Coming up with a content marketing strategy that drives sustainable results is no easy feat — especially for manufacturers where there’s a big gap in actionable playbooks and guides. Trial-and-error is far too costly, especially when it can take months to learn whether or not a technique is working for your business.
With our expertise as marketers for manufacturers, we’ve assembled this step-by-step guide, complete with advice on funnels, target personas, content marketing channels, and choosing inbound and outbound tactics that will drive real-world results.
If you’ve been searching for a playbook to help you generate more qualified leads for your manufacturing company without wasting precious resources on the wrong methods and channels, this guide is for you.
Where Most Manufacturers' Content Marketing Goes Wrong
Failure to Differentiate Your Target Audience
The basis of any effective content marketing strategy is content that speaks directly to your target audience. Of course, most manufacturers are targeting a few different personas. For instance, building materials manufacturers may be looking to partner with general contractors, interior designers and DIYers.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make when trying their hand at content marketing is failing to differentiate between their target customers. There will be some overlap across audiences with certain content pieces, but failing to narrow in on a specific persona — and, further, a specific stage in the funnel — will only work against you.
If there’s one thing you should take to heart when delving into content marketing, it’s that you can’t be everything for everyone. All of your articles, landing pages, social media posts and emails need to be hyper-targeted at a specific persona, speaking directly to their pain points at the moment.
Short-Term Vision in Content Organization
As you can imagine, keeping all of these content pieces organized takes a long-term, highly-detailed strategy, and that’s the other place where companies often go wrong. You can’t take it one piece of content at a time — you need to be thinking long-term about who you’re targeting and how you’re rounding out the content funnel.
Underestimating the Complexity of Content Marketing Funnels
When done right, the content you share (especially in the form of articles) will flow into each other with topic clusters, internal links and calls-to-action. This creates a content funnel that is able to drive organic traffic, generate leads and even nurture your prospects as they move from the awareness stage all the way to becoming loyal customers.
If it sounds like a big ask, that’s because it is. Content marketing strategies are extremely intricate, but that’s why you need to spend a great deal of time laying a solid foundation and making sure your approach is future-proof for lasting results.
Developing a Future-Proof Content Marketing Strategy
The most successful content marketers know that effective strategies are built on top of a deep understanding of your industry, competitors and target customers. This research, along with a long-term outlook on the business outcomes you hope to achieve, will help you develop a future-proof plan.
Define Your Content Marketing Goals and Objectives
Content marketing can serve to increase brand awareness, generate leads, foster loyalty and build credibility for your company by positioning you as a thought leader and innovator. With all of that in mind, it’s not uncommon to have multiple objectives in mind when venturing into content marketing, but you still need to clearly define each of them.
When establishing your goals, follow the SMART framework — that means making them specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound. For instance, instead of just hoping to “increase leads” by the end of the year, a building materials manufacturer could make this a SMART goal by making it:
Specific: The company plans to increase leads by publishing authoritative, keyword-centric blog articles at least weekly.
Measurable: The company aims to increase blog traffic by 10% and maintain its current 5% conversion rate.
Attainable: The company has analyzed its current performance and because it has grown its blog by 7% in the past six months, the team believes 10% is reasonable.
Relevant: The company believes this goal is relevant because it is still establishing its online presence and increasing blog traffic will help to increase awareness and leads.
Time-Bound: The company has set a timeline of increasing blog traffic by 10% in the next six months by publishing new content at least weekly.
Setting a SMART goal doesn’t guarantee success, but it puts your team on course to track progress, adjust if that progress isn’t happening and reflect on what could have been done better when the deadline rolls around.
To avoid overwhelming or spreading your resources too thin, attempt to set one short-term goal of 1-3 months, one mid-term goal of 6-12 months, and one long-term goal of 12-24 months. As you meet these goals, new ones should take their place.
Identify Your Target Personas
Audience research is one of the more complex activities you’ll need to invest in to create a future-proof content marketing strategy, but knowing who your audience is, the pain points they’re dealing with, the questions they have and where they like to consume content (among many other things) will give you clear direction.
Some of the ways you can collect accurate and detailed information on your target customers include:
Scouring through data you have about your existing clients
Interviewing your existing customers through phone calls and/or surveys
Reviewing industry trends and reports
Reports that compile information from a wider segment of your target market, as in wider than you can reach by reviewing your own customer base, will prove invaluable in making sure that you’re tapping into all the potential the market has to offer your business.
For example, a building materials manufacturer can turn to a research and trends report on residential builders and discover demographic information, content consumption preferences, pain points, common objections and more. These pre-compiled reports can save you many hours on research, especially if they’re recent.
Establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Great content marketing plans are guided by five to seven key performance indicators (KPIs). These KPIs should represent the metrics that have the most potential of moving your organization toward its vision of success. To be effective, KPIs need to be quantifiable, long-term and able to reflect the overall health of the company from financial to operational achievements.
For content marketing purposes, you should establish both leading and lagging indicators. Leading KPIs help you determine where you’re headed, and lagging KPIs show what you’ve achieved. Both should be measurable on at least a monthly basis using data from your CRM, site analytics, ad campaigns, social media accounts and similar sources.
Here are a few examples of content marketing KPIs for each stage of the funnel:
Awareness: If your goal is to build brand awareness, you might track KPIs like page views, social media engagement and PR features.
Engagement: If your goal is to increase engagement, you might track returning visitors, newsletter signups, newsletter opens and so on.
Action: If your goal is to generate more leads and/or sales, you might track white paper downloads, rankings for your landing pages, conversion rates on your blog and the number of leads who are converting.
Retention: If your goal is to retain your existing customers, you might track how engaged they are with your blog content and/or newsletters, the lifetime customer value and the churn rate.
Choosing the right KPIs is essential, and it’s worth noting that not all metrics are suitable as KPIs. For instance, don’t make the mistake of choosing time on page, bounce rate or scroll depth as KPIs. While these are important indicators of the success of your content marketing efforts, these metrics alone don’t hold enough information to become overarching indicators of performance.
Perform a Content Audit
If you already have a website, blog, newsletter and/or social media accounts established, the last step in the development phase is to conduct a thorough content audit to assess its performance and identify gaps.
During this audit, consider:
Does your current content need to be changed to match your brand and audience personas going forward?
What content pieces should be tuned up to ensure they continue driving results for your company?
What content pieces can be revamped and expanded on to help them become more impactful?
What content should be scrapped due to thinness, lack of relevance, keyboard cannibalization or other reasons?
Evaluating all of your content is important, but you should pay special attention to the performance and rankings of your existing landing pages and blog posts. Don’t be so quick to scrap them and start all over, especially if they are currently driving some organic traffic. Instead, you should prioritize improving them before creating new pieces.
Creating a Content Funnel
Once you start creating content around the pain points of specific personas, you’ll begin to see a trail of information and answers form that aligns with the progression of the customer journey. This is known as the content funnel, and visualizing it is a great way to make sure you’re taking a balanced approach to content marketing.
If you focus too much on top-of-funnel content, like answering questions for those in the awareness stage, you might convince them to move forward with addressing their pain points, but they’ll find that your site lacks any information of substance once they’re ready to take that next step.
On the other hand, if you focus too much on bottom-of-funnel content, you’ll constantly be pitching a quote or consultation to visitors who may not be ready to convert.
Developing content ideas for each stage of the funnel is important to sustainable attracting, capturing and nurturing leads. It’ll also help you address a wide range of needs and objections across your personas. So, what does the buying journey look like and what content can you create to match?
For a building materials manufacturer, the content funnel may include:
Awareness: Podcasts, infographics, how-to articles and other educational content can help prospects in the awareness stage learn. To target an audience of DIYers, for instance, you might offer inspiration and instructions for weekend projects.
Evaluation: Prospects in this stage want to evaluate their options, so they expect to see case studies, testimonials, reports, white papers and other more detailed and specific information. For that DIY audience, a building materials manufacturer might provide free materials calculators and buying guides.
Conversion: As prospects gear up to make a decision, they need explicit information on product offerings, timelines, pricing and availability. This might come in the form of spec sheets or brochures. Those DIYers will expect product comparison tools, custom quotes and even information on manuals, warranties and refund policies to build their confidence.
Retention: Once prospects have become customers, content marketing can be used to keep them happy and increase loyalty. You can do this with direct follow-up, user forums, product tips, tutorials, announcements, surveys and regular updates on how you’re always improving your offerings.
Choosing Content Marketing Channels
When most marketers think of content marketing, they think of inbound methods. These are the techniques that can generate leads on autopilot — like creating high-ranking articles on your site or leveraging your social media followings to reach a wider audience.
Of course, outbound marketing is also an important part of a well-rounded strategy. Outbound tactics might include paid ads on social media websites and/or in search results, along with targeted cold outreach campaigns via email or LinkedIn.
A mix of inbound and outbound tactics, along with utilizing a wide variety of channels, will help you effectively reach your target audience. Still, the key is to make sure you’re focusing on the right areas and not spreading your team too thin.
Here are some channels and some advice on when they may work best for your manufacturing company:
Owned Media Channels: Your website, blog, social media accounts and email list are all examples of owned channels. These cost little to nothing to get in front of, which is why they often form the core of a content marketing strategy. Using other media channels can help you increase the reach of your owned channels.
Paid Media Channels: Search ads, social ads, influencer marketing and retargeting are all examples of how you can use paid channels to extend your reach, stay top of mind for existing customers and re-engage old prospects. These channels are often needed to supplement a content marketing strategy, especially if you’re starting from scratch.
Earned Media Channels: Social shares, third-party reviews, backlinks to your website and mentions in the media are all examples of earned media channels. These extend your reach just like paid media, except they cost your company nothing. They can also build immense credibility for your brand, which is why you should always be working them into your strategy in the form of backlink seeking, guest posting and media relations.
Developing High-Quality Content
Anyone can write an article, but it takes a skilled writer and industry expert to craft something that leaves an impact on readers. You don’t just want to regurgitate information — you want your brand voice to shine through while offering unique insights that position your company as an industry leader.
The difference between a mediocre piece of content and a fantastic one relies heavily on style. Storytelling can be used to engage and inform your audience while painting a picture of a scene or situation that makes them think, “That’s exactly what I need.”
When you write, you should narrow in on your target audience’s goals and current pain points and offer actionable solutions that directly address them. And, in addition to writing well, you need to use visuals and video elements where you can to improve the user experience further.
Optimizing Content for Search Engines
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an art in and of itself. You likely don’t have an SEO expert in-house who has the ability to devote their full work week to optimizing your content, nor is that in the budget for most manufacturers. Fortunately, SEO is one of the most outsourced activities and for good reason — when done right, it truly moves the needle on performance.
Of course, if you don’t have the budget to outsource your SEO needs, you can have one of your marketers or other employees take a crash course and understand the basics. Even conducting a simple website audit will get you light years ahead of where you were previously, and it can get your site ranking a bit better.
There’s no shortage of SEO guides, but some things you can look into right away include:
Implementing on-page best practices
Setting up analytics to track traffic, page speed, and more
Coming up with a keyword-centric content plan
Using optimization tools when writing and publishing
Monitoring your site’s performance and adjusting your SEO plans accordingly
Promoting Your Content
Hitting “publish” might feel great, but you’ll quickly grow frustrated if you think of that as the final step in the content creation process. In reality, even if you have steady website traffic, you need to continuously promote your content in order to reach the right audience.
Some of the best ways to promote your content include:
Sharing direct links on social media
Turning highlights into infographics to share on social media
Including your latest content pieces in your email newsletter
Linking to your past blog posts in your new content pieces
These basic methods are fairly turnkey and very straightforward, allowing you to start organically growing your audience right off the bat. However, if you really want to take your content marketing strategy to the next level, check out the following techniques.
How Manufacturers Can Take Content Marketing To The Next Level
Full-scale content marketing goes beyond planning, creating and sharing content. With a long-term plan, you can start utilizing all sorts of advanced techniques to make the most of your efforts.
Repurpose and Recycle Content
It can take hours to produce a quality blog post, and that can be hard to swallow for manufacturers who don’t have a lot of resources to invest in their content marketing strategy.
While one blog post could potentially generate a lot of traffic and leads for your company, it’s still a huge upfront investment. The good news is, you can greatly increase your chances of turning a good ROI on that investment with content repurposing.
Content repurposing allows you to do the brunt of the work once, say to create a long-form blog post, and then leverage that same effort to end up with a handful of other content pieces in no time. For instance, you can:
Summarize insights from a video or blog post into infographics
Compile blog posts and reports into a long-form guide or white paper
Breakdown guides into an email marketing series
Transcribe videos and use them as the basis for new articles
Repurpose graphics into social media posts
Ultimately, there are endless ways to repurpose your new and existing content, allowing you to stretch your resources further. You can also recycle content by taking a piece targeted at one persona and adapting it to fit another, saving you immense amounts of time.
Leverage Marketing Automation and AI
Stretching resources is important, which is one reason why content repurposing has truly taken off, but it’s essential that you never cut corners when it comes to quality. Marketing automation tools and AI can help you ensure that you’re making the most of the resources available to you without skimping on your strategy.
Some of the key applications for marketing automation in your content marketing workflow include:
Auditing your website for SEO improvements that you can make, along with opportunities for internal links within your content
Idea generation, especially when it comes to blog post concepts, subject lines, catchy titles and even basic outlines
Proofreading and editing content to avoid grammar errors and find opportunities for improvement
Your workflows themselves can also become more connected and streamlined with the help of MA platforms like Zapier, IFTTT and Hubspot. These tools are designed to simplify your processes across areas like collaboration, social media management, publishing and more, putting time back into your team’s day.
Collaborate with Industry Experts and Influencers
Partnering up with industry experts and influencers can add credibility to your brand and help you get in front of a wider audience. While these collaborations are often paid, which may not be in your budget right now, they’re a worthy contender for your long-term strategy.
Before going all-in with a new partnership, be certain that you understand the demographics of that person or company’s audience and their engagement rates. You should also ensure that your values align before teaming up.
Double Down on User-Generated Content
User-generated content (UGC) just as it sounds: It’s content that users have created on their own and put onto the web. It can be tough to encourage the creation of UGC content, especially in the manufacturing space, but that simply makes it all the more valuable.
Some of the ways you can encourage the creation of UGC (and find it once it's out there) include establishing branded hashtags, running hashtag campaigns, using monitoring tools to get notified of brand mentions and kicking off a contest on social media.
Incentivizing users with the promise of free products or partnering with a charity are popular ways to elicit audience participation.
Measuring Content Marketing Success
As you move forward with your content marketing strategy, don’t forget the importance of actively utilizing your KPIs to continuously gauge the effectiveness of your efforts.
Leading KPIs will help you set benchmarks and ensure you’re staying on track while lagging KPIs can help you decide how to adjust course as you’re moving. All the analytics available to you beyond KPIs, like your website analytics, will also prove vital in informing your next moves as you go along.
More than anything, recognize that your content marketing strategy is going to have to be adjusted as you make decisions. Straying from your strategy is normal, but what matters is that you’re adjusting that strategy and committing those revised plans to paper instead of scrapping the plan altogether.
By making calculated moves and measuring the results, your company can be on track to driving sustainable growth in no time. If you need help, why not speak with the building materials marketing experts at Venveo? Book a strategy call today to learn more.