Mining companies and marketing? Why would an average mining company ever need to market itself? Isn’t there a persistent market for their products, and aren’t those products undifferentiated anyway? That’s why they’re called “commodities,” right?
Let’s be honest, one pile of copper ore looks very similar to another pile of copper ore, especially when sitting next to each other. So how does a company like Rio Tinto, for example, stand out from its competitors and achieve sales growth?
In fact mining companies do utilise a number of marketing tools to communicate messages to their target market that can deliver huge results. Read on to find out more.
When you think of massive companies like Rio Tinto, BHP and Glencore, you think billions of dollars and a large share of the resources market. But as mentioned earlier, piles of metal, iron, copper, whatever the mineral, look very similar next to each other. Each company wants to outperform the competition for bigger, faster, more profitable sales so that the OPEX funds tied up in each tonne of ore can be released to drive more production.
How does a company’s product stand out to consumers looking to source materials for production purposes? Well, just like you and me, ore buyers are sensitive to the factors of quality, quantity, delivery and price.
To cater to these factors, serious strategic marketing is required – ‘Strategic’ being the keyword because when you’re talking about an international marketplace full of customers and competitors located all over the globe, any marketing decision has a worldwide effect and can cost millions to execute.
For marketing teams within mining companies it’s all about analysis of the marketplace, recognising opportunities to maximise sales and strong brand communication. How else would they stand out?
Let’s take a look at an example.
In 2007, there was an increasing demand in Asia for quick delivery of ‘borates’, a mineral Rio Tinto boasted. Mined and distributed predominantly in the US, the packing and shipping facilities were an issue and there was significant lag time between export and import into Asia. About a 6-week lag that was putting out local clients!
How could Rio Tinto market its desired product against competitors with such a lag time? The answer was to set up a new distribution hub with a warehouse and packing capabilities in Changshu, China. The decision meant that huge container ships could be filled faster, with more product, then drop their entire loads which were packaged, stored and shipped locally, basically “on-demand”. This new hub made the Rio Tinto product a lot more appealing to buyers who no longer had to plan months in advance of when they needed the product, and eliminated a key strategic marketing weakness.
Online dictionary, Merriam Webster, describes marketing as the “activities that are involved in making people aware of a company’s products, making sure that the products are available to be bought” or more specifically the “techniques of promoting, selling and distributing a product or service”. Rio recognised the demand for borates through market research, determined the needs of buyers surrounding the product (fast delivery), and developed a marketing strategy to fulfil the wants of the interested buyers in a way that made their product more appealing than competitors.
Marketing is used by miners to win hearts as well as minds
“Marketing” incorporates a whole number of mediums, such as Advertising or Public Relations.
Due to the vast movement of earth that mines produce in order to extract minerals, there is always a major change to the existing habitat and surrounding environment. Sometimes there can even be immediate effects on local communities and towns nearby. That’s why a huge component of successfully running a mine, especially in the formative stages, is public relations.
In order to ensure smoother running affairs, PR specialists and/or firms are often tasked with communicating with local residents, statutory organisations, advocacy groups, local councils and governments to ensure all parties are informed and engaged with. PR teams also draft up crisis management protocols and key media relationships as a method of liaising and communicating with the public and stakeholders in the wake of a natural or structural disaster/event, which unfortunately does happen.
In the mining industry, PR is paramount to communicating and maintaining relationships with the local and general public and major stakeholders. The PR arm of a mining company is responsible for ensuring strong brand equity and buoyancy throughout operations. It’s a vital ingredient in the marketing mix for a mining company
As a subset of marketing, advertising plays an essential role for mining companies. In fact, mining conglomerates often produce advertising as part of a comprehensive public relations campaign.
For example, in Australia in 2012, when the Australian government introduced plans to cut emissions in the form of a carbon tax, big mining brands outsourced media space and advertising content to campaign against the changes – highlighting the impact it would have on employment rates among a host of other negatives.
While executing this approach, several mining corporations also released a number of their own campaigns highlighting the many social and economic benefits and opportunities their projects offer. These included stories about donations made to various charities and organisations and employee testimonials to advocate the great and positive work underway at the hands of their business.
These two approaches combined to be a part of one big, overarching public relations campaign which eventually lead the majority of the Australian public on the side of the mining giants, and played a huge part in the change of government in the 2013 election.
So, do mining companies need marketing?
In short, yes. Just like every other business and industry.
The difference? Mining companies use the tools of marketing in ways that are different from what we think of as traditional marketing. More often, it’s behind the scenes or “below the line” in marketing parlance.
We don’t immediately associate marketing with mining companies. Our immediate impressions are of huge machinery, hard hats and prices on the stock exchange. That said, if mining companies don’t market effectively, they risk doing considerable damage to their brand and industry. As we know, Mining is no small game. Their products propel a large number of economies and primary industries throughout the world. Lacking in marketing would lead to some pretty tough flow-on effects globally and shareholders would be up in arms!
Marketing is a key tool in conducting business even if it’s not to mass audiences. In fact, marketing business-to-business is merely the precursor for businesses to market to the consumer.
The marketing strategies executed by mining companies are just as elaborate and influential as any other. When you think about the scale on which they happen, it’s fascinating.