The B2B Manufacturer's Guide to Modern Marketing  

Jumpstart Your B2B Manufacturing Marketing 

B2B manufacturers hold a unique position in the business market.

They’re traditionally a central part of a growing economy, but they’re lagging behind almost every other sector. They’re at the helm of innovation and production, but their marketing tactics are stuck in the 20th century. They create, they engineer, they design, they produce, but they’re hesitant in a post-recession economy to allocate enough money to a build an effective marketing strategy. And as the industry fragments itself further and further, they’re forced to answer the great business question: how can I grow?

Notoriously slow in the digital marketing world, B2B manufacturers will find it harder and harder to sell their services and technologies to clients if said clients can’t even find their brand online. Being different isn’t enough - showing how you’re different is top priority, especially when the nuances of your company’s product and customer service can be lost in something as simple as bad page rankings.

It’s true: marketing and manufacturing have been butting heads since the beginning of business-time (seriously: here’s an article from 1977 that asks if manufacturing and marketing can coexist. 1977!). But the answer to whether or not B2B manufacturers can and should develop a strong and effective marketing strategy is...wait for it...yes.

In this pillar, we’ll introduce the manufacturing industry as it is today (and how it could look in the future). Here, you’ll find tips on sales strategies, how to target your buyers, and ways to highlight key differentiators that will set you apart.

Lag no more! Let’s get started.

A Little Bit About You 

As a manufacturer yourself, you know that not all manufacturers look alike. Each company comes with its own strengths and challenges. People outside the manufacturing industry, however, see it as a monolithic something - while some believe it’s an improving industry,  others think it’s not a place to encourage their kids to look for jobs. The future looks bright - many people believe that the future will be the time to invest in manufacturing, when it’s cleaner, more high-tech, and offers more high-skilled and creative outlets - but right now, what workers value and what manufacturing offers doesn’t match up.  

Put more simply, public perception is varied - and “manufacturers” are lumped into one big group. This is essentially what one would call a marketing problem, and while this specific instance refers to B2C, you can bet that public perception of your company is affecting those that you are selling to outside of your sector.

In the interest of defining sectors (and understanding your buyers), the McKinsey Global Institute issued a report that broke manufacturing companies down into five groups:

McKinsey's Manufacturing Sector Graph
Image via McKinsey & Co. 

 

1. Global Goods for Local Markets

    1. Produces: Automotive parts, pharmaceuticals, appliances, etc.
    2. Research & Development (R&D) Intensity: high
    3. Trade: mostly local
    4. Competition: based on R&D quality - high research quality, high reward.

(This one also happens to be the biggest sector, topping out at 34% of gross global value added.)

2. Regional Processing

    1. Produces: food and beverage products, plastics, printing
    2. R&D Intensity: low
    3. Trade: low intensity, but has complex and costly logistics
    4. Competition: based on freshness and different taste requirements of each region, but relatively low because of its focus on locality.

(This follows Global Goods as one of the top sectors and hits GGV at 28%.)

3. Energy/Resource-Intensive Commodities

    1. Produces: coke, nuclear, and refined-petroleum based products, paper/pulp
    2. R&D Intensity: relatively low
    3. Trade: low intensity, but high energy intensity
    4. Competition: price-based with little differentiation (hello, marketing!)

(GGV added: 22%)

4. Technology Innovators

    1. Produces: computers, semiconducters
    2. R&D Intensity: very high
    3. Trade Intensity: very high
    4. Competition: based on R&D of the specific company and presence of cutting edge technologies.

(Here’s where we see competition - at least in size - fall. 9% GGV added).  

5. Labor-intensive tradeables

    1. Produces: apparel and textiles, furniture, toys, etc.
    2. R&D Intensity: low, but high labor intensity
    3. Trade: high intensity, traded globally
    4. Competition: high exposure to price competition

(7% GGV added)

But What Does Every Sector Have in Common?  

Regardless of the industry, the sales process and the buying process tends to look the same for your prospects. You get your customers - and your customers find you - from one of four places:

  • Referrals
  • Loyalty
  • Partnership deals
  • Marketing and outreach

When prospects are looking to buy, they’ll do it through referrals (the death of marketing tactics like outreach), and they’ll be looking for referrals from people they already know. They may also buy from their existing database of partners - just like you probably sell based on loyalty, they buy based on exceptional (or, at least, reliable) experiences as loyal customers.

Partnership deals and marketing and outreach are where this cycle can be disrupted. Manufacturers, both buying and selling, tend to stay within a small circle of existing relationships. Growth, however, requires more than what you already have.

PMG Tip: Based on our experiences with MFGs just starting out with marketing, we know that adopting a new marketing strategy (and the things that come with it, whether that’s a social media plan, PPC campaign, or even something as simple as starting a blog) can occasionally feel out-of-character for your company’s brand and feel. Rest assured: adopting a marketing strategy and the growth that accompanies it doesn’t have to mean that you will lose that personal touch that your small MFG business has come to be known for (and if you’re working with a marketing company that’s making you feel that way, ditch ‘em).

With that whole digital revolution thing, the role of manufacturing is changing dramatically - and with that change must come the realization that keeping manufacturing and services (marketing, advertising) separate is outdated, even dangerous, for your company.

According to McKinsey, every dollar of manufacturing output requires 19 cents of services. 

Yes, you read that right - your promotional budget should be nearly 20% of your business budget in order for you company to do the most successful outreach.  

The bottom line: relying simply on referrals knocks down your chances of survival. Consider a marketing strategy as a way to expand your loyal network in a constantly changing B2B world.

 

Part I: The State of Marketing in B2B Industrial Manufacturing

Marketing in B2B MFG

Industrial Manufacturing vs. Other B2B Industries

Like we said, the manufacturing industry is not a monolith - and it’s fragmenting even further, which can work to your advantage. Similarly, marketing tactics are widely differentiated and very dependent upon audience and industry. Marketing is not a monolith either, and it’s taken some time for manufacturers to understand what that means for their business.

The consequences of coming late to the marketing game? Manufacturers are behind every other industry in terms of marketing.

Let’s repeat that: manufacturers are behind every other industry in terms of marketing.

Yeah, sure, it’s bad news. But consider this an opportunity to get ahead. Check it out: only 8% of manufacturers had a dedicated marketing team in 2015. And only 19% planned to get one in 2016! And among the manufacturing companies that had a marketing team, 1% of them rated their marketing as “sophisticated.”

And among the manufacturing companies that had a marketing team, 1% of them rated their marketing as “sophisticated.”

We optimists like to call this "leaving room for improvement." And a little optimism can go a long way, as you'll see below. 

Marketing Challenges B2B Manufacturers Are Facing Today

When you’re caught up in your own challenges, it can leave little room in the business for a 20% marketing budget. B2B manufacturers, no matter the sector, can all come together on another thing: common industry challenges.

B2B MFG Challenge: Pessimism

The recession hit the manufacturing industry and its retail partners the hardest out of any other industry. Since then, pessimism has been the name of the game, with manufacturing CEOs losing faith in the economy post 2001/2008, rightfully causing them to be cautious in their investments.

Attempting to find purpose in investing in marketing, therefore, has gotten somewhat more difficult. The good news? There seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel. December 2017 showed the most job creation yet since 2011, following yearly trends of growth. And when your business is up, investing in a marketing strategy can help prevent any major downturn.  

B2B MFG Challenge: Disruption

The business world has changed. We know we’re saying that a lot (and we know everyone is tired of hearing it). But it’s the truth, and adaptability, not brute strength or customer loyalty, is the only thing that will keep your company above the water. Don’t doubt the digital revolution (remember when Kodak did?). It will not end well for you.

The challenge is that technology has not only changed the industry, but also how the industry communicates. Marketing isn’t just pamphlets and direct mail anymore. It’s not gift baskets to strengthen customer relationships (though who doesn’t love a good gift basket?). It’s happening online. It’s a battleground of optimized websites, strategic and targeted messaging, strong thought leadership, and the little things that you can do to make not only your loyal customers trust you, but also the random Internet bystander as well.

Certainly, it’s about strategic guesswork - watching long-term and short-term trends as technology develops - and it’s about the need to look ahead. Redshift describes four factors behind the trends of disruption:

1. How people adopt new technology

It used to be that people were adopting technology for work, and then for their personal lives. Now it’s happening simultaneously, or, more often, the opposite. That makes the way people browse online different (mobile searches now dominate the Internet), and therefore how your website will be viewed by potential customers. (Hint: make sure your website is mobile enabled!)

2. Customer’s expectations

Customers and buyers today - especially business buyers - are more educated on products than ever. They know what they want and they can find it with a press of a button. They aren’t expecting you to be their go-to source because they’re already knowledgeable. They want you to be their best option. 

3. Industries are converging rather than operating in verticals

Take it from Redshift: “An architect—rather than an industrial designer—could design the inside of a car; industrial robots could be used in filmmaking (e.g., Gravity); and construction companies could build high-rises with an assembly-line, modular-construction approach, snapping building components into place like Lego blocks.”

4. The DIY maker movement is growing bigger roots

A.K.A., customized products rule. In a B2C market, this is especially true. In a B2B market, you can use this knowledge to find ways to customize your service - because customization of services is just as important for your customers as customized products. 

B2B MFG Challenge: Balance

Striking a balance between finding a way to make sure your existing base’s needs are met and finding new ways to serve both them and new customers is the next challenge to overcome. Traditional methods of reaching prospects and customers don’t cut it anymore. Door knockers have their place - we still encourage the use of them depending on the needs of the customer - but the idea is that you’re going to need to go all the way digital. 

The hardest part is taking the first step. So let’s talk about what that might look like for you.

Part II: Targeting Buyers in the Manufacturing Industry 

How are manufacturers approaching B2B marketing in 2018? Better yet, how should they approach it?

What Is B2B Marketing Today and Why Do You Need It?

There’s no question that in the last decade or so, a dramatic shift has taken place from a more traditional approach to a digital one – and it has many manufacturers scrambling to catch up.

This shift is reflective of the changing behaviors and attitudes of your prospective buyers; the manufacturing consumers who are either influencing or making buying decisions about the products and services your company provides. And as that customer base continues to evolve, so must your marketing strategy. But what factors are driving this shift, and why does it warrant a modern approach? We’re so glad you asked.

 

Factor #1: Search engines are taking the place of in-person trust-building.

Manufacturers who once relied on a firm handshake at a tradeshow, or a connection cultivated during a site demo, have no doubt felt the pressure to think outside the traditional marketing box.

To remain competitive, a solid search-engine optimization (SEO) strategy – one that starts with the almighty Google -- is crucial. That’s not to say that in-person marketing is no longer effective. But relying on traditional methods alone means you may not be reaching a large segment of new prospects; that is, your online searchers.

So exactly how much of your audience is online? Studies show that 90% of researchers today use search for their business purchases.  Another study shows that roughly 71% of B2B researchers begin with a common online search. (Source: Digital Doughnut)

In other words, after first identifying a problem or pain point, your customers are more likely to search online for a solution rather than engage with you in person. And as the number of millennials who influence buying decisions continues to rise, these buying behaviors will become even more prominent. B2B marketers who are reach those consumers where they are, while they’re searching – will be well-poised to get on the radar of their prospects and start building trust. That brings us to our next point; the importance of content marketing.

 

Factor #2: Today’s B2B customers do not want to be sold to, but “solved to.”

Your manufacturing customers are actively seeking information that will help inform a sound purchase decision. They do not want to be sold to, but rather “solved to.” That makes content marketing more important than ever. Defined, content marketing is solutions-based content that delivers engaging educational material that is relevant to the buyer and his journey.

Content marketing comes in all different formats, of course. In addition to a well-optimized website, there’s everything from blogs to white papers to case studies to videos. Whatever format your content takes, the purpose is the same: to position yourself as a trusted, credible resource and a provider of solutions.

 

Need a crash course in building a content marketing program tailored for manufacturers?  Check out this quick and easy guide, Content Marketing 101 for Industrial Manufacturers.

 Factor #3: The sales process follows a different path – and your B2B marketing should reflect this.

With so much changing in how customers are making purchase decisions, the role of sales has changed considerably as well.  Back in the day, marketing and sales followed a somewhat linear path: prospective customers saw an ad, became interested in a product or service, then engaged with a salesperson for additional information needed to make a purchase.

Today, that path is anything but linear. As we learned above, potential buyers are more inclined to empower themselves, with self-education propelling them through the buyer’s journey. Their online research can be multi-dimensional -- often happening over time, in irregular intervals, and through multiple touchpoints.

Manufacturing buyers review an average of 10.4 sources for before making a buyer decision. Costly or complex solutions (for example, large capital purchases) require even more time and education. (Source: Advance Ohio)

With many your prospects first “getting to know you” on their own, they are likely to be convinced of your company’s value well before they engage with your sales team. In turn, sales and marketing must work together to deliver the content that’s best-suited for buyers in this mindset – and that means content that is data-driven, personal and highly relevant. Data-driven marketing leverages customer information (collected through consumer interactions and engagements) with the goal of creating highly targeted messaging that informs buying decisions. And when done right, data-driven marketing can knock your marketing efforts out of the park, giving B2B marketers an average ROI of 224%!

 

Buyer Personas: An Essential Step for Manufacturing Marketers

For all the value we’ve seen with content marketing for manufacturing companies, there’s an important footnote to that success. The effectiveness of your content marketing hinges on how well-targeted your content is.

Creating content bites that your customers don’t have an appetite for is a waste of your time and marketing dollars. In fact, without personas, “approximately 60 to 70% of B2B content goes unused, representing hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars wasted on irrelevant content.” (SiriusDecisions)

That’s exactly why the creation of buyer personas should not be considered a nice-to-have, but an essential preliminary step. Personas are connected to a whole slew of statistics that prove their effectiveness and positive impact on ROI. (More about that here).

Buyer personas have longer lasting value, too. In today’s world, where SEO rules and search algorithms seem to evolve by the day, having a well-developed buyer personas in place can typically help steer your marketing strategy for quite some time before updates are required.

Building Your Manufacturing Buyer Persona

The purpose of your buyer persona, of course, is to answer important questions about your buyers: who are your manufacturing customers? What do you know about them? How do they make or influence purchase decisions? Persona research gives you a much-needed deep dive.

Start by pinpointing your ideal customer or customers. (Most manufacturing companies will find there are two or three different types of target customers.) Next, determine what those prospective buyers are searching for, as well as their unique role they play in the decision-making process. Not all manufacturing-solution seekers are final decision-makers; a factor that will influence how you talk to those audiences.

Want more details on how to build a buyer persona? Here’s a down and dirty approach to creating them fast and effectively.

Now, with your personas in place, it’s time to tailor your marketing messaging accordingly.

How to Target and Tailor Your Marketing Message

There is no one-size-fits-all messaging strategy, of course. Just as engineers may not be concerned about per-unit pricing, manufacturing buyers may not be familiar with the differences in specs from one product supplier to another.  Additionally, your content should not only address your buyers’ unique interests and pain points, but strike the right tone with readers.

To help shape you content marketing strategy, we’ll highlight some common manufacturing personas, along with messaging and purchasing and decision considerations for some typical manufacturing personas.

Manufacturing Engineers

Messaging Considerations:

While a heartfelt, emotionally charged message may be ideal for an organization like a non-profit, just the opposite is true for engineers. Engineers like efficiency. They are typically hard-wired problem-solvers who prefer to get to the point without distraction.

When appealing to engineers, brevity is key. Take a no-frills, no-fluff approach that cuts down on marketing hyperbole. Also, avoid overstating or overselling the value of your B2B solution. Most engineers prefer to draw such conclusions own their own.

Purchasing Considerations:

  •         Technical guidance
  •         Innovative solutions
  •         Product specifications
  •         Updates on industry trends

Decision Criteria:

  •         Instant information access
  •         Accessible design help
  •         Specific application solutions

 

Production Managers

Messaging Considerations:

How do you appeal to readers who are not direct buyers but decision influencers? When creating content for this group, it’s wise to focus on building a business case for your solution. In turn, this will help managers present the information to their boss. For example, how exactly will a manufacturing solution improve operations?  Why is it a worthy investment? Hard proof (numbers and statistics) and past cases are extremely valuable. This messaging can be especially important for a large capital expenditure (take, for example, a large tool customized to reduce cycle time for a specific manufacturing application) that may not show immediate value.

Purchasing Considerations:

  •         Ability to keep manufacturing lines optimized
  •         Tight shipping deadlines
  •         Connection with a live person for answers to a problem

Decision Criteria:

  •         Service from a trusted source
  •         Quality products
  •         Fast delivery

 

Messaging for Direct Buyers

Messaging Considerations:

Similar to writing for engineers, your content should cut to the chase. When writing for a direct buyer, avoid spending too much time discussing the problem. You’ll want to skip long and rambling lead-ins that highlight the “pain points” that a buyer is be facing. If something truly is a problem, your reader will not need convincing.  

Blunt honesty can also be effective in your messaging. While most marketers are uncomfortable surfacing imperfections – for example, a potential caveat with a manufacturing solution -- a direct and honest writing approach can actually help create an environment of trust with your direct buyers.

Purchasing Considerations:

  •         Consensus between purchasing and engineering
  •         Superior pricing
  •         Strong relationships

Decision Criteria:

  •         Competitive value
  •         Superior service
  •         Solid vendor partnership

Part III: Key Differentiators for B2B Manufacturers

 

How Is Marketing for the B2B Manufacturing Industry Different?

As we previously mentioned, it’s important for organizations across all industries to recognize that the modern B2B buyer wants to be “solved to” rather than sold to. But marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – especially when you consider the broad spectrum of industrial manufacturing businesses and the different types of customers they serve.

However, there are a number of distinct qualities that set industrial marketing apart from the approach one might take when selling, for example, professional services or software. Here are a few factors manufacturers need to consider when putting together a solid marketing plan:

  • Lengthy sales cycles:
    • It’s no secret that business-to-business sales cycles are customarily much longer than their business-to-consumer counterparts. But the typical MFG sales process is stretched out due to an array of factors, ranging from RFP review and response times, custom design and product testing to transportation and logistics. The sales cycle can last anywhere from six to nine months, depending on the size and value of the order, the level of technical know-how needed to assess the product, the number of specifications, the number of regulations with which the product must comply, and, of course, the number of decision makers involved in the process. Therefore, lead nurturing—or the process of staying in front of leads by sending them relevant educational content aligned with the buyer’s journey—is essential to moving prospects through the funnel.
  • Selling to multiple decision makers:
    • In industrial manufacturing, there tends to be a direct relationship between the number of purchasing decision makers and sale price. As the volume and cost of the deal goes up, more stakeholders are usually involved. But it’s not just the number of decision makers and influencers that require convincing. Again, B2B manufacturers must have educational content that addresses the needs of each buyer persona at each stage of their journey. For instance, a CEO is likely to respond to a different series of messages than the value propositions you might pitch to a Director of Engineering or Plant Manager. Keep in mind, the information gatherer may not be the decision maker, so it’s important that your marketing also speaks to whomever is conducting the research. Moreover, if you serve multiple industries where these roles are drastically different, you may need to create buyer profiles for each of your target verticals.
  • Building partnerships with distributors in a virtual world:
    • Cultivating relationships is really important for B2B manufacturers; strong ties with a happy customer means repeat business for a potentially long time. But building partnerships online, albeit convenient for the buyer conducting her preliminary research, poses its own set of challenges – “humanizing” your business being chief among them. Moreover, many of today’s manufacturing firms are selling through distributor channels, which further compounds the challenge of selling to multiple audiences. So it’s critical that your company website and marketing collateral speaks not only to your standard buyers but also to distributor reps.
  • Breaking the “commodity product” mold:
    • In some cases, particularly if your business manufacturers small parts, containers, packaging or other materials involved in creating an end product produced by another manufacturer, it’s challenging to differentiate yourself from waves of competitors who provide a similar product. While firms that sell what can be considered commoditized products are often pressured to slash prices and rely on regional sales that truncate shipping costs, maintaining a benefits-focused marketing strategy (as opposed to touting features) will help your buyers understand why your product is better than the next one – and potentially enable you to execute on a value-based pricing model.
  • An audience looking for something very specific:
    • In contrast to commodities, perhaps the product or part you’re selling is extremely niche. There’s a good chance most people haven’t even heard of it, even within your industry. Mass marketing is not going to work in this case, so publishing content that educates your audience about your solution (and where it applies) is that much more important. Conversely, industrial buyers are often looking for something very specific – a product that’s going to exactly match their technical needs and requirements. Therefore, effective manufacturing marketers must tap into the problems their buyers are trying to solve, and align their marketing efforts with the language the audience is using. And above all, these firms must provide a streamlined digital approach for prospective buyers to submit their specs, request quotes, and research your product line or catalog via the website.

Of course, from a digital marketing perspective, some things are NOT so different.

We’ve covered how marketing differs in the B2B manufacturing world, but there are core principles that hold true in this industry just like in any other.

B2B manufacturers must attract the right prospects. They must convert prospects into bona fide leads. They must nurture these leads – and build relationships with them in order to close deals. They must offer a variety of sales conversion points, and they must provide a great experience all the way through the sale and onward as the partnership continues to develop.

The thing is, today all of this must be done online.

Yes, your phone conversations, trade show appearances and in-person, on-site meetings matter just as much when creating an impression and conducting business. But it’s important to recognize that your website and digital marketing presence is not a supplement to everything else. It should be at the heart of what you’re doing, pumping perceived value into every extremity of your business.

Recognize that your buyers ARE online at work. Researching companies like yours. In fact, 61% of industrial professionals visit six or more work-related websites each week, with 50% spending six or more hours on these sites every single week. And 52% are using the internet to directly request price quotes!

If your MFG business isn’t investing in digital marketing, you’re missing out on so many opportunities to generate leads, sales and revenue. And the reality is your prospects are hitting up your competitors instead. With that said, read on for 6 tactics B2B manufacturers can deploy in order to attract qualified website traffic, generate and nurture leads, and ultimately land more sales and grow their businesses.


The Best Tactics B2B Manufacturers Can Use to Differentiate

The business buyers of today—including those purchasing from industrial manufacturers—instinctively turn to digital sources for information and education well in advance of the decision making process. According to a study conducted by BusinessOnline and MAPI, more than 70% of the B2B buyer’s journey occurs pre-sales, the majority of which takes place in the digital space.

But IEEE GlobalSpec’s 2017 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector report reveals even more compelling stats specific to the manufacturing biz:

  • 83% of industrial professionals are using search engines to source information for work.
  • 68% are specifically using the Internet to find components, equipment and services.
  • 66% consult supplier websites for this type of information. And well over half are actively comparing products across supplier sites.

(Hopefully, those numbers didn’t just make you cringe at the thought of your current website.)

We understand this change from the referral-based and traditional advertising growth strategies of the past to a reliance on digital savviness for bringing in new business is intimidating for many manufacturers, to say the least. Where do you even start? And how are these intangible marketing techniques really supposed to contribute to generating revenue?

Like we’ve said before, marketing is NOT a fluffy, nice-looking website peppered with flowery copy. Today, marketing is a highly data-driven approach to getting found online, cultivating interest, engagement and trust with your target prospects, and differentiating your business from that of your competitors’. All while giving those prospects the experience they’re looking for as they navigate the buyer’s journey.

Today, marketing is a highly data-driven approach to getting found online, cultivating interest, engagement and trust with your target prospects, and differentiating your business from your competitors’.

It’s time to throw out cold calling, stop sending unsolicited emails, and cut the amount you’re spending on print ads and other traditional forms of advertising. They’re simply not cutting it in the modern business world. Not in manufacturing. Not anywhere.

Even industry trade shows and events should only be an additive to your overall marketing strategy, not the central focus of your entire year. IEEE GlobalSpec reports that when searching for products and services to specify, recommend or purchase, 53% of technical professionals RARELY use trade shows and conferences, and only 13% frequently do so.

Inbound marketing is a far more effective (and far less expensive) means of expanding your customer base and nourishing your existing one. To this point, one of our clients from the industrial manufacturing space has eliminated a $200,000 line item in their budget dedicated to trade shows solely by using inbound marketing methods instead.

Inbound marketing (or just ‘inbound’) is about organically attracting interested prospects through website optimization, producing content that engages, educates and excites your audience, and promoting it through the digital channels they’re actually using. It’s about converting visitors into contacts on your website with strategically placed Calls-to-Action and lead generation forms. And it’s about nurturing them with additional high-value (FREE) content that caters to their specific needs, elaborates on a solution to a common problem they’re experiencing, and then carefully introduces why your product makes the difference.

Without further ado, here are what manufacturers should be doing in order to attract the right traffic, up their lead count and close more business.


#1. Provide Educational Content on a Company Blog

Blogging is one of those tactics that has been stigmatized in the past as superfluous marketing jargon – but in reality, it’s one of the basic building blocks for a strong marketing foundation. Think your MFG firm is better off without putting time into a blog? Think again.

Thirty-five percent of engineers use blogs as sources of information for research and needs analysis in the early stages of the buyer’s journey. That’s over a third! And more than half of industrial professionals do not contact a vendor until they’ve compared and evaluated several vendors based on their website content.

It’s best to think of a blog as a complimentary resource for your website visitors. But it’s not just a means of writing to your audience about your company. In fact, a blog shouldn’t be promoting your products or services much at all (that’s what the rest of your site is for.) Its uses range from announcing company news and introducing staff members to discussing important industry topics and publishing educational content that helps your audience solve problems.

Blogging benefits are numerous. Just to name a few, a regularly updated company blog:

  • Provides website visitors with content that addresses their pain points
  • Demonstrates your firm’s industry expertise
  • Establishes trust and credibility early on in the sales cycle
  • Answers common questions received by your sales personnel
  • Keeps your website fresh for Google and other search engines
  • Helps you get found when prospects conduct searches online

Blogging is also your opportunity to provide myth-busting education to your readers. Say, for example, your company produces a plastics-based solution that is far superior to its metal cousins. Why not publish a blog post explaining how plastics have become more effective in several specific contexts?

Thinking long-term, it’s important that you publish content on a consistent basis. But it’s okay to start small! You can begin by publishing one post per month, and then work from there. Once you get going and producing more content (perhaps weekly), it’s a good idea to create a quarterly blogging calendar that incorporates the topic, writer, keyword and goal of each post so that you’re able to keep up. Not sure what to write about? Here are a few blogging ideas for manufacturers!

It’s also important to acknowledge that results from blogging may take time. But as you continue to publish informative articles, you will improve your company’s rankings in search engine results pages (sometimes immediately!) and the organic traffic you generate for your website compounds as your “authority” and “relevance” (as deemed by the search engines) increases. With 27% of respondents in a 2017 GlobalSpec survey stating that increased competition was making their marketing job harder than ever, blogging is the go-to key differentiator.


#2. Gate High-Value Content Behind Forms

While it’s important to offer “ungated” educational website content to your audience (a blog, for instance), it’s just as important to position some of that content behind lead generation forms. A lead generation form lives on a website landing page that promotes a content offer—an eBook, a white paper, a webinar recording, etc. The form acts as a gate; once a visitor submits their contact information (or whatever other information you decide to ask for… demographics, company info, etc.), they receive the content in exchange.

And… they’ve become a lead!

The whole point of creating gated content is to facilitate visitor-to-lead conversions. If a prospect isn’t ready to buy, you’re offering them something of value that they can use in the Awareness and Consideration stages of the buyer’s journey – and you’re successfully building trust.

Plus, you now have their contact information, providing a natural opportunity to follow up with the lead, present them with related material, gauge their interest in your business and more. Lead generation forms even help you segment your potentially messy contact database, enabling you to sort contacts by their answers to specific form field questions!

Now, this content obviously needs to have a little more oomph than your average blog post in order to incent a website visitor to give up that prized contact info. In a recent study we conducted ourselves, we discovered that only 15% of manufacturing websites gate resources behind a lead gen form.

“You want to build marketing assets that you own.” – Dharmesh Shah, CTO, HubSpot

But it’s well worth the effort if your manufacturing firm’s marketing team produces a great piece (or you decide to outsource the writing and design for one). Here’s why:

  • According to an IEEE Industrial Buy Cycle Survey, 83% of buyers review up to three pieces of content before making a decision on an industrial purchase over $1,000.
  • 62% of engineers are in the second or third stage of the buying cycle before they even make contact with a vendor – so they rely on digital resources.
  • 40% of technical professionals use white papers as sources of information for research and to diagnose their needs.

With trade shows becoming more and more expensive, using lead generation landing pages to promote gated content is a productive way to produce a similar amount (or greater amount of qualified leads) at a MUCH lower cost. The more landing pages you have, the more leads you can generate.


#3. Promote Your Contributions to the Greater Good

In today’s business world, transparency can be your best friend – and a lack thereof can sometimes spell disaster. The manufacturing industry is no exception. If your company is among the growing number of MFG businesses that consider environmental sustainability to be a key business driver, it’s definitely a great idea to promote (but not peddle!) the practices you’ve implemented.

Incorporating sustainable and environmentally friendly materials and practices into your business model and production processes is more than just a “go green” decision. Yes, there is evidence that making eco-friendly choices is likely to help your business cut costs, boost productivity, enhance morale, etc. But in a recent study conducted by the United Nations Global Compact, 93% of international CEO respondents reported they believe sustainability is essential to their business strategy.

If your MFG firm has put a lot of effort into sustainability and responsible supply chain sourcing, there’s certainly no harm in making this known to your prospects, followers and customers. In fact, the impact on your business can be profoundly rewarding (provided that you really ARE doing everything you say). A few years ago, Sustainable Brands released these statistics that sum up the benefits.

When a company supports social or environmental issues:

  • 93% of global citizens will have a more positive image of that company.
  • 90% will be more likely to trust that company.
  • 88% will be more loyal.
  • More than 80% consider these factors when deciding what to buy or where to shop, which products and services to recommend to others, which companies they want to see doing business in their communities, and where to work.

Although B2B buyer numbers were not explicitly part of this study, the writing is on the wall. The majority of people want to do business with good people. Efforts to demonstrate your active participation in humanitarian and environmental causes may be a quick way to distinguish your business in a sea of big fish.

For more “green marketing” tips, check out our blog: Sustainability Marketing – 5 Things Manufacturers Absolutely Must Know.


#4. Serve Up Social Proof

Social proof can take many forms—case studies, testimonials, customer reviews, certifications, you name it!—but they all have one thing in common. They are powerful marketing and sales tools.

Not only do forms of social proof validate the benefits of your products and services, they can help answer prospect questions about a niche product that would otherwise be difficult to understand. Not to mention, a customer success story can serve as a tipping point for prospects who need that extra bit of insight to fully grasp how your business will make their jobs (or lives) easier – and how your product is the right solution to their problem.

A well-executed customer success story can serve as a tipping point for prospects who need that extra bit of insight to fully grasp how your product is the right solution to their problem.

In an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, testimonials and reviews can also make or break your chances of closing a deal. Particularly if a testimonial comes from a respected industry professional, publication or organization, the publicly provided affirmation that your solution is THE solution will speak volumes on your behalf. Who doesn’t want to work with the best in the business, right?

Interestingly, our team found through our independent study that only 22% of MFG firms leverage customer case studies or testimonials on their websites. Wow! 

That’s a shocker when 73% of all B2B companies are putting these forms of social proof on display. What’s more, case studies are ranked in a 2018 Content Marketing Institute study as the second highest performing content marketing tactic across all B2B industries!

Apart from posting case studies and testimonials on your website, how else can they be used? Sales reps can insert testimonials into presentations and reference case studies throughout the sales process to increase the chances of moving forward with a prospect. Over time, it will be important to build out a series of these case studies. Each one should be set up to tell a story, starting with the background information, presenting the problem, then the solution and wrapping up with how business was impacted both quantitatively and qualitatively. Here are 5 steps to help you create your own compelling manufacturing case study!


#5. Get Visual with Video

With so much content (both great and not-so-great) being produced, published and promoted across every digital channel imaginable, eye-catching imagery and video have become vital to a brand’s ability to stand out and snag the attention of B2B buyers. But believe it or not, marketing automation giant HubSpot has reported that companies from the high tech and manufacturing industries currently produce the most video content!

This is likely because video marketing tactics are widely reported to outperform many other types of content MFG firms are creating. In support of these claims, this past year’s B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Report from Content Marketing Institute reveals that 70% of manufacturers rate video marketing as an effective marketing tactic. It’s also noteworthy that the use of video in this industry has quantifiably increased year-over-year.

Given this data, manufacturers should be cognizant of the evidence that video is not just a passing trend. On the contrary, video marketing is mission critical to their lead generation, lead nurturing, and customer success programs. It’s quite possibly the most versatile tool in their marketing arsenal, in that it can applied to any stage in the typical industrial buyer’s journey.

A well-optimized video can be used to attract traffic to your website, support visit-to-lead conversion efforts, serve up how-to’s and tutorials, share your company story – or better yet the success stories of your customers, showcase your company culture in an industry that may not always be perceived as “exciting”, and the list goes on. However, it’s most important function is arguably to cultivate audience engagement, from both qualitative and technical perspectives.

Video has been proven to raise the average amount of time visitors spend on your pages and dramatically lower website bounce rates, signaling to Google that your video is well worth watching (and in turn, your site is well worth visiting). A video link in an email even leads to a 200-300% increase in click-through rates! Simply including the word “video” in your subject line is going to send open rates through the roof.

And yes, these benefits apply to manufacturers, too. On average, engineers attended three webinars in 2016, as opposed to one in-person trade show. But 31% attended 4-6 webinars or more. (and every group expected to attend more webinars the following year). The top three uses of industrial online forums are to find technical support, search for product information, and you guessed it… watch videos. Plus, 67% of engineers are actually using YouTube or another video sharing website for work-related purposes.

If you haven’t jumped on the video bandwagon yet, it’s time to do so. However, you don’t need to spend a lot of time or money to produce effective video content. Even posting short videos of a company event, your production line or interactions with customers taken on team members’ phones can make for great material if positioned correctly!


#6. Ensure Your Website Is Mobile-Friendly

Did you know that over half of searches today are being conducted via mobile devices? Because of this, Google has made recent changes to its algorithms that give even more weight to mobile-friendly websites, so if your manufacturing business doesn’t have a responsive site, you’re likely being penalized in search results (even if your audience is largely comprised of desktop users).

But what exactly does “responsive” mean? Using media queries and CSS rules, a responsive website design adapts to a visitor’s browser size and resolution, automatically reformatting and scaling page layouts to accommodate. A responsive design can also adjust the actual content that’s displayed – so page elements like contact info or directions render more prominently for non-desktop visitors. Since mobile-friendly sites adapt to any mobile screen (smartphone, tablet, etc.), prospects will actually be able to see it and use it should they find you via their mobile device.

And that’s a good thing, as a 2017 report from IEEE GlobalSpec shows that the use of mobile devices for work-related tasks in the industrial manufacturing space has grown significantly over the past two years. Especially for reading email and articles and conducting product searches, mobile usage is on the rise, to the point where 21% of online time is spent on smartphones and tablets.

 

Interested in learning more about where manufacturers are falling behind? Want to discover ways to keep up? Download our study, Digital Lead Generation for Manufacturers in 2018, and get all the essential facts and figures that will help you jumpstart your MFG marketing plan. And as always, contact us if you have any questions. 

 

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