I recently attended my fifth Inbound conference in Boston. It had about 30,000 attendees this year. And some exciting lessons, insights, and innovations happening in the world of inbound marketing, sales, and service were shared.
I also recently read three fairly new Inbound books published by HubSpot: Inbound PR, Inbound Selling, and Inbound Content. I’d like to share some of what I, as a HubSpot partner agency owner, inbound consultant, and graduate from a top-ranked journalism program, view as some key takeaways for you to take into consideration for your manufacturing or distribution company's 2020 content marketing strategy.
The Big Picture - Develop a Growth Marketing Mentality
Let’s start with a great quote: “Growth marketing is a blend of marketing, sales, customer success, support, and any other division or operation within your organization.” What does that mean? Too often only one department (marketing) is held responsible for the growth of a company, but it really takes everyone to make those changes happen. And strategic content has become an integral piece of any growth strategy.
So how can you start creating compelling content that drives real business growth? It isn’t always easy, but there are some processes and guidelines you can use to make it a little less of a mystery and therefore, more doable.
Think Like a Journalist
There’s a reason why HubSpot had award-winning journalist Katie Couric speak at this year’s conference. Storytelling is a key component in content marketing. And so are many other aspects of journalism, like being seen as a credible authority in your niche to build trust, not just being seen as someone who sells a product or service.
Here are some general and well-known journalism best practices you can incorporate in your manufacturing businesses’ marketing, an industry where these tactics are overall not (yet) standard and widely adopted:
1) Tell compelling stories. Facts are often boring by themselves and don’t tell the whole “story,” no pun intended. Explain who your company is, what the products are, which problems they solve, who your customers are, and so on, but in a creative way. This will be more enjoyable information to consume and also therefore, more memorable than if you were to just relay the straight facts and figures. There’s an old saying that “it’s not what you say, but how you say it.” The meaning of that is a little different here but it definitely still applies and sums the point up well.
On a similar note, humanizing something can go a long way. For example, featuring customers in videos. This is very similar to a reporter taking one person’s story to humanize something like an epidemic going on that is affecting many people.
2) Aim to educate. Know what concerns your prospects and lead with your audience’s needs, not your own. Journalists do this naturally by focusing on educating the public on the beat they are covering like state politics, public schools, or court cases. They build a brand for themselves by focusing on educating their target audience on their focus area, reporting accurately on it on a regular basis, engaging with their readers or viewers to make them feel heard, and identifying areas of concern for future stories.
A good, straight-forward example of how to do this right in the business world is Joanna Gaines’ (another conference speaker) Homebody book that guides readers through designing and decorating their own homes. This is a helpful resource that starts to form a relationship with a potential eCommerce, store, or real estate customer by helping that person first and foremost. It gets the reader’s attention, helps Gaines and her brands stand out, and builds trust.
Granted it’s not free, and it’s a hardcover printed book, but the same concept applies to downloadable ebooks, whitepapers, and other quality content that helps its readers solve relevant problems across many industries.
Deeper product or service information that helps someone who is in the final stage of their buying journey can definitely also be incorporated into content marketing, such as demo videos, brochures, and product specification sheets. Best Buy has some really great videos on their appliance product pages that help communicate and provide a lot of value to the consumer, for example. This just should not be the only type of content that manufacturers and related companies provide these days.
3) Why you? Communicate why you’re the authority over your competitors. Establish and maintain credibility by offering accurate, informative content, listing your industry awards, and sharing customer reviews.
4) Listen. Seek out information on various platforms such as TV news, print publications like industry trade magazines, and relevant websites such as competitors' and associations' blogs, Google alerts, and social media. This can help you keep your content relevant, newsworthy, and different from what others are already saying, therefore helping your business stand out and add something new to the conversation.
In addition to that, you should connect with your customers and prospects through those same diversified channels to attract new people on different mediums, while focusing most on the ones with the highest engagement and largest reach or potential reach. Reporters do this by publishing and making connections via the web including social media, print publications, and/or broadcast TV. Your company can do the same thing to expand its reach.
5) Personalize. Instead of having emails and other communications sent from the company name, have them come from individuals’ names and establish those people as thought leaders, not just the company as a whole. Again, this is very similar to reporters owning a beat or a specific journalist telling a story on the news. It’s not a blank screen with graphics sharing the story. It’s a person.
I did this with AMA DFW’s emails by sending emails from my name instead of from the organization when I was the EVP of Membership. My team and I also segmented the lists and modified the communications to be the most relevant to the recipients. These communication strategies led to a significant increase in email engagement and new prospective members at orientation events, among other successes.
Develop Researched Personas
Know your audience. In order to best solve problems for your target audience, you need to understand them. Otherwise, all the content that took so much work to create could all be wasted on off-base efforts. This is the most important part of content marketing and should be done first. Develop researched personas and keep them at the forefront of your mind as you work on marketing campaigns. You should understand who they are, what their relevant challenges typically are, how your company can typically solve them, and more.
Think Long Term
What content are you publishing tomorrow, next week, or next quarter? Planning content allows you to stay organized and avoid a lack of new content or repeats of old content. According to Justin Champion’s Inbound Content, planning ahead also allows readers to take an organized journey as they interact with your brand. You should create a content promotion calendar to help organize this journey. This organized approach can also reduce your stress when things change, which is bound to happen.
This shift in approach to editorial planning was one of my favorite things I learned when I worked at BergdorfGoodman.com as a site merchandiser. Being able to plan content months in advance is an amazing phenomenon for those of us who have lived the opposite. The sweet spot is planning months in advance while staying abreast of relevant developments so content can be tweaked as necessary to be the most relevant and have the greatest impact.
Coming up with a variety of (*not terrible*) potential story ideas quickly is a HUGE part of journalism. People do not typically sit there dishing out ideas for you to implement, whether you are starting out or at one of the top networks or publications. So brainstorming topics is something anyone with a journalism degree or who has worked in a newsroom is typically very good at. Budgets for longer-form journalism, like multi-part series or deep investigative dives, are pretty hard to come by. So editorial planning is often not planned out as far in the news as it can be for business communications, especially when you’re planning educational content for a company's website.
Use the James Webb Young Technique for Producing Ideas
Once you have your personas developed and you have committed to creating a content plan and calendar, it’s time to start brainstorming ideas and formats for your content. But brainstorming is a process. Here are the main points of the James Webb Young technique that Champion cites to help streamline the brainstorming process:
- Gather raw material.
- Digest the material.
- Use unconscious processing.
- Reach the eureka moment.
- Bring ideas to life.
When I heard the Former Head of Innovation & Creative at Disney, Duncan Wardle, speak at the Industrial Supply Association’s conference in Houston this spring, he asked everyone when they have their best ideas. Of course, people responded with answers like when they’re in the shower, running, or driving. This process explains why that is. And once you know what the process is, it becomes a little easier to repeat it and generate more good ideas. It’s not just a coincidence that you probably get your best ideas while doing a monotonous, brainless task that allows for unconscious processing. There’s actually a method to the madness that explains it! So go take a hike - and you might come up with some ideas or connect some dots that you hadn't before.
Don’t Treat Promotion as an Afterthought
Creating content isn’t enough. With so much competition online and in general these days, “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply anymore. You have to get your content in front of the right people. A great way to do this is with targeted social media advertising. If you aren’t already using social media for marketing, you need to start now. Social media is no longer “nice to have.” It is a “have to have” for success in the current landscape.
Studies show people often go to social media first before visiting a website, and Instagram is the fastest growing social media platform. Here are a few facts I learned at Inbound 2019 during a session about Instagram from one of the founders of a leading video editor, Animoto, that are worth keeping in mind:
- 200 million people visit at least one Instagram business profile each day.
- Instagram stories are a great way to engage and stand out. A third of the most-viewed Instagram stories are from businesses.
- Instagram viewers are 64% more likely to make a purchase after watching a business’s video.
You might be thinking that Instagram is too trendy for your business and is just for millennials. To that, I dare you to check out your competitors’ profiles on Instagram and take a look at how much engagement you see happening. Many manufacturers and distributors are hopping on this channel like crazy because it is such a perfect fit for showing amazing photos, videos, and other imagery in a fun, engaging way to help them stand out.
Related to that, most businesses know they need at least a Facebook account. Here are a few relevant and popular hacks that renowned Facebook expert Mari Smith reiterated at the conference:
- Create custom audiences made up of people who have visited your company’s website to target with ads.
- Target lookalike audiences. These are people who appear to be similar to those who have already liked your businesses’ page.
- Keep your videos to 15 seconds long.
Looking ahead, Smith noted Facebook’s Founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is said to be keeping a close eye on China’s WeChat and TikTok apps, and that Facebook’s scrolling news feed might look very different at some point.
Extend the Value of Your Content Through Repurposing
Repurposing content makes your job easier, as noted in Champion’s book. It can also increase its reach, among other things. So before you begin planning content, if you are not starting from ground zero you should do an audit of what your company currently has to work with. Once you begin planning, think of ways to repurpose old content and maximize those efforts.
One common example is instead of just sharing a premium content offer like a guide on promotional channels, create a few blogs that pull some information from the guide as well. Then maximize that content even further by including links to other relevant content already published on the site within those blogs.
It’s also noted in his book that if posting a full blog or other content that’s already published on another site, or vice versa, be sure to use canonical tags to avoid having the two pieces of content compete for rankings and cause confusion with search engines.
Did you come across some ideas you think you might want to incorporate into your marketing plan for next year? But maybe you are feeling a little overwhelmed at this point and could use some help making it all happen?
I would love to hear what your growth goals are and work together to craft a customized content plan that can help you get there. Get in touch for a consultation by calling 214-937-9521 or by submitting an inquiry online. I look forward to helping you reach your goals with the right content strategy!
Posted by Jackie Connors
Jackie Connors is the Founder & CEO of Digital Marketing Direction, a top-tiered HubSpot Solutions Partner agency based in Texas. She provides inbound training, consulting, and content marketing services to mid-market companies.