Proving ROI of Industrial Content Marketing is Still a Big Challenge

Congratulations if your 2018 industrial content marketing budget increased or at least didn’t get cut. You are in good company. 38% of respondents from the 2018 Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America survey expect their manufacturing content marketing spending to increase this year and another 46% expect it to remain the same as last year.

budgets for industrial content marketing

I’ve read other research reports that have reported a similar trend in larger budgets for industrial content marketing.

Why industrial content marketing is getting all the attention and the dollars

Manufacturers and engineering services companies have good reasons to allocate more of their marketing budget to industrial (manufacturing) content marketing. There are several good reasons for this. I’ll highlight the key findings from various research studies that I’ve read.

  • Sixty-two percent of engineers don’t contact a vendor until after the Research and Needs Analysis phase of the buy cycle preferring to remain invisible and work in self-select and self-serve mode. (2017 Digital Media Use in The Industrial Sector, IEEE GlobalSpec)
  • Fifty percent of engineers have an average of three to four interactions with a vendor before communicating with them directly, while 15 percent have five interactions or more. About a third have one or two interactions. (2017 Smart Marketing for Engineers, IEEE GlobalSpec and TREW Marketing)
  • Engineers spend 8.3 hours/week consuming engineering content. That is more than a full work day! (2018 How Engineers Find Information, ENGINEERING.COM)

Not all is well in industrial content marketing

That is the good news part of this post. The bad news is that manufacturers and engineering companies are spending more money on industrial content marketing but are having a hard time proving its ROI. Unfortunately, this is not a new problem and the reasons for it are complex too.

As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words” so let me use charts from research studies to illustrate the problem.

measuring ROI of manufacturing content marketing

I get it that statistics can be skewed to represent a specific point of view so here is another chart from the 2017 Trends in Industrial Marketing: How Manufacturers Are Marketing Today from IEEE GlobalSpec that pretty much tells the same story.

According to that report, 25 percent of industrial marketers considered measuring the ROI of their efforts was their biggest challenge.

Biggest challenges of industrial marketers

The same report also found that thirty-four percent of industrial companies are just getting started with content marketing and only 12 percent of marketers can show how content marketing contributes to sales.

Accurately measuring marketing’s contribution in complex industrial sales can be difficult

Google Analytics and other tools can easily prove increase in traffic, visitor engagement and the number of content downloads but it is much harder to directly attribute content marketing’s contribution to sales and revenues.

Based on my experience in working with manufacturers and other industrial companies, I can tell you accurately measuring ROI is not just a matter of technology and/or tools. They certainly can help but it is not easy to overcome the problem of incorrect attribution which in my opinion is a bigger challenge. This is particularly true in complex industrial sales where there are multiple stakeholders involved and sales cycles can stretch into 12 to 18 months.

Let me give you a real-life example to explain the problem.

Someone clicks on your Google AdWords (PPC) ad for an industrial component and visits your landing page, but s/he takes no action and leaves. A week later the same visitor or someone else from the same company reads one of your blog posts and downloads an application note. That contact gets entered in your Marketing Automation list. You do a good job with email marketing and continue to nurture the prospect.

A few months later your engineering team receives an email with a question about an application from a Design Engineer from the same company. This turns into to a meaningful conversation with one of your sales engineers and the last contact is entered into your CRM system as a lead. Did the PPC ad generate the lead or was it your content marketing responsible for the conversion? Do you give equal attributions to both marketing tactics?

You may think that it doesn’t matter, as long as you can attribute the sale to the lead, but it is important and here’s why. Without a complete audit trail to track a prospect from first point of contact to conversion, your industrial content marketing ROI will be based on the “last click” which could lead to false conclusions and a distorted marketing strategy.

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