Navigating Digital Experiences: Tips and Tricks from Top Manufacturers
Manufacturers are scrambling to find reliable competitive advantages as the industry transitions into a digital era. In the midst of this sea of change, they must engage meaningfully with their customers and distributors. Of course, with much of the customer experience happening via websites and apps, this engagement will happen in the digital realm — a realm traditionally neglected by many B2B manufacturers.
Manufacturers must devote time and attention to upgrading the static websites and emails of yesteryear to dynamic, responsive experiences that delight and provide personalized value to customers and distributors alike, while providing their marketers with comprehensive data for fine-tuning this new digital experience.
Of course, it’s easy to prescribe that manufacturers “get better” at creating digital experiences, but how are real B2B manufacturers accomplishing this? Luckily, some of the biggest B2B manufacturing firms in the world — like Royal Philips, Zebra, Franke Group, Airbus, DuPont, Kuhn Krause, and Essilor — are taking the lead in transforming digital experiences and providing powerful best practices in the process. The following examples provide an invaluable roadmap for any B2B manufacturer looking to stand out with outstanding digital experiences for customers and distributors.
7 steps toward digital transformation.
1. Centralize control and distribution. One of the first roadblocks that manufacturers meet in transforming their digital experience is fragmented, disconnected systems for managing and distributing content. This can make it nearly impossible to deliver a standout digital experience. Inevitably, that fragmentation shows through in your interactions with customers in the form of inconsistent branding and messaging. To make matters worse, manufacturers pay a high cost to deploy new content, often at a painfully slow rate.
One manufacturer that felt the pinch was Philips, which uses more than 500 content authors to reach customers in 79 markets and 38 languages via more than one million web pages. Prior to 2013, Philips had no measures in place to ensure compliance with brand standards. Deployments of new pages or microsites were often expensive and cumbersome. Philips then adopted a central management tool and was able to refine its digital experience for any region, in any language instantly.
The new system gave marketing and brand managers governance over any content added to pages and authoring rights. It also reinforced proper training on company and content standards and adherence to approval processes, and created a clear paper trail if issues did occur.
Centralizing the management and distribution of content in this way generated a staggering boost in speed, as well as a massive drop in cost. For instance, the time required for translation was accelerated by 75 percent and costs decreased by 90 percent.
This increased speed translated into more powerful experiences for customers. In 2016, following the death of the King of Thailand, Philips was able to transform their entire site to black and white, within a single day, to show respect and sympathy to the people of Thailand. This kind of responsiveness would not have been possible prior to centralizing their content operations.
“[This system] enables us to deliver new information and experiences faster, as well as helps ensure that every page a customer visits stays true to the Philips brand,” says Joost van Dun, Philips’ .com manager over corporate experience.
2. Scale faster with templates. When introducing new brands or products, or acquiring existing brands, many manufacturers start from scratch when it comes to creating new digital experiences for those brands and products. This process can require heavy amounts of both time and money. Unfortunately, the delay usually required for this process can create a noticeable disruption in the customer experience.
Take, for example, Zebra. It specializes in building hardware and software that make it easier for organizations to quickly access critical data, but its ability to push out much-needed content to customers in a timely manner was lagging behind.
“In general, every time we had a new campaign or product release, we would work with an agency to build out a separate microsite,” says Zebra’s senior manager of digital IT, John Matthews. This had the dual effect of racking up costs on each agency push and making the Zebra digital experience more disjointed.
To tackle this problem, Zebra partnered with ICF OLsen and created templates and assets to scale its existing website faster without incurring more costs and make their digital experience more consistent and on-brand.
When Zebra acquired Motorola Solutions’ enterprise, it had to migrate all product and support information to the Zebra website — essentially doubling the size of the site — in just eight months. The template system passed the test with flying colors, transforming what could have been a fragmented experience for former Motorola customers into a seamless transition, and at a fraction of the cost.
3. Bring back emotion with a responsive web approach. Manufacturers’ roadmap to transforming digital experiences must include creating experiences that resonate, stick with, and delight customers at an emotional level. Unfortunately, B2B manufacturing has not necessarily been known for its emotional customer experiences. More often than not, its marketing has been dominated by cold, hard numbers. In this new age, however, taking such a robotic approach to customers can be costly and even alienating. This is a habit that manufacturers can and should break as they seek to transform their digital experiences.
Franke, a global provider of products and solutions for home kitchens and bathrooms, had succeeded in providing a consistent brand across their divisions for some, but they wanted to inject more feeling into the experience. So, they launched their “Make It Wonderful” campaign, which they knew would require something more than their business-as-usual digital experience.
For Renato Di Rubbo, the company’s CMO, this meant making a foray into a responsive web approach and virtual reality. They partnered with vendor One-Inside to create a digital experience that was years beyond anything their competitors were doing. The centerpiece of this campaign was a digital showroom where customers could view their new kitchen before it’s built and even test out different colors, countertops, layouts, and more.
Aside from delighting their customers and bringing emotion back into the customer experience, Franke found that this system shed more light on their customers than ever before. “We used to produce for an anonymous market and organize global sales by partnering with kitchen stores only,” says Renato. “Now we are starting to get to know our customers better and delight them with emotional experiences.”
As proof of this delight, Franke has seen exceptional improvement in some of its most important metrics. For example, time spent on website has increased by 40 percent and churn has dropped by 15 percent.
Is virtual reality the answer for every B2B manufacturer? Probably not, but investing in technologies and design that welcomes customers and creates vivid, emotional, and memorable experiences for them should always be on the roadmap.
4. Strengthen the value chain by connecting with your customers’ customers. Manufacturers historically shied away from the limelight and direct consumer interaction that B2C companies enjoy. Under certain circumstances, however, manufacturers can give the customer experience a boost by creating memorable experiences for their customers’ customers.
Recently, Airbus’ A380 received a level of high honor among aircraft — it was voted multiple as the aircraft of choice by travelers and received a barrage of glowing reviews on social media.
“Sixty percent of passengers are willing to make extra effort to fly the A380,” says Jeremiah Bousquet, digital transformation leader at Airbus. “This is really a brand at its finest because the A380 brings back excitement to flying again.”
Recognizing an opportunity to upgrade their digital experience and build stronger relationships with their direct customers, Airbus created a website called iflyA380.com. In a first for this segment of the air travel industry, the site allowed passengers of the A380 to search flights with various airlines that would be using the popular aircraft. Essentially, travelers create an itinerary based on where Airbuses are flying.
Ultimately, it proved an ingenious way for Airbus to not only market the quality of its own product, but to drive traffic to its direct customers, the airlines.
5. Empower sales with mobile content. As customers and sales teams become more geographically dispersed, getting the right content into the right hands is a growing challenge. Keeping that content current and brand-aligned might be even harder. For sales teams in the field worldwide, lack of access to the right content can collapse otherwise promising sales. Using content that isn’t consistent with brand standards can undermine the digital experience. Fortunately, the ubiquitous mobile device presents an opportunity for field sales teams to keep up-to-date, brand-approved content in the palm of every salesperson.
For manufacturing name brand DuPont, few things are as important to sales as visual content that quickly conveys the benefits of their cutting-edge and intricate products. However, as DuPont’s Crop Protection Division sought to make inroads with farmers in different regions, they also wanted to make it relevant to the needs and regulations in each region. As a result, they created a mobile sales app to give salespeople access globe access to content from a centralized asset management system. Any changes to these slides in the system instantly show up in the app.
“Rich, reliable sales content enhances conversations between DuPont and customers,” says Joanne Hewitson, global digital marketing lead in DuPont’s Crop Protection Division. “Eventually, we can use this app to upload and share the best sales materials worldwide to help make strong connections with farmers.”
For salespeople and customers alike, harnessing mobile content instantly transformed the digital experience to be faster, more convenient, and more engaging.
6. Streamline order processes. For most manufacturers, the order process is where the rubber meets the road. It is the point where all the efforts of marketing and sales officially turn into revenue. Strangely, this critical point in the customer experience has remained notoriously clunky in the past, often still favoring paper and fax over digital. These outdated tendencies dampen revenue, lessen cash flow, and hurt the customer experience.
Agricultural equipment manufacturer Kuhn Krause found itself in this situation. Previously,dealers were required to fax their signed orders to the company, which then had to be approved and signed by a territory manager, a dealer sales manager, and an operations manager. This often meant a document was faxed up to three times over a two-day period. The order documents were so blurry as they reached manufacturing teams that their details were unclear; customers had no confirmation that their orders had been received. Worst of all, orders were being fulfilled incorrectly, machines were missing requested features, and deliveries were often weeks late.
For Curt Davis, a marketing manager at the company, this manual order process was a glaring customer experience killer. “Accuracy, clarity, and speed of the ordering process are critical to our business,” he says.
A breakthrough came for Kuhn Krause when they discovered e-signature solutions to process all of their dealer agreements. Going digital transformed Kuhn Krause’s customer experience in a big way.
“The ordering process was cut from a minimum of two days to only 30 minutes,” says Curt. “We were also able to manage and track orders much more efficiently, and eliminated lost orders. We reduced printing costs fivefold for the company.”
Convenience and accuracy are an important part of the customer experience, both should be considered essential milestones on the roadmap to a superior digital experience.
7. Empower marketing with data that spans websites. It takes more than one improvement to get to the final destination of superior digital experiences — it takes reliable, consistent, actionable data. When a manufacturer maintains several brands and multiple websites for each, however, getting this kind of data from across these websites can be daunting. As a result, manufacturers often settle for data that is disjointed, and this disjointed data results in disjointed, inconsistent digital experiences.
When eyeglass lens manufacturer Essilor wanted to improve awareness of the technical superiority of their different lens brands, they knew they wanted to give each brand its own website with its own distinct look and feel. Like Philips, Essilor soon realized that centralizing the development, asset creation, and governance of these sites was going to be more cost-effective and create a more consistent digital experience. As expected, centralizing the development and content management of these websites allowed them to save time and money, while delivering a seamless experience from one unique brand site to the next.
Perhaps even more powerfully, though, this new system also allowed Essilor’s marketing team to view analytics from across all sites and channels — desktops, tablets, mobile devices — and make data-driven decisions to continue to optimize the digital experience.
“[Marketers] can … share best practices that have been proven to work throughout the entire organization at a fraction of the cost,” says Vasan Sundar, VP of technology at Razorfish, which oversaw this implementation with Essilor.
Empowering Essilor’s marketing team with this quality of data has yielded eye-opening results, including a 23 percent increase in organic visits a 46 percent increase in the number of visitors who have conducted a search.
Stand above the competition by transforming your digital experiences.
B2B manufacturers have the potential to build digital experiences across websites, mobile devices, and even virtual reality that move and delight customers. As some of the world’s top manufacturers are proving, investing in better digital experiences can create a real competitive advantage and differentiated experiences on a crowded global marketplace. The good news is, the roadmap and the tools to transform digital experiences have been laid by leading manufacturers.