The nation remains deeply immured in the COVID-19 pandemic, but the roll-out of effective vaccines has sparked a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. So what's the outlook for manufacturing as we emerge from the crisis? How have things changed, and how should companies respond? CompanyWeek discussed the post-pandemic world with California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC) CEO Jim Watson.
CompanyWeek: Jim, what's the greatest challenge for manufacturing in the coming year?
Jim Watson: Business growth plain and simple. COVID has severely impacted both productivity and revenues. Our surveys show that growth has been a top priority for manufacturers large and small for years, but COVID was a tipping point, a goad for aggressively figuring out new and effective ways to sell products.
CW: Could you expand on that?
JW: COVID has closed traditional venues for doing business -- trade shows, plant tours, physical product demonstrations. Sales and marketing have largely moved online. So manufacturers must expand their digital assets. It isn't that the future of commerce is e-commerce -- really, that future is here now. If you aren't ramping up your digital platforms right now, you're positioning yourself to lose.
CW: What should manufacturers prioritize when planning digital upgrades?
JW: You need to explore a couple of different avenues to start. First, just take a hard look at your website. Is it attractive? Easy to navigate? Bug-free, so it doesn't freeze or crash? In short, does it inspire enough allure and confidence so you'd be inclined to buy something from it? Also, invest talent and money in content. You really need to tell a good company story, one as compelling -- or more compelling -- than any pitch you'd hear or make at a trade show. Finally, harness the power of effective SEO (search engine optimization). You need to understand how keywords and other techniques drive people to your site when they start googling.
CW: That all sounds like a heavy lift -- particularly for smaller manufacturers.
JW: It is. Most companies simply don't have the necessary in-house resources. That's why finding the right digital technology partner is essential. There are many good e-commerce companies out there, but manufacturers need partners with specific expertise in manufacturing. Retailing fashion accessories online isn't the same as selling manufactured goods. The product lines are different, the customers are different and the stories are different. You have to do your research, examine case studies, and interview the principals carefully so you don't waste money -- or even worse, time.
CW: So in closing, the brave new world of manufacturing sales and marketing will be wholly digital?
JW: No. It's likely to be more of a hybrid situation. There'll still be trade shows, for example, but the ultimate dominance of digital commerce is clear. COVID has acclimatized people to doing business online. It's the new normal. And clearly, online interaction is superior to physical interactions in many ways. A good video about a company, its workforce, its products and plants, can have more impact and reach far more people than any number of tours and demonstrations.