system that can personalize for individual customers,” just 34% “regularly use data to decide when to contact customers,” and only 30% “have a commerce system that’s tailored to their needs.” For all the above questions, manufacturers registered the lowest affirmative response rate — highlighting the difficulty they’re having with adapting to the new market dynamics.

And a challenge worth tackling

But once they crack it, manufacturers are in a unique position to capitalize on the digital landscape. The nature of their business gives them unparalleled control over their products. Which means that once they have access to data and the intelligent systems to help them understand it, they can improve and widen their product line according to their customers’ wants and needs.

The key here is knowing the sale isn’t the end of a business’ relationship with their customer — it’s the beginning. By keeping the conversation going, which includes adding value during it, manufactures can access data and the powerful insight it provides.

For example, a manufacturer could contact their customers after a sale to:

  • Ask how they’re finding the product, and what, if anything, could be improved
  • Inform them when their warranty is due to expire
  • Offer them a deal on their next purchase

With the proper technology, the outreach and collection of responses can be easily automated, providing an ongoing stream of useful data to hone both products and marketing.

This makes it an exciting time for the manufacturing industry. As soon as product-makers have the right customer experience platform in place, they’ll be able to control the buying experience from start to finish — and reap impressive business growth as a result.

Learn more by downloading the full Econsultancy report, “Reinventing Commerce: How retailers, CPGs, and manufacturers can compete with content and experience,” here.

Wanda Cadigan is Vice President for Commerce at Sitecore. Find her on LinkedIn