Category Errors

Sept. 10, 2013
The choices we make Constant activity Serving up facts Reporting progress

Recently I spent an hour or so with a marketing executive, one with excellent insights and connections to the metalcasting industry. We have this in common: we’re both “in” metalcasting because it's the subject on which we spend most of our days and earn much of our livelihoods. But, we’re not in it in this sense: we don’t produce castings or sell equipment or products to the foundries and diecasters. To those people, my conversation partner and I are in another category. We may understand what’s going on in metalcasting, but we don’t have complete credibility because we haven’t shared their experiences.

Some people sneer at “marketing”, because they believe it’s crass or self-serving; I think that attitude exists among some metalcasters because theirs is an industry filled with smart people who rely on proven theories and hard facts to deliver their message, and to make their livings.

I don’t feel that way. I see marketing as an exercise in understanding human nature: why do we make the choices we make, and what might make us choose something different? In fact, my marketing friend and I discovered a common concern – which is wondering how we can make metalcasters see all the different ways their work could be more rewarding if they adopted more up-to-date ways to communicate among themselves, and with their customers and suppliers.

Understand first that there is a mostly self-serving reason for this: I am responsible for a magazine that arrives every month as a testament to many weeks of planning and effort. A lot of that effort is mine, but not all of it; often, sources don’t get credited and colleagues’ good work is taken for granted. Almost never credited are the advertisers, whose investment in the magazine makes your monthly delivery possible. 

But, understand too that this monthly document is the product of a daily enterprise, really a constant process of gathering facts and ideas, and assembling information into reports and other presentations that can be delivered more immediately and available almost any time. We don’t speed up to produce one issue, then slow down, then cruise ‘til the next assignment. We never stop.

Metalcasters surely can understand that, because they never stop either. They work through their daily schedules while they look for the next project. They receive raw materials, they handle and process it, and they deliver it to the buyer. All the while they are checking process data to ensure the production is meeting the performance requirements. They’re also monitoring their costs, to protect their own stake. And they’re developing future projects, designing new castings, or planning new or updated production systems.

Oddly, most metalcasters have not extended this same non-stop approach to their communication efforts. They withhold details, they conceal designs, or they issue terse statements. In marketing terms, their program needs updating.

I assume this is because they categorize who they communicate with similar to the way they categorize me: they assume I don’t know or understand, or care, about something because I’m in a different business. So they don’t risk exposing their information.  

The best information they have gets compiled and reserved, maybe to appear as part of a technical research paper – available mostly to people who are categorized similar to themselves.

My marketing friend acknowledged that there are some exceptions to this generalization —mostly foundry executives under 40 years old, and suppliers of more advanced equipment and technologies. They’re more accustomed to new ways of communication. They see every interaction as an opportunity 1) to make a new business connection, and 2) to draw in more information for their own advantage. They “get” it.

I’ve noted this generational divide too: I’ve worried that some day all the readers of our magazine will have retired or departed – and the metalcasting industry will be populated by people who don’t read magazines and never discovered us online.

But the difference is not between young and old, or insiders and outsiders. A marketing study would reveal the difference is this: some of us want the world to see those facts and proofs as the definition of their work; others want the constant activity, the progress toward goals, to define their ability. We need both views to prevail. We can’t escape the facts that surround us, but we cannot slow down and let the world define us.

About the Author

Robert Brooks | Content Director

Robert Brooks has been a business-to-business reporter, writer, editor, and columnist for more than 20 years, specializing in the primary metal and basic manufacturing industries. His work has covered a wide range of topics, including process technology, resource development, material selection, product design, workforce development, and industrial market strategies, among others. Currently, he specializes in subjects related to metal component and product design, development, and manufacturing — including castings, forgings, machined parts, and fabrications.

Brooks is a graduate of Kenyon College (B.A. English, Political Science) and Emory University (M.A. English.)