Creating Relevant Content for Industrial Marketing is a Challenge

by Achinta Mitra on January 28, 2013

in Content Marketing, Sales Strategies

I am not referring to the age-old question, “What will we write about?” Creating content that an industrial and technical audience will find relevant is not easy.

An industrial marketer can only create so many application notes and case studies. Case studies are difficult to produce because well-known customers are reluctant to give their permission for fear of violating their corporate and legal guidelines. It is common in industrial content to find customers with generic names such as “A large Tier 2 OEM from the automotive industry” or “A major utility company on the US East Coast.”

Marketing consultants will advise you to address your customers’ pain points. Very good advice but I’m here to tell you that it is not always easy to do that in industrial marketing. Here’s why.

If you are a manufacturer or an industrial services company, ask yourself this question, why would anyone buy your products or services if they don’t know they have a problem?

To make your content marketing relevant, you may first need to raise awareness of the problem and help your customers understand they have a problem that they may not be aware of yet. Let me give you two examples to illustrate my point.

  1. A manufacturer of leak testers selling to the medical devices industry may need to educate its customers about the fact that they are using obsolete leak testers that may be able to handle leak rate requirements for current medical devices but would fail in new product development.
  2. An engineering company working primarily with clients from the power industry may have to educate their customers about new regulatory requirements such as National Ambient Air Quality Standard (NAAQS) or Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR). They are not likely to buy an engineering solution unless they understand how these regulatory changes affect their businesses.

As a distributor, manufacturer or an engineering company, you may think that your job #1 is to sell more products and solutions. It is not your responsibility to help educate your customers about the future product trends and regulatory compliance. You’d be missing out on good sales opportunities if you took that stand.

Think about it, if your content can provide free help to your customers’ Compliance or Engineering departments, you’ll automatically be viewed as a valuable partner and not seen as just another vendor. These influencers just might become your internal evangelists who help you reach key decision makers for your industrial products and engineering solutions.

This is very important to understand for industrial marketers because in most complex industrial sales, you will be dealing with two types of buyers – a technical buyer and a functional buyer. You need the technical buyer to specify your product(s) and carry your message to the functional buyer who may never visit your site.

For more on increasing awareness of problems with content, see my post, Problem-centric Industrial Marketing.

Let me hear your ideas on making content more relevant for industrial marketing.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Michael Selissen January 29, 2013 at 4:46 pm

Hi Achinta,

Creating the type of awareness-raising content you describe is the first challenge. Getting it read, through either inbound or outbound means requires establishing company employees as respected authorities. It takes time but can pay off if executed well and company management sticks with it. I have recently come across a number of manufacturer’s websites where the blog posts and content updates stopped several months ago. So I guess the biggest challenge of all is overcoming the urge to pull the plug when the results aren’t immediate.

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Achinta Mitra January 30, 2013 at 9:16 am

Hi Michael,

Thanks for adding your insights.
I too have seen too many industrial blogs get started with a lot of enthusiasm only to be abandoned after a month or two. IMO, the problem stems from the marketing dept./consultant not having done a good job of explaining to upper management the difference between content marketing and a marketing campaign. Decision makers do not understand that content marketing is a process that takes time to gel and produce measurable results. As a result, they continue to believe it is nothing more than another one-off campaign and expect quick results just like their traditional marketing efforts. Until and unless there is 100% buy-in and the commitment of time and money, content marketing will continue to be a challenge for industrial companies. It is up to us industrial marketers to educate them and make a strong business case for content marketing.

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Joan Damico January 30, 2013 at 11:25 am

Good post, Achinta. Perhaps B2B industrial marketers and sales folks need to read “The Challenger Sale” http://www.amazon.com/The-Challenger-Sale-Conversation-ebook/dp/B0052REP7K by Brent Adams and Matthew Dixon. It highlights what you’ve said about going deeper than addressing pain points. Today’s more educated buyers, thanks to the internet, no longer need a rep to point out how the product addresses pain points. Buyers are looking for reps with business insights and creative solutions to the buyer’s business issues. That’s where value is added.

Content Marketing Institute recently published data on B2B industrial marketing and it included some interesting statistics that indicate B2B industrial marketers prefer video for their content. Perhaps video is a more effective medium at supporting your point of “selling the problem.”http://contentmarketinginstitute.com/2013/01/manufacturers-managing-content-marketing-b2b-insights/

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Achinta Mitra January 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm

Joan,
Thank you for your comments and the additional resources. I agree, the informed buyer is in charge today. The old adage has been turned on its head to where now it is more appropriate to say, “Seller Beware.”
I saw CMI’s post about B2B industrial marketing. I had used one of their charts in an earlier post, Are Manufacturers Turning a Deaf Ear to Content Marketing? There were some very interesting comments made by others including one from Joe Pulizzi of CMI.

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Jason Mailley February 4, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I keep asking my clients, friends and relative: Have you read “The easy way to make friends and influence people” by Carnegie ? They always respond: Obviously!

Then I start twisting the question: Do you know why your last campaign had no impact whatsoever? … And sometimes, they still don’t get it: I have no idea, we keep telling them our products are the best and we are a great company.

This perfect social marketing recipe has been given over 70 years ago, and it is still as great and current as it was in the ’30′s.

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 11:20 am

You guys all highlight the difficulty in developing needed content for the industrial marketer in the age of Google.

Our company struggles with the same issues and we are working on a “formula” to create quality content for the purposes of industrial content marketing. We are still experimenting with the execution of our formula.

This formula is gleaned from hundreds of web development and SEO projects at our company and working closely with our industrial customers. Many times we may partner with an experienced branding/advertising agency to enhance brand development and to help with quality content creation. So we see content development from the SEO and web development side. We see it from the customer’s point of view and we also see it from the traditional creative side.

Start good content with a quality brand message.

If you get the brand message correct then the other parts of content development and your entire marketing mix falls comfortably in place.

With the transparency, speed and pervasiveness of the web branding becomes more important than ever and most industrial companies do not do branding well.

At this point I realize there are a thousand different definitions of branding. Let me attempt to boil it down. I think the very best definition I have ever heard is the “emotional aftertaste” after you have experienced a product or service. The “WHY” in Simon Sinek’s video below gets to the heart of my favorite definition!

Change your attitude.

Once you are comfortable with your brand message then you must change your attitude about selling your product to produce effective content

One of the best references for writing content is a book by Ann Handley & C.C. Chapman titled Content Rules. The most valuable message from the book resides in Chapter 6, “Share or Solve: Don’t Shill”. Don’t be a huckster for your products or services. Provide solutions. This is a major cultural leap for industrial companies. They have typically increased sales by deploying more “feet on the street” and their primary skill was to sell promoting features and benefits…very aggressively.

Now you tell a company that has built their business on selling features and benefits they must sell solutions…solve problems, share industry information. A BIG stretch!

So here is the 10 step formula we are currently working with to help our company and our industrial customers develop great content on a consistent basis. We still have lots of work to do refining this model… but it is at the point where I felt it was worth comment on Achinta’s blog.

•GET THE BRAND MESSAGE RIGHT: Based on my experience and lots of study I believe your industrial brand is as important for pneumatic pumps as it is for soft drinks and Pepsi-Cola. A good place to start with brand development is your company’s “WHY?” (If needed we may outsource the branding and a significant amount of copywriting to a branding/advertising agency).

Watch Simon Sinek’s presentation on “WHY?”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7zFeuSagktM&feature=share&list=UUPmfPl-BsCd3wmE8i45LAoA

•REBUILD THE “MOTHERSHIP”: Is your website, based on the “WHY?” in your brand message?

•START BUILDING YOUR LIST: At some point you will need a good list to market to. Ideally this is a permission based marketing list. However you can start with a targeted list that should be segmented by job title, industry, sales volume, etc. You will need to have all contact information including a verified e-mail address if possible. You can start with your own customer list or purchase a list from your industry group or your last trade show. The key is to start with something and continue to build your list.

•BUILD YOUR CONTENT MARKETING TEAM: Start with an experience journalist, story-teller who is comfortable with the technical jargon & concepts of your industry. You need someone who has nice mix of left and right brain skills. This will be your Content Manager (CM)…whatever you want to call them. This individual will wear other hats such as VP of Sales or VP of Marketing in smaller organizations. (Finding this individual might be the toughest task of all)

•BUILD A TEAM OF STAFF WRITERS: Find staff writers that are not intimidated by technical stuff. Make sure all content is “filtered” through the CM and that the brand message (The “WHY?”)is woven into all content

•ENGAGE YOUR CUSTOMER: If your industrial customer has some good content writers (this might be the second most difficult task) let them contribute but make sure the content is filtered through your staff writers for SEO and your CM for brand message.

•START AN EDITORIAL CALENDER: This is like putting your personal goals on paper. If you never do it goals will never be achieved. If your resources are small start by just sending an e-mail once per quarter or PRweb.com press release once per quarter. But stick with it until the content machine is well oiled and then you can step up frequency.

•PRODUCE VIDEO SNIPPETS: Break up some of the content into snippets/scripts for video production. Start with customer testimonies, case studies, and owners of the company talking about “stories” and “passions” that support the “WHY?” in your brand message.

•PUBLISH FROM ONE LOCATION: Deploy content based on your content schedule using an integrated marketing platform such as Eloqua, Marketo, Loopfuse and others. Give yourself at least a few months just to research this integrated marketing software. It took me 6 months to find one.

•MEASURE & ADJUST: With your marketing platform/dashboard you can measure & adjust all deployed content.

•Repeat and continue to refine this process.

Now…you might be thinking, “Boy…this sounds like a ton or work”. It is! I have done it.

But it is required if you are to stay competitive in the age of Google.

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Joan Damico February 5, 2013 at 11:43 am

This is an excellent list, Tom and makes sense for the industrial marketer because it focuses on getting your own content house in order before branching out into other social channels such as LinkedIn or Google+, if relevant. Do you foresee a reorganization of the marketing or marcom function within industrial organizations as a result of content marketing? It almost feels like “marcom” is morphing into the new term “content marketing” since content implies all forms of marcom regardless of medium.

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 12:56 pm

You are right on Joan. Marcom/ad agencies will HAVE to adjust to market realities. One of my best friends owns a traditional ad agency. His company works with us occasionally on the branding stuff for our industrial customers. We discuss daily how this affects both our company (i.e. web development and SEO for the industrial market) and his company (i.e. traditional ad agency model…some b2b, most b2c). Personally I think the skill sets of companies in web development and branding/marcom will have to come together to survive. Sooner… rather than later.

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm

You are right on Joan. Marcom/ad agencies will HAVE to adjust to market realities. One of my best friends owns a traditional ad agency. His company works with us occasionally on the branding stuff for our industrial customers. We discuss daily how this affects both our company (i.e. web development and SEO for the industrial market) and his company (i.e. traditional ad agency model…some b2b, most b2c). Personally I think the skill sets of companies in web development and branding/marcom will have to come together to survive. Sooner… rather than later.

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 12:58 pm

Sorry for the double reply. Captcha is a real pain!

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Joan Damico February 5, 2013 at 3:31 pm

I agree, Tom. There are still silos of digital/interactive marketing and traditional marketing left over from the early days of the internet. Content marketing reduces the focus on the medium. But as you point out, there still needs to be someone orchestrating the messaging. As a B2B copywriter I often find myself struggling with the messaging because it’s not been flushed out beyond features and benefits. That just doesn’t cut it anymore.

I recently attended a BMA meeting in NYC, and the point you raise about selling solutions was also made by one of the guest speakers from IBM, Matt Preschern, that marketers need to provide insightful content that differentiates them in the marketplace. I think we have our work cut out for us in B2B.

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 4:22 pm

I agree…we really have our work cut out for us. Again…I think if we focus on the Simon Sinek’s “WHY?”…then the rest comes much easier. The trick is getting our customers to figure out “WHY?”. At our company we are strickly focused on industrial companies that TOTALLY get the “WHY?” This makes our job easier. The customer’s experience is better. And the results are there to validate the entire content marketing experience. BUT…it started with the “WHY?”

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Tom Repp February 5, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Nice “chatting” Joan. Best, Tom

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Eric Goldman February 11, 2013 at 8:11 am

Achinta;
Another great post and one which touches on an area of real importance to today’s marketer (industrial or not!). While I totally agree with all that both you and your readers have said (in their comments), I do think the process of creating content works best when you understand your intended audience well.

We begin every content project with a Content Strategy. The first step is to list the titles or job functions of everyone in the prospect/client organization who is going to interact with your website (and it’s content) during the purchase deliberations. This set becomes the list of your ideal prospects or personas. Next step is to decipher their buying cycles – to understand the phases they travel through as they move from cold lead to hot prospect (awareness of problem is the classic first phase of any marketing effort, right?). But you need to truly understand these people’s buying behavior because not all personas travel around the same set of stages. Some, like the budget holder, seldom get involved in the technical appraisal of your solution, but they do care a great deal about the price. As a marketer, you have to identify each one’s pain points; each one’s areas of concern and issues. It helps to write down the actual and theoretical questions they are likely to have in each of these stages, as they explore your website in each stage.

If you do a good job of this, your marketing automation solution can then send the prospect, each time they do interact with your site, the right item of information to nudge the person to the next stage.

When you have done this for all of the personas for all of their buying cycle stages, you start defining the items of content you are going to need to achieve the goal of educating prospects on your solution (and in the later marketing phases, promoting your wares).

Rather than try to give you all the steps involved in creating the rest of this strategy, here’s a link to a 42 minute video that explains it all in detail. It’s free – no registration required.
http://www.inbound-marketing-automation.ca/resources/#Videos

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