Industrial marketers are embracing Account Based Marketing (ABM) to supplement other demand generation strategies. With ABM, marketing and sales teams work together to target best-fit accounts, personalize the buying experience, and turn those prospects into customers.
ABM can be as simple as one-to-one marketing and selling or as sophisticated as one-to-many with multiple prospects being targeted at a single account. Companies seeking high-value customers might find an ABM strategy serves them better than casting a wide net.
Purchasing at larger organizations is a collaborative effort, with influence from engineers, management, operations, purchasing, and more. Budget authority resides throughout the organization—not just with senior managers. The more stakeholders you can engage at a targeted account, the higher likelihood of success with ABM.
The Benefits of ABM
Sales and marketing alignment, which can save resources and increase efficiency and morale. Selling and marketing expertise both are needed and the two teams must work together to identify accounts, devise targeting and personalization strategies, create customized content, and close deals.
ROI is easier to demonstrate. When you are going after specific accounts, eventually you either penetrate, gain a foothold, and expand the relationship—or you don’t. Your efforts targeting a specific account are easier to measure and track. Common metrics might be the number of ad views/email clicks/site visits by target organization, new prospects identified, leads generated, and wins.
Better content engagement. When content is personalized and customized for specific people, industries, job functions, and responsibilities, you have a much greater chance of engaging and satisfying your audience. Continue to personalize and customize your most popular pieces of content.
How to Pick the Right Accounts
Not every customer is an ideal target for ABM. Customers with sporadic ordering history, low-revenue customers, and outlier customers in fringe industries are likely not your ideal candidates.
You’re looking for customers who could potentially order a lot of your product and services and would stay loyal to a supplier that provides excellent products and responsive service. Here are some ways to identify the right accounts:
Create an ideal customer profile for ABM. Include industry, company size, titles and job functions, pain points, and how your offerings fit for that type of organization.
Talk with the sales team to get their input on potential accounts to target with ABM.
Examine your own customer database for repeat customers or large accounts that make potential ABM prospects.
Look for other companies both within your database and beyond that have similar profiles to your best customers.
Zero in on companies that are of strategic importance to your organization.
Prioritize ABM Tactics
How you actually market to these accounts depends on whether you’re marketing one to one, one to a few, or one to many. Here are some tactics to consider, starting with one-to-one outreach and extending to one-to-many marketing.
Make a connection on LinkedIn or other social media with a professional from a target account. Respond to their posts and participate in discussions. Share your ideas.
Send one-to-one emails to establish a personal relationship.
Ask if you can send them a relevant piece of content.
Once acquainted, ask for other contacts in the company who might be interested in engaging with you.
Begin mapping target account’s organization to understand hierarchy, team members, roles, and the appropriate content for each.
Follow the prospect’s organization on social media and participate as you do with individual accounts.
Sponsor or exhibit at a live or virtual event that the prospect organization is participating in or hosting.
Invite individuals from a targeted account to attend one of your events or be a guest speaker/presenter.
Place ads on industry and professional sites where your prospects will see them.
Set up a prospect-specific email newsletter and ask your contacts to opt-in.
Build custom landing pages for each targeted account.
About Custom Content
ABM requires content customized to the needs and interests of your target organization and its stakeholders.
Although it’s not always apparent what buy cycle state each individual is in at any given moment, you want to have top-of-funnel educational content such as white papers, technical articles, and eBooks, as well as content for latter stages, such as case studies, comparisons, data sheets, and product configurators.
Decision-makers and influencers can be segmented according to their area of responsibility: economic buyers, technical buyers, and analytic buyers.
Economic buyers are concerned with the balance sheet and ROI. Technical buyers want to make sure whatever is purchased fits within the existing technical environment of an organization. Analytic buyers must be assured that a product works as advertised and will solve the problem. Address each of these needs in your custom content for targeted accounts.
Earning a click-thru on a marketing email is a badge of honor. It ranks higher than an email open and is a measure of an engineer’s engagement with your content and your skills as a marketer.
With upcoming changes Apple will be implementing to protect user privacy (see companion article), clicks will take on even more significance as an email marketing metric. Here are ten tips for increasing click-thru rates on marketing emails.
1. Place buttons “above the fold”
“Above the fold” is a newspaper term referring to the top half of the paper. In an email, it refers to the area a user can see without having to scroll. Make sure the first appearance of your call-to-action (CTA) button is visible without scrolling, making it possible for a quick decision to click.
2. Use both buttons and text for links
Buttons in bright colors are attention-grabbing and might attract clicks, but text links within copy are just as important for users who block images or like to read the copy. Sprinkle both buttons and text links in strategic places throughout the email.
3. Use action verbs on buttons and text links
Make it easy for your email recipient to understand what to do and what they will get if they click. Action verbs get the job done. Words like Download, Read, Register, Watch, Get, Listen, Calculate, Compare and other action verbs are perfect for enticing clicks.
4. Offer different types of content
Notice some of the action verbs in the tip above: read, watch, listen. Each of these words promises a different type of content. Many engineers prefer to read the content. A growing percentage are watching videos. Podcasts offer another option for delivering content. Not every email has to contain all content types, but try out different formats and track your metrics to see what is popular.
5. Main offer, secondary offer
Each email should have one specific purpose with a CTA you are using to entice your audience to click. This main offer should be front and center to command the attention of your audience. However, it is also effective to add secondary content and click opportunities to your email. An engineer who does not find your main offer attractive might notice and click on a secondary offer.
6. Create a sense of urgency
Offers that are good for only a limited time or limited to a certain number of people such as event registrations that are closing soon or even “breaking news” are all ways to instill a sense of urgency in your audience and possibly increase clicks. However, do not deceptively use this tactic. If a discount on an event registration always applies, do not say it expires in two days.
7. Use responsive email templates
More than half of all emails are opened and read on mobile devices. For this reason, you need responsive email templates that render the content in an easy-to-read format on any device, whether the recipient is using a desktop, tablet or phone. An email that is too small to read on a cellphone or requires horizontal scrolling will likely be ignored. You will not get many clicks that way.
8. Use A/B testing
A/B testing is simple: divide your list (or a part of your list) in two and test two different versions of an email to see which one gets more clicks. Create your first email, then change only one aspect of it to create a second version. It might be your button placement, offer, headline, or another variable. You should only test one thing at a time in order to understand the results from that one change. If you have multiple changes you’d like to test, then you can perform more than one A/B test.
9. Segment and personalize
If you only have one product, one message, and one customer type, then you can ignore this tip and send everyone the same email. But it is more likely you have different types of customers who have different interests. The more you can segment your list and personalize content for them (even ‘Dear Dave’ is helpful personalization), the more likely you are to get clicks.
10. Be relevant
We would not be the Maven if we did not harp on relevancy. This is the most important tip of them all. The more you are tuned into your customers’ wants and needs—and address them with targeted content in your marketing emails—the more they will pay attention and the more clicks you can earn.
Few of the leads you generate are sales-ready at the first contact with your company. Prospects might be anywhere in their buying cycle when contact is made and they typically have questions and concerns they need to be answered before they are ready to place an order.
They might want to know more about your products, your brand, your support policies, your customers, and more. This educational journey takes time. It’s your job to keep your prospects interested, encourage them along their buying journey, and build meaningful relationships so they are more likely to choose your company when it comes time to do business. That’s lead nurturing in a nutshell.
The lead nurturing process can be long—research shows it takes anywhere from six to 13 touches to deliver a qualified lead to sales. Lead nurturing can also be fruitful—studies show that 70 percent of business comes from long-term leads, those that aren’t ready to buy when you first connect with them.
In addition, the disruption of the past year due to the coronavirus pandemic has placed increasing emphasis on the importance of lead nurturing. Leads you might have thought were close to buying have now gone cold. Budgets have been slashed. Projects were delayed or canceled.
But things are picking up again, and engineers are on the prowl for components, products, and services to help them complete their projects. It’s time to hone your lead nurturing efforts. Focus on these core functions:
Using a lead nurturing system
Segmenting your database
Planning email “drip” campaigns
Handing off to the sales team
Tracking and learning
Using a Lead Nurturing System
Many industrial companies are adopting marketing automation to help manage lead nurturing and other marketing efforts. Marketing automation allows you to capture prospect engagement across all digital channels and can help you score leads, create landing pages, track prospect actions, trigger automatic emails, report on the effectiveness of various content, produce analytics, and much more.
Some companies are embracing specific email-based lead nurturing platforms such as GlobalSpec Catalyst. Whatever system you choose, the three core capabilities you must-have for lead nurturing are the ability to segment your audience, create and send campaigns, and report results.
Segmenting Your Database
If all of your prospects are similar and interested in the same products, you don’t need to segment your database. However, many companies will have a variety of prospect types interested in different products and services. In this case, you will need to segment your database to craft different lead nurturing campaigns to meet the needs of different audiences.
Common segments include area of interest, phase of buy cycle, market, geography/territory, among others. Another important segment leads that have had no contact with your company for an extended period. You might create a segment of these cold leads to re-engage with them.
Planning Email “Drip” Campaigns
There are tons of ways to connect with your audience, but email is the most effective channel for nurturing the engineering audience. Nourishing takes place through what is called email “drip” campaigns—meaning at regular intervals, you show up in their inbox. For example, your campaign could touch prospects once a week for three months followed by once a month for six months. You decide based on your segments and your prospects’ needs.
What do you send to an engineer’s inbox? According to the “2021 Pulse of Engineering” report, engineers seeking technical documentation, product specifications, and data sheets to help complete their projects. You should also sprinkle in the type of high-level messaging that increases their confidence in your company. For example, many engineers are confronting supply chain issues for parts they need. Can you assure them of availability and delivery? Can you highlight the strengths and stability of your company? Can you demonstrate a high level of support?
Other useful content includes white papers, webinars, infographics, case studies, and articles. During the nurturing process, keep the content educational rather than sales-oriented. Engineers hate to be sold to; they want to learn and discover.
Handing Off to the Sales Team
The definition of a sales-ready lead should be determined jointly between marketing and the sales team. Lead nurturing only works if sales and marketing organizations are working from the same playbook.
Often a lead reaches sales-ready status when it achieves a score based on a scale you develop that awards points for specific prospect behaviors. For example, a prospect that clicks on every offer is a five and likely sales-ready, while a prospect that only visited a web page remains a one.
Tracking and Learning
Some of your emails and offers will perform better than others. Keep track of how the prospects in your campaign interact with your offers and content.
Get rid of nurturing emails and content that don’t perform well while building on content that is popular by creating similar offers. Continually refine your campaigns and you should see improved results.
Lead nurturing is an essential marketing tactic to increase sales-ready leads and potential sales. This is true at all times, especially during this period of market disruption due to the pandemic.
Thank you to all who joined GlobalSpec and TREW Marketing for our 2021 State of Marketing to Engineers Research Findings live webinar.
We were not able to answer all of the fantastic questions posed by attendees during our live webinar, but have since tackled them all. We thought you might be interested in reading through the full Q&A, so that you can glean information to help inform your own industrial marketing efforts.
It’s hard to get the visitors to our website to engage with Chat, do you have any suggestions for how to get better engagement? We feel like they are just using us for our content and leaving.
Chat is best used as a means for website visitors to get an immediate question answered (such as where to find information, how to get in touch with sales, etc). If you’ve set up your website so that visitors can easily find info, you may not notice a lot of engagement in your chat, which is ok. The research data shows us that only 5% of engineers want to use chat as their first engagement with sales, signaling that they are not yet bought into this means of communication. Part of this might be due to the complexity of the need, but also a hesitation to interact with what might perceived as a salesy conversation. Consider experimenting with your chat settings and what the prompt is – striking a helpful tone may help engagement. And the silver lining is that we are seeing B2B chat growing in adoption (albeit at a faster pace than for engineers). As buyers interact with chat more and more in their B2C personal lives, you’ll see the behavior spill over more in B2B. Keep blazing the trail!
Has in-person meeting preferences with engineers changed with COVID?
We didn’t explore this topic in our research, but what we’ve experienced with our own businesses and clients’ businesses this year is, no surprise, a dramatic shift to virtual meetings. In speaking to engineering leaders, it seems that the pandemic has shifted work culture enough that virtual meetings and virtual working environments will become more of the norm after the pandemic. This will vary based on job function, so consider updating your audience personas with this question in mind, and monitor as the year progresses.
Could you speak briefly on the use of virtual calls?
Virtual meetings on platforms like GoToMeeting and Zoom became a norm this year. Our team at GlobalSpec has conducted virtual calls for years, but we were surprised by how many of our clients were suddenly eager to turn on their cameras when in the past had not. This visual aspect helped to forge a closer “human” connection with meeting attendees, and we now advise others to turn those towards cameras on (and worry less about the dog in the background — your furry pet is fodder for a perfect meeting icebreaker).
People are suffering from video meeting fatigue, how do you feel this will change over the next few months?
Long video calls tethered to a computer, starting into a camera can be exhausting. Consider breaking up lengthy meetings into shorter ones (no longer than 2 hours) and provide a brief break in the middle as well. Also, consider when video is not necessary. Old school phone calls can alleviate some video fatigue. I’ve had some of the most productive 1:1 calls with team members while taking a walk or sitting outside over the phone.
Do engineers have a preferred platform for webinars? (GoToWebinar, other?)
This would be a great question for the future. My suspicion is that content prevails over platform.
What type of podcast do engineers listen to?
This would be a great topic to dive into further in next year’s research. What we do know is that almost half listen to at least one podcast episode per week for work-purposes.
What are the professional networks they’re joining? What is a professional community network? How can marketers take advantage of those networks?
Professional networks include professional associations with networking opportunities and role-specific discussion boards. We did not ask specifically which professional networks (though next year I think it would be excellent topic to explore!). Examples of this include StackOverflow, GitHub, IEEE Collabratec, Quora and the CSIA Industrial Automation Exchange. Some engineering publication online sites have networking communities as well.
Why is YouTube not listed as a social channel?
YouTube’s functionality leans more towards a search engine than a social channel, though you could make the case for both. You’ll find YouTube results on page 13 of the research report, which show that 27% of respondents turned to YouTube to seek information and/or networking opportunities, where as social media as a whole came in at 17%. In our 2020 report, we did include YouTube within social options, and found it to be highly valued, coming in 2nd place to professional community networks, edging LinkedIn to third. Our conclusion is that whichever way you categorize YouTube, it is a valued channel by engineers and with the overwhelming adoption of video as valued content, an important channel for 2021.
Do social channels change based on age?
We didn’t do this analysis for the 2021 report, but here is the social breakdown by age from the 2020 research (note that YouTube was included as a social channel in 2020 but not in 2021):
Ages 35 and under found the most value in YouTube (46%), LinkedIn (35%) and Professional Communities (35%); they found the least value in Instagram (61%), Facebook (57%), Pinterest (54%), and Twitter (54%), and Reddit (43%)
Ages 36-54 found the most value in LinkedIn (35%), YouTube (33%), Professional Communities (28%); they found the least value in Instagram (53%), Pinterest (53%), Facebook (44%), and Twitter (47%), and Reddit (47%)
Ages 46-55 found the most value in YouTube (32%), Professional Communities (29%), and LinkedIn (26%); they found the least value in Pinterest (64%), Instagram (63%), Twitter (61%), Reddit (59%), and Facebook (50%)
Ages 56-65 found the most value in Professional Communities (24%), YouTube (20%), and LinkedIn (14%); they found the least value in Reddit (71%), Instagram (70%), Pinterest (66%), Twitter (66%), and Facebook (57%)
Ages 65+ found the most value in Professional Communities (42%), YouTube (20%), and LinkedIn (14%); they found the least value in Instagram (68%), Reddit (64%), Pinterest (66%), Twitter (66%), and Facebook (64%)
Do you see more success with organic or sponsored LinkedIn posts?
We’ve found the most success through a two-pronged approach: keep a consistent cadence of organic content flowing, ideally posted by company spokespeople (in their own voice) rather than only company posts. Supplement with advertising in short bursts with an engaging ad and enticing call-to-action.
Do you think there is a correlation between the engineers age and their seniority, for example, the more senior the engineer is the more likely they are to be ‘reading around’ their subject matter and engaging with materials as they will be seen as the local expert and conversely the younger engineers haven’t needed to perform this at this stage in their career?
Great point about the correlation between age and seniority. It is interesting to consider the need for certain types of content by stage of career and role within the organization. We find younger engineers perform more long-tail specific searches and need more basic education in what is often a “specifier” role, whereas older engineers with more experience often have a broad network of colleagues to tap. This older group may seek new ideas and different angles to complement their established expertise, while others may have a tendency to fall back upon trusted solutions of the past.
Ebooks seem to be growing in popularity, did you consider those as an option in any of your survey questions or did it show up anywhere?
We included ebooks in our 2019 research, with the descriptor “longer, more in-depth than application notes/white papers” and found them to be similar in popularity to white papers and webinars. Because there seems to be a general lack of understanding between white papers versus ebooks amongst engineers, we choose to drop that option from this year’s survey, but this doesn’t reflect a lack of preference for ebooks. Through our own experience, we find ebooks to be very popular lead generators and highly memorable due to their graphic-heavy nature.
Do you have any recommendations on how to deal with a prospective engineering customer that says “Your product looks valuable and I am interested, but don’t have the time to take a detailed look right now.”? We get this continued response a lot.
Give your prospect time to get to know your company and solutions more fully, and build preference through targeted content. One way to keep the lead warm is through a nurturing email campaign. Create a 4-5 email sequence keeping each brief with one relevant content offer, and set expectations for the engineers on how long it will take to consume the content (e.g., include something at the top of the page or even right in the email saying how long it takes to read). The goal of the campaign can be to set up a meeting with a salesperson (use a calendar app to reduce friction for this step), but hold this offer until towards the end of the campaign sequence.
Since the majority of engineers spend half of their journey online before talking to someone, will they be “creeped out” or deterred from moving forward with us if we reach out to them early in the cycle (leads)?
The data suggests that reaching out too early may indeed repel your prospect. Using a marketing automation tool, look for buying signs such a repeat visits, downloads, and other engagement. These indicate a level of trust and implied receptiveness to receiving a sales email.
General Research Questions
What was the total number of respondents to this survey?
We had a total of 1,361 qualified responses.
What new findings surprised you the most in this year’s research compared to prior years?
The biggest surprise was the number of respondents — twice as many as last year! With the data itself, there were no massive YOY swings on the whole, rather incremental increases that support continuing trends: more of the buyer’s journey shifting online, more adoption of video, and lack of enthusiasm over most mainstream social media channels. LinkedIn was an interesting one…while it ranks high when compared to other social channels, the percent of “not very valuable” responses jumped from 28% to 46%. This suggests fatigue (I know I’m tired of the aggressive sales bot messages!) and supports a more targeted and thoughtful approach. I am hopeful with more changes on the horizon in the LinkedIn platform, this channel will be seen as more, not less valuable, in our next research report.
Is the survey data specific to US market or global? If only US, do you think these behaviors are similar across the globe?
This survey includes respondents from around the world. In our past surveys, we have found that while small differences emerge in what types of companies engineers work at and what social media channels they prefer, the larger trends prevail
I would be interested to see & analyze the survey data, is this made available?
An integrated marketing campaign arranges multiple marketing channels that work together to achieve a specific marketing goal. While integrated marketing relies on multiple channels to achieve results, it is more than just multichannel marketing, because the integration comes from having aligned messaging and goals.
The benefits of running an integrated marketing campaign include:
Reaching a wider audience than you could through any single channel or tactic.
Strengthening your brand by increasing visibility in the market and reinforcing your message across channels.
Building trust among your customers by maintaining a consistent message.
Saving resources by reusing marketing assets such as images, copy, video clips, and other content.
Start with a SMART Goal
SMART goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. Attainable and Realistic are not the same thing, because a goal can be attainable if you marshal every resource you have towards it, but still not be realistic because you can’t put all your time, energy, and resources into one endeavor.
Let’s use an example: Your goal might be to increase conversions through your website by 20 percent over the next six months in support of a new product launch. That’s specific (conversions) and measurable (how many completed forms). You have a time period of six months.
But is the goal attainable and realistic? If website conversions are down six percent, increasing them up to 20 percent might not be attainable and realistic. But if conversions have been increasing at a rate of 10 percent every six months, then getting to 20 percent is certainly attainable. If you have resources to devote to the initiative, it makes it all the more realistic.
Align Messaging to Support Your Goal
Sticking with the example goal of increasing website conversions to support a product launch, make sure your messaging is consistent around this goal. Maybe your ads focus on one or two top benefits. Your calls to action all revolve around going to your website to download a white paper or to register for a webinar.
Repeated messaging increases the likelihood of getting noticed by your customers and prospects, no matter what channel they use to find you. Conventional wisdom says that a prospect may have to hear your message up to seven times before responding in a positive manner. So make sure you’re delivering the same message across your campaign.
In addition, strive to use the same look and feel across all channels. For example, if you’re using photographs of your products, use similar style treatments in display ads, e-newsletter sponsorships, and landing pages.
Whenever possible, use the same fonts, colors and other visible branding elements across all media.
Choose a Mix of Channels
Your mix of marketing channels is your point of connection with potential customers. Engineers and other technical professionals have their individual preferences for media, but almost all of them use digital media to research products, services, and suppliers in the early stages of their buying process.
In the increasing conversions example, you might place ads in industry e-newsletters and display ads on targeted industrial websites, optimize web pages for key search terms, fine-tune messaging on content hubs, create supporting social media content, and distribute press releases.
While the messages on each of these channels can be slightly different, they all must align to support the product launch. The call to action in every case should motivate engineers to take the next step and arrive at a landing page on your website to take advantage of your offer, such as getting a white paper or viewing a webinar.
Fine-tuning your media mix in an integrated marketing campaign requires both skill and creativity to make sure your channels work together but are not redundant. GlobalSpec offers a wide range of marketing channels and the necessary expertise to help you create an effective integrated marketing campaign. Contact us today for more information or download our media kit.
For many industrial marketers, 2020 was unlike any year they’ve faced. And there’s no forecasting what 2021 might bring: more of the same, better, or worse?
But uncertainty doesn’t mean you don’t have any control. One thing you can do is to devote your energy and resources to three specific areas of focus that will help your marketing organization perform better, no matter what market conditions are like.
Concentrate on Digital Channels
Industrial marketers for years have been skewing their budgets in the direction of digital channels such as email, websites, search, webinars, and social. These and other digital assets are the online resources their target audience of engineers prefers to use to connect with suppliers and to find products and services.
The events of 2020 caused an even greater reliance on digital as in-person events were postponed or canceled. Beyond the acute impact of the pandemic, trending influences include a new generation of digital-first engineers as well as technological advances that make digital even more relevant and enticing.
Now, in 2021, our advice to you is to go digital-heavy to increase your visibility and generate opportunities. Webinars, online conferences and meetings, and other virtual events have proven to be highly effective in terms of results and costs. Furthermore, digital channels continue to offer the advantage of being easier to track and measure.
This year, make sure your website is the best it can be, your webinars are engaging, your display ads capture attention, and your email marketing targeted. Your media partners can help you develop an integrated, multi-channel digital marketing program that fits your budget and is aligned with your marketing goals.
Maintain a Consistent Message
Customers prefer to do business with brands they are familiar with and trust. One way to build trust and demonstrate what you stand for is to maintain consistency in your messaging.
Too often companies can become scattershot with their messaging in an attempt to “be everything to everybody” in hopes of not letting a single potential customer slip through the cracks. However, this approach can dilute your message, resulting in confused customers and becoming “nothing to nobody.”
A coherent and cohesive message that spans all of your marketing channels can help you cut through the clutter of intense competition and gain mindshare with your customers. This doesn’t mean you have to say the same thing using the same words every time, but you do want to align all your messaging within your overall value proposition and brand statement.
Use color palettes, visuals, text styles, and layouts to support and affirm your messaging. If your company can become known in the market for a couple of exceptional benefits delivered to customers, you will likely find marketing success in 2021.
Enable the Buying Process
In a survey of more than 250 B2B customers, Gartner found that 77 percent of them rated their purchase experience as extremely complex or difficult.
A data point like that leaves a lot of room for improvement—and opportunity.
The fact is, buyers are in control of the buying process, not marketing, sales, or business development. In addition, the majority of buyers don’t contact a potential supplier until they are well into their buying process.
Our job as marketers is to make the entire buying process efficient and easy for our customers.
We can do that by producing customer-centric content to meet buyer needs at all stages of their buying cycle. Content such as educational articles, white papers and webinars in the early stages, and practical case studies, comparisons, and ROI calculators in the later stages. Don’t try to wow them with fancy content—try to be useful to them.
Get content into the hands of potential customers through an easy-to-navigate website and through the digital marketing channels that engineers use.
Moreover, enable your buyers to connect with you by providing numerous and flexible options, including email, online chat, forums, phone, and social media. Make 2021 about making buying decisions easier for your customers, and you will be rewarded.
As 2021 approaches, industrial marketers face unprecedented challenges in solidifying their marketing plans for next year.
What’s a marketer to do? The answer is to balance two factors that largely determine both short-term and long-term marketing success: demand generation and branding.
While both branding and demand generation work in tandem as part of your complete marketing strategy, they perform different functions and have different attributes.
Short-term campaigns (typically less than three months)
Highly-targeted to defined audiences
Messaging around solving specific problems
Longer-term campaigns (typically more than six months)
Focused on gaining visibility in the market
Lays the groundwork for future business opportunities
According to research conducted by LinkedIn, B2B organizations allocate 45 percent of their marketing budgets, on average, to branding.
Marketers might be tempted to lean even more heavily toward demand generation in hopes of spurring short-term revenue growth, but an imbalanced strategy is unlikely to produce the desired results in 2021 for several reasons:
Short-term demand for products and services may be depressed during the pandemic and amid economic uncertainty, and no amount of marketing magic can change that.
Unless your company is a household name in the industrial sector, demand generation programs are forced to perform too much heavy lifting without the support of branding to keep your name top of mind with potential customers.
More reasons to balance demand generation and branding
Name recognition is important. Customers prefer to buy from brands they know and trust. It reduces the fear and risk involved in making a purchasing decision. There’s some truth to the old adage: “No one ever got fired for buying from IBM.”
Stronger brands command a price premium because buyers are will to pay more for brands they recognize and trust.
According to GlobalSpec’s upcoming “Pulse of Engineering” survey, only 34 percent of engineers say they are very or completely likely to be employed at the same company five years from now. That’s a lot of movement among your customers. If you lose an individual’s contact information when they change jobs, the only way to keep your company top of mind with them is through ongoing and broader branding campaigns.
Branding campaigns support short-term demand generation success by helping to shorten sales cycles. Salespeople are not starting at ground zero every time they engage with a prospect; instead, they are speaking to an informed person who already knows the brand attributes your company represents.
Branding allows you to reach beyond your own base and find new contacts and establish new connections, which is key to new growth.
Balance your measurement too
It’s easier to measure ROI for demand generation programs because their metrics are immediately available and results are known in a shorter time frame. Branding is a longer game that contributes to demand generation success but is more challenging to measure.
Track the effect of branding over a longer period of time. Choose metrics such as reach and visibility, name recognition, any trends in sales, or shortening of sales cycles. You could also allocate the costs of branding campaigns among your demand generation efforts under the assumption that branding is assisting those programs.
Combine branding and demand generation
Look for opportunities to gain both branding and demand generation benefits through integrated programs. Examples include using digital ads to promote a foundation webinar that features an industry expert. Or running a regular advertisement in an industry e-newsletter in which you offer brand-sponsored educational content.
The global spread of COVID-19 is new territory for all of us, but what’s not new are disruptions in the market. Recessions, wars, and even technological breakthroughs such as the Internet have all impacted markets and marketing strategy throughout history.
Historically, some companies have cut back on marketing during disruptive times. They consider marketing to be discretionary spending, or they believe that marketing is a cost center rather than an investment in growth.
The fact is, many of those companies that cut back on marketing faltered, and others took their place as market leaders. Amazon became a leader during a recession. Toyota beat Volkswagen. Kellogg’s gained market share from Post. Pizza Hut and Taco Bell grew sales, while McDonald’s suffered.
You can go back one hundred years and see more examples of companies that innovated during economic declines ended up experiencing a surge in revenue and profit. Advertising executive Roland S. Vaile tracked 200 companies during the recession in 1923. He found those that continued to advertise during the downturn were 20 percent ahead of where they had been before the recession, while companies that reduced advertising were 7 percent below their 1920 levels.
When other companies cut back, there is less clutter in the market, fewer competitors seeking your customers’ attention, and often better rates on advertising placements.
The old adage is true: “During good times you should advertise. During bad times you must advertise.”
Sure, that’s easy to say, but may be hard to do if budgets and other resources are being threatened. That’s why companies need to look to marketing innovation and efficiency to see themselves through the economic impact of COVID-19.
Rely on marketing technology
The big three areas of marketing technology are email marketing platforms, web content management, and digital marketing analytics. Chances are you’ve already made some investments in these areas. Now is the time to get the most out of your investments.
In many ways, the global pandemic is presenting the perfect convergence of marketing technology and marketing tactics. Email, websites, and search (both paid and organic) are all working right now—and each of these marketing tactics is supported and optimized by marketing technology.
Continue to invest in sending emails to your house lists and advertising in industry e-newsletters. Maintain a robust and up-to-date website. Use search to drive qualified traffic that converts.
Even if customers aren’t ready to buy right now, they are continuing to work and are looking for the right vendors for when they are ready to buy. You want to be noticed during this period, you want to be remembered, and you want to be seen as a stable brand during uncertain times. You can only do that by continuing to maintain your marketing momentum.
Adjust your messaging
In your messaging to customers, you have to acknowledge what’s going on and how your company is responding.
Your customers are people, not just revenue sources. They have concerns just as you do. Their jobs and career and lifestyles may be in danger. It doesn’t help to pretend the pandemic isn’t happening or to act “business as usual.” An important part of marketing—during both good times and hard times—is showing empathy, and the current climate presents an opportunity for you to stay in close touch and tell your customers you are thinking about them.
You may also have an opportunity to reposition some of your products and services. Issues such as business continuity, supply chain security, and reliability of vendor partnerships are all on the minds of your customers.
This is the time to reassure, to show how your company is helping, to let them know if your products might play an important role in addressing their issues. Highlight the stability of your company, the reputation of your customer service and support, or the reliability of your product line.
Build a bridge through marketing
Marketing is the bridge that will get you from today’s difficult situation to a more stable future. It will keep you connected with your customers, visible in the market, and prepared to face additional uncertainty.
There may not be a “return to normal.” But there will be a future. Those companies that realize marketing is more important than ever will be best positioned to be successful, whatever the future may bring.
With most tradeshows and other in-person events canceled or postponed due to COVID-19, industrial marketers are facing unprecedented challenges.
According to a recent survey by GlobalSpec, 35 percent of industrial marketers will not attend a tradeshow until a vaccine is available and another 24 percent say they will not be ready to attend a tradeshow for more than six months. Sixty-one percent said tradeshows they planned to attend or exhibit at have been canceled.
Translation: Tradeshows are by and large off the table for 2020.
The challenge for industrial marketers is how to fill the gap left by canceled or postponed tradeshows.
First, a little perspective. As the digital era continues to advance, tradeshows have been on a steady decline. Although still an effective and much-utilized strategy in the industrial marketing portfolio, tradeshows are not as important as they used to be. Still, marketers must do what they can to replace the high-touch, high-visibility benefits of tradeshows. Here are some ideas:
Invest more in content marketing
Marketers are now predicting that content marketing, followed by webinars and organic website traffic, will be their most successful 2020 marketing channels.
Engineers report the most valuable type of content are datasheets, case studies, product demo videos, and white papers, according to the “2020 Smart Marketing for Engineers,” survey conducted by TREW Marketing and GlobalSpec.
When it comes to accessing content, engineers find value in various information sources, including supplier/vendor websites, industry directory websites, online trade publications, emails, e-newsletters, and more.
Now is the time to make sure your content is accurate, up-to-date, and educational. This is an opportunity to present your company’s expertise and build trust with customers through your content. Distribute your content across as many channels as you can in order to reach the most engineers.
Hone your webinar skills
As you can imagine, many companies will be hosting more webinars as a way to connect with their target audiences. To capture and maintain attention, you’ll need webinars that stand above the others:
Keep webinars laser-focused on specific topics and your marketing goals. Consider a series of short webinars (20 minutes or so) that build on each other but also can individually stand alone.
Produce one or two foundational or showcase webinars that feature an industry expert, journalist, customer, or analyst who can tell a powerful story.
Engage your audience through interactive webinar features such as live polls, chat, and Q&A sessions.
Test all technical aspects of your webinar platform to make sure there are no glitches on game day.
Record and archive all webinars or other streaming events for on-demand viewing from your website. With a simple registration form (name, company, email), on-demand webinars can continue to provide engagement opportunities.
Refresh your home page
Because your customers and prospects cannot visit you at a tradeshow right now, you will likely be seeing more traffic to your website.
It’s a good time to update your homepage to make sure you’re offering an easy path for engineers to find the information they are looking for. This audience is not so concerned with the bells and whistles that a website has to offer. Instead, the large majority is looking for in-depth technical information and technical specifications. Can they navigate easily to this content from your home page?
Focus on Search Engine Optimization
Seventy-three percent of respondents to “2020 Smart Marketing for Engineers” survey are willing to view three or more pages of search results before selecting one or starting a search over, up from 54 percent the previous year.
You don’t have to launch a huge SEO effort, but you should pick your most important and relevant web pages and optimize them for specific keywords, keep the content fresh, update internal and external links, and fill out all meta tags.
Continue using email
Engineers still look to their inboxes for important content. Two-thirds of engineers subscribe to at least three newsletters, with 18 percent subscribing to six or more. Email is still a highly valuable and relevant communication channel, but you need to work to get the attention of engineers. Create subject lines that capture attention, and newsletter content that clearly provides value to your audience.
Work with your media partners
Your media partners should be up-to-date on changes occurring in the media landscape. They know what’s working and what isn’t during these challenging times. Ask them for help with your media plan for the second half of the year. They may be able to offer effective ideas and opportunities that you hadn’t considered or known about.
Many businesses have never faced the level of uncertainty they are confronted with now during the global pandemic. Some are experiencing declining revenue and are beginning to institute cost-cutting measures, including reducing their advertising and marketing spending.
In the wake of the last recession in 2008, ad spending dropped 13 percent, as reported in Forbes.
But history shows that cutting back on marketing during challenging times can be a risky move, leading to depressed results over a longer period of time.
One example: McGraw-Hill Research analyzed 600 B2B companies from 1980 through 1985. Their research found that business-to-business firms that maintained or increased advertising expenditures during the 1981-1982 recession averaged significantly higher sales growth, both during the recession and for the following three years, than those that eliminated or decreased advertising.
Why Maintain Marketing Momentum?
Discretionary spending such as advertising and marketing may be easy targets for CFO’s attempting cost control, but executives should look first to reduce other operating expenses. Maintaining marketing momentum during this time has numerous advantages:
With some companies cutting back, there is less competition for your audience’s attention, and therefore getting noticed becomes easier.
You may be able to gain market share from competitors who don’t maintain their marketing presence.
The cost of advertising space can be lower as demand for inventory decreases.
By maintaining a marketing presence, you can project a company image of stability and strength. No one wants to do business with a company that is perceived to be struggling.
You can stay top of mind with your customers and prospects.
If you let campaigns languish, and your customers’ buy cycle is long, you may continue to struggle even when conditions are more favorable because the top of your sales funnel will be empty.
Currently, there is a huge surge in internet traffic with many people working remotely, helping to expand the potential audience for your digital presence.
Continue Marketing, but Make Changes
While the arguments are strong to continue advertising and marketing during economic downturns and other challenging times, you may not want to do exactly what you have been doing in the past.
Check your messaging and revise as needed. Make sure that all content you share with your audience at this time is relevant, authentic, and sensitive to what your customers might be going through. Also, if customers must interact with your company in a different way now, be sure to communicate that clearly.
Reposition products and services. If your product and service offerings are in any way related to providing assistance during the current crisis, you can do some repositioning. Testing equipment, protective material, products that increase efficiency, or a service that benefits a remote workforce—these are just a few examples of areas that might be ripe for repositioning. Make sure your messaging reads as being helpful rather than as taking advantage of the situation.
Share good news. Maybe your company is performing some type of community service to help others afflicted by the coronavirus, or you have employees who are volunteering their time for the cause. Highlight these cases in your next newsletter, or even publish a special edition. We could all use some positive news.
Justify your marketing budget. When potential cutbacks loom, you may be asked to defend your budget. Make sure you are prepared. Track your marketing metrics and produce reports to demonstrate to executives that your marketing programs are working—and prepare your talking points on the detrimental effects of pulling back on marketing.