I’ve recently discovered how Moises Aramburo gained a “new chance at life” through an impressive technical innovation created in Britain; how Suzanne Clarke discovered new career opportunities at an engineering business in south-west England; and how Sarah Black-Smith is showing the world the potential for digital technology to change the face of manufacturing.
I’ve not met any of them in person. Instead, they feature in online marketing created by three UK-based companies that stands head and shoulders above the mediocre promotional material that most British manufacturers churn out.
Tackling that mediocrity was a big part of the reason we decided to set up Made Here Now – an online project that aims to show manufacturing and engineering in a different light and to help guide people to places where they can find further information.
The world of websites, online videos and social media offers huge opportunities for companies to tell people what they do. They possibilities are particularly potent for manufacturers because many are making spectacular products using clever technology.
If they can master digital media, manufacturers should be able to market their products more effectively, and project a broader message about themselves as innovative and exciting places to work.
Yet when it comes to their online presence, many manufacturers’ approach is woeful: unappealing websites with poor design and jargon-ridden language. Often, these seem more likely to deter outsiders from taking them seriously than to spark anyone’s interest.
Of course the picture is not uniformly depressing – there are some impressive examples of manufacturers using the internet to present themselves and their products. Touch Bionics, based near Edinburgh, is the world’ leading maker of prosthetic hands.
Moises Aramburo’s story features on Touch Bionics’s website. The 24-year-old lost the fingers of one hand after a horrific accident. He now has a new set of bionic fingers, each an amazing fusion of advanced plastics, electronics and miniature electric motors.
He appears on the site performing a range of activities from para-gliding to cleaning his car. Moises calmly discusses the accident, its initial impact and, more cheerily, the transformative effect of receiving his “robot” hand. “It makes me feel complete,” he says. “I feel free.”
Suzanne Clarke’s story is less dramatic – but is also well told. She is a design engineer and one of several people who appear in a well-crafted video on MGB Engineering’s website, describing its efforts to open itself up to new employees especially women, whom many engineering companies say they struggle to attract.
In this context Sarah Black-Smith – a young manufacturing manager who works in the UK for Siemens – is a rising star. In a short film made by the German industrial giant about how computer techniques are changing manufacturing, Black-Smith comes across as a confident and expert narrator.
These videos are accessible and engaging – a positive background against which to start conveying other, more substantial messages. This is how Alaina Chesney, digital marketing manager at Oldham-based Constant, approaches the communications challenge.
Since she arrived at the family-owned sheet metal business two years ago, Chesney has overhauled the way it communicates. She uses a mix of “how it’s made” video case studies, social media messages, blogs and targeted emails. “We know we’ve got to get our brand into people’s mind-set and digital technology is a great way to achieve this,” she says. The result has been a “noticeable increase” in customer inquiries, some of which have translated into orders.
Mike Naylor, managing director at Durham Foundry, has a similar approach. “When we wanted to try to broaden our customer base, we thought at first of employing a new sales person – which would probably have cost £80,000 a year. But we can do a better job more cheaply using digital communications.”
The company uses a similar set of ideas to Constant to “put itself in the minds” of potential customers. “I feel we’ve had some success,” says Naylor. “Providing you can provide a stream of relevant and interesting [digital] material, your messages will snowball.”
Businesses thinking of revamping their approach to digital marketing almost certainly need help – either through engaging an outside agency or recruiting employees with the relevant skills. While this can take a while, company bosses can make a start by taking a hard look at their current promotional material, whether online or in a traditional format.
Does it look dull and tired? Is it full of words and phrases that either mean little or whose value has been reduced by massive overuse? “Manufacturing solutions” and “cutting edge technologies”, for example. Is it easy to find the names and contact details (and preferably photographs) of the people whose ideas and energy drive the business? Does the listing of products and services look as if it has been lifted from a printed catalogue with no attempt to target customers or guide them through a potential purchasing process?
If the answer to some or all of these questions is yes – and it very often is with UK manufacturers – then it’s time to think again about how the business engages with the world. Otherwise, it may not be long before world decides, probably quite rightly, that it no longer has much need for the company.
A version of this article previously appeared in The Manufacturer magazine