Changes, challenges and jumping hurdles: communicating in the industrials sector

Ian Firth

We sat down with three specialists working in the industrial space to talk us through the changes they’ve seen in communications, the challenges they face, and how to jump the hurdles.

Every industry has idiosyncrasies and nuances that drive the way it communicates to its customers, peers and stakeholders. Finding purpose, how that’s communicated through brand and what drives engagement looks different for every sector.  As do the challenges and changes faced along the way.

At Bright Space we work closely alongside many partners in the industrials space. An industry with tangible purpose and persistent evolution. Its product is mostly detail oriented but behind the science and the process is a deep purpose in the function of everyday life. Therein lies a story worth telling.

We sat down with three specialists working in the industrial space to talk us through the changes they’ve seen in communications, the challenges they face, and how to jump the hurdles. Leave the jargon behind and get to the point, the power of listening, and how to be impactful across different communication channels were among many pieces of advice.

Here’s Matthew Defosse, Frank Neve and Carolyn Bazzini’s take.  

Matthew Defosse - Global Marketing Communications Lead, Celanese Engineered Materials & Solutions

One significant challenge for us in the industrials sector is the appearance of ever more channels that people – our potential customers – use to gather information. From ‘How To’ videos on YouTube, to the various (and increasing) social media outlets, to online trade and business media, and even, yes, the many F2F events: it is difficult to know where we need to be to engage with prospective and current customers.  

Let’s assume you do manage to identify the right channel to engage with these people. The age-old challenge remains: how to engage them so quickly that they agree to invest time in reading your text or watching your video? Storytelling is as important as ever, and it remains very challenging, and I would argue it is even more challenging than it was in the days before ‘scrolling’ became the verb that describes what people do for hours daily.  

We are B2B; we write clever headlines, our videos look sharp and are concise, but we will always maintain a level of professionalism that is appropriate for our audience. And we are competing for people’s time with content that appeals to scrollers’ base instincts; with one click they can skip from our video about the technical challenges of increasing energy density in EV batteries, to any of the thousands of ‘man bites dog’ type headlines screaming for their attention.  

How to overcome these challenges? Talk to your customers and people who you would like to turn into customers, and keep asking them how and where they get the information they use to get work accomplished. You just cannot be too close to your customers, and that goes just as much for communications professionals as it does for our commercial colleagues.

And we in the B2B realm need to really be concise with our messaging, especially with that first attempt to draw someone’s attention to a subject in which our company offers expertise. We need to be talking frequently to our colleagues who meet daily with customers, and ensure our content is bull’s eye-aimed at the challenges customers face.  

Concise also means not burying the lead. You still see it in some – dreadful - B2B presentations or webinars, or even videos. Leap quickly into the topic for which people are investing their very valuable, very limited time – and perhaps also investing $100s or $1000s if they travelled to an event.  

Save that corporate ‘we love ourselves’ info for the end of the presentation. The first impression must be that we understand your industry and its challenges, we truly have empathy for these challenges, and today I will tell you how to solve a pressing challenge and make you a hero among your colleagues.    

Frank Neve - Bright Space Specialist Adviser in Industrials and Communications (and former EMEA Business and Sustainability Communications Leader at Dow).

A challenge that really sticks to mind is the balance between urgent and important. Often tasks don’t get addressed because there's always something more urgent (not necessarily less important) that takes precedence over a strategic task. And that is a significant challenge for us in communications.  

Urgent is something you need to address today because if you don’t, it could put you in a difficult situation. Important are those strategic and longer-term elements you might need to spend time on today but will not yield an instant result. This can be tricky to prioritise when the ‘urgent' pops up.

To break through this, we have to leverage the important first. You need to spend time on your reports, strategy, planning and or procedures which will hopefully mean that less challenges along the way become urgent. That can be easier said than done!

Prioritising urgent vs important is linked to another challenge we often face which is the view that communications and marketing is a “nice to have.” It can be difficult at times to quantify the return on investment for stakeholders outside communication teams. Because of this I see people ignoring strategic communications in the short term. Whereas you will have a greater effect longer term and it becomes easier to quantify.  

Communication is there to help build trust in a brand. Saying it's “nice to have” is haphazard. Dedicating time to building structure to your communications and creating a clear path forward are tasks in the important column. In today's world, it is important that you do what you say you're doing. It’s less easy but more important. Trust is a critical element for business long term.  

What Edelman found in its 2023 ‘Trust Barometer’ is that people tend to trust commercial organisations more than governments or NGOs. So, there is a big responsibility for industrials to confirm they can be trusted. They need to live up to those expectations. That’s crucial for the industrial sector.  

One area trust needs to be maintained is sustainability. Ten years ago, sustainability was also in the “nice to have” folder and companies could let it slip. Not today, especially with the reporting that’s going to be required in the EU soon. Greenwashing still happens and companies are struggling with how to refine the data and translate that to their stakeholders and customers.  

Building trust also comes down to listening. When you talk to scientists, or the like, in your organisation, you understand what they’re saying, and crucially, you know why it’s relevant. Just because people within your organisation understand, it doesn't mean your community will understand in the same way. Similarly, you might be overestimating the benefits that you intend to bring to that sector. It’s important to listen to your audience to understand if your message is landing.

Listening is not often the first thing you think about when writing a communications strategy. But if you don’t start with listening then understanding how to successfully communicate to your audience is not going to be so easy.  

Carolyn Bazzini - Global Communications Leader, DuPont Automotive

For me everything starts from asking what does the business need? What are their goals and objectives? Because we, as communicators, are there to support them in getting their message out in the most effective way, using the most effective channels. 

It's very important to prioritise. What are the top two or three objectives? What does the business need to achieve and what is the best way to communicate targeted messaging to external stakeholders? This is where budgets come in. We need to balance the reality of the budget with the availability of a team to support execution – it can be challenging.  

That’s why it is incredibly important to have strong agency partners. I have a small team, so I depend on my agency partners who I consider as colleagues - not vendors, not agencies. They're a great support, and I count on their expertise and counsel to help advise my stakeholders. 

Ensuring that communications are considered as strategic partners is something I personally think is also very important. That respect must be earned. Once it is, you are considered as a strategic adviser and counsellor. To me that's one of the ultimate goals for people in our position.  

The biggest change I’ve seen over the past decade is the introduction of social media. Messaging is messaging. Content is content. Those things don’t change. You have to be on social media, you have to have a presence, you have to be visible. But the ‘what’ hasn’t changed, and I think that sometimes this gets lost. It's not about just being out on social media, it’s about having something interesting and impactful to say.  

Another significant change is the importance of sustainability.  More transparency, engagement and performance is expected by all external stakeholders.  We need to work closely internally and externally with customers to align our objectives.  Value creation occurs when sustainability is woven into the business strategy and when messaging clearly communicates the value propositions.   

What's clear from Frank, Carolyn and Matthew's accounts is while they work in a specific sector, their experience doesn't stray far from classic B2B communications and marketing. Their relationship with customers is no longer just about materials and products; it's about strong and trusted partnerships.

Yes, there are B2C factors to compete with like snatching screen time on social media but the importance of purpose, communicating your story with precision, and developing trust remains steadfast. Delivering value beyond products has never been more paramount. 

Is your communications strategy not hitting the mark or struggling to keep up with changing industry expectations? Then,

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