by Lara Copeland, writer, The American Mold Builder
For much of history, sales and marketing efforts in the moldmaking industry have been slim and primitive in nature. A great deal of the networking was intimate and nearby, perhaps conducted on the golf course or in restaurants. But that landscape has evolved over the last 20 years, and the COVID-19 pandemic was just the proverbial cherry on top. Moldmaking shops now are challenged to embrace other marketing techniques, not only to expand and diversify but to ensure survival.
In the 1960s, when Michiana Global Mold (MGM) opened in Mishawaka, Indiana, the owner “had solid connections, personally fostered relationships and work was plentiful,”
said Kelly Kasner, MGM’s director of sales and marketing. Kasner, who grew up in the industry and often traveled to customers with her tool-shop-owner dad, continued, “Particularly in our neck of the woods, in the Mecca of the Midwest, Tier 2 and Tier 3 automotive suppliers were all over the place and kept every mold shop in our town and region busy with lots of work.” But, things started to change as the industry supply chain became more global in nature.
While work was plentiful and local in the late 1980s and 1990s, the marketing efforts required were nearly non-existent because “your supply chain was close to you – you worked within your region,” Kasner said. This relationship- and connection-based network functioned well until the year 2000 when China and other offshore competition emerged on US soil. Kasner explained that this global competition left its footprint and spurred change.
When China came calling, many US businesses turned to website development for marketing. “These websites were static by design, very text-ridden and inundated with verbiage,” Kasner said. “We hit the ground running, made cold calls to make new connections and had business cards and brochures.” This is what marketing efforts consisted of for small, family-owned moldmakers in the early 2000s.
The shift of 2020
When the pandemic came into play in early 2020, Kasner said those cold calls and visits were no longer happening. “The old-fashioned ‘let me take you to lunch and see what we can do for you’ meeting was no longer an option, and neither were tradeshows or handing out brochures,” she stated.
With the company’s tried-and-true marketing efforts no longer relevant, and opportunities to be live and in-person while engaging with one another no longer possible, MGM looked for ways to make up for the lack of human connection.
“I’m old-school, and I miss the in-person aspects of sales and marketing,” said Kasner. “It always has been and still is all about relationships.” This meant it was critical for the company to figure out how to be innovative and unique while partnering and conducting business with people who value relationships. “We just had to think about how to do it differently, particularly in our industry,” she continued.
Embracing the new
For the past two decades, MGM has been working to stay in first-class and be competitive, doing whatever is necessary or required to develop its network, invest in capabilities and strengthen marketing efforts. “Even though the onset months of the pandemic put us in a perplexed state, it is the year we woke up, looked around and realized we needed to do something,” Kasner said, “because we could no longer sustain the same path we’ve been on without it impacting us significantly.”
In recent months, MGM endeavored to raise the bar by taking steps to improve its online presence. Its newly updated website is “much more friendly to different types of platforms,” she said, “so where before you wouldn’t be able to see anything from a mobile device, now it can be viewed on several platforms.”
The website also is more visual. “Since research indicates that many aspects of purchasing decisions are made before I even get a prospect’s email or phone call, I have to make sure the site is visually attractive, reaches a wider audience and has a much greater use of video.”
The company also is putting effort into having a presence on social media, primarily LinkedIn, while producing video content to incorporate into email messages and to share on social media to drive viewers to the revamped website. Video content will be varied, including one which will be a virtual shop tour, one that is an introductory video for the company and one or two that will be “commercials,” showcasing MGM’s team and capabilities.
“These videos will help people learn more about us and keep them on the direction of that sales process in advance of the email or phone call,” Kasner explained. She also said the goal is to get everything launched and start doing open house invitations with current key customers and new customers who have yet to visit the facility.
As a sincere believer in trying new things, Kasner encouraged others to embrace efforts that may seem unconventional. Many may want to shy away from “dipping their toe in the social media pool” since it doesn’t seem relevant to manufacturing, but she maintains it is relevant now and it’s here to stay.
“That’s where people live, and you want to meet your customers where they are,” she said. “If you want people to know who you are, then you need to have a presence where they spend their time – online.”
Kasner likens the future of sales and marketing at MGM to mirroring the hybrid model approaches the educational and medical industries have utilized this past year. “I can see this hybrid model happening with the sales and marketing aspects of manufacturing to where we have opportunities to connect virtually and continue in the same directions and with the same initiatives as we are doing right now,” she said. “It’s like getting the introductions underway virtually, and then if we like each other and find our connection mutually beneficial, we can take it to the next step and meet face-to-face.”
The last thing anybody wants is to see another mold shop going out of business. Kasner is adamant that smaller, independently owned shops that are challenged to be resourceful should reach out to their communities, such as local high school classes or even within their own teams, to find resources to help shoot a video, update a website or establish a presence on social media.
“The bigger mold shops are rocking social media with a dedicated sales and marketing team,” she said. “I think it’s awesome as they are changing the face and perception of careers in our industry, which is vital to our future.”