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Three Keys to Mastering the Early Buy Cycle Stages

 You might have very little contact with customers during the early needs analysis/research stages of their buy cycle, yet the early buy cycle is critically important to your marketing and business success.

Research has shown that only 41% of technical professionals contact a vendor in the early stage of their buy cycle. The conclusion is that the majority of buyers are relying on digital resources to discover and research information about products, services, and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved. In order to win business, you must be found in the early stages of the buy cycle, provide exceptional content, and advance your relationship with these buyers. Here’s how to master these three imperatives.

Get Found Early
To be discovered by customers early, you must build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most often in the early buy cycle stages. General search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs, and industry-specific search engines and information resources such as Engineering360.com are the most popular digital channels for engineers and technical buyers early in the buy cycle.

If you diversify your presence across these channels, you will be able to build brand awareness and visibility as well as accommodate personal preferences among technical professionals for different digital resources. Also consider advertising in industry e-newsletters or posting banner ads across a network of industrial websites. Such diversification can help you make a positive first impression on potential customers. If your company name comes up when engineers begin their search, it’s only natural that they gravitate toward you. Your widespread visibility in itself instills a sense of expertise and fosters trust.

Provide Exceptional Content
In the early stages of the buy cycle, your audience is actively searching for content that will help them advance along their buying journey. They want to compare different approaches to solving their problem, discover new products and technologies, understand how a technical process works, and identify vendors who meet their criteria. At this stage, it’s all about being useful and relevant to potential customers. They’re not ready for pricing quotes and hard selling. Your goal is to get on their short list by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. Do this by keeping content educational in nature.

It’s important to have a content strategy so you can keep up a steady stream of white papers, webinars, videos, web pages, articles, blog posts, newsletters, and more that will help satisfy your prospects’ hunger for content. Creating buyer personas, which are overarching profiles of your customers, can help you create content targeted for different customer types.

Advance Your Relationship
Picture your target customer in the early stages of his buy cycle: an engineer or other technical professional conducting searches, reading articles, watching videos, and visiting websites. And your company is highly visible through a strong online presence and highly relevant to them due to the exceptional content you provide. Now you must nudge your prospect to the next stage, and you do this by converting them.

Conversion is the act of capturing enough contact information that you can begin a relationship. It could be as little as an email address for your prospect. Remember that they are still in the early stages of their buy cycle and are unlikely to be willing to fill out long forms. But that doesn’t mean you can’t put a number of “premium” pieces of content behind a gate that’s relatively easy for your audience to open. For example, analyst reports, primary research or eBooks might be considered premium content, and if you promote their benefits, a prospect should be willing to give you their email address or other information in order to access the content.

Therefore, you should always give prospects an opportunity to convert and your team an opportunity to begin a nurturing relationship that could lead to a sale. One of the best and least disruptive ways to do this is to offer freely accessible content on a web page, but also offer something beyond—that extra value that’s worth a prospect filling out a brief form to access. You’re still working with a prospect that’s in the early stages of their buy cycle, but also one who is moving along the path and is keeping your company on its short list of potential vendors.

Even though most technical professionals won’t contact you until later in their buy cycle, a lot of your business can be won in the early stages by building a digital presence, offering relevant content, and giving prospects a chance to engage. If you don’t have a strong early cycle marketing effort, you’ll never know how many potential customers you might have missed.

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Checklist: Is Your Email Copy Helping or Hurting Conversion Rates?

 You probably have measurable conversion goals for your marketing emails. For example: download a white paper, register for a webinar, watch a video, complete a survey, enter to win a contest, and so on.

While email design, graphics, and sending date/time all influence conversion rates, the single most important factor determining success is copy. Your copy carries your message, tone, personality, and style. It announces your call to action. It broadcasts your benefits. Strong copy will increase your conversation rate; weak copy will hurt it. Sometimes it’s that simple.

Here are five ways your copy could be helping your email conversion rates—and five ways it could be hurting them.

Helping
1. Appeal to the interests of your audience.
The first rule of copywriting: Know what your audience wants and give it to them. If you are writing to engineers, focus your copy on their concerns. They are trying to solve problems, improve designs, increase efficiency, find the right components. If you’re writing to executives, you might focus your copy on economic messages and return on investment.

2. Create a sense of urgency.
There’s nothing like the sense of time running out to get people to take action. Phrases such as: Only one week left to register for the webinar; the first 50 respondents get a free sample; the trial period ends in 30 days. You get the idea. It’s easy to put off taking action, unless you give your audience a reason to make a decision quickly.

3. Vary your calls to action.
Even within a single email, you should write your call to action in different ways, whether the words appear on a button or in plain text. That’s because people respond differently to different language suggestions. What works for some may not work for others. For example, here are three different ways to word the call to action for the same offer: Download your complimentary copy; Click here for your white paper; Get the report today. Notice that each of them includes an action verb: download; click; get.

4. Keep your copy short and to the point.
While you don’t want to sacrifice meaning, and of course you’re a great writer, you do want to keep your copy concise and on point. Technical professionals are busy; they will scan your email to pick up important, relevant information. The great mystery writer Elmore Leonard had this advice to writers: leave out the boring parts. You should too.

5. Make the email come from someone.
This tip refers to two things. It’s better to use an individual’s name than a company name in the ‘from’ line of the email, or even something like ‘Brian Jones at Company Name’. But also consider writing the body copy as if it were coming from this individual. This helps you write more personally and conversationally, and helps develop rapport and trust with your audience. Don’t forget a signature at the end.

Hurting
1. Insider language loaded with jargon.
Every industry has its own terms that professionals understand, but you should perform an audience analysis to make sure your reader knows what you’re talking about. Stay away from terms that you use only internally, keep industry jargon to a minimum, and spell out any acronyms you use. An email your reader doesn’t understand is an email quickly headed for the recycling bin.

2. Long blocks of copy.
If any paragraph is more than three or four lines, it’s too long. If any sentence is longer than three lines, it’s too long. Long sentences and paragraphs are visually intimidating and difficult to read. Revise copy into shorter chunks. Use bulleted lists. Add sub-headlines.

3. Sales-oriented copy.
Your audience is looking for useful, educational information that will help them do their jobs better, not a hard sell. If your copy is too sales-oriented and pushes your customers to make a buying decision before they’re ready, you may lose conversions. It’s fine to sell your offer of a white paper or webinar, but do so by promoting benefits. Marketing emails that try to aggressively sell products in the B2B space typically fail.

4. When it’s about you.
“Our company is the first . . . We offer the only . . . Our products are better than . . . We are the market leader in . . .” Guess what? Your audience doesn’t care. Don’t write copy about your company and products. Write copy about how you understand your audience’s needs and can help fulfill them.

5. Mistakes.
Grammar police here. We’re watching and we care. Grammatical and usage errors, misspellings, typos and factual errors not only hurt your conversion rates, they do harm to your company’s reputation. If I can’t trust a company to write clean, mistake-free copy, can I trust them enough to give them my business? Seemingly small errors can have large consequences. Have someone proofread all email copy before you hit the send button.

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Five Compelling Reasons Webinars Belong in Your Marketing Mix

 In this digital era, there’s no shortage of online channels and tactics for industrial marketers to connect with their target audience of technical professionals. But one tactic that’s been effectively used almost from the dawn of digital marketing is webinars—and webinars are still going strong. Here are five compelling reasons why webinars should be an important part of your marketing mix.

1. Statistics Support the Appeal of Webinars
According to the Content Marketing Institute, 61% of B2B marketers are using webinars/webcasts for marketing in 2015 and survey respondents report that webinars are the second most effective B2B marketing tactic. In addition, the research and advisory firm Outsell in its “Annual Advertising and Marketing Study 2015: B2B Advertising” reported that webinars have increased by 10.4% in the overall B2B marketing mix in the last year and that marketers are increasing their investments in webinars by 19%.

The increased investments in webinars align with the behavior of technical professionals who find value in attending webinars and other online events. Such events are convenient to attend for engineers who prefer to be in their office and at their desks and who may not have the budget or time to attend in-person events. According to the IHS Engineering360 “Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector” research report, seven out of ten technical professionals attended at least one webinar or online event in the past year. Thirty-two percent said they went to four or more.

2. Webinars Can Help Achieve Many Objectives
You can achieve many objectives with webinars. For example: showcase new products and emerging technologies; provide education and training; share product demonstrations on manufacturing processes; strengthen your thought leadership positioning; promote successful case studies; and more.

In addition, webinars can be more robust, interactive, and compelling than ever before, thanks to advances in technology and near ubiquitous broadband networks. You can collect valuable data from attendees by asking poll questions during the webinar, then display and discuss the poll results in real-time. You can also have an interactive question and answer period at the end of your presentation—or at any time during the event. You can embed video in the webinar. All of these capabilities help you to capture and hold the attention of your audience.

Webinar platforms and partners also offer easy registration capabilities, email reminders, post-webinar follow-ups, and other features to help increase registration, attendance, and audience satisfaction.

3. Webinars Offer Exceptional Engagement Opportunities
Technical professionals who take time out of their busy work schedules to attend your webinar are motivated. They have a special interest in the topic you are presenting. They have questions they want answered. Webinars allow you to control the message, yet still interact with your audience in ways that are helpful to them.

Plus, attendees can be anywhere—there are no geographical boundaries or limitations with webinars, helping you extend your market reach. And you have contact information of attendees from when they registered. This gives you an excellent opportunity to engage a motivated audience and to follow up with them afterwards to build a mutually beneficial business relationship.

4. Webinars Keep on Giving
The real-time, interactive nature of webinars offers a number of benefits, yet webinars continue to provide benefits after the live event is past. You can post archived webinars on your website to be viewed by those who missed the event or may not have known about it. Again, you can collect contact information. You can also post webinars on YouTube or other video-sharing sites. Or repurpose webinar content into articles, white papers, blog posts, or other content formats.

5. You Can Partner with Experts for Custom Webinars
No one denies that webinars require a lot of work to be successful —from choosing a topic, to creating the presentation and script, to promoting your event, to registering and reminding your audience, to having capabilities to host the webinar, to following up with opportunities post-event.

Many industrial marketers are now working with partners such as IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions on webinar programs. You can maintain a strong brand presence while getting help with content creation, promotion, reaching a broader audience beyond your own list, attendee registration and tracking, platform capabilities, reporting, archiving, and more. The result will be a polished, professional, and relevant webinar, while also giving you more time to focus on integrating webinars into your overall marketing strategy and efforts. For more information on custom webinar services from IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions, click here.

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Seven Steps to Cleaning Up Your Social Media Presence

 Many industrial companies got started with social media by having dedicated employees with social media skills experiment with various platforms—LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and others. There might not have been an overall strategy or vision attached to social media efforts. Some social media accounts may have languished, while others stayed active. In addition, other people in your company might have opened new accounts: customer service started their own, an executive or two took to Twitter, human resources began recruiting on LinkedIn.

You can see how easy it might be to end up spread out on social media, with no centralized control or guiding strategy. It’s time to change that. With social media having established itself in the industrial sector, your company needs a unified social media strategy, a consistent brand and a relevant message. Here’s how you can clean up your social media accounts and get the most out of your social media efforts.

1. Perform an Audit
The first thing to do is take control by identifying and documenting all of your social media profiles, both official and unofficial. The easy ones to find are your official company page on Facebook or LinkedIn. But did you try out Instagram once and never return? Start a YouTube channel and then forgot about it?

Look also for unofficial accounts by performing a general search for your brand on all the major social networks. You might find accounts that have been set up by well-meaning employees or even by rogues and spammers.

2. Check Your Social Media Strategy & Goals
Once you’ve compiled a list of all social media profiles associated with your company, see how each one fits with your social media strategy and goals. Are you trying to build thought leadership, get the most followers possible, interact with customers and prospects, or generate engagement opportunities? Ask how each existing account fits in with your goals, and prune out the ones that are not essential.

3. Understand How Your Audience Values Social Media
How does your social media presence align with the way your customers and prospects use social media? For example, LinkedIn is the most popular social media outlet with 66 percent of engineers and technical professionals maintaining an account the platform, according to the IHS Engineering360 research report, “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector.” For technical professionals researching a work-related purchase, Google+ and LinkedIn ranked highest in value of all social media platforms. Facebook, SlideShare and Twitter have the least value.

4. Choose the Accounts to Keep
Based on steps 1-3 above, you can decide which social media profiles you should keep active and which you should close down. If you have followers for some of the accounts being closed, you will need to notify them and ask them to follow a different account. Some social media platforms, such as Facebook, offer the ability to merge accounts and pages that you manage.

5. Identify Your Social Media Team
Depending on the size of your company and available resources, your social media team might be one person or it might be a cross-functional team of people. You’ll need to know who’s on the team and what role each person will play. It’s also a good time to determine login credentials and permission levels for the various social media accounts. You probably don’t want a free-for-all when it comes to posting social media updates. If you don’t have a set of guidelines for social media publishing, now is the time to create one, to help ensure inappropriate content is not publicly posted and that all published content is aligned with your social media goals.

6. Update All Profiles
Time to freshen up. Banners and backgrounds don’t have to be the same on every social media account, but they should complement each other and work with your brand. Make sure company descriptions are clear, consistent and offer value to your audience. Don’t just describe your company—give people a reason to follow you, such as promising tips & tricks, or a new how-to article every week.

Fill out all the fields on your profiles. Update bios and photos of contributors. Check all links to other pages (also check the links on social sharing buttons on your website).

7. Consider Using a Social Media Management Tool
If you’re making a commitment to cleaning up your social media presence and plan to integrate social media with your other marketing efforts, you might want to use a social media management tool to plan and schedule posts across platforms, track followers and monitor your results. There are a number of tools available to help you with this task, based on your individual social media needs.

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Segment Your Audience for Better Results

 Email marketing continues to be an effective tactic in the industrial sector, and one reason is that marketers are becoming skilled at segmenting their audience. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all email promotions or newsletters. Today’s digitally sophisticated and busy technical professional, whose inbox overflows every day, has no time for emails there aren’t relevant to them.

There are three core reasons for segmenting your audience:

1. Not all customers are the same. Even if your company makes only one product, you likely have various types of customers for that product who have different reasons for buying. For example, you might have end users of the product whose motivation is to solve a problem. You also might have economic buyers who are concerned with return on investment in the purchase. Some buyers are motivated by your company’s reputation. Others by warranty or customer support. If your company has multiple product lines, the need for segmentation is that much greater.

2. Buyers are in different stages of their buy cycle. Buyers in the early needs awareness and research stages of their buy cycle have different informational needs than those ready to make a purchase decision. The former are looking for more general, educational information on how to solve their problem and which vendors and products are potential candidates, while the latter might be looking for technical specifications, policies, and pricing.

3. Your results will improve. It’s common knowledge that segmenting your audience can help you get better open and click rates on your email campaigns. Research from the email service provider MailChimp found that segmented campaigns produced 14% higher open rates than non-segmented campaigns and 55% higher clicks. The reason is relevance. Your audience will pay more attention to messages that are directed specifically toward their interests and needs.

Ways to Segment Your Audience
Unless you’re splitting your list in two in order to conduct A/B testing (which isn’t really segmenting, it’s testing various components of your campaign), you can segment your audience only based on information you have available in your database. Also, it’s only worth segmenting your audience if you can deliver highly relevant content to each segment you create—content marketing and audience segmentation go hand in hand.

So what type of information do you have on your audience that might help you create logical and effective segments? Here are just a few examples, listed from simple to more complex:

• Customers vs. prospects. This is likely the easiest segmentation to create, and their needs are clearly distinct from each other.
• Purchased products or expressed interest. Current customers can be segmented by which product(s) they’ve already purchased from your company. Prospects can be segmented by the product(s) they’ve inquired about.
• Location. Customers located in different geographic markets may different needs, especially if your products have any seasonality to them or have differences based on different specifications and standards used in different countries.
• Business demographics (sometimes called firmographics). Information such as industry (SIC Codes), organization type, number of employees, and other data might make useful segments for your company. You can purchase business demographics from third parties and have them appended to your lists.
• Buyer personas. You might create buyer personas describing the needs, influences, buying triggers, and other attributes to better understand the types of customers you have and then segment your contacts by persona.
• Stage of buy cycle. Is your audience conducting research, comparing vendors, or ready to make a purchasing decision?
• Online behavior. Segments based on what pages a prospect has visited, where they’ve registered, what they’ve clicked on or downloaded.

Several of these criteria for creating segments require your ability to track customers and prospects and collect information from them. For example, you can ask questions about their interests, needs, buying time frame, and other attributes using online registration forms or surveys. You would need marketing automation software to track their online behavior and add the data to their record. A good email marketing service provider will offer tools allowing you to create segmented lists based on information you have on a customer or prospect.

The more sophisticated you get in creating segments, the more personalized and relevant you can become in your marketing efforts to each segment. There’s likely a “segmentation sweet spot” for your company that is defined by a combination of your marketing goals and your segmentation capabilities. Find the spot that’s right for you, and you’ll achieve better results from your email and other marketing efforts.

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Connect with Prospects at all Stages of their Buy Cycle

 The digital era has dramatically altered your customers’ buying cycle. In B2B markets, the term “buy cycle,” which presumes the customer is in control of the process, has largely supplanted the term “sales cycle,” which implies the vendor maintains control.

Buyers have so much control now, and such broad access to comprehensive information online, that the majority of them do not initiate contact with a vendor until they have completed the early needs awareness and research stages of their buy cycle. Some even wait until the consideration and comparison or even the procurement stages to contact a vendor. IHS Engineering360 survey data supports this conclusion: 56% of industrial buyers don’t contact a vendor until they’ve already finished their research phase of the buy cycle; 19% wait until they are ready to make a purchase.

Not only have technical professionals taken control of the buy cycle, they’ve moved online in their search for products and services, mandating that industrial companies develop a robust digital strategy to connect with potential customers. According to the marketing automation firm Eloqua, which is part of Oracle, “your next customer will research and evaluate your products through websites and online networks long before your sales people get involved.”

Why multichannel works
If potential customers are online during their early buy cycle stages – where they have many digital resources to choose from and their own platform preferences driving their behavior – then you must have a strong presence across multiple channels. Only in this way can you get onto a buyer’s shortlist and generate engagement opportunities for your sales team when buyers are ready to make contact with vendors.

Evidence shows that a multichannel marketing strategy improves campaign performance and delivers a higher return on marketing investment, a phenomenon called the Cross-Media Multiplier. But you can’t simply cast a wide, multichannel net in hopes of luring in buyers. And you need much more than a company website as your digital presence.

Which channels should you use?
With so many digital channels now available, marketers will need to allocate their budgets wisely in order to achieve the greatest possible impact. Few companies have the resources to blanket every channel with marketing campaigns. Instead, you should focus on those channels that your audience uses the most, and make sure your marketing program is integrated and trackable across all channels you use.

Websites are the biggest resource for technical professionals. Sixty-eight percent of engineers and technical professionals visit at least six websites each week for work-related purposes, according to the Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector report. The top digital resources engineers and technical professionals use for work are general search engines (89%), supplier websites (79%), online catalogs (76%), and industry-specific search engines such as Engineering360.com (54%).

To be noticed and remembered by prospects in early stages of their buy cycle, when they are identifying needs and beginning research, tactics such as banner ads and articles on industry sites, online catalogs, and sponsorship of industry e-newsletters can help you raise brand awareness, get your message across, and be remembered by prospects. As buyers begin comparing potential vendors, you need to get closer to prospects and provide more specific and differentiating information. Webinars, how-to videos, demos, and product specs on your website are good choices here.

Integrate and measure
When using multiple channels to execute your marketing program, you must make steps to make sure your tactics are not isolated from each other. Marketing automation software can help you integrate and coordinate your various efforts – for example, a social media post and an e-newsletter advertisement that promotes the same webinar. Or a banner ad on industrial websites and your company website that offers a white paper, and those that download the paper are sent a subsequent offer via email. You can also set up campaigns and keep track of prospect behavior using marketing automation software, as well as measure and report on your results.

In addition, your media partners, such as IHS Engineering360, can also help you create, execute, and refine multichannel marketing campaigns that reach your target audience through all stages of their buy cycle.

Multichannel marketing doesn’t end with the sale. Don’t forget an often overlooked stage of the buy cycle: post-sale behavior. Once you land a customer and they are using your product, you must continue marketing to them using their preferred channels in order to encourage upgrades, make other offers, and provide exceptional support. Online customer forums, customer-only newsletters, and webinar topics covering new features and benefits can all help you keep your customer satisfied and in the fold.

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Content Marketing: How to Put Together the Complete Package

This month the Maven has published articles on content marketing. “Five Questions to Help Guide Your Content Marketing Plan” offered advice on your planning and strategy. “Eight Keys to Content Credibility” provides tips to help boost your company’s position as expert content marketers. Today we’ll pull it all together with advice on how to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of your content marketing efforts.

Document your content marketing strategy
Once you develop a content marketing strategy, including your purpose, audience, goals and metrics, you should document that strategy. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 83 percent of marketers have a content marketing strategy, but only 35 percent have documented it. Yet they’ve found that companies with a documented content marketing strategy are much more effective than companies without one.

A documented content marketing strategy serves as your guidepost for all of your efforts and initiatives. You can follow it closely. You can refer to it repeatedly when faced with decisions. Content marketing can get hectic. There’s content to produce, distribution channels to manage, integration with other marketing to handle, metrics to track. If what you’re doing at any given time doesn’t align with your strategy, you’re probably wasting time and hurting your effectiveness and efficiency.

Another point: a documented strategy is a good internal training and educational tool, and can be used to protect your content marketing budget at the executive level.

Adopt an editorial mindset
The advantage of thinking like an editor about your content marketing is that you will keep the needs of your audience top of mind. Many marketers struggle trying to balance content that your audience wants with content that the business wants. This struggle shouldn’t exist. The vast majority of your content should be focused on the needs of your audience and should be educational in nature. If you position your company as a valuable and relevant resource to your customers and prospects, then you earn the right to add some promotional content to the mix.

Editors also think in terms of calendars. It helps to plan out the year to prevent last-minute scrambling to come up with content. You might develop 12 monthly topics based on broad themes that are aligned with your content marketing objectives and are relevant to your audience. Add any major milestones to the calendar that may require intensive content, such as online events, webinars or key announcements or product launches. Then, once a quarter, flesh out each week with specific ideas, such as how-to videos, blog posts or white paper ideas. Keep a few content slots open because throughout the year unexpected opportunities or important topics will come up that you want to cover.

Re-purpose content across multiple channels
Every time you identify the need for a piece of content, think about how you can re-purpose that content into another effective format. For example, if you are planning a white paper for each quarter, how many other pieces of content can that white paper spawn? Perhaps a webinar, a series of technical data sheets, an article for publication or an infographic. Re-purposing content not only saves time, it helps you deliver a consistent message to your audience of technical professionals.

You should distribute re-purposed content across multiple channels. Your audience uses a variety of digital sources to search for and discover content, including search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs, industry directories, e-newsletters, social media platforms and more.

Create content that aligns with your customer’s buy cycle
Your audience needs different types of content at different stages of their buy cycle, from early needs awareness, to evaluation and consideration, and finally to a purchase decision.

Because many prospects don’t contact a supplier until they are close to making a buying decision, you need to publish robust, relevant content for the early buy cycle stages in order to be known and get on a potential customer’s short list for when they do decide to make contact. Engineers may be searching to find out what suppliers and products in the marketplace have a good reputation and can meet their needs. Thought leadership content such as articles, white papers, e-newsletters, webinars and online events are all sources of information for technical professionals in these early stages.

In the later stages of the buy cycle, after you’ve established a relationship and when customers are close to a buying decision, your branded and product-specific content becomes important: detailed specification sheets, ROI calculators, specific case studies and service and support information.

Focus on measurement and results
Technical professionals will likely interact with your content a number of times before reaching the point where they are ready to make purchase decision. Each one of those interactions and each piece of content they access contribute to the sale. Therefore, tracking your customers through their journey by capturing their interactions with your content is a smart way to demonstrate results. Page views, clicks, shares, downloads, conversions and more can all be counted and attributed to a specific prospect or piece of content. Marketing automation software can help track content as well as the processes of managing and publishing content. You’ll be able to see how your broader content strategy is working and spot trends showing what types of content most often contribute to a sale.

Consult with a media partner
To increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your content marketing, and to target the optimal audience to achieve your goals, consider IHS Engineering360 Digital Media Solutions. We offer integrated content marketing services, from assistance in producing content, to getting your content noticed and into the hands of technical professionals, and providing metrics to analyze your results. Click here for more information.

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The Eight Keys to Content Credibility

 During the month of May, the Maven continues to focus on content marketing. This week: credibility. Your audience of technical professionals seeks out content to help them do their jobs better, stay up-to-date on their industry, and make more informed and confident buying decisions. You can help them on their journey—and position your company as a trusted authority and go-to resource—by maintaining a high degree of credibility in your content. Here’s how:

1. Be useful and relevant. This is the most important factor. Give your audience information that’s helpful to them, such as explaining a technical process, comparing approaches to solving a problem, or analyzing a trend in their industry. If you can establish your expertise in specific areas and educate your audience, you will be able to build trust, and customers and prospects will return to you repeatedly.

2. Use three types of content. Thought leadership is content that your company produces, typically educational in nature. Curated content is produced by others that you share with your audience, such as analyst reports or third-party articles or blog posts. And promotional content focuses on your own products and services. Each type of content has its place in your mix. There are no rigid rules about the mix, but we think a balance and appropriate breakdown looks something like this: 30 percent thought leadership content, 50 percent curated content, and 20 percent promotional content.

3. Be objective and professional. You can and should establish a position and point of view in your content, but you should also discuss alternative points of view. Education is all about having a broad and deep 360 degree view of a topic. If other positions and points of view didn’t have validity, no company would take them, so don’t simply dismiss them outright. Instead, acknowledge alternative approaches and demonstrate why your position is the stronger one.

4. Cite sources and references. If you’re producing a white paper or technical article, perform research and use credible third-party sources such as industry experts, analysts, and other publications to support your key themes. Cite sources in footnotes and/or a list of references at the end of the piece.

5. Ensure your content is fresh. Content can get out-of-date quickly. You need to continually produce fresh content and put a publication date on it to show your audience that the information is current. For example, have you clicked on a company’s blog link only to discover the last entry was months ago? What kind of impression did that leave on you? Another thing to watch out for is content containing information that is no longer accurate or relevant given any changes or trends occurring in your industry.

6. Avoid amateur mistakes. Along with out-of-date content, mistakes can hurt your credibility. Typos, grammatical errors, fuzzy imagery, poor rendering on mobile devices, long download times, poor sound, and other mistakes reflect poorly on your credibility. Proofread and test before publishing.

7. Produce content in a variety of formats. Technical professionals have demonstrated an appetite for all types of content: white papers, webinars, videos, technical briefs, data sheets, blog posts, articles, case studies, product catalogs, and more. The company that creates a wide variety of content in different formats gains credibility by giving its audience options. Remember that you can re-purpose content from one format to the next; for example, turning a white paper into a webinar.

8. Distribute and promote through the right channels. Every company publishes content on their website. However, technical professionals use many digital sources in their search for content, including industry websites, directories, e-newsletters, catalogs, and more. When your content appears in respected and widely accessed industry resources, your credibility increases. And when you promote your content using the channels that your audience uses—such as e-mail newsletters, banner ads on industry sites, and directory listings—you will reach a greater number of targeted technical professionals.

IHS Engineering360 offers a portfolio of content marketing services, providing you with a targeted audience and offering high visibility for white papers, technical briefs, articles, and other content. You also can take advantage of solutions to drive your customers and prospects to your content. If credibility is important to you—along with building brand visibility and generating engagement opportunities through content—visit IHS Engineering360 to learn more.

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Five Questions to Help Guide Your Content Marketing Plan

This month the Maven will be publishing posts related to content marketing, one of the most important and essential marketing strategies in the industrial sector today. First, we’ll define content marketing and relate its key benefits, then offer guidance on an effective content marketing plan.

The Content Marketing Institute defines content marketing as “a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience—with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

The main benefit is clear in the definition: profitable customer action. When content marketing is done right, you can establish your company as a thought leader, build brand awareness, and generate engagement opportunities for your sales team. You can become a “go-to” resource for technical professionals, improve your results in search, and help to foster a trusted relationship with customers and prospects.

Your audience of industrial professionals is hungry for relevant content that can help them do their jobs and make better buying decisions. According to the IHS Engineering360 Industrial Buy Cycle Survey, 83 percent of buyers review up to three pieces of content before making a decision on purchases under $1,000, while 70 percent of buyers review four or more pieces of content on purchases greater than $10,000. This desire for information on the part of technical professionals means that manufacturers need to step up their content marketing strategy. It all starts with a solid content marketing plan.

Your answers to these five questions will help you build a solid plan:
1. What are your content marketing objectives?
2. What resources will you devote to content marketing?
3. What content will you produce?
4. How will you get content to your audience?
5. How will you measure your results?

1. What are your content marketing objectives?
Your objectives could be short term and specific, such as educating prospects about a new technique or process that your company pioneered, or long term and broader, such as positioning your company as a thought leader and respected information resource in your industry. For either of these objectives, or others—driving web traffic, building a community, generating leads—your overall goal is to be relevant and valuable to your audience. If you aren’t, they won’t pay attention or give you the respect you are trying to earn.

Another important and universal objective is to integrate content marketing efforts with your overall marketing plan. Content marketing intersects and overlaps almost all of your other initiatives: website, social media, newsletters, directory listings, and more. Once you understand your objectives and how your various marketing tactics work together, the next four questions will be much easier to answer.

2. What resources will you devote?
You may not need extensive additional resources to execute an effective content marketing plan. You already are engaged in content marketing, even if you’re not calling it that. Publishing an e-newsletter, promoting a white paper, producing a video, hosting a webinar, writing a blog post or article—these are all content marketing. Now you need to make the next step and integrate the tactics under a set of defined objectives and target them to a specific audience. Depending on your in-house capabilities, you may need to hire professional writers, designers, or other experts to support you or your team.

3. What content will you produce?
If you understand your objectives and audience, the content you need to produce should become readily apparent. Articles, blog posts, and industry research are examples of content that help build thought leadership. Diagrams, product demos, and case studies help potential customers through the early stages of their buy cycle.

You may already have some of the content on hand, so the first step is to audit your current content library, identify gaps, and then fill in missing pieces. You’ll likely be able to re-purpose existing content into other formats, such as writing an article based on webinar content, or creating a written customer testimonial from a video interview.

It’s also important to consider format. All content should be easily downloadable and viewable not only on a desktop or laptop computer, but also on a mobile device. Avoid large files. Use PDF format rather than Word for documents.

4. How will you get content to your audience?
You can push your content out to your audience through tactics such as email, press releases, or e-newsletter advertisements, and you can make your content discoverable by promoting it through banner ads or posting it on your website, online directories, or through digital media platforms such as Engineering360.com. The key is to place your content on the same online resources that technical professionals use to search for and discover information.

5. How will you measure results?
Some basic metrics include traffic to the content on your website or blog and how visitors arrived at your content (social media, e-newsletter advertisement, banner ad, search engines, etc.). You can measure downloads of white papers or registrations for events.

You should also examine how long a visitor spends on a page, watches a video, or participates in a webinar. Length of view helps measure how relevant and engaging your content is. You can track shares, likes, and comments on social media platforms.

Additional Resources
IHS Engineering360 Digital Media Solutions offers integrated content marketing services that can save you time and increase the effectiveness of your content marketing efforts by reaching your specific target audience. From helping to produce content, to getting your content noticed and into the hands of technical professionals, to providing metrics to analyze your results, you can implement a comprehensive content marketing program that aligns with your objectives.

Another valuable resource is the white paper, “Content Marketing for Industrial Marketers” from IHS Engineering360. Download your complimentary copy today.

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The Compelling Reason to Use Video in Your Marketing Mix

 Seventy-six percent of technical professionals watch work-related videos on video sharing sites such as YouTube, according to the 2015 “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Survey” from IHS Engineering360.

That’s a huge majority of your target audience, and a compelling reason to use video in your marketing mix. Not only can you connect with customers and prospects using video, it’s now easier and more affordable than ever to capture, edit and publish video. There may still be times when a professionally produced and polished video is appropriate, such as for a corporate or investor presentation, but many industrial marketers are finding success and a following with an inexpensive video camera and an upload to YouTube.

The most effective marketing videos tend to be short (1-3 minutes) and highly targeted. They focus on a single topic or concept, such as a brief product demo, or three questions with an expert, for example. In addition, short, focused videos with targeted keywords rank better for search optimization than broad, general videos.

What is Your Purpose?
As with any marketing tactic, start by defining your purpose. This will not only help you create a more concise and compelling video, it will guide you toward the metrics you need to track in order to measure your results. Your purpose for creating a video might be:

• Generate an engagement opportunity
• Build brand awareness
• Educate the market about a trend or new technology
• Demonstrate a product or technical concept
• Entertain

Whatever your purpose, there are a group of metrics that can help you determine how successful your video is. These include:

• Number of follow-throughs on your call-to-action (many videos end with a call to action, such as contacting a supplier or accessing additional content)
• Number of views
• Length of view (it’s important to know how many viewers dropped off before the video reaches the end)
• Number of shares
• Number of comments

Choose the metrics that are aligned with your goals, and track them for as long as the video is part of your campaign.

Most Popular Video Types for Industrial Professionals
Engineers and technical professionals have a strong preference for specific types of videos. According to the “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Survey,” the most popular types of content to watch on video-sharing websites are how-to videos/tutorials (82 percent), product demos (79 percent) and training videos (70 percent).

What each of these video types has in common is that they are information-dense. Your audience is seeking valuable, relevant information to help them do their jobs better.

Other types of videos may also be effective and popular with your audience, such as brief interviews with influential people or a customer testimonial. If appropriate, you can produce a video tour of your company, showing off your advanced production capabilities, processes or operations. Remember that customers are not just buying your product, but buying into your entire company. An insider look is a great tool. You can also create videos by recording presentations and keynote addresses for customers who were not able to attend an event.

Where to Post Video
YouTube is the most popular place to have an account for posting your videos, and the most widely used by engineers and technical professionals. You can add the YouTube code into your website and blogs and have the videos run within those pages. If you produce a library of videos, you might want to create a page on your website where they can all be archived by type or subject matter.

Video embedded directly into email can help you create differentiation in your customers’ crowded inboxes. Many email marketing service providers offer this capability, as well as the ability to ensure emails render well on mobile devices.

What’s Different about Video
Marketers have learned how to write for the web by understanding that their audience doesn’t read web pages beginning to end, but scans pages for content of interest. That’s why good web writing includes headlines, bulleted lists and short statements.

There’s no such scanning option with video. You have to keep your audience engaged, opening credits to fade out. That’s why short videos are more effective than longer ones. It’s also good to keep in mind the words of suspense-master Alfred Hitchcock, who once said that a good story is a lot like life but with the dull parts taken out. Trim your videos of anything dull, and you’ll keep your audience interested, perhaps even on the edge of their seats.

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