To understand why content marketing is important, let’s first take a look at the complete picture of the modern industrial buying process.
Industrial buying is an infinitely more complex process than it ever used to be. In the past, business relationships were forged over lunches, golf games, phone calls, and plant visits. Suppliers showcased their know-how by “talking shop” and establishing rapport.
Let's not get too nostalgic.
These days, most buyers conduct research and vet suppliers long before they ever contact them, a development which shouldn't immediately be categorized as bad. Relationships are now established based on the information that is readily available to the buyer from the Internet and other sources, which means buyers are more informed.
Content marketing works because it addresses the Who, What, When, and Why of industrial buying.
- Who makes or influences the buying decisions
- What buyers expect from sellers before making a buying decision
- When buying decisions take place
- Why a buyer should buy from you (influence and thought leadership)
Who: The Buyers Behind the Buyer
That purchasing agent your sales representative is in talks with right now doesn't necessarily have final say on a given purchase. Frequently, several individuals are involved in the approval process. And we've seen a direct correlation between the size of the order and the number of individuals involved in making the final decision.
Let's talk about these players. Each one is likely evaluating your company and its offerings based on his or her role in the organization. In some businesses, an individual might fill multiple roles, or multiple people will fill one role. In general, your buyers include:
- Design engineers
- Procurement managers and buyers
- Plant and MRO managers
You need to communicate with all three types of personas. What makes content marketing powerful is the ability to do just that by authoring pieces of content that speak to each unique interest and concern. As each individual becomes familiar with how your brand relates to her, she will be more comfortable doing business with you.
It might be tempting to just pick one persona and focus your efforts solely on them. But you never know who might have the most influence or authority in a given organization. If your content does not address the concerns of these additional characters, you won’t even make the cut.
What: Buyers' (Great) Expectations
Today, it's buyers, not salespeople, that pilot the sales process. They are not afraid to make demands of their suppliers long before a purchase is even in the picture. Buyers have three key expectations of suppliers:
That you're smart.
Content marketing’s core strength is the ability to communicate the depth and value of your knowledge beyond traditional sales emails.
That you're direct and honest.
Let’s face it: sometimes companies have to address negative issues. Products don’t work as intended, bad press occurs, competitors engage in mudslinging, what have you. Content marketing can be an effective reputation management tool to proactively handle those issues and find possible solutions. The worst course of action when a problem arises is to avoid it or insist it doesn't exist.
That you care about them.
Content marketing addresses customer concerns beyond the business transaction, and provides value beyond the scope of the product or service you are selling.
When: The Long Industrial Buying Cycle
With the number of people involved in a decision making process at a company, it’s natural to conclude that the buying process is not quick. Depending on the size of the order and politics of the organization, the cycle can last anywhere from several weeks to several months. There are some companies that have been known to research potential suppliers for well over a year before contacting them.
Complicating the buying cycle further is the fact that it’s not always straight line from start to finish. This makes the timing of content a challenge; you have no way of knowing when a buyer becomes aware of a need, or is ready to move on to the research stage. Content marketing steps up to this challenge.
Online content is an information source that's always on — it’s there whenever a buyer advances in his journey. The best content marketing uses the nature of online research to bring buyers to you, rather than forcing you to constantly reach out. This is the foundation of inbound marketing.
A particular piece of content can also be authored to address concerns that will occur at one or more stages in the buying cycle. This helps maintain your reputation and relationship with the buyer no matter where they are in the buying process.
Why: The Importance Of Thought Leadership
Establishing or building “thought leadership” is a common goal of content marketing because of its power as a business tool. While an established brand image makes a company's consideration more easily attainable, thought leaders make buyers not just willing, but enthusiastic about doing business with them.
Business strategist Daniel Rasmus says that thought leadership “should intrigue, challenge, and inspire even people already familiar with a company. It should help start a relationship where none exists, and it should enhance existing relationships.” True thought leaders are more than just experts — they're influencers. Their perspective and opinions are quoted, sought after, and shared. People want to be affiliated with thought leaders and have business relationships with them.
In his book, The BuyerSphere Project, Gord Hotchkiss lists what he calls the Four Persuasive Benefits of thought leadership. They are the attributes that define thought leaders:
Authority: Thought leaders are trusted experts that people rely on and listen to. Influencers on LinkedIn are a great example.
Social proof: People discuss and seek out thought leaders. They flaunt any affiliation, and quote them to bolster their own image.
Reciprocity: When people learn from thought leaders, they often return the favor, usually by sharing this knowledge with others. Likewise, true thought leaders give back to those who help, teach, or provide something to them. With a "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" mentality, everyone benefits.
Likeability: Thought leaders entertain, make others feel smart, and help solve problems.
These traits are often acquired and exhibited alongside the rest. Demonstrating reciprocity (through a quote in an article or a social media mention) enhances your likeability, which feeds your social proof, which encourages people to share your wisdom, which cements your authority.
Learn More About Content Marketing For Industrial Companies.
Interested in learning more about content marketing and how you can use it to boost sales for your manufacturing or industrial business? Download our free eBook, Content Marketing For Industrial Companies.
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