It used to be that a small industrial manufacturer could get away with a less-than-polished marketing presence. You didn’t need an agency or a marketing consultant as you could write your own small ad or develop your own two- or four-page brochure with some help from a printer.
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You really didn’t even need a marketing budget as five or ten thousand dollars spent annually went pretty far if you weren’t running full-page ads in publications.

Prospective customers found you through targeted industry directories, the Yellow Pages, or the Thomas Register. And, as your reputation grew, your customers would spread good words about you to their colleagues, as would your partners, suppliers, etc.

Those days are long gone.

The Internet not only has changed how we all do business – it’s changed life as we know it. It’s not only changed our lives, it keeps changing — on an almost daily basis.

  • Ten years ago we didn’t have verbs such as, “Google it” or “friend me.” (Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s founder, was still in high school.)
  • Five years ago few people talked about strategies for developing Web content and certainly no one talked about social media.
  • Three years ago Twitter was barely known outside the plugged-in circles of Internet marketing specialists.
  • Nine months ago Google Buzz didn’t exist.

Think of it this way. In 1984 you could still service your own car. In fact, I have fond memories of changing the timing chain on a 1971 Chevrolet Chevelle. Today, I don’t touch my 2004 Toyota Camry -– the computerized technology is just way too complicated.

What all this means is that to build a thriving business, you can no longer view marketing as a do-it-yourself activity.

It means that if you’re a small manufacturer, you have to suck it up and hire a Web marketing / SEO specialist to help you develop a site that gets found in the search engines -– and that gets people to pick up the phone and call you.

It means that you may have to hire a copywriter or out-of-work journalist to write content for you on a regular basis.

It means that yes, you might have to consider a blog or social media and that you’ll need to start connecting with your customers on LinkedIn.

It means you might need to invest in marketing automation or other analysis tools in order to make sense of all this new stuff.

Most importantly, it means you need to start budgeting for marketing — in a big way –- or go out of business.

The one thing I hear over and over is the plaintive cry from small business owners. Their pipelines are empty and sales are down. What worked five years ago no longer works today . . . and what works today may not work six months from now.

If you want to stay in business, it’s imperative that you make tough decisions about how you budget your money –- and marketing has to be a top line item, not an afterthought or something you cut when the economy goes south.

The difference between companies that make it and companies that don’t will come down to marketing.

What do you think? Am I right or wrong? Leave your thoughts below.

Dianna Huff is the founder and president of Huff Industrial Marketing, a full service agency that tackles a host of marketing and communications challenges for manufacturing companies.

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