A Survey of Machining Companies at IMTS 2012

Recently, I was able to attend the largest machining show in North America, IMTS. This is a massive show that happens every other year in Chicago. Exhibitors and visitors come from 119 countries. There were 1,909 exhibiting companies covering 1.248 million net square feet of exhibit space. It’s an amazing event.

I went to the show looking to learn more about how the machining and manufacturing industry uses the web to promote their companies. I conducted a survey of 58 companies on the tradeshow floors. The findings were pretty interesting. If I had to sum it up in one thought, it would be that I feel like the machining industry is going through a revolution. There is an old guard and a new guard. There are people who vehemently oppose most of what is going on with online media. And there are people who are doing some of the most advanced web marketing I have ever seen.

That last group, however, is in the minority. I would say that the machining industry, as a whole, is behind most other industries in this space.

There are, however, global issues most of these companies are dealing with that make this more complicated. They have parent companies in Asia and Europe, customers and distributors all over the world, which leads to a variety of differing values and theories.

I had over a dozen questions that I asked these companies. But there were two summaries that came out of my findings.

The first thing that was abundantly clear was that the search engines are absolutely critical in today’s machining marketing world. I asked these companies on a scale of one to five how important the search engines were for their business. Seventy-five percent of the respondents gave it a four or five out of five. With five being the most important.

That struck me as pretty significant. It was by far the most important thing that the manufacturing industry felt the web was doing for them.

On the other side of the coin, 61 percent of companies told me that social media was only a one or two out of five in importance for their companies.

As I was doing the survey I had really wished that I had done the survey two years ago. As I talked to some of the more advanced users of the web, they told me how much more engaged online these companies were this year.

My feeling is that social media will likely grow in importance for these companies over the next several years. The interesting aspect of machining is that they all view it as a very relationship-based transaction. They all say it is a one-to-one sales process. Sales is incredibly important in the machining world. However, when I asked these companies if they felt that social media could benefit that relationship building, the majority were vehemently opposed to the idea.

One man in particular stood out in the conversations. He told me that he was exactly 30 years old. He said that while he uses Facebook personally he could not ever imagine following a customer on Facebook or Twitter. “They should just call or email me.” He was emphatic that social media had no place in the machining industry. This is very interesting to me considering he uses Facebook personally. He understands the medium. But he has not yet made the connection of how that could benefit his business.

This told me that social media outlets probably need to do a better job of communicating what social media is. It’s networking by other means. It’s the chamber of commerce except online. It’s a global tradeshow 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Case studies and stories of successful usage of social media with B2B companies should likely be a high priority for social media companies.

There was one exception to this rule. YouTube.

I had one woman tell me that YouTube sells her machines. It makes sense. These machines are doing some amazing things. A still photo can never do them justice. A video tells the story much more accurately. Another woman told me that she had no use for Facebook and Twitter because all of her social media focus was on YouTube. Her company had a person dedicated to posting videos and engaging with people on YouTube. This likely could be a great area of growth for Google AdWords for video. The machining industry is very engaged here.

While most of these companies felt that the search engines were extremely important to their businesses, most of them were not doing Google AdWords. This too could be a relatively easy education process to get the machining industry more involved in paid search.

Another woman told me that she felt that globally, different countries were engaging in different ways. Her parent company is in Europe. She said that they were much more conservative in how they used social media and the web in general. In fact, she put Europe as the least sophisticated of the countries she works with. She said that in order of online sophistication it went: United States, South Korea, Japan, China, Europe. I did not survey that particularly. That’s just one person’s anecdote.

There is no doubt that the web is becoming a significant component in the world of machining. All the people I talked to knew exactly what I was talking about. Whether they thought it was useful or not was debatable. It was clear to me that significant conversations are being had within these companies.

Content was a big hurdle for many companies. Some of these companies wanted to be involved in social media but did not know how to put out content on a regular basis. So they were staying on the sidelines for now.

Offering content solutions to the machining industry is likely a very good opportunity.

While I don’t know the extent of search engine optimization and the few cases of paid search I heard about, my feeling is there is probably still a great deal of opportunity to help these companies. I suspect that more in-depth key phrase research could be conducted. More content could be created. And more link-building strategies could be implemented. Based on my research I would say that there is significant opportunity in the machining industry for the search engine marketing industry. If you are looking to grow your business you might consider this market.

If I were a social media professional I might wait a couple years before I try to significantly crack into the machining industry. They simply don’t seem ready for the most part. The companies that are doing impressive things in social media seem to have it covered. They are building internal teams and dedicated social media professionals.

Finally, I felt like I was seeing a divide between the old and the new. The older run companies were very closed off to these newer technologies. The newer, more aggressive companies were very open to these new technologies and excited about them.

These kinds of revolutions are difficult to see clearly when you are in the middle of them. Transporting goods by canal I’m sure seemed fine as trains started cropping up across the land. And I’m quite sure trains seemed just fine as trucking and air transport started moving in.

It is my belief that companies that don’t push forward aggressively in this space will lose significant market share to the companies that are using this space already. Additionally, it’s going to be harder for them to catch up as they figure out how to use these tools effectively.

Machining is definitely not a sleeping giant in online marketing. They are actively involved and learning these tools quickly. They just need some more education on the usage of social media in business, in my opinion.

I’m excited to do the survey again in two years to see how things change.

Gears image on home page via Shutterstock.

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