Content Marketing for Manufacturers - How to Plan & Execute for Impact

Ed Marsh | Jun 2, 2022

Designing and Implementing Optimized Content Marketing for Manufacturers and Machinery Builders

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. What's the purpose of a program of content marketing for manufacturers?
  2. Creating content around buyers and prospects - not your own products
  3. How to plan content and use an editorial calendar
  4. Challenges you'll encounter, and how to prepare

Transcript follows:

Hi, I’m Ed Marsh. Welcome to this episode of Signals from the OP. Signals is designed to put new ideas and perspectives in front of busy industrial company executives, in brief, easily digestible videos.

The most common challenge that I hear from industrial manufacturers is that it’s hard to reach prospects. A common refrain is “When we’re at the table we win deals. We are having a really hard time getting to the table though. We need leads and conversations.”

I think we can all identify with that. Even if we’re not in sales, we can look at our own buying habits. We research online. Often when we only have an idea or question. We bounce from site to site. We may quickly leave sites that don’t provide pricing, specs or other critical info. We might engage by filling out a form to download something, or maybe we only want to see candid reviews from others. Sometimes we might prefer to engage with a chatbot to help us find what we’re looking for.

In other words, you’ve heard the stats, we’re often 70% of the way through our buying journey by the time we’re even prepared to speak to a sales rep – at least a traditional one. And then, in a B2B complex sale context, even once we’re talking to one member of the buying team, there are statistically >10 others that we may not be. So how can we sell to them when we can’t directly sell to them?

That’s the purpose of industrial content marketing. You may have heard it called industrial inbound marketing, digital marketing, or even SEO. Each of those terms means different things to different people. The common premise is that you need to create content – that means, for example, articles, guides & whitepapers, videos, webinars, tools like checklists and calculators, and press releases - that you publish online and make available to your sales team to use. It's a core part of an industrial marketing program.

Many companies have started doing this. Lots of industrial manufacturing websites have a “blog” for instance. The problem is that it’s common to do 90% of the work for absolutely zero return. That’s a shame, it’s a waste, and worst of all when it happens then companies tend to say “See, we knew it. That doesn’t work in our industry/with our buyers” etc.

So let’s talk about how to optimize digital marketing for manufacturers. How to make sure you get maximum bang for your buck.

We’ll run through a bunch of tips in this video, but the fundamental consideration. The most important point to take away if you only take one, is this. Your content marketing MUST be about your buyer, their business and what’s important to them. Only in very limited and specific cases is it ever about you, your technology, your machines, your services, your staff, your building, your history or any of the other topics that people naturally hew to.

One example of the latter is press releases. They’re still going to fill a very specific tactical purpose, but they’ll be executed in a way to reach new prospects and help Google understand your business without forcing your current prospects, customers or subscribers to endure your self-promotion. (Learn more in this article)

So we’re going to start by focusing on the prospect. Their business challenges, their market, the problems they have to solve. The outcomes they need to achieve. Areas where they commonly wrestle with inefficiency. What their buyers might be thinking. Lots of topics like that. And you need to research those topics – not simply guess at them or presume that you are familiar with what’s important to them. In fact it’s almost certain that they only share with you information they want you to have or that they think is relevant to you. So what you likely hear from prospects is limited. It’s worthwhile hiring a consultant to do 3rd party persona interviews and create profiles of your ideal customer profile, buying team, and the buying journey against which you can map topics, and then later key terms and specific content pieces.

Once you know the problems they try to solve, the outcomes that are important to their business, and the business conditions that they worry about then you can begin to list the questions they ask. Some they’ll ask you. Many they’ll ask Google. We have to know what those questions are. From the questions then we can determine key terms that are important to target so that you’ll pop up when someone asks Google that question. Of course, that’s not enough. You have to also get clicked, and then engage them once they’re on your website, so your content marketing strategy/approach has to account for the entire process.

Our B2B content marketing research also needs to understand the buyers' research journey. In other words what steps will they progressively follow. This is important because we need to create an information path for them that matches. In other words, what questions lead to what other questions. Further, we need to understand how that varies depending on the role they play on a buying team (CFO will have different questions than VP of engineering) and how far along they are in their buying journey (investigating feasibility vs. approving capital.)

Once those elements are clear, then you can plan content. Nothing – let me repeat that - NOTHING should be created in an ad hoc way. Every piece of content needs to have a very specific purpose – the buying role, stage in buying journey, question it answers, key terms it’s built on, medium (video, webinar, article, etc.)

Your editorial calendar should include – at a minimum - consistent weekly blog posts, videos, webinars, public events, press releases (for content distribution purposes), guest posts for your team in other locations and guest posts from others for your channels, consistent contributions (e.g. to Forbes Council or industry trade journals), new site pages, and offers. By offers I mean content like downloadable checklists, guides, whitepapers, calculators and things like that that people will exchange a name and email to access. As you get better you may add podcast episodes, rework some older articles, and maybe a tech notes blog.

You’ll create the content against a calendar, but you also need to map it to various segments. For instance, to a vertical market, or to a certain buying role, or to a stage in the buying journey. That will give you the structure to deliver sales enablement value – helping sales understand what content to use in certain situations to help move deals along. It will also help you structure buying journeys so you can always be ready with the right answers for buyers as their thinking and journey evolves.

Let’s not beat around the bush. This is a lot of work. Your team of industrial content marketers will include writers, editors, and digital experts. You'll need a good CMS (content management system) and more. And you’ll have to have platforms that make it easy to find content, to share it, and to track prospect engagements with it which will deliver valuable data to sales.

And it’s going to take a year of work implementing your industrial content marketing strategy before you see consistent measurable returns in rankings, then traffic, then lead conversions, meetings, projects and eventually revenue. That measurement will rely on good CRM and marketing automation, and consistent, disciplined use of the tools.

But, if you do that, you’ll know exactly what revenue can be traced to specific content origins, and what revenue is influenced by content. And that’s beautiful, because after years of hoping trade shows pay-off and lamenting that you can’t know which half of marketing is wasted, suddenly you’ll know everything.

The biggest challenge will be changing the mindset. Your content can’t be what you get to once everyone has accomplished everything else. It has to be accorded the same priority as other critical tasks – or we all know it won’t happen.

One final note, experience tells me that an alarming amount of content creation effort is wasted because it’s created by folks with no real understanding of an industrial environment. You’re going to have to rely on some outside assistance. Make sure it’s people who are at home on factory floors and have carried industrial P&L. That’s different than an agency that has a few industrial clients.

I’m Ed Marsh. Thank you for joining me for this episode of Signals from the OP. If you enjoyed it, please share it and subscribe – either to my YouTube channel EdMarshSpeaks.TV or at the related blog