What's better - Build or Buy Industrial Content Marketing?

Ed Marsh | Apr 6, 2022

How and Why to Implement Sales Enablement for Industrial Sales

Introduction to SignalsFromTheOP

Guide to episode

  1. Digital marketing for manufacturers only works as an integrated effort that speaks to buyer requirements.
  2. Companies that simply publish a couple blog posts and have a couple social media channels aren't successful at industrial content marketing.
  3. Success of an industrial content marketing strategy hinges on integrating application and technical expertise with multiple digital marketing skills. That's nearly impossible to build in-house.
  4. A hybrid solution of hiring some and contracting some is a reasonable way to start.
  5. Manufacturers should consider bolting on mature publishing and marketing experience through acquisitions of marketing agencies or niche industry publishers.

Transcript follows:

Today I want to explore a topic that every industrial company is going to wrestle with when they undertake industrial content marketing.

That’s the question of how to produce the content that's at the core of an industrial marketing digital initiative.

So first, let’s pause. Because I’d argue that’s the wrong question. Anyone can sit down and grunt something out. After all, you have datasheets for most products. That’s a form of content that serves a specific purpose at a specific point in a buying journey and sales process. It is content with specific, albeit limited utility.

The actual question is how to produce effective content that will achieve a tactical objective in pursuit of a broader strategy. That means that each piece of content – whether web page, video, blog article, presentation decks, webinar, downloadable guide, checklist, calculator tool, infographic, podcast, press release, or in-person event – has to be designed for a specific goal.

That means delivering a specific insight or prompting a deliberate action by a certain buyer role at a certain point in the buying journey.

This is a perfect illustration of the necessity of integration of marketing and sales – in an engineered approach to revenue growth that I call ORE™ or overall revenue effectiveness.

This challenges most companies’ inclination to produce content about their product or service. Sure, there’s a place for that in the buying journey with certain buying roles. But those are transactional details.

Folks that approve the money care about business impact and outcomes. Content for those executive roles on the buying team has to speak to those cares, and often early in the journey when they’re considering whether to even allocate resources to consider a project.

So circling back to our actual question – how can we efficiently produce effective content that will achieve a tactical objective in pursuit of a broader strategy?

First, that strategy must be clear. Ideal customer profiles, the value that you create for buyers, the compelling reasons people will buy, the margins you expect, etc. Those all need to infuse the content and to inform its creation.

Second, you have to create everything from the buyers’ perspective. Simple vomiting up a bunch of crap about your business in some intro deck or articles or video is disrespectful to today’s educated buyers.

Sure, at a later point, you need to help them be comfortable that choosing you helps reduce risk in the decision. You achieve that based on your expertise in helping them through their process, not prattling on about it. So the content needs to speak to them.

Third, it needs to be rigorously planned. An editorial calendar should start with buying roles and stages in buying journey. Then consider problems people turn to you to solve, outcomes they hope to achieve, and the product itself. Finally, careful SEO research – both absolute and competitive – will help to clarify exactly how you approach these topics.

And then you must create it. That means researching, writing, and editing. It means photography and videography – lighting, sound, editing and production. It means graphic design and skills in optimizing online content for search and user experience. And it means an understanding of the buyers’ journey to position content to help buyers navigate their journey.

That’s a lot. There are numerous skills, expertise, and resources that are required. You may have some in-house. More likely, you may not.

What you have a lot of in-house are application experience and technical knowledge – and no outside resource will have that. But turning that knowledge into content in-house is a grueling challenge.

So what do you do? How do you marshal the resources to solve for buyers without disrupting your core business?

People tend to think of this as a binary choice – do it in-house, or outsource it – to an inbound marketing agency for instance. The reality is that one is built on application experience, the other on content marketing skills.

Neither solves for the requirement. But here’s the thing. Your choice needn’t be so binary. You have a range of options. These include:

  • hiring a couple of folks into your business – a journalist and graphic design person for instance
  • contracting with specific talent – like videography and production
  • engaging an agency to manage functions like SEO and content posting
  • doing all these in conjunction with the others

Underlying this is a philosophical question – what do you consider the role of marketing to be? 

If you see it as most industrial companies traditionally do – a small function that does a bit of branding, comms, advertising, and trade show management – then you’ll approach this by trying to cut corners because doing any of this is an extra cost.

If you see it more as tech companies do – an equal partner to sales in prospecting, selling, and servicing buyers and customers, then you’ll commit accordingly more.

And the right answer is to reflect how your buyers see it - and here's a hint. Their expectations are increasingly shaped by the tech industry approach.

As you wrestle with that question let me toss out another possibility. For middle-market companies – say $50MM or certainly $100MM and up – how about bolting it on through acquisition?

Sound crazy?

I thought you’d say so. But give me a minute.

What if you found an agency doing a couple million a year in work for industrial companies and bought them?

You’d have a captive resource that would probably largely cover its costs and might even be a revenue center. It might be a resource you could share with your trade association to contribute to the industry as well.

In many cases, agencies do better work than the job they do selling themselves. So you might find one that’s technically capable, but tired of running on fumes and slim margins – ready to sell. It’s not a panacea, but it would go a long way to solving for a quick launch and rapid ramp-up.

Another acquisition to consider is a niche publisher in your target industry. You could either close the publication and fold the editorial team into your business – or keep the publishing operation active as a separate entity (with editorial firewalls) but incorporate their expertise, process, and approach to consistent content creation that’s focused on an audience.

The right answer will be different for every company. Doing it well is going to cost more than you expect and more than most agencies tell you. The skills and expertise required for excellence are broader than you’ll find in any single solution – so I’d recommend starting with an expectation of a hybrid approach including complementary insights on various functions. Don’t just rely on one opinion.

Ultimately, the right answer will be a combination of cultivating it internally, hiring it, renting it, and buying it – the precise formula will vary.

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 SignalsFromTheOP.com.