In a previous article for the Element blog, we made the case for whycontent marketing is important and looked at what manufacturing marketers are using and what’s working for them. Now it’s time to take some action. This follow up will focus on how manufacturers can take advantage of content marketing and how you should begin a strategic approach.
These are five important things to consider before you start.
1. EDUCATION IS KEY
Content marketing can do a lot of things. It can raise brand awareness. It can entertain. It can set you apart from the competition. It can even generate valuable sales leads.
But one of the most effective things content can do is teach. An educated customer is the best kind of customer. When a prospect understands your industry, what you have to offer, and how your organization can solve their problems, they are much closer to making a purchasing decision.
It might seem counterintuitive to give away your knowledge and expertise online – especially for free. But it’s a concept that really works. It can save you time in the long run and boost your bottom line too.
When you educate your potential customers, you’re doing three powerful things:
1. Helping them perform initial research.
2. Answering their tough questions.
3. Establishing your organization as a trustworthy expert.
One very good B2B example of using education for content marketing is Schneider Electric’s Energy University. This online resource center helps companies improve energy efficiency. It’s available in 13 languages and creates millions of lead opportunities.
What kind of expert advice can your company provide? Could you create an online resource center, a video series, or an eBook to help your prospects out?
2. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
This goes for any kind of marketing, but when you’re a manufacturer, your audience may not be as easy to envision and completely understand.
Ask yourself – who you are trying to reach and how you can help them with the content you create? You need to understand their fears and motivations. What might hold them back from choosing your company? Who do they report to and who do they need to impress?
Defining your audience may not be simple. In fact, as a manufacturer, you’ll likely have multiple target audiences. You may even have different kinds of audiences within the same organization. The CFO is going to have different concerns than a brand manager, who’ll have a different perspective than an engineer, project manager, or the CEO.
One process that Element goes through during the initial phase of our content marketing programs is developing target audience personas. We work to understand your prospects and get into their heads. That’s essential if you want to create effective content.
As a B2B manufacturer, you should also be thinking about the end user of the product your making. That’s who your customers want to reach and please. So understanding your customer’s audience is important too.
3. UNDERSTAND THE BUYING CYCLE
The industrial buying cycle breaks down into four stages:
1. Needs Awareness – They have a need or a problem to solve.
2. Research – They go online to find answers and ask peers for advice.
3. Consideration & Comparison – They weigh which solution is the best fit.
4. Procurement – They ultimately make a decision and purchase.
Content marketing comes into play during the Research stage as well as the Consideration & Comparison stage. Marketers need to think about what frame of mind prospects are in during these stages.
If they’re doing research, you should be thinking about the questions your prospects are asking and what words they’re using to try and find the answers. That’s the basic principle behind search engine optimization (SEO).
If they’re in the process of considering your organization versus a competitor, be honest and helpful. Lay out the facts so it’s easy for them to compare. Chances are, if you’ve been answering their questions, you’ve already established trust, and those potential customers are likely to choose you. They may even feel somewhat indebted to you.
4. CONTENT FEEDS THE SALES FUNNEL
Content marketing is great for generating leads. However, those leads need to be nurtured.
No one is going to read one blog post, watch one YouTube video, or read a few Tweets and decide – “This is the manufacturer I want to work with!”
Some businesses get frustrated when they don’t see the fruits of content marketing right away. But this kind of marketing strategy is a long play. Content makes them aware of you. Then it establishes a relationship of trust and respect. Finally, when it’s time to bite the bullet, they turn to the option that did the most to help them make an informed decision.
Research and consideration are closer to the top of the sales funnel. These prospects are just beginning their buyer’s journey. So you may need to be patient.
That doesn’t mean you can’t ask for their business within the content you create. By all means, include calls to action, and make it easy for prospects to contact you when they’re ready. Smart marketers use things like premium pieces of content to collect data about prospects – including email addresses, company information, current needs, and more.
5. YOU HAVE TO TELL A STORY
At Element, we’re big believers in the idea that there’s no such thing as a boring topic – just boring content.
Every person has multiple stories to tell and so does every business. One of the most important pieces of online content you can create is the one that tells your company’s story. Who are you, what do you do, and most-importantly … why do you do it?
However, storytelling in content marketing should go beyond the “About” page of your website. Even the seemingly dull topics and highly technical features can become stories. You just need to show how those things make a difference to your target audience.
Remember, you may be a B2B manufacturer, but you’re not trying to persuade a business. You’re still dealing with people. Even in the industrial world, people tend to make decisions based on emotion. They just use logic to justify their emotional decisions.
Du Pont is one industrial organization that does some impressive content marketing. They use things like videos and articles to show how the corporation’s brands are changing the world. Projects include a video about protecting firefighters and an article about Kevlar helping amputees with better prosthetics. This content tells a story that creates an emotional connection.
Another excellent example of an organization that’s doing it right is General Electric. Even though it’s more than a century old, GE has kept their brand very fresh using content marketing. From their Imagination at Work videos to inspirational case studies, the content on GE’s website is seamlessly blended into the entire online experience. It’s not stuffed some where in a blog that you might find after stumbling upon a link buried in the footer.
GE tells stories about how their employees are making a difference. They make the science and technology behind what they do interesting and entertaining. Recently, they’ve been using a character named Owen, an engineer at GE, to connect its broadcast campaigns to funny YouTube videos designed attract new young recruits. There is even a video series called “Invention Factory” and another series called #ProjectGarages that centers around small business innovation.
Your manufacturing company probably isn’t designing hoverboards, and you’re probably not a global corporation either. But that’s one of the best things about content marketing … thanks to the Internet … anyone can do it. Once you start digging a little bit beyond the surface, you’re going to find a treasure trove of your own stories.
Tell stories that represent what your company stands for. Tell stories that show how what you do and what you make helps your customers achieve their goals. Create valuable content that actually makes a difference.