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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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Five Tips for Writing Winning Email Subject Lines

 What makes an email subject line a winner? When it motivates the recipient to open the email. That is the subject line’s sole purpose. Write a compelling and relevant subject line, and engineers and technical professionals will eagerly open your email. Write a weak or boring subject line, and your email open rates will be disappointing. It really is that simple.

Look at your own email inbox and you’ll understand why the subject line is so critical. You’re likely swamped with emails every day. What’s the first thing you do? Scan for what’s important and must be opened now, what can wait until later, and what you can discard without opening. Your decision is based almost entirely on two factors: the subject line and who’s sending the email (the from line). That’s a lot of responsibility resting with a few words.

Follow these five tips for writing email subject lines that instill a “must read now” feeling in your audience.

1. Promise value
You’re sending an email to customers and prospects because you have important news to deliver. Important to your audience means value. What are they getting out of this email? Why should they pay attention?

For example: “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss”

This subject line has a lot going for it. The recipient gets information about a specific new product that offers a powerful and important benefit. That’s value for the intended audience.

Another component that makes this a strong subject line is that you know exactly what the mail is about: this new RF tool. A reader who opens the email is likely to learn more about the product and perhaps be presented with an offer: white paper, data sheet, webinar, etc.

2. Keep it short
The ideal length for a subject line is around 50 characters. Some might be longer, but keep in mind that the first 15 characters are the most critical because many business users read email on mobile devices, which often cut off part of the subject line.
Look at the above subject line again: “New RF tool accurately predicts signal loss.” Exactly 50 characters. The first 15 characters get across the main idea of a new RF tool.

3. Convey a sense of urgency or newness
There’s nothing like fresh news or the feeling that time is running out to get your reader to take action. The RF subject line meets the standard by mentioning a new product. However, consider this subject line: “White paper: top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail.”

At first glance it’s a good subject line. While it’s a tad long at 72 characters, it promises value in terms of a white paper and it takes advantage of the ever-popular numbered list: the top ten (see also the headline to this article).

But this subject line lacks a sense of urgency or newness. A possible revision might read: “Just published: Top ten reasons why hydraulic pumps fail.” The words ‘white paper’ are replaced with ‘just published’ providing a sense of newness. Conveying newness is more important than whether the publication is a white paper or an infographic.

Here’s another example: “Solar cell expert will speak at energy conference.” A good subject line, it conveys valuable information. But again, adding a time element increases the sense of urgency: “May 4, Orlando: Solar cell expert to speak.” What’s sacrificed is information about a conference, but if the recipient is interested in hearing from a solar cell expert, they can find out the conference information once they open the email.

4. Personalize when possible
Many email marketing programs allow you to personalize the subject line with the recipient’s name. This is an effective tactic. Who doesn’t like to get a personalized email? It immediately attracts attention and raises the level of importance of an email.

Compare “Last day to register for laser webinar” with “David: last day to register for laser webinar.”

The second subject line hits a lot of the right buttons: personalization, urgency and valuable information. Perhaps this email is part of a multi-touch campaign promoting a webinar. An earlier subject line might have read, “Webinar to show new applications for diode lasers.” But as the date approaches, the concept of time running out takes precedence over the content of the webinar.

If you’re not able to personalize subject lines with the recipient’s name, try to use subject lines with the words “You” or “Your” in them. “Your invitation to webinar on diode lasers.” “Your complimentary pass to solar show.”

5. Avoid spam filter triggers
Email marketing programs typically check for spam in your subject line and email content, but as a reminder, avoid the use of ALL CAPS (which also sounds like you’re shouting), symbols such as $$ or %, and excessive punctuation marks: !!!!!

These will all increase the likelihood that your email will be tagged as spam. Certain words can also catch the attention of spam filters; for example: free, buy, cash, urgent, proposition and more.

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Drive Sales Through Your Lead Nurturing Program

Studies have shown that 70% of new business can come from long-term leads. These prospects are in the early research stages of their buy cycle when they first engage with your company, but will be ready to make a purchasing decision at some point in the future. The question is: Will you have established a strong enough relationship with these long-term prospects so that when the time comes to buy, they choose to give their business to you?

Companies with a high rate of success at converting long-term leads into sales have strong lead nurturing programs. They understand the economic value that long-term leads offer, and they establish appropriate processes and campaigns to nourish, protect, support, and encourage these prospects throughout their buy cycle.

The most effective lead nurturing programs exhibit strength, commitment, and discipline in two key areas: lead nurturing processes and lead nurturing campaigns. For an in-depth look at how to succeed with lead nurturing, read "The Industrial Marketer’s Guide to Lead Nurturing.”

First, Get Sales and Marketing on the Same Page
Your lead nurturing processes require buy-in from both your sales and marketing teams. You must work together and come to agreement on your program.

Many companies find the best way to start is defining the various types of leads they generate. You can develop a scoring system based on prospect demographics, industry, buying timeframe, product interest, digital behavior, or other attributes. The relevant attributes are different for every company, so choose those that work best for you.

You should also agree on the process for responding to leads in a timely and appropriate manner. Leads wither quickly, and technical professionals in the digital era expect a quick response from inquiries to suppliers. Hot leads want to speak to a sales person immediately. Long-term leads want low-pressure, helpful information.

Another part of defining lead nurturing processes is assigning responsibility for responding to and routing leads, as well as tracking them throughout your sales process. An individual or a team must be held accountable for your lead nurturing program. You can use a centralized database or in some cases even a shared spreadsheet where leads can be recorded and tracked by anyone who has contact with a lead.

Tracking contacts and inquiries helps prevent any leads from falling through the cracks, allows you to see which leads become customers, and helps you calculate return on investment in your marketing programs.

Create Effective Lead Nurturing Campaigns
Long-term leads require long-term attention in the form of regular and relevant contact with your company. However, it’s likely that not all of your long-term leads are created equal. If you have specific types of customers, you’ll want to define different segments for lead nurturing campaigns.

For each segment of leads, plan a campaign that offers your prospects value, as opposed to sales pitches. Remember: they’re not ready for pricing quotes, discount offers, and demos. Instead, value is created by educating prospects on ways to solve the problems they are facing and demonstrating how your company can help. Use educational content such as white papers, webinars, articles, and videos as offers.

As part of your campaign, plan an entire series of touchpoints: emails, phone calls, and letters, each of which contain a call to action, such as downloading a white paper, watching a video, signing up for a newsletter, or registering for a webinar. Establish response rules for your campaign. For example, if a prospect downloads a white paper and attends a webinar, they get a follow-up call, or they are considered sales-ready. Or if a prospect watches a certain video, you send them a topic-specific article. It’s up to you and your sales team to define the rules of the campaign.

Lead nurturing campaigns are spread out over time. You will need to develop a schedule for when and how often you reach out to prospects. It could be once a week for eight weeks, or once a month for six months, or some interval in between. Define the entire campaign in advance, so you will know how to phase your content and messaging, and can stick with it all the way through. 

Marketing Automation as a Strategic Asset
One recommended best practice is to invest in marketing automation, which excels at lead management and nurturing. These systems can track your prospect’s digital behavior across websites, social media, blogs, and more. You can use marketing automation to score leads, create landing pages, track prospect actions, trigger automatic emails, and report on the effectiveness of your campaigns. There are a number of affordable marketing automation systems for smaller companies as well as robust software for larger and more complex marketing organizations.

The IHS Engineering360 Tool Kit, “The Industrial Marketer’s Guide to Lead Nurturing,” has other recommended best practices along with tips for following up on inquiries. Download your complimentary copy.

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Social Media Use Holding Steady in Industrial Sector

 Social media has value among engineers and technical professionals, although not as a top resource for researching work-related purchases. This is one of the key takeaways from the IHS Engineering360 annual “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Survey.” You can download the white paper here.

Over the past few years, the use of social media by technical professionals for work-related purposes has stabilized. Engineers have determined how to integrate social media into their work activities and have chosen their preferred platforms. However, engineers prefer general search engines, online catalogs, word of mouth, and supplier websites to social media for researching work-related purchases.

Sixty-one percent of technical professionals spend less than one hour a week using social media for work-related purposes. The most commonly performed work-related activities on social media are reading content or product/industry news, watching a video, searching for contacts, and following a company or group.

Fifty-seven percent of engineers and technical professionals use social media to find product reviews. This is the most popular use of social media sites. One trend worth noting is that significantly more engineers used social media sites this year than last year to contact a supplier or service provider (42 percent vs. 29 percent), to find expertise (44 percent vs. 29 percent) and to find product reviews (57 percent vs. 49 percent).

One-third (33 percent) of technical professionals report sharing or posting news or information about their company to their social networks. The age group of 18-34 has a slightly higher rate (37 percent). This low percentage represents an opportunity for industrial companies to recruit their employees to be social media ambassadors and to help spread the word on their social media networks.

LinkedIn is the most popular platform among engineers, with 66 percent having an account. Facebook and Google+ are the next two most widely used. In the age group 18-34, Facebook is slightly more popular than LinkedIn.

Forty-six percent of engineers follow 1-5 work-related company profiles on LinkedIn. The majority of engineers (56 percent) belong to 1-5 groups on LinkedIn. Ten percent belong to more than 10. Most technical professionals are passive members of LinkedIn groups. Sixty-eight percent read discussions, but only 27 percent participate in discussions. Technical professionals prefer to read and watch on social media as opposed to posting and commenting.

Fifty-one percent of technical professionals use YouTube or other video sharing websites for work-related purposes. When segmented by age demographics, use of video sharing websites among engineers under age 50 is greater than those 50 and older. The most common work-related content watched on video sharing websites are how-to videos/tutorials, product demos, and training videos. Customer testimonials lag, with only 14 percent of engineers watching them.

The most valuable resources for researching a work-related purchase are general search engines, online catalogs, word of mouth, and supplier websites. These findings are generally true across all age groups. Among social media platforms, Google+ and LinkedIn ranked highest for researching a work purchase. Facebook, SlideShare, and Twitter have the least value.

Why isn’t social media used more for work? Sixty-seven percent of engineers and technical professionals say the biggest challenge is that social media is inefficient when compared to other methods such as search engines, supplier websites, and online catalogs. Forty percent say they can’t find useful content on social media.

Many industrial marketers are not sure what role social media should have in their overall marketing efforts. However, social media is no different from other marketing initiatives, and as such, you should approach it with a clear purpose and defined goals that map to your other marketing and business objectives.

To help you optimize your use of social media and better understand the level of resources to devote to it, download a complimentary copy of “Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Survey.” The research report includes all survey results represented in chart form, along with analysis of the findings and recommendations on how industrial marketers can optimize their use of social media. Get your copy today.

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Keep Social Media Channels Alive with Fresh Content

It’s great to be a listener on social media. You can find out what your customers are saying and learn more about their interests. Listening is also a great way to test the viability of a social media channel for your marketing efforts. But at some point, to use social media effectively, you have to participate as well as listen. Participating means posting, and posting means you need content.

Content is the fuel that you must feed social media channels. Without content, your social media program will wither. Have you ever visited a company’s social media account and discovered it hasn’t been updated with fresh posts in months? No doubt you came away with a negative impression: This company can’t keep up or doesn’t care. It’s better not to have a social media presence at all than to have one you let die on the vine.

The way to use social media effectively and maintain a fresh, lively and relevant presence on your social media channels is to keep the content flowing to your followers. Here’s how:

Make a list of key topics you want to address in your content marketing. Then determine the various types of content you will need to create on your own or curate from other sources to support your marketing objectives. It could be original white papers, webinars, videos, articles, and blog posts. You could also work with third parties and partners to distribute their content. Another option is to follow industry news and trends and point your subscribers and followers to this content.

There are other types of content to consider. Infographics combining text and visuals have become increasingly popular as a way to explain complex ideas or processes. You can create online polls and share results, or quick surveys. Stage a contest. Create a game. What about contracting with a partner to produce a mobile app? There are apps that calculate pressure drop, estimate pipe size, calculate volumetric flow, connect with other engineers, and many more.

While you should know what themes and messages are important to get across as part of your strategy, you don’t have to plan every piece of content you’ll post. For instance, you can have a monthly content slot allotted to a topic of interest that is generated by comments or questions you get from your social media followers. Or you can have a content feature based on the most important industry or company news of that month.

At the beginning of every year or quarter, develop a calendar for publishing content to your social media channels. This way you won’t be scrambling trying to come up with ideas for social media updates.

Work your calendar from the general to the specific, starting with your broad themes (perhaps theme-of-the-month), and filling specific content into publishing slots. Be sure to account for any major milestones that may require intensive content publishing, such as promoting your presence at an event, a product launch, or a key announcement.

You might be using multiple social media channels as part of your program. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ are the most popular among technical professionals and engineers. You might require a slightly different type of presence on each channel. For example, you might host a group or start a weekly discussion on LinkedIn. This might be a place to distribute more traditional content such as white papers and technical articles. Facebook might be your go-to channel for lighter fare, such as quirky news items, giveaways, polls, or contests.

You should have content lined up for each channel that you use. Some content may work across all social media channels, but other content might be specific to a specific channel, or needs to be re-purposed for other channels. For example, a customer interview on YouTube might be re-purposed to a written case study you post on LinkedIn and announced on Twitter. A webinar can be uploaded to SlideShare.

Even for organizations with a modest social media presence, and definitely for industrial companies with a robust social media strategy, using a social media management tool might make sense. There are many free or low-cost options to help schedule content publishing, coordinate across multiple social media accounts, and measure the effectiveness of your efforts. A few to consider include Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Sprout.

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Social Media is About Planning, Not Popularity

March is Social Media Month at the Marketing Maven, with blog posts focusing on how suppliers and manufacturers can best incorporate social media into their marketing efforts to connect with engineers and technical professionals. At the end of the month, we’ll report the findings from the latest IHS Engineering360 Media Solutions social media research survey.

A key concept that industrial marketers should embrace is that social media success comes from taking a disciplined, planned approach rather than thinking social media is some kind of popularity contest. Sure, you can do something outlandish on social media and you might get your post or video to go viral and garner many views, but whether that rampant visibility contributes to your marketing objectives and strengthens your company’s brand is highly doubtful.

Another thing to realize is that social media is no longer new. Its use has stabilized in the industrial sector, and research shows which social media platforms technical professionals prefer and how they want to use social media for work-related purposes. The more you approach social media as one of a portfolio of tactics in your overall integrated marketing strategy, the more social media will serve as a valuable asset to your company.

As with any marketing program, social media is an effective tactic for achieving a certain set of objectives, and less effective at others. For example, social media is oriented towards interaction, education, and networking, and therefore may not be a direct driver of qualified leads and sales. On the other hand, it is effective for distributing content to your target audience and raising your brand visibility in the early stages of your customers’ buy cycle.

If you’re putting together a social media plan in order to generate fast leads and sales, you will likely miss achieving those objectives. However, if your plan is based around building thought leadership, fostering a sense of community, and generating brand awareness that will lead to engagement opportunities, then you may experience a high level of success.

There are a multitude of social media platforms in play, and it seems as if new ones are popping up all the time. It’s impossible to spread your social media efforts across every platform available. Nor would you want to. Instead, focus your efforts on the social media channels your customers use.

According to the latest Social Media Use in the Industrial Sector Research Report, which will be released later this month, the three most popular platforms for engineers and technical professionals are LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+. If you can devote resources to only a few platforms, those are good places to start. Also, more than half of this audience uses video-sharing platforms like YouTube, so video can play an important role in your social media outreach. Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have much less value for this audience. No other social media platform is relevant to them at this time.

Use this information to inform your social media plan. You might include tactics such as establishing and maintaining a company LinkedIn page if you don’t already have one. Post news and content to it. Invite customers and prospects to follow you. You can do the same with Facebook and Google+.

Two of the biggest complaints technical professionals have about social media are that there’s too much noise and not enough substance, and that other channels such as search engines, online product catalogs, and supplier websites are more efficient sources of information.

We’ll devote an entire post to the content marketing side of social media, but for now, follow this one guideline: use social media to deliver what engineers and technical professionals seek. Their top uses of social media are to find product reviews and to keep abreast of the latest news on companies, products, and technologies. Therefore, social media is a great place for you to provide links to reviews of your products, relevant news stories or press releases, and thought leadership articles and white papers.

As for videos, how-to videos, product demos, and training videos remain immensely popular with this audience.

Your social media plan should include an editorial calendar that lists the types of posts and content you will publish. Naturally there will be impromptu opportunities that pop up, such as a mention of your company, products in the media, or a published interview with an executive, but planning keeps you from scrambling for content and helps keep down the annoying, irrelevant social media updates that turn off engineers and technical professionals.

Your social media plan should support marketing and business objectives, and therefore you need to establish metrics to determine how your plan is performing. Here are a few measurements that might be important to your social media efforts:

• Increase interactions with followers by X percent
• Successfully resolve X number of customer service questions over social media
• Solicit X number of suggestions from followers
• Increase content downloads by X percent

These are just a few examples. Your metrics will depend on your goals.
If you’re missing your targets, you should revisit your plan. Do you have unrealistic expectations of what social media can do for you? Are some platforms not working as well as others? Are you missing opportunities to better engage your audience? Revise your plan as necessary or reconsider your objectives—or both.

Social media appears to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. If you have a solid plan in place and devote the appropriate resources, social media can be a valuable contributor to your overall marketing strategy.

Up next: social media and content marketing.

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How are you using social media to reach an engineering and technical audience? What advice or tips would you give your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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The Early Stage Buy Cycle is When the Relationship Starts

The early stage buy cycle for engineers and technical professionals is the equivalent of the top of the sales funnel for the manufacturer’s and supplier’s sales teams. It’s the beginning, when a buyer becomes aware of a problem or need and then begins to conceive of and search for a solution. If your company is already known to them, or becomes visible and sparks interest during a search, that’s when your relationship starts with a potential customer.

man with bouquet flowers
Begin your relationship with prospects early as generating initial awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts.

Because of the vast amount of content available from digital sources, it’s easier than ever for early-stage technical buyers to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers, and to narrow down their options before getting a vendor involved.

In this early stage, you might not yet have any personal contact with your prospect, you may not even have captured their name, but this is when they enter the top of your funnel.

Generating this early-stage awareness is critically important to the success of your sales and marketing efforts. You must connect with potential customers early in order to be a contender later when they are ready to make a purchase decision. Beginning the relationship early, even an anonymous one, offers key benefits to your organization:

  • You make a positive first impression on potential customers. If your company name comes up when they 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. For example, the engineer searching for new diode laser technologies will be interested if they keep coming across your name (especially if it’s linked to quality, useful content … but more on that in a bit).
  • You stay top of mind. If you put consistent effort into branding and visibility tactics that raise awareness and help to widen and populate the top of the funnel, prospects will be exposed to you more often and will keep your company and products in their mind when they have a need.
  • Perhaps most importantly, marketing for the early-stage of the buy cycle can help to shorten the sales cycle for your sales team. Your prospects will already be aware of your company and what you offer. They’ve been accessing valuable content that’s helping to educate them. This means your sales people are speaking to an informed prospect and don’t have to start from the very beginning every time.

The keys to early-stage success

The first thing to realize is that if a potential buyer does not know about you or find out about you in their early stage, they will not be contacting you in a later stage. They will be contacting one of your competitors. To be the brand that matters to your target audience, you should:

  • Build and maintain a strong online presence on those digital resources your customers use most in the early buy cycle stages. Research shows that 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. Diversify your presence across these channels.
  • Produce and publish a steady stream of content on digital channels for your prospects and customers. Your audience is eagerly searching for content as they engage in their buy cycle. They are looking for white papers and technical reports, watching webinars and product demos and reading articles, newsletters, blog posts and more. At this stage, your content should be educating prospects on a high level by, for instance, comparing approaches to solving problems, explaining how something works or commenting on trends. Your goal is to get in the game by demonstrating knowledge and expertise. It’s too early to be selling and trying to close the deals.
  • Recognize and respond when prospects move to later buy cycle stages, such as consideration and comparison. At some point, either the buyer has dropped out or you will have generated an engagement opportunity, with your prospect registering for a webinar, subscribing to your blog, or initiating contact with your company. You should have in place a plan to manage your engagement opportunities, either through ongoing lead nurturing programs or escalating a prospect to your sales team if they are giving off indications they are ready to buy. Don’t waste those early stage efforts—make sure you know how to move prospects through the funnel.

Industrial marketers can sometimes overlook the importance of their customers’ early buy cycle. By focusing resources on building brand and raising visibility, you’ll attract more prospects at the top of your funnel, helping to ensure you have a pool of potential customers when it’s time for them to make a purchasing decision.

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How are you expanding the top of your sales funnel? What advice or tips would you give your peers in industrial marketing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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