Buying Guides vs. Directories…Take Another Look!

Next Gen Manufacturing Directories Ensure Informed Product Decisions

Manufacturing organizations have historically relied on a combination of reseller channels and traditional marketing efforts such as print advertising, trade shows, and industry events to expand their businesses. Although those efforts may continue to pay limited dividends, the internet has exposed a vast new world of business development opportunity.

Once a set of tactics reserved for large organizations, highly sophisticated click-tracking tools and customer data now allow businesses of all sizes to leverage remarketing and access unprecedented insights into consumer behavior.

According to a recent Forrester study, 54% of manufacturer site visitors have high purchase intent, but only 17% of those actually buy directly from an online supplier.

An age old method for manufacturers to find new suppliers has always been to search in some sort of directory or buying guide. Today, Google serves as the most common online directory—simply listing manufacturer names yet not offering detailed product information. Google search results may include much broader results than intended including destinations from .gov and .edu URLs, Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia, YouTube, and other non-manufacturing related origins.

Manufacturing directories such as ThomasNet, IQS Directory, Zycon, and GlobalSpec are more focused by listing detailed product information by manufacturer exclusively. They also go one step further than Google by listing the products each manufacturer sells and offering more complete product documentation and pricing.

Overall, manufacturing directories can compress the traditionally difficult, nontransparent and time-consuming supplier location and sourcing processes down to a few quick, manageable steps. Most importantly, manufacturing directories provide request for quote forms for individual as well as collective sources and ensure buying efficiencies.

Traditional Manufacturing Directories: a Dubious History

Today’s manufacturers are well versed in the concept of supplier directories. Print-based buying guides of the past were somewhat shallow in content—listing products individually alongside the names and addresses of companies that (hopefully) made or sold the products. Once readers identified a suitable product, they were on their own to determine configurations, pricing, and procurement options.

This stripped-down format was in part practical, because even limited information on available products was hard to obtain otherwise. Directory publishers enabled self-service product lookups to encourage companies to buy advertising next to their listings—providing additional product details and, ultimately, generating sales.

However, internet users no longer tolerate shallow product information when making buying decisions. Search engines have evolved to allow users to find at least a few manufacturers or sellers of just about anything with very little effort. And company websites now typically contain a wealth of product information, in part because it is so cheap and efficient to store.

Overall, these factors leave little room for manufacturing directories to add value, at least in their traditional format.

Online Manufacturing Directories: an Encouraging Future

So is the online directory model dead? If referencing the traditional shallow information model, the answer is yes. The publishers of the Yellow Pages and a few other large, print-based directories still have not come to this conclusion.

Thankfully, today’s manufacturing directory publishers offer a number of exciting new services that mix and match features such as:

  • In-line company descriptions as users roll over vendor names—allowing for improved user experience
  • Strong parametric search capabilities for locating products using multiple criteria including geographic location
  • Instant request for quote capabilities
  • Comprehensive buyer ratings and reviews that are validated for authenticity
  • Downloadable CAD drawings, warranty data, installation manuals, and more
  • Photo portfolios showcasing product applications and usage
  • Guided search based on questionnaires and exact buyer needs
  • Shared online areas for coworkers to collaborate on buying decisions
  • Ability to request product samples from a manufacturer
  • Integrated ordering with the option to warehouse and ship on behalf of manufacturers

In short, the list of available features is long. What results are true destination purchasing research sites and, ultimately, centralized marketplaces that enable decision support. Manufacturers find the exact parts they need and order them. This functionality has been the holy grail of buying guides for decades, and it’s finally becoming a reality.

Advertisers Already Support the Vision

As the utility and value of manufacturing directories increase, advertisers jump on board to differentiate their products via enhanced directory listings, tile ads, and other premium services. These revenue streams fuel additional functionality for directory developers.

Advertisers seek to represent their products to the broad, highly qualified audiences offered through online directories because they are truly in the vendors’ target market. Their promoted products are top of mind as buying decisions are being made, and the corresponding product data is enabling real-time sales and streamlined operational processes.

Manufacturers Should Embrace the Change

To improve customer experience and their overall online presence, manufacturers and suppliers must ensure that their paths to purchase are efficient, offer comprehensive product descriptions, and provide product comparison tools and advanced sorting features that add value for customers.

Additionally, in order to attract the attention of buyers, manufacturing marketers should first understand the potential role of search engines—the starting point for most internet purchases. Search engines love content, especially valuable and relevant content that generates links from outside, reputable websites.

These are daunting tasks for manufactures tightly focused on speed-to-market, cost efficiency, and other market pressures. To address these issues, a few manufacturing directory publishers such as IQS Directory, Zycon, and GlobalSpec are offering manufacturing companies value-add marketing services in addition to standard buying guide listings.

Available turnkey marketing services include:

  • Search Engine Optimization & Pay-Per-Click Management
  • Content Development and Publishing (blogs, white papers, news articles, etc.)
  • Social Media Planning & Execution
  • Responsive Website Design

Directory publishers may offer these services to advertisers for a flat monthly or annual fee. By opting to outsource these services, a manufacturer can rely on a publisher partner to negotiate better advertising rates and more closely manage the effectiveness of keyword purchases.

Clearly, the widespread adoption of data-rich product models has arrived, and more engineers, designers and procurement professionals are demanding real-time product details for greater efficiency. It’s time for manufacturers to deliver the product data customers are asking for—and turn that data into a marketing asset for their businesses.

To achieve this purpose, manufacturing directories offer a simple, cost-effective approach to disseminating product data, enabling competitive comparison, managing online ordering, and offering full-scale e-commerce abilities. Once a cumbersome, paper-based search tactic, online directories have lived up to customers’ needs for product details and purchasing direction.

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