Effective Industrial Content Marketing Requires Working Closely with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Industrial content marketing needs the help of SMEs

If you are responsible for industrial content marketing at your company, you know it is a challenge and can be a daunting task to engage with engineers and technical buyers. It is not too difficult to prove effectiveness with top of the funnel results such as increased traffic, page views, content downloads and newsletter signups.

However, most manufacturers and other industrial companies are not going to be satisfied with that. They want and expect their industrial content marketing strategy to engage with engineers and persuade them to start a conversation with their sales team.

Industrial companies that I talk to on a daily basis, find it challenging to market to engineers. Their biggest hurdle is the lack of response from their target audience. These companies are at a loss and want a better way to market since their target audience is primarily engineers from various disciplines. And therein lies the challenge.

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Industrial Content Marketing: Awareness to Conversion Takes Time and Hard Work

Industrial content marketing success for most manufacturers and other industrial companies is usually measured  by an increase in the number of RFQs/RFPs. Arguments about quality vs. quantity tend to fall on deaf ears because these companies with long sales cycles need a certain volume of quotes to keep their pipelines full and active.

Often, their stated goal for content marketing is “We want to increase awareness among engineers and industrial buyers and generate new contacts.” You’ve probably heard the same or something similar if you are part of an in-house marketing department or an outside industrial marketing consultant like me.

On the surface, it looks like a well-defined marketing goal but if you look closely, you’ll see that it takes many interim steps between raising awareness and converting traffic into qualified leads. It is this lack of understanding of what it takes to go from point A to point B that causes owners and decision makers at these industrial companies to get frustrated from the lack of quick results and shocked by the price tag.

Growing pains in industrial content marketing

According to Engineering360’s online survey addressing the marketing trends, challenges and expenditures within the engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial companies, thirty-nine percent were just getting started with content marketing and only 12 percent can show how content marketing contributes to sales.

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Industrial Content Marketing Fails to Engage with Target Audience

Industrial content marketing used by manufacturers, distributors and engineering companies is failing to engage the target audience – engineers, technical professionals and industrial buyers. This is not a new problem.

Back in 2014, Forrester had published their research report titled B2B Content Fails The Customer Engagement Test. Here’s a statement from their brief – “Nowhere is the struggle to produce compelling business-to-business (B2B) content more evident than on corporate websites: When 26 out of 30 fail to pass even a basic 10-criteria test, it’s time for chief marketing officers (CMOs) to seriously rethink their content marketing plans for 2015.”

Fast forward to 2016 and industrial companies are still struggling with the same problem. The challenges that manufacturing marketers face are very similar to those experienced by all B2B marketers. 65% of manufacturing marketers said producing engaging content is their biggest challenge (Source: 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/ MarketingProfs).

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How Manufacturing Content Marketing Sets the Table for Sales

Manufacturing content marketing sets the table for SalesI recently received two emails from two different manufacturers. They both inquired about using manufacturing content marketing to help their sales efforts. Both these companies had used telemarketing and other conventional marketing tactics with very little success in generating sales qualified leads.

You may be experiencing the same or similar problems as these two manufacturers. Here are excerpts from those emails.

  • “Using a lead generation company right now that charges too much and delivers too little. They do not understand industrial sales, and although they are talented and penetrating accounts, many of the set appointments do not answer the phone.”
  • “I have been doing the conventional style of marketing i.e. making cold calls, face-time with clients. After all such interactions, I was simply told to mail the information regarding our product, company credentials etc. I have met 100+ people and so far only a few have responded.”

These two manufacturers are experiencing firsthand the realities of industrial buyer behavior these days. Buyers are in self-serve self-select mode and remain mainly invisible for a large portion of the buy cycle. These industrial buyers will engage with your sales team only when they are ready. Hounding them with cold calls or unwanted emails is not going to help them make a more informed decision of selecting your company as the preferred manufacturer.

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Marketing Engineering Services with Content

Marketing Engineering ServicesMarketing engineering services is very different from marketing industrial products. The biggest difference is that you are selling an intangible concept as versus a physical product. The final deliverable in engineering services may be a written report but it is still not the same as selling a motor or a pump.

I have run across hybrid situations where the manufacturer sells custom-engineered products. These are not standard off the shelf widgets but require significant amount of engineering consulting upfront before producing the final product.

In this post, I’ll stick with marketing pure engineering services such as Soil and Groundwater Investigation/Remediation; Engineering Feasibility Studies and Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) Audits to name a few.

Traditionally, engineering services firms have relied on referrals, professional networking and event sponsorships to grow their business. Referral business is great but they are usually few and far between for a dependable growth strategy. Networking and sponsorships are time consuming and expensive.

Let’s say you’ve perfected your marketing message into a concise 30-second elevator pitch and you’ve become good at delivering it to strangers you meet at professional events. Assume you’ve managed to pique their interest, which is no small feat. Guess what, they are going to check out your website when they get back to the office. The content on your site will make or break that first impression.

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No Digital Marketing for Manufacturers = Marketing in the Past

Are you marketing in the past without digital marketing for manufacturers?Most manufacturers including precision CNC machine shops and fabricators have difficulty understanding the true value of digital marketing for manufacturers. Some that have implemented it, struggle to produce tangible results, meaning a boost in sales that they can attribute to marketing.

The need for a robust online presence (Website and customer-centric content marketing) is driven by your customer’s behavior and not because marketing consultants are telling you to do so. Today’s industrial buyers are in self-serve and self-select mode, making them virtually invisible and hard to reach. They don’t need or want to talk to your sales people to get product information. Your buyers will engage with your sales team only when they are ready. Hounding them with cold calls or unwanted spammy emails is not going to make them choose you over the competition.

The lack of buy-in for digital marketing is a two-fold problem as I see it with my industrial clients. The first issue is a mindset at the top and the second part is one of incorrect attribution.

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Content Marketing for Industrial Distributors

Content marketing is proving to be a big challenge for industrial distributors that I have talked to. The problem stems from the fact that distributors have relied heavily in the past on their principal manufacturers to provide them with marketing content and collateral. Weaning themselves from that reliance and becoming publishers of original content is not only a challenge but they just don’t have the necessary resources for content marketing.

The second part of the problem is that these companies are sales driven and marketing has never been a major part of their sales process. Sales people cold calling, setting appointments for face to face meetings and building relationships are how they have always generated new leads and increased sales. Distributors have realized that industrial buyers are no longer engaging with their sales people like they used to. They recognize the fact that they need to support their sales team with better industrial marketing with content.

Industrial distributors don’t want to become publishers of content; they want to sell more of their products. I accept that reality, the challenge lies is delivering quantifiable ROI from content marketing. (See my post, “Content Marketing: Think Like a Publisher, Act Like an Investor”)

Using content marketing for organic or natural SEO to drive qualified traffic for top of the funnel (ToFU) activities is a large part of the solution. However, it is only half the equation. Your content needs to engage with visitors, persuade them to take action now rather than later and convert them into sales qualified leads. This conversion process is far more challenging.

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Jumpstart Industrial Content Marketing with Application Notes

Jumpstart your industrial content marketingApplication Notes or App Notes are very effective and can help you jumpstart your industrial content marketing, especially if you are stuck because of lack of content. Application Notes are closely related to Case Studies but they are not the same.

I’ve heard some people refer to them as white papers. IMO, there’s a difference but that’s a topic for another post. My point is that these content assets are powerful tools of industrial content marketing for lead generation.

Application Notes focus on a particular process or application of a manufacturer’s product. They provide general guidance on the product’s usage under certain operating conditions. Sometimes these documents may highlight unusual or challenging applications of the part. App Notes put the spotlight on the manufacturer and are part of its marketing materials, albeit technical in nature. Here are two examples of industrial App Notes:

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How to Create Successful Industrial Marketing Content for TOFU

Sales funnel for industrial marketingIn case you aren’t familiar with the content marketing acronym TOFU, let me define it for you. TOFU stands for top of the funnel and relates to content that attracts qualified visitors to your industrial website or blog.

Creating effective marketing content for TOFU is proving to be a challenge for many manufacturers. That’s because these industrial companies have plenty of product datasheets, user guides and other product-centric marketing collateral but very little content that is customer-centric. Why is this important?

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Industrial Marketers Face ROI Challenges

Developing a good digital marketing strategy and then executing it is complex enough but measuring ROI is proving to be a bigger challenge for marketers within manufacturing and industrial companies.

Thirty-one percent of industrial marketing professionals stated that measuring ROI is the biggest challenge in their profession. That is one of the findings from IHS/GlobalSpec’s 2013 Trends in Industrial Marketing report.

Measuring ROI of industrial marketing is a challenge

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