We talk a lot about digital marketing on this show. Okay, it’s all we talk about, along with the value it brings. But that doesn’t mean you have to take our word for it. Listen to this manufacturer talk about why content and digital marketing are almost all they need to run a nationwide business.
More About This Show
The Smarter Building Materials Marketing podcast helps industry professionals find better ways to grow leads, sales and outperform the competition. It’s designed to give insight on how to create a results-driven digital marketing strategy for companies of any size.
In this episode, Zach and Beth talk to Mike Foti, self-described Digital Marketing Geek at Innovate Building Solutions, about how they’ve built a business with a nationwide footprint using low-cost digital marketing tactics.
Find Your Geek
Mike Foti is the DMG, Digital Marketing Geek, at Innovate Building Solutions (he’s also, more officially, the President). As he puts it, his job is to be the visionary, aware not only of what’s up and coming for his business but also what is up and coming in the world of digital marketing.
Mike may not be the obvious choice for this role. As he puts it, “Even though I'm not a 29-year-old, and I don't play a millennial on TV either, I guide our digital program.” He is responsible for engaging with Innovate Building Solutions’s customers, whether through blogging or in-person events.
But Zach wants to know more about this “visionary” role: “I'm interested to hear how you're keeping a pulse and what resources you're looking at and what avenues you're gathering that information and inspiration from.”
Mike admits to being an avid learner. Whether he’s working or driving, he loves listening to podcasts. He’s also an avid blog follower and supplements his digital learning with in-person trade shows and forums like the International Builders Show.
Yes, You Should Still Blog
Mike is clearly passionate about his subject matter, which has been a passion project for him for a long time. “A number of years ago, a marketing company that we dealt with said, ‘Oh I think you should blog.’” He did, and it didn’t take long before he started to see results.
“Originally the blog was small in relation to my website. And then, eventually, the blog became the same amount of traffic as my website, and now the blog has three and a half times the traffic.”
Not only does the blog drive significant traffic to the Innovate Building Solutions website, but Mike can post all the content he wants for free. As an independent business with a limited budget for search engine ranking, pay-per-click ads or print advertisement, blogging helps companies like Mike’s building a web presence without spending a lot of money.
Blogging for Hype
Blogging also gives manufacturers a chance to build hype and demand for their products, and to pivot easily as building trends change. Mike talks about some of his experience where the company’s more traditional products were stagnating, so he used the opportunity to highlight new up-and-coming products instead.
“We didn’t even have the material in the country. I promoted it so much that one woman left a blog comment where she said something like, ‘Hey Mike, you need to cough up the goods. Quit writing about this stuff. I want to see the product.’”
Creating demand like that, before a product even hits the shelves, is every manufacturer’s dream, and it didn’t cost Mike anything more than his time to build up that demand. “Our growth of this product line ... I don't think would have happened without having the digital channels.”
Network Network Network
The challenge many marketers face when they start blogging is driving traffic. If no one knows your blog is out there, how can you leverage it to gain customers?
Beth asks Mike, “You mentioned a couple of things that you aren't doing or didn't do to gain traffic. You didn't do a ton of ads on Google, you didn't do very expensive print publications. So how did you acquire so much traffic on your blogs? What were you doing to promote it?”
The answers may surprise you.
Number one, Mike admits it’s a team effort. Blog content is sliced and diced and repurposed to be shared on other platforms. One of his favorite social media channels is Pinterest, which is not always the first channel to come to mind in the building materials space.
“Most people think of Pinterest as, ‘Hey, I'm going out there for a cookie recipe or to buy a wedding dress.’ They don't think of building materials and Pinterest, but we've had great success because Pinterest is a visual network. Building products are also visual.”
He says, “Consumers need to be inspired. And once they think it's cool, they'll click on an article and then they'll begin to learn.” Pair your blog post with a smart lead magnet, and now a customer eager to learn has become a subscriber. Building that email list is critical for building product manufacturers, where lead times can be long.
Have a Conversation
Mike says, “We've found that content marketing and generating an email list and really building a relationship with people really matters. Because the reality is, I think when you go to a website for building products, I'd say 98% of the people are not ready to buy.”
While many building materials websites are equipped with buttons for customers to push when they want to request a quote or talk to a customer service rep, often leads aren’t at the point of buying, but only looking for education.
“They're really in an information-gathering situation. And so I look at content marketing really as education that sets up future sales.”
By filling up the top and middle of the sales funnel, and positioning themselves as a trusted resource, a company with a high-quality blog and lead magnets engages the customer in an ongoing conversation, which builds trust and makes sure they’re top of mind when it’s finally time to make a purchasing decision.
How successful is this strategy?
For their nationwide products, Innovate Building Solutions relies almost fully on digital marketing, particularly blogging, email lists and social media for signal boosting.
As Mike puts it, “We don't have a sales force that flies around the country and knocks on doors. We are driven by digital marketing to generate leads. Our strategy is really very blog-centric.”
Know Your Numbers
All of this is well and good, but how far has Mike been able to take this strategy?
With over 23,000 organically-generated names on his email list, it’s safe to say this strategy is working.
“Even though we're a regional company, we have 96% of our traffic into the site that is nationwide today.” While many of Innovate Building Solutions’s are only available regionally, potential customers are still opting in to receive content and those are leads that could convert to sales in the event that distribution grows.
But Mike acknowledges driving these kinds of numbers is a commitment. “The challenge with content development or blogging is it takes a consistent, disciplined approach.” And the results aren’t immediate. With pay-per-click ads, vendors can see immediately which ads are working and which aren’t. Bloggers need to take a longer view when measuring their success.
“It's not going to happen overnight. So I think most people give up way before they get results or don't learn maybe how to get better results. They give up before it starts paying off.”
Advice for New Bloggers
It may seem overwhelming for companies who are just starting to get into blogging. Putting out regular content and waiting for a long-term payoff make it hard to stick with the regime.
Mike has some suggestions for building content that speaks to your market. The first is to make sure your blog has a voice.
“The key is to be uniquely you. It's the authenticity of who that person is. No matter how wacky you are. For me, what I would hope is that if people read my blogs and if they met me in real life, they'd say, well, you're the same wacky dude on your blogs, right? You're the same guy.”
Many new bloggers, in an effort to come across as an authority, tend to adopt a very dry tone of voice, or as Mike describes it, “Just the facts, ma’am.” But creating a recognizable and approachable brand helps build that sense of relationship that digital marketers are hoping to achieve.
The other thing Mike hopes bloggers will remember is that it doesn’t matter if the first attempts at content marketing aren’t award-winning. “In the beginning, it actually doesn't matter because nobody's seeing the stuff anyway because we haven't built anything up. So you’ve got nothing to lose because, at the beginning, you're kind of all alone.”
And he has a unique recommendation for those just starting out who are looking for support. Beyond the wealth of books, websites and courses on how to blog effectively, he recommends you reach out to an unexpected source: other partners in the building materials space.
“One of the challenges I see with manufacturers today is many of them are very provincial and siloed. So one of the things that I would tell them is, if possible, to first make sure to include your dealer or your distribution channel into that marketing effort. It could be sharing good things those dealers are doing and what they're learning and trying to include them in the process.”
Not only does this approach create buy-in and stronger relationships with channel partners, but it can also be leveraged as a learning opportunity, particularly if you cast the net a little wider.
“Connect with somebody that is another manufacturer but not a competitor that you think is doing a bang-up job. Go out to LinkedIn and find out who their main marketing person is and connect. Say, ‘Hey, you know, we're not getting the results. You guys are cleaning up. Would you be willing to share with me what you've learned?’”
Without the specter of competition, you might be surprised how many people are willing to share a little time and expertise.
Got a Question?
If you have questions about how to take your blogging efforts to the next level, let us know! Shoot us an email at [email protected] with all of your questions.