Tl;dr - Your prospects only think about your product/service a small part of their time. Usually, they wrestle with countless other issues. Wouldn't it help them, and you, if you had insights to help them beyond your small area of impact? That's how a brandscape approach can boost your industrial marketing.
Your Business Isn't an Island - Your Product Isn't Someone's Inspiration
I understand that your product/service is your raison d'être. It's why you bounce out of bed in the morning.
Here's the harsh truth. It isn't anyone else's.
Other people (as in your competitors, prospects, customers, industry journalists, etc.) care intensely about their products. Yours is incidental; only registering with them when it impedes, or occasionally when it conspicuously benefits the production of theirs.
That's why one of the Axioms of inbound industrial marketing is that the majority of content should speak to your buyers' business issues - the challenges they have in producing their product and insights to help achieve outcomes around producing more product.
Even if you do that really well, however, your audience will be small at any given time. After all, only a portion of your target market will be sufficiently motivated at any moment to be researching any single specific aspect from among the full panoply of business and production considerations with which they wrestle.
That's why any plan for manufacturing revenue growth must include active outbound sales in parallel with industrial content marketing.
It's also why you need to incorporate a brandscape into your industrial marketing.
What is a Brandscape?
A brandscape is the aggregation of brands that are active and known in a specific segment. It is often as much a reflection of culture as of market activity.
Many credit John Sherry with coining the term "brandscape" in 1986 in the consumer marketing context of its original use.
Andrew Davis' 2012 book, Brandscaping1, transformed the concept from its passive context - something to observe and understand - into a deliberate activity. Davis explains his approach and book as follows:
Who has your NEXT customer as their CURRENT customer? The simple answer to this question can transform your business....Who can you partner with to increase demand for the products and services you sell?...Brandscaping uncovers how unconventional content partnerships lead to unparalleled marketing success. You'll learn how to bring together like-minded brands and undiscovered talent to create content that increases demand and drives sales.
So how do a brandscape, and Davis' brandscaping approach, fit into inbound industrial marketing?
What Are Your Buyers (and Their Buyers) Thinking About Today?
When you focus on your product, everything that's peripheral (in other words, all the critical issues to your buyer that aren't on your radar) feel like irrelevant noise. That creates a dissonance between your narrow perspective and their broad one.
When you broaden your field of view, however, you'll gain deep understanding of how their comprehensive business environment shapes and influences their decisions regarding your product and service.
The first step, therefore, is to understand their full environment - at least those aspects that are tangentially related to your area of focus.
Let's look at some examples.
Many of my capital equipment clients sell their machinery to companies that manufacture chemicals, food, pharmaceuticals, and pet food and snacks. The machines they build range from ingredient handling (unloading and receiving, conveying, weighing and blending), through processing and cooking, into primary and secondary retail and institutional packaging, and to material handling and shipping.
Topics that pervade this entire range include:
- All of those up and downstream functions. Every company shipping completed food products has to receive the ingredients, mix and cook them.
- Supply chain issues such as availability, quality, and pricing of ingredients.
- Labor and freight costs including turnover, benefits, driver shortages, and fuel costs/availability.
- Regulatory issues - from FSMA (food safety modernization act) through dust/emissions control to tax considerations.
- Background business issues that impact production resilience such as cybersecurity and IIoT.
- Retail and e-commerce trends.
- Technology including automation to improve efficiency and quality, 3D printing, blockchain, track and trace, and autonomous vehicles.
- Market trends including consumer preferences, distribution, and retailing.
And this is hardly comprehensive!
But We're Not Experts!!
I know from experience, though, that I encounter hesitation when I suggest to a company that they select parallel topics to create content around.
"We're not experts in that area." or "Our customers already know more about that than we do." are common responses.
To be clear, I'm not suggesting publishing vapid content in a desperate attempt to get a brief SEO burst. But most industrial companies run out of a list of core product/service content topics after three to four years of weekly publishing. And as noted above, only a small part of the market is thinking about that narrow slice at any given time anyway.
Some of these topics don't require technical expertise. For example, a quality, thought-provoking article on driverless over-the-road trucks could be easily be written in a few hours by a trained journalist working for a company that makes equipment to unload bulk ingredients from tanker trucks.
Nevertheless, some topics do. So companies can certainly contract with industry experts (e.g. contributing editors for trade journals) to write for them.
But there's another option...to engage content creators from across your prospects' brandscape.
- Companies that sell equipment for manufacturing pet food could engage with pet health experts like Dr. Karen Becker2.
- Companies with prospects that use or produce powder products could collaborate with innovative dust control solutions like SonicAire fans3.
- Any company selling into the food industry could create relationships with alternative protein influencers like Sauce Stache4.
These are simply representative ideas designed to provoke some thoughts. If you'd ever like to brainstorm specifics for your market, let's chat.
For now, though, let's accept that there are related brands out there that might be of interest to your prospects. How can this help your business?
Three Ways a Brandscape Approach Improves Your Industrial Marketing
There are three clear benefits (and lots of other small ones that gradually accrue value and impact.) Those three include:
- Broader reach
- Improved content
- Increased leads and engagement
This approach will broaden your reach directly (Sauce Stache has almost 1/2 million subscribers) by reaching other audiences through collaboration.
It also works indirectly by broadening the range of topics you explore that are of interest to your prospects - so you're much more likely to be on their radar more of the time as subscribers and search results.
Like the aphorism that we're the product of our five closest friends, it's also true that our content quality reflects the standards of those whom we emulate. Often in industrial marketing, the bar is pretty low. That can lead to unwarranted confidence and satisfaction.
When you collaborate with other brands that are content heavyweights, you'll improve your game.
Increased Leads and Engagement
Ultimately you're creating content for a variety of business reasons - not simply for the love of the craft. Those reasons normally include lead generation (SEO and conversions), market and brand awareness, sales enablement, and customer engagement/loyalty.
When you offer broader and deeper value that touches on a wide range of issues your audience worries about, you'll outperform in each of those areas compared to if you myopically focus on just your core piece.
A Management Mindset Shift
Many manufacturers undertake content marketing with some skepticism. They're used to talking mils, horsepower, pounds, and rates/minute. Content shifts (if it's to succeed) the emphasis to the buyer's perspective. It's often a challenging shift and encounters a lot of internal skepticism.
A brandscape approach will multiply that several times. It will feel foreign and scary. Many folks who have no skin in the game (to create content or to promote it) will argue vehemently against it.
For bold management with vision, however, incorporating a brandscape approach into industrial marketing offers substantial returns.