Unique Challenges of Manufacturing Content Marketing in 2019

I just finished reading the Manufacturing Content Marketing 2019—Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report published by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) and sponsored by IEEE GlobalSpec.

Lisa Murton Beets (@LisaBeets), Research Director at CMI said, “The data suggest that manufacturers have a way to go with putting the audience’s informational needs before their own sales/promotional message. In addition, marketers in these organizations say they are uniquely challenged with creating content that appeals to multi-level roles within their target audience. Many are working to address these challenges, for example, by developing personas.”

I couldn’t agree more with her summary because that is pretty much what I find, working with manufacturers and industrial companies every day.

What is unique about manufacturing content marketing?

If you have been a regular reader of my blog, you’ve probably read many of my posts where I have talked about the differences between manufacturing (industrial) content marketing and other B2B content marketing.

There are three key differences that you should be aware of:

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Industrial Content Marketing that Engages Engineers

When it comes to effective industrial content marketing, you’ve probably heard the phrase, “One-size-fits-all content” just doesn’t cut it. How do you make your content more relevant to time-challenged engineers, deal with the age gap within your target audience, earn their trust and build stronger relationships? Those are some major challenges in industrial content marketing that can’t be overcome by just pumping out more content.

You are not alone if you are having difficulties with manufacturing content marketing meeting all your goals. According to the findings from the research report, 2018 Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America published by Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs, 55% of manufacturers in North America reported that they were only moderately successful in achieving their organization’s desired/targeted results.

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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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Why Manufacturers Need a Multichannel Industrial Marketing Strategy

Multichannel industrial marketing strategy doesn’t get that much attention or buzz. It should, because it is a closer reflection of how manufacturing and engineering companies are marketing these days.

It’s a fact that in 2016, manufacturers and industrial companies are spending more of their marketing dollars on digital marketing tactics. This of course makes sense because 53% of engineers and industrial professionals spend 6 hours or more per week on the Internet for work-related purposes.

Manufacturing marketing budgets and satisfaction levels

Here are a few charts from research studies done by the Content Marketing Institute (CMI), ENGINEERING.COM and IHS Engineering360.

Manufacturing marketing budgets and spends

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Industrial Content Marketing’s Role in Sales

You’ve probably read all the buzz surrounding industrial content marketing. You are in good company if you are already doing it. The Content Marketing Institute found that 81% of business-to-business (B2B) manufacturers in North America said that their organizations were using content marketing (Source: 2016 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America).

Here’s a reality check—only 18% of those manufacturing marketers reported that their content marketing was effective in accomplishing their overall marketing objectives. That, by the way is lower than the 26% in 2015 and 30% in 2014. So the effectiveness has been trending down over the past three years.

Industrial content marketing effectiveness - CMI

Fear not though, in another survey done by ENGINEERING.com (Engineering Marketers’ 2016 Campaign Plans Research Report) there was very good news. Here’s what they said based on the responses from their audience – “Content marketing has become so powerful in the marketing industry that only 3% of marketers say they are going to reduce their spending in this category. That’s even more amazing when you see that 27% (10% + 17%) said that it isn’t really working. The buzz around this concept is so powerful that if it doesn’t work, marketers blame themselves. In fact, they are 3X more likely to increase their budget if it isn’t working than they are to decrease their budget.” 

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How Manufacturing Content Marketing Sets the Table for Sales

Manufacturing content marketing sets the table for SalesI recently received two emails from two different manufacturers. They both inquired about using manufacturing content marketing to help their sales efforts. Both these companies had used telemarketing and other conventional marketing tactics with very little success in generating sales qualified leads.

You may be experiencing the same or similar problems as these two manufacturers. Here are excerpts from those emails.

  • “Using a lead generation company right now that charges too much and delivers too little. They do not understand industrial sales, and although they are talented and penetrating accounts, many of the set appointments do not answer the phone.”
  • “I have been doing the conventional style of marketing i.e. making cold calls, face-time with clients. After all such interactions, I was simply told to mail the information regarding our product, company credentials etc. I have met 100+ people and so far only a few have responded.”

These two manufacturers are experiencing firsthand the realities of industrial buyer behavior these days. Buyers are in self-serve self-select mode and remain mainly invisible for a large portion of the buy cycle. These industrial buyers will engage with your sales team only when they are ready. Hounding them with cold calls or unwanted emails is not going to help them make a more informed decision of selecting your company as the preferred manufacturer.

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Marketing Engineering Services with Content

Marketing Engineering ServicesMarketing engineering services is very different from marketing industrial products. The biggest difference is that you are selling an intangible concept as versus a physical product. The final deliverable in engineering services may be a written report but it is still not the same as selling a motor or a pump.

I have run across hybrid situations where the manufacturer sells custom-engineered products. These are not standard off the shelf widgets but require significant amount of engineering consulting upfront before producing the final product.

In this post, I’ll stick with marketing pure engineering services such as Soil and Groundwater Investigation/Remediation; Engineering Feasibility Studies and Leak Detection and Repair (LDAR) Audits to name a few.

Traditionally, engineering services firms have relied on referrals, professional networking and event sponsorships to grow their business. Referral business is great but they are usually few and far between for a dependable growth strategy. Networking and sponsorships are time consuming and expensive.

Let’s say you’ve perfected your marketing message into a concise 30-second elevator pitch and you’ve become good at delivering it to strangers you meet at professional events. Assume you’ve managed to pique their interest, which is no small feat. Guess what, they are going to check out your website when they get back to the office. The content on your site will make or break that first impression.

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In Industrial Lead Generation, a Lead is a Lead, Right?

Defining leads in industrial lead generationEvery discussion I’ve had with manufacturers and industrial companies starts with “we need more leads” or ends with “we need results.” I understand and accept the fact that the main goal of industrial marketing is to generate leads. I have no issues with that but do these companies know what a qualified lead is?

That may sound like a dumb question to ask in industrial lead generation but in reality, you would be surprised by how fundamental and serious that question is. I’m not making this up or trying to be clever here.

Let me explain with three excerpts from conversations I have had in just the past few months.

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Content Marketing for Manufacturers: What’s real and what’s hype?

If you are a manufacturing marketer, I’m sure you’ve heard all the buzz and the hype surrounding content marketing for manufacturers. It is a fact that today more manufacturers are using content marketing for increasing awareness (branding), lead generation and sales. That’s not hype, it’s definitely a reality as reported by the 2015 B2B Manufacturing Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/MarketingProfs.

Goals of content marketing for manufacturers

Is content marketing for manufacturers meeting those goals and expectations?

I’ll answer that question by first citing study findings and then with my own experiences with manufacturing clients.

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No Digital Marketing for Manufacturers = Marketing in the Past

Are you marketing in the past without digital marketing for manufacturers?Most manufacturers including precision CNC machine shops and fabricators have difficulty understanding the true value of digital marketing for manufacturers. Some that have implemented it, struggle to produce tangible results, meaning a boost in sales that they can attribute to marketing.

The need for a robust online presence (Website and customer-centric content marketing) is driven by your customer’s behavior and not because marketing consultants are telling you to do so. Today’s industrial buyers are in self-serve and self-select mode, making them virtually invisible and hard to reach. They don’t need or want to talk to your sales people to get product information. Your buyers will engage with your sales team only when they are ready. Hounding them with cold calls or unwanted spammy emails is not going to make them choose you over the competition.

The lack of buy-in for digital marketing is a two-fold problem as I see it with my industrial clients. The first issue is a mindset at the top and the second part is one of incorrect attribution.

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How Industrial Companies are Stuck on SEO for Content Marketing Strategy

I find too many manufacturers and industrial distributors basing their entire content marketing strategy with one goal in mind – getting found in Google. In other words, the entire focus is on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).

“What’s wrong with that?” you ask. After all, your content is useless unless people can find your website when they search.

Focusing your content marketing strategy only on SEO or top of the funnel traffic has many drawbacks. If I had to summarize it in one sentence it would be, search engines are not your target, human visitors are.

People won’t automagically convert into qualified leads just because they found your industrial website in Google or other major search engines. That’s why your industrial content marketing strategy must be based on the entire sales funnel and not just ToFU (Top of Funnel) activities. Traffic by itself means zilch if you can’t convert it into opportunities.

Technical SEO vs content SEO

Right or wrong, SEO has an aura of mystery about it. This in turn turns off many site owners and marketers. While it is true there are certain aspects of SEO that are technical, it is only a small part of optimizing content.

Thanks to the recent algorithm updates by Google, current best practices in organic SEO go far beyond keyword matching, Meta tags and keyword density. The new Google is smart enough to understand and interpret search intent.

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