The most common challenge among manufacturing marketers? Creating content for different stages of the buyer’s journey.
That’s what 62% cited in today’s release of Content Marketing Institute’s Manufacturing Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2023, co-sponsored by GlobalSpec and 6sense.
Rounding out the top three of the most frequently cited challenges: aligning sales and marketing (58%) and breaking down communication silos (56%).
Other common challenges include:
- Developing consistency with measurement (47%)
- Accessing subject matter experts to create content (41%)
- Achieving consistency with messaging (36%)
- Differentiating our products/services from the competition’s (32%)
- Continuing to make a business case for content marketing (27%)
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What are some solutions for the most frequently cited challenges experienced by manufacturing marketers? And what can you do to capitalize on video and storytelling – two areas of opportunity in 2023? We reached out to several manufacturing marketing professionals for their expertise. Read on.
1. Buyer’s journey
To create content for different stages of the buyer’s journey (and address the silos of sales and marketing marketers), ask sales to connect you with customers for interviews, says Morgan Norris, senior brand strategist at TREW Marketing.
“Marketing can set up five to seven 20-minute interviews and ask questions like ‘What challenges were you facing before you started working with us? What did you do to solve your problems first? What made you choose us? Were there any unexpected benefits in working with our team?’”
Morgan explains that gathering these customer insights does three things:
- You can hear customers’ pain points in their words for each step in their journey. You can use that language in your brand’s content.
- When sales see their customers’ voices fueling content development, they’re more likely to trust the output from marketing.
- You can gain insight into the customer journey. Ask questions about initial pain points as well as final decision factors and what it’s like to work with your company.
“From here, marketers can pick a theme (for example, an industry topic or technology trend) and then create specific pieces of content, each targeting a single point in the buyer’s journey, link those content pieces together, and build leadership around the topic,” Morgan says.
While working to understand the buyer’s journey, Eddie Saunders Jr., demand generation manager at Flex Machine Tools, reminds his peers to focus on empathy.
“Sympathy is recognizing someone else’s position and maintaining your own,” Eddie says. “But empathy is truly understanding their position and adjusting accordingly. This doesn’t mean inserting yourself into the buyer’s journey, but this mindset does require that you connect and inquire with your customers. No one can provide more perspective on what content drove a desired outcome more than those who have experienced your funnel all the way through to the transactional exchange.”
2. Aligning sales and marketing
With so much of the buying journey taking place online without the help of a salesperson, manufacturing marketers should create a “digital twin” content representation of their sales team, says Greg Mischio, founder of Winbound.
“For that to happen, sales and marketing must be aligned; otherwise, you’ll generate nothing but poor leads and negative returns on your marketing investment,” Greg adds.
“Alignment starts, first and foremost, with a shared strategy. [It’s] not a sales strategy, not a marketing strategy, but a sales and marketing strategy developed in collaboration with management and agreed to by all parties. The strategy incorporates a shared definition of a lead, shared quantitative goals, and agreed-upon tasks that speak to each department’s strengths. From there, ongoing communication and goal reviews are essential.”
Greg notes progress in this thinking is happening. In the CMI research, 44% of manufacturing marketers used content marketing to generate sales/revenue in the last 12 months – that’s one-third more than they did in the previous year.
“This is a sign that smart companies understand that the days of finger-pointing and operating in silos are over. It’s align or decline – there really is no middle ground,” Greg says.
Other goals achieved by manufacturing marketers using content marketing in the last 12 months include:
- Create brand awareness (85%)
- Build/grow credibility/trust (67%)
- Educate audience(s) (66%)
- Build/grow loyalty with existing clients/customers (65%)
- Generate demand/leads (60%)
- Support the launch of a new product (59%)
- Nurture subscribers/audiences/leads (50%)
- Drive attendance to one or more in-person or virtual events (44%)
- Build/grow a subscribed audience (38%)
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3. Communicating internally among teams/silos
Breaking down departmental silos can happen by aligning marketing goals and metrics with business and sales objectives, says Lara Schneider, senior marketing manager of the motors and drives division at Toshiba.
“Manufacturing marketers have a challenging but great opportunity to create the narrative for their company on how content marketing supports customers’ needs and can also be used to improve internal operations,” Lara says.
For example, a content strategy that solves customer problems is likely to reduce customer inquiries to product management and technical support, she says. It also creates another benefit.
“Speaking the language non-marketers understand and value – and keeping the focus on improving the customers’ experience – goes a long way toward opening the door for improved internal communication and collaboration,” Lara says.
Other key findings indicate a rise in video
In addition to the three most common challenges, this year’s manufacturing research reveals a key area in which marketers continue to invest – video.
Ninety percent of manufacturing marketers used videos in the last 12 months and say that videos produced the best results for their content marketing over the last year.
In addition, 80% say their organization will invest/continue to invest in video in 2023, making it the most frequently cited area of content marketing investment (as it was in the previous year).
Other areas of content marketing investment in 2023 include:
- Owned-media assets (69%)
- Social media/community building (67%)
- Paid media (61%)
- Events – digital, in-person, hybrid (58%)
- Earned media (44%)
- Getting to know audiences better (32%)
- User experience (UX) design (20%)
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Recent CMI video and visual storytelling research shows success is enhanced by a visual strategy.
“Having a video strategy will allow you to understand how it funnels up to company goals, determine how you will measure success, and ensure the content has a consistent look, cadence, and message,” says Jennifer Watson, founder and creative director of Context Communications.
Why are manufacturing marketers so keen on video? Wendy Covey, CEO and co-founder of TREW Marketing, which produces the annual State of Marketing to Engineers report with GlobalSpec, has insight. “Manufacturing marketers are often tasked with communicating complex information that doesn’t always translate well in written form,” she says.
“Enter video — it’s an ideal platform to tell a complex story in an interesting, engaging manner. Marketers can showcase products in motion, explain complex how-to topics, and demonstrate large systems in context … something that is not possible on a sales visit or a trade show floor,” Wendy says.
“Video also helps personify your brand by having real employees (such as your smart engineers) share their knowledge and experience directly, which builds trust and credibility with skeptical technical buyers.”
The 2022 State of Marketing to Engineers report (registration required) found 96% of engineers and technical buyers consume videos for work-related purposes weekly, and the time spent watching videos climbs each year. Technical buyers 35 and younger spend the most time watching videos compared to their older counterparts.
Wendy cautions manufacturing marketers to incorporate their video strategy as part of the overall content marketing strategy. “With this mindset, you’ll have better clarity on personas, topics, and calls to action, which you can weave into your script and storyboard,” she says.
Jennifer Watson of Context Communications says you also can maximize your video content through “upcycling.”
As she explains, “There are many ways to repurpose video content. Depending on the length, you can edit it into smaller, snackable size pieces of content to consume, curate audiograms, edit pieces together and create a longer video; the possibilities are endless. The smartest marketers know how to maximize the content they have to save time and money.”
Differentiate with quality content – and tell interesting stories
In a new area of the annual content marketing survey, we asked manufacturing marketers who excel in creating differentiated content how they do it. Here’s how they explain it:
- Produce better quality content (83%)
- Cover topics/stories that competitors aren’t covering (72%)
- Actively promote the content we publish – beyond publishing/distributing it (50%)
- Use formats competitors are not using (38%)
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Creating better quality content – and covering topics your competitors aren’t – often happens through storytelling. Manufacturing is an ideal industry to do that with stories about how things are made, the people who work in the companies, case studies, etc.
“Storytelling creates context,” says Joe Sullivan, founder of Gorilla 76. “If you deeply understand what matters most to (your audience), then storytelling can be your vehicle for connecting problems and desired outcomes to a tangible solution.”
He offers an example of a manufacturing brand that wants to reach plant managers who it knows are the most important influencers in the buying process. “Paint a picture of a real-life success story from another plant manager just like them,” Joe says.
“Illustrate the transformation inside of that company’s operations from the time you arrived to the time you finished. What impact did that transformation have on their organization? But also, how did it impact that plant manager in his or her career journey? Storytelling not only provides context, but it humanizes the experience of working with you while putting your customer/prospect at the center of the story.”
Gain perspective and buy-in
To learn more about how manufacturing marketers are approaching content marketing, read the newly released Manufacturing Content Marketing Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends: Insights for 2023. It’s full of insights to help you – and your leadership – better know what’s happening around content marketing strategy, content creation and distribution, content management and operations, metrics and goals, and challenges.
Want to dive deeper into the latest content marketing trends in manufacturing? Register for our free Content Marketing Master Class: Manufacturing Edition on November 30, 2022.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute