Over the past few months, IEEE GlobalSpec has been tracking how industrial marketers have been impacted by the coronavirus. While things are far from back to normal, the initial shock of the pandemic has begun to wear off for many, and marketers in the manufacturing space are beginning to think about how the rest of their year might play out. As some businesses begin to reopen across the United States and around the globe, we asked industrial marketers how their 2020 marketing strategy has been affected.

Currently, 51 percent of respondents are required to work remotely, and another 25 percent say remote work is optional or encouraged, but not mandatory. Fourteen percent are required to work on site and 12 percent are working reduced hours.

Regardless of their current work situations, 34 percent would be comfortable working on-site now, and another 28 percent would be comfortable returning to the office in the next 1-2 months. At the opposite end of the spectrum, 16 percent of respondents indicate that they are not comfortable returning to work until a vaccine is available.

Overall, industrial marketers are reluctant to return to their previous ways when it comes to tradeshows. More than one-third of respondents indicate that they will not be comfortable attending a tradeshow or large in-person until a vaccine is available – the top survey choice among respondents. Another 24 percent wouldn’t be comfortable attending an event for at least six months.  Only 16 percent of respondents said that they would be comfortable attending a tradeshow or other large in-person gathering now.

Additionally, 61 percent of industrial marketers say shows they planned to attend or exhibit at have been canceled, and 30 percent have canceled all the 2020 tradeshow plans. 

This data brings up real questions about the future of tradeshows and in-person events. Most industrial marketers attend at least one tradeshow per year, and it is often cited as a top marketing channel. (2019 Trends in Industrial Marketing) Industrial marketers will have to find other ways to connect with potential customers when in-person conversations and demonstrations aren’t possible.

Our research also examined marketing budgets in the industrial space and the impact of the coronavirus. 44 percent of industrial marketers report that their budget had decreased, and another 14 percent anticipate that it will decrease. Conversely, 33 percent of respondents say their budget has not changed and they don’t anticipate that it will.

In response to the budget changes and the effects of the coronavirus, marketers have made modifications to their plans.  The most popular response, with 39 percent, is the choice to postpone some marketing spend. Twenty-eight percent have canceled some of their spend.  Thirty-five percent had shifted funds from other areas to digital advertising, and 27 percent have shifted funds to content creation.

With all these changes in the first half of the year, industrial marketers are only mildly optimistic about their plans. When asked how confident they are in their marketing plan from 1-10, the average answer is 6.3. Given such uncertainty and unprecedented economic and social changes, it’s not surprising that marketers are wary about what the second half of the year might bring.

With all these changes, what are industrial marketers confident about? When asked to predict what their most successful 2020 marketing channel will be, 36 percent chose content marketing. Organic website traffic and webinars were also popular choices, with 11 percent each. Other popular answers were e-newsletter advertising and email to in-house lists.

What else are industrial marketers thinking about? Here’s a selection of their commentary:

We’re focusing on radiating internally within our existing customers to consolidate opportunities as they emerge. Like everyone else, we know that things look good on the other side of the pandemic, but we have to survive to get there.

There is still much left unknown, but we are working as fluidly, creatively, and cost-effectively as we can while remaining relevant and delivering timely content to our audience across predominantly digital platforms.

People are distracted. Customers’ budgets are being cut to conserve cash. New projects may have a very hard time moving forward no matter the ROI.

We are ramping up certain areas of our marketing frequency, revising strategies, and planning for when customers fully reopen.

So, what should industrial marketers do to help increase their chances of success in 2020? Many are already on the right track. Without tradeshows and in-person events to connect with prospects, look to webinars to replicate that experience. Webinars offer you the same chance to demonstrate your products and answer questions in real-time.

Remember, while engineers have also had their workflow disrupted, they are still in need of technical information. Continue to create relevant content and stay tuned in to your audience’s needs.

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