Tl;dr - B2B manufacturing marketing is about more than websites, industry journals and trade shows. Increasingly it demands the thoughtful integration of sales and marketing operations, an expanded digital footprint, and tech stack that boosts internal efficiency and helps to meet customer expectations. A knowledge base is an important part of that footprint, and it delivers a number of significant benefits to customers and to manufacturers.
The Many Audiences of B2B Manufacturing Marketing
Who is your company's marketing audience?
Your first answer is probably prospects who are looking for what you sell, and comparing you to competitors.
That's an important audience for sure, but hardly the only one. Your list might include others in addition to these common audience groups:
- Customers - helping them maximize the value of what they've bought from you already, and to understand additional ways in which you can positively impact them and their business
- Vendors - in a supply-chain challenged world, you can be sure that vendors are having to weigh which customers they want to allocate resources to
- Employees - ideally all your talent will be engaged, understand the difference you make in the world, and consume your information to help them see the importance of their contribution
- Employment candidates - in today's tumultuous talent market, this should be clear
- Investors, Finance Sources, Strategic Suitors - you might be completely self-funded and sustaining with tightly held family ownership, but regardless of the current structure there will be circumstances when outside capital will be attractive. You should be attractive to those who can provide it
- Students and others trying to learn - you can help make a difference by providing helpful information to those working to improve themselves
Different audiences seek different kinds of information. Often in different formats that are appropriate for their use case. Some will come directly to you to find it. Others will find you initially through their web search efforts to find important information.
That means that you need broad information (for aggregate domain authority and reach), specific information (e.g. to help each role on a complex buying team to research from their angle of interest), and various types of information for various audiences such as financial strength for procurement, vendor and finance research; product/service information for prospects comparing competitors; and "a day in the life" type information for employment candidates.
Even within groups - say customers - you'll need different types of information. While many of my clients see process and package engineering as their primary contacts, they also interface with marketing, nutrition and food safety, logistics, supply chain, maintenance, operations, and other roles. Each of those will have different information requirements during the project phases as propsects initially, and later as customers.
Here's a cardinal rule of B2B manufacturing marketing - you have to make the right content available to the right people without them having to work hard to find it.
That means a variety, that's integrated in aggregate, and with thoughtful and efficient user experience (increasingly that means chatbots and conversational marketing & sales.)
Let's look at how a knowledge base fits into this high-level view.
What is a Knowledge Base?
For most industrial manufacturers, a knowledge base is a published set of information that's organized in a self-service online library. It normally includes how-to information, troubleshooting and error/malfunction resolution tips, and frequently asked questions.
How Should a Manufacturer Structure a Knowledge Base?
It can be located on the same domain as a company's primary website, or a subdomain, and the CMS (content management system) may be the same as the website or different.
The self-service requirement requires that the schema be purposeful and supported by tagging, navigation, well-indexed search, and ideally integrated with chatbot tools to facilitate rapid access to answers. (And we'll see later, easy to be searched by your own team as well as they work to deliver great customer experience.)
What's the Purpose of a Knowledge Base?
This is public information. It is indexed by Google and other search engines. This means that it is a manufacturing content marketing asset that contributes to domain authority, SEO key term optimization, and inbound lead generation. Anyone seeking answers to questions they're asking might end up on your knowledge base - believe it or not, even if they include a competitor name in their search. Therefore it can be a really, really effective competitive marketing tool (because common challenges with your product often exist with competitors as well.)
However, these are ancillary benefits (not insignificant, but not your primary objective.)
The principal purpose of a B2B manufacturing knowledge base is to improve the customer experience. Therefore the primary audience is current customer end-users.
Reasons to Create a Manufacturing Knowledge Base
Let's look at how a manufacturer can use a knowledge base to improve customer experience. After all, those same customers are increasingly accustomed to B2C and even some B2B experiences (often in areas like tech while not yet in industrial manufacturing) that offer wonderful self-service capability that they value.
Force Multiplier for Your Subject Matter Experts
Every company has a handful of folks who have seen it all. They've been on factory floors during nightmarish factory acceptance tests, installations and commissionings. They've figure out the intermittent and phantom issues that have impacted performance. They even know as much about ingredient inputs and related consumables as the vendors of those products.
And all that information, including the "algorithm" for contingent recall and contextual application of that valuable information, is resident in their heads. That limits your ability to unlock the value for customers. It's only available 1:1. That's inefficient. It's unacceptable to the next customer in line waiting. And it's exhausting for your SMEs who are "always on" helping in stressful situations.
Your B2B industrial knowledge base will allow you to share that knowledge many:many. Sure it will take some work, frustration and learnings along the way. There will be days of doubt and complaints. But in the end you'll have a resource which helps you address the common 80% of issues quickly and efficiently (not to save money, but to improve customer experience) and free your experts up to work on the really unusual and vexing issues.
Increase Trust and Satisfaction
People have an easier time trusting vendors that are open and transparent. Prospects will appreciate your knowledge base (probably even stumble into it while they're researching) and customers will feel a higher degree of comfort with your company when you provide a robust knowledge base
But customers aren't the only users. With a bit of training your service technicians, parts customer service, and other customer facing roles can incorporate the knowledge base into their customer interactions. When someone calls to order a part, for instance, they can include a link to the article on replacing it with the order confirmation for the part. Even those that aren't experienced in field technical service themselves can leverage the SME expertise captured in the knowledge base to share it with customers proactively - acting as tech service staff even without the training and background.
It's also common to integrate a knowledge base with a chat bot. So a visitor on your "Parts and Service" page on the website could engage a bot which asks if they want to research a specific problem, talk live, create a ticket or order parts. (Of course, those are just examples - you create the bot to reflect your organization, priorities, culture and customer expectations.)
If they respond that they're researching a problem, the chatbot (either navigating through a topic tree, using natural language, or increasingly enriched by AI/artificial intelligence) will help the visitor find an answer quickly - and if it's not the answer they need, then efficiently connect them with live assistance.
All of this is about speeding resolution and empowering customers to find efficient self-service solutions.
Here's a huge caveat.
If you undertake this to reduce your customer service cost, you'll fail and annoy customers in the process. Sure, you'll realize some efficiencies. But to succeed, plan on redirecting those savings to continuous improvement and expansion of the knowledge base, and to reducing time on hold to reach live assitance.
Enrich Your Database and Customer Records
Every capital equipment manufacturer loses track of their installed base. Maintenance contacts retire or change jobs. Machines are moved to different locations, scrapped and sold.
A strong public knowledge base will attract current users which provides opportunities to engage them, collect contact details to nurture them, increase aftermarket sales and track the installed base for forecasting and sales purposes.
Integrate with Customer Portal
Manufacturers that design and implement a robust CRM solution with appropriate custom objects can then integrate information from the knowledge base within a customer portal to deliver a best practice customer experience.
This fosters a stronger customer relationship to improve lifetime value (reorders) and increased satisfaction (continued high performance) and aftermarket sales.
Important Additional Benefits of a B2B Manufacturing Knowledge Base
The goal of the knowledge base is principally to improve customer experience; to deliver an experience that meets customer expectations and is commensurate with your brand, product quality, industry leadership, and company ethos.
Doing the work for those primary and important reasons is reward enough as customers buy your products because of their enhanced experience...and tell others about it.
But that's not all. You'll also accrue significant manufacturing inbound marketing value (attracting new prospects, improving SEO performance through both increased domain authority and large numbers of specific long-tail key term optimized articles, and converting new leads.)
Perhaps most importantly you'll develop a process and build the muscle for codifying the incredible institutional knowledge that walks out your door each evening in the minds of your long-time SMEs. You'll formalize an enduring corporate asset solidifying one that is often ephemeral.
A B2B Manufacturing Website is More than Visual Design
This is an important example of why manufacturers need to think in terms of a continuously evolving digital footprint, rather than a visual design (product brochure) website.
Knowledge base, customer portal, and multiple blogs are examples of "website" components that are critical components for industrial manufacturers but which are often overlooked by typical "website design" firms.
One Final Note - A Manufacturing Knowledge Base is Different than an Industry Knowledge Graph
Your knowledge base is focused on the frequently asked questions, troubleshooting tips and how-to information specific to the products/services that you sell.
Often your blog posts will bleed over into broader industry trends and information. They are intentionally broader.
And both are distinct from an Industry Knowledge Graph which is essentially a Wiki for your industry and would include vendor-agnostic information and topics well beyond the specific capabilities and information about your solutions.