Marketing Planning for 2014: 6 Ways to Evaluate Your Media Choices

It’s time to take off the gloves and get tough with your 2014 marketing planning. That means taking a hard look at your media choices and drilling down to find out what really works and what doesn’t. Last month, in Part One of this annual two-part series, we posed six questions you should ask about your marketing efforts. You can access the article here. This month, we give you six criteria to evaluate your media choices to help you choose the right channels to meet your goals and objectives.

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You have many choices about where to spend your marketing dollars. Digital channels. Traditional channels. Some combination of the two. It almost makes you long for the days of being limited to trade publications and printed directories. However, those channels have reached their twilight years.

Today industrial professionals are online looking to discover products, services, and suppliers. In a recent IHS GlobalSpec survey, 81 percent of engineering, technical and industrial professionals reported spending three or more hours a week on the Internet for work-related purposes, with more than 31 percent indicating the spend nine or more hours a week online.

But before you allocate your marketing budget for 2014, hold each of your media choices up to the light of these six criteria:

1. Reach. At its foundation, effective marketing is about reaching as many of your target audience as you can: long reach, right people, right time. Do you know how many people you’re reaching with your marketing programs? Are they the people who will specify, recommend, and purchase your products and services? Also, consider this often overlooked question: do you reach your target audience at the right time, when they are actively looking for products and services?

More than 70 percent of engineers use the Internet to obtain product specifications, and more than 80 percent are online to find components, equipment, services, and suppliers. Online catalogs and searchable databases of datasheets and product pricing and availability, like Datasheets360.com, help you effectively reach active searchers.

2. Frequency. It’s the digital era. It’s a global economy. Who knows when engineers might engage in a quest to discover products and suppliers? The answer is anytime, all the time. Which means your target audience must be able to find you 24/7. Channels that offer continuous frequency include your company website, search engines, and online catalogs. Compare that to print directories that are typically published once a year or an annual tradeshow.

3. Timing. Don’t underestimate the importance of timing in your marketing programs. Timing is about making a connection with your prospects when they are proactively seeking products and services. In other words, hooking them when they’re hungry. There are many good channels for connecting with active searchers, including your company website, online catalogs, webinars, and online events. Print catalogs and print directories will help you reach active searchers, but you’ll miss out on reach, frequency, and the ability to measure ROI.

4. Return. ROI can be complex to measure, but it’s often smart to start by answering a simple question: For the marketing dollars you spend, what kind of return to you get in terms of brand awareness and engagement opportunities? For example, programs such as webinars tend to have high return because prospects have proactively registered for the event, which already indicates their interest. Inquiries on your website from existing customers also offer high return; it’s lower for new customers. Searchable online catalogs tend to deliver good engagement opportunities because only your target audience would be using them, as opposed to general search engines.

5. Contacts and Inquiries. Do your marketing channels deliver contacts and inquiries in real time or is there a lag between prospects expressing interest and you finding out about it, leading to stale data? Also, do you get contact information for individuals and do you know their expressed area of interest? Work with media partners and choose channels that provide real time contact information containing useful data. This will get you that much closer to a qualified prospect from the beginning.

6. Branding. Branding and awareness are key components in the marketing equation. A highly visible brand helps build trust with customers and can reduce the time between inquiry and closing a sale because your brand is already recognized by prospects. Your company website, along with webinars and other online events and e-newsletter advertisements, offer solid branding opportunities.

A final recommendation as you prepare for 2014: Get a complimentary copy of the IHS GlobalSpec 2014 Industrial Marketing Planning Kit. This valuable and trusted resource will help you make the most of your marketing budget and choose the optimal channels to reach your goals and objectives. Download your copy today.

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Search and Discovery: Why Both Should be Part of an Industrial Marketing Plan

Industrial marketers know the importance of being found online on GlobalSpec.com, Datasheets360.com, search engine results pages, and other resources when potential customers search for relevant products and services.
These searches tend to be based on customer needs. They are related to early and middle stages of the buy cycle: needs awareness, research and comparison and evaluation. Customers are motivated because they have a problem to solve and are searching for suppliers, products, and services that can help solve the problem.

That’s why marketers invest in online catalogs, search engine optimization, and pay-per-click marketing programs—to rise to the top for relevant searches and increase opportunities to engage with customers and prospects.

But search isn’t the only aspect of digital media that’s important to marketers, because search isn’t the only work-related activity industrial professionals do online. They also spend significant amounts of time reading news, keeping up with industry trends, learning about the latest technologies, seeking out educational opportunities and more. It’s during these work-related activities that their customers are performing when suppliers and manufacturers need to be “discovered.” Even though your audience many not have an immediate and pressing need, you still want to be in front of them because they could be a potential customer.

Allocating some of your budget to the discovery aspect of marketing will help raise the visibility and awareness of your products and services among potential customers. Your brand will become recognized by and familiar to potential customers, so that when they do perform a targeted search and your company, products and services appear, they will be more likely to choose you because industrial professionals—like anyone else—want to do business with a company they know and has a positive reputation in the industry. In this way, search and discovery work hand-in-hand.

Here are ideas for pumping up the discovery side of your marketing program. And all of them are easy to implement with the right media partner and to track in terms of impressions, clicks, and conversions:

  • E-newsletter advertisements: Engineers and related professionals subscribe to an average of 5.8 digital publications making newsletters a primary information source for work purposes. Look for opt-in e-newsletters focused on your industry or product area. Be sure to study audience demographics and profiles to make sure you are reaching the right people.
  • Online events and webinars: Nearly two-thirds of industrial professionals said they attended at least one webinar or online event last year. Twenty-six percent went to four or more. Exhibiting at an online event is a great way to build thought leadership and distribute content such as white papers, articles, videos and case studies.
  • Industry websites: Maintaining a presence on targeted industry websites (such as Electronics360.com) keeps you in front of potential customers while they are performing work-related tasks. Engineers spend time on sites reading recent news and learning about the latest technologies, as well as searching for products and services that meet their needs.
  • Banner ads: Banner ads that appear across a network of targeted industrial sites offer you broad and deep exposure to potential customers who might otherwise not know about your company or are hard to reach. Your banner ads can link back to your website, online catalog, or any other online destination that is useful to your target audience and meets your marketing goals and objectives.

Search AND Discovery—both are important to your marketing success. When planning for 2014, be sure to allocate marketing budget to both types of programs.

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Marketers Must Help Customers Through Their Buy Cycle

With pressure to demonstrate return on investment (ROI), industrial marketers often focus most of their attention and resources on the end of the buy cycle: the purchase decision. When you can build a marketing ROI case based on sales it’s easier to justify marketing expenses.

But there are two pitfalls to this approach:

1. The industrial buy cycle consists of distinct stages: needs awareness, research, consideration and comparison, and procurement. It’s important to use marketing to build awareness and connect with customers in these earlier stages or you probably won’t be a candidate to win business when decision time comes.

2. You can establish goals and track metrics for marketing programs that reach prospects in the earlier stages of the buy cycle. In this way you can use awareness and engagement opportunities as additional evidence to demonstrate ROI for your marketing efforts.

Why the early buy cycle stages are important
Fifty-six percent of industrial buyers don’t contact a vendor until at least the consideration and comparison stage of the buy cycle, according to the “2013 Digital Media Use in the Industrial Sector” research report. Nineteen percent don’t contact the vendor until they are ready to make a purchase.

Before making a purchase decision, buyers rely on a variety of digital resources to discover and research information about products, services and suppliers. They use this information to narrow down their options prior to even getting a vendor involved, which means you must be found in the early stages of the buy cycle and support customers with helpful, relevant content to make it onto a buyer’s short list of vendors.

Buyers use different information resources in different stages. During the needs awareness and research phases, the most frequently used resources are general search engines, supplier websites, online catalogs, and GlobalSpec.com. In addition to these online platforms, other resources, including colleagues and printed directories, are used in the consideration and comparison stage. During the procurement stage, the resource used most often is supplier websites, followed by online catalogs and general search engines.

Establish your presence on these digital channels to reach customers early in the buy cycle and you will be able to create a large pool of engaged opportunities for your sales team to work on closing.

Measure Success Throughout the Buy Cycle
Calculating ROI by tying sales to marketing programs can be an effective way to justify marketing expenses. But you can also demonstrate ROI when marketing supports customers in the earlier buy cycle stages.

For example, web page views, clicks, content downloads, video views, webinar attendance, and mentions or shares on social media can all be tracked and tied to your marketing efforts. These important metrics measure customer awareness, interest and engagement with your brand, products and services.

This type of ROI measurement is every bit as important as tying to sales, because without effective marketing in the early buy cycle stages, you won’t gain nearly as many opportunities for your sales team.

Keep in mind that early in the buy cycle customers want content that educates them and helps them do their job and move closer to a decision. Think about producing and distributing white papers, “how-to’s,” case studies, blog posts and product demo videos, rather than technical specifications or pricing and ordering information which can come later in the buy cycle. You can even measure the effectiveness of your content by tracking what gets downloaded, clicked on or shared the most.

It’s true that everyone wants immediate results. But the reality is that the industrial buy cycle can be long and complex, and might involve multiple decision makers. Plan your marketing to connect with customers early on in their buy cycle and you will have more engagement opportunities for your sales team to close in the later stages. You’ll also have the metrics as evidence to support your marketing decisions and justify your investments.

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How to Give Your Content Marketing More Momentum

Most industrial marketers understand the importance of content marketing to help feed the industrial professional’s almost insatiable appetite for useful, relevant information. For that purpose you produce a steady stream of white papers, datasheets, how-to videos, webinars, social posts, technical articles and more.

But cranking out content just because content marketing is the thing to do won’t get you very far towards your goals. Your content marketing efforts should fit within a larger plan to build awareness and thought leadership, as well as to generate engagement opportunities.

To achieve these goals, you should check that all of your content meets these parameters:

  • Fits within the framework of the key positioning and messages you want to get across as a thought leader and industry expert. All of the content producers on your team should know the key messages and guidelines to follow.
  • Focuses on the informational needs of your target audience and is educational in nature, helping them do their jobs better. You may want to get across specific messages or positioning, but the content also has to be about your audience and what they want. When the two are the same, your company is in a sweet spot.
  • Is widely distributed and visible across those media channels used by your target audience. Your audience is online, using websites, search engines, email, video sharing sites, online catalogs, social networks and more. That’s where your content needs to be.
  • Is “actionable.”

By actionable we mean that your target audience can and will do something after consuming your content. This is one of the best ways to give your content marketing more momentum. The action could be a small step (get more content, re-think a position) or a large step (engage with your sales team, make a purchase), but the point is to help your customers and prospects move forward through the phases of their buy cycle.

Here are some tips to make your content marketing more actionable:

  • Make the next offer. For example, at the end of a white paper, promote a webinar that’s based on a related topic. In a blog post, link to other articles of interest. Add a link in a short video interview to a more in-depth case study. Think in terms of “if my audience likes X, then they should also be interested in Y.” Give them X, then offer them Y. The idea is to always be offering more, and making your audience want to say yes.
  • Create content that’s easy to share. Especially with complex industrial products, the buying cycle can be long and involve a number of decision makers, influencers and recommenders. Therefore, it’s important to make content easy to share among the decision-making team. Include a forwarding feature in emails. Make web pages that are easy to print, email and share. Don’t be shy about asking your audience to share and recommend content that they like.
  • Ask for interaction. Getting your audience involved helps boost the momentum of your content marketing, helping it reach farther and become more visible. Ask provocative questions about important industry topics on your blog or Facebook posts to get the conversation rolling. Take a stand on an issue and ask your audience for their opinion. Use polls on web pages and emails—and share the results.
  • Include contact information. You never know when your content might motivate a customer or prospect to contact you. That’s why you always need to provide a contact mechanism. It doesn’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, a hard call to action (Buy now! Call us today!), but it’s easy and non-aggressive to add a ‘For more info’ or ‘Have questions?’ or ‘Contact’ at the end of your content and put in an email address or phone number. It’s surprising how many marketers skip this step.

Content marketing is essential in today’s industrial marketplace. Make sure you do it with purpose and action in mind, and you will experience forward momentum.

Download IHS GlobalSpec’s complimentary white paper, Content Marketing for Industrial Marketers,  and get the information, inspirations and recommendations you need to develop or accelerate a winning content marketing strategy.

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