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.

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How do Engineers Use Content in Their Buying Decision?

Of course, you know that engineers use content in making work-related decisions, i.e. buying decisions. Datasheets, case studies and how-to videos have always been popular with this target audience. However, have you ever asked yourself the question, “how do engineers use content?” The answer to that question is fundamental in developing an effective industrial content marketing strategy.

Recently, I read a research study published by ENGINEERING.COM. This report goes well beyond the general assumptions about how engineers use content and provides researched proof. You can download the “How Engineers Find Information” study from that link.

Why is content important for reaching engineers?

The old ways of cold calling and e-mail blasts are proving to be ineffective. This has nothing to do with the popularity of content marketing. This behavior is driven by how engineers want to interact with their suppliers. They are very much in self-select and self-serve mode.

The chart below shows that 75% of engineers prefer to engage with a vendor representative somewhere in the middle of their buying journey to just before making a final decision.

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Industrial Content Marketing: Product Centric vs. Customer Centric Content

Product centric vs customer centric industrial content marketing

Recently, I had an interesting conversation about industrial content marketing with the President and the Marketing Manager of a manufacturing company. They design and make engineered systems used in the Metalworking and the Pulp & Paper industries.

Our conversation happened in the early stages (Thank God!) of developing a content marketing strategy. This company has been in business for over 20 years and had done plenty of conventional outbound marketing over the years. They contacted me to help them effectively use industrial content marketing to generate qualified inbound leads and convert them into sales opportunities.

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Technology is Not a Substitute for Good Industrial Content

Some of the people I talk to about industrial content marketing seem to be hung up on adding more technology to solve their lead generation problems. The thinking behind it is that technology will cover up the many holes in their strategy, content and help speed up the process. This mindset is not surprising since the top person at many of these manufacturing and industrial companies is an engineer. That is not a dig at engineers, I’m an engineer myself!

Once while discussing an industrial website redesign project, the owner/founder of a manufacturer of valve actuators told me, “I can program anything.” I had to politely bring to his attention that “coding isn’t marketing.”

The rush to add marketing technology

It is not that technology is new to them. Many of these industrial companies already use sophisticated technology such as ERP and CRM systems to run their businesses. So, adding marketing technology is a natural solution for them when pipelines run dry and sales teams are screaming for more leads.

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Effective Industrial Content Marketing Requires Working Closely with Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)

Industrial content marketing needs the help of SMEs

If you are responsible for industrial content marketing at your company, you know it is a challenge and can be a daunting task to engage with engineers and technical buyers. It is not too difficult to prove effectiveness with top of the funnel results such as increased traffic, page views, content downloads and newsletter signups.

However, most manufacturers and other industrial companies are not going to be satisfied with that. They want and expect their industrial content marketing strategy to engage with engineers and persuade them to start a conversation with their sales team.

Industrial companies that I talk to on a daily basis, find it challenging to market to engineers. Their biggest hurdle is the lack of response from their target audience. These companies are at a loss and want a better way to market since their target audience is primarily engineers from various disciplines. And therein lies the challenge.

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Content Marketing Strategy Must Drive Your Industrial Website Redesign

Jeffrey Zweldman on content and web designAn industrial website redesign shouldn’t be a quick decision because your site is the very foundation of your online presence. Why is it such an important decision?

According to the Industrial Buy Cycle survey of engineers and technical professionals conducted by IHS Engineering 360 (formally GlobalSpec), “The top three most frequently used sources for searching for products and services to purchase are search engines, supplier websites, and online catalogs.

The survey also found that in the early stages of the Buy Cycle, Needs Awareness and Research phases, industrial professionals use a variety of online sources of information.

By the time buyers reach the final Procurement stage, supplier websites and online catalogs become the most important sources of information. Take a look at this chart from IHS Engineering 360’s Buy Cycle survey.

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Industrial Content Marketing: Awareness to Conversion Takes Time and Hard Work

Industrial content marketing success for most manufacturers and other industrial companies is usually measured  by an increase in the number of RFQs/RFPs. Arguments about quality vs. quantity tend to fall on deaf ears because these companies with long sales cycles need a certain volume of quotes to keep their pipelines full and active.

Often, their stated goal for content marketing is “We want to increase awareness among engineers and industrial buyers and generate new contacts.” You’ve probably heard the same or something similar if you are part of an in-house marketing department or an outside industrial marketing consultant like me.

On the surface, it looks like a well-defined marketing goal but if you look closely, you’ll see that it takes many interim steps between raising awareness and converting traffic into qualified leads. It is this lack of understanding of what it takes to go from point A to point B that causes owners and decision makers at these industrial companies to get frustrated from the lack of quick results and shocked by the price tag.

Growing pains in industrial content marketing

According to Engineering360’s online survey addressing the marketing trends, challenges and expenditures within the engineering, technical, manufacturing and industrial companies, thirty-nine percent were just getting started with content marketing and only 12 percent can show how content marketing contributes to sales.

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Industrial Content Marketing Fails to Engage with Target Audience

Industrial content marketing used by manufacturers, distributors and engineering companies is failing to engage the target audience – engineers, technical professionals and industrial buyers. This is not a new problem.

Back in 2014, Forrester had published their research report titled B2B Content Fails The Customer Engagement Test. Here’s a statement from their brief – “Nowhere is the struggle to produce compelling business-to-business (B2B) content more evident than on corporate websites: When 26 out of 30 fail to pass even a basic 10-criteria test, it’s time for chief marketing officers (CMOs) to seriously rethink their content marketing plans for 2015.”

Fast forward to 2016 and industrial companies are still struggling with the same problem. The challenges that manufacturing marketers face are very similar to those experienced by all B2B marketers. 65% of manufacturing marketers said producing engaging content is their biggest challenge (Source: 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/ MarketingProfs).

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Industrial Content Marketing Boosts Sales for Distributors

industrial content marketing attracts customersMy conversations with distributors about industrial content marketing almost always start with them needing help in growing their sales. That should come as no surprise.

The real problem however lies in the definition of the problem itself. Most distributors define their problem as “lack of sales.” The solution therefore must be this new-fangled thing called “industrial content marketing” since traditional tactics like cold calling, e-mail blasts and print ads are no longer producing satisfactory results.

So with that mindset, they want to dive right into creating content. The assumption is that the more content they publish, the easier it will be for their target audience to find them in search engines and once they arrive at their site, visitors will be ready to talk to their sales team. (See How Industrial Companies are Stuck on SEO for Content Marketing Strategy).

I wish it were that easy. Conversion optimization is a completely different challenge from discovery optimization even though they are related.

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