If you own a business or lead a marketing team in the manufacturing space, you know all too well how difficult it can be to challenge the status quo.
You need to increase brand awareness and convert more prospects into leads, but leadership is pushing back, wary of pursuing marketing initiatives that could waste time or lead the company in the wrong direction.
Between trying to convince old-school CEOs and stakeholders that inbound is the marketing solution your business needs, and figuring out where the heck to start, it can be difficult for your marketing team to be truly effective at inbound. Especially when leadership is clinging to traditional lead-generating avenues — such as trade shows, engineering magazine ads, and manufacturer directories.
These methods no longer work like they used to, because 80% of your buyers research online prior to making a purchasing decision — long before they contact someone in sales or reach out for more information on your products and services.
The bottom line is this: If you’re convinced that inbound marketing can work for your manufacturing business (and it can), but you’re struggling to get everyone on board or don’t know where to start, you are certainly not alone.
Inbound marketing in the manufacturing sector takes a major shift in thinking that won’t happen overnight.
And if your manufacturing company is like any of the hundreds of businesses that we’ve helped succeed with inbound, you need to know if the process will attract better-fit leads and improve the profitability of your businessbefore you dive in.
In this article, we cover some of the biggest questions our manufacturing clients ask us, such as:
What is inbound marketing and how does it benefit manufacturing firms?
How do you develop an inbound marketing strategy that works for manufacturing businesses?
What examples show how other manufacturing businesses are succeeding with inbound marketing?
Then, we teach you how to use the They Ask, You Answer framework to eliminate all the guesswork that comes with learning a new marketing approach.
Inbound marketing canhelp your manufacturing business thrive. But if you want it to work, you need to understand how to meet your ideal buyer where they are today: searching for complex, big-ticket solutions like yours — online.
Here’s how to make inbound marketing work for your manufacturing business.
Free Guide: The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Playbook 2022
What is inbound marketing and how does it benefit manufacturing firms?
Inbound marketing is a digital marketing strategy where businesses organically earn the attention of their ideal buyers at different stages of the purchasing journey. These stages include:
Awareness: When a prospect has a problem they want to solve or an opportunity they want to seize.
Consideration: The prospect researches their problem, understands it, and is aware of potential solutions.
Decision: The prospect has narrowed down the products/services and decides which to purchase.
This marketing method grew out of the rising challenge to market to buyers who increasingly spent time online. Traditional outbound marketing methods — such as cold-calling, billboard ads, and TV commercials — are now seen as interruptive and no longer work.
But when manufacturing firms create high-quality content and experiences that your customers actually want to seek out — whether you’re creating in-depth ebooks that help engineers troubleshoot an industrial wastewater treatment system or a product guide about the benefits of metal roofing — it positions your business as the manufacturer in your space that knows their stuff.
It can be difficult to get the ball rolling, but once you get started, these are the benefits to inbound marketing — especially when using the They Ask, You Answer framework for your strategy:
Gain the edge over your competition. Most manufacturing businesses — even some of the big-name brands — have yet to pursue inbound marketing. This means there is still time to pull ahead and win the trust of buyers first. Inbound levels the playing field because you don’t need to throw exorbitant amounts of money behind large marketing campaigns. You grow leads organically online by creating content geared toward helping your buyers solve their problems and establishing yourselves as the No. 1 thought leader in your space.
Draw in more good-fit leads. Instead of throwing spaghetti at the wall hoping some will stick, you are creating laser-focused content that presents relevant information to buyers at exactly the right time. This means the leads you get are more educated — and therefore more likely to buy.
Dramatically shorten sales cycles. In the manufacturing space, sales cycles are often complex and drawn-out for a good reason; your customers are searching for solutions to complex, large-scale issues. When you create and use content correctly, it can be wielded by your sales team to relay valuable information to your clients’ key decision-makers earlier and close deals faster.
Now that you know what inbound is and how it can help your manufacturing business reach more customers, here’s how to create the best strategy.
How do you develop an inbound marketing strategy that works for manufacturing businesses?
Most of the manufacturing businesses we coach think that inbound marketing will work differently for them because their business is unique. Some sell big-ticket, carefully designed, patented products that cost millions and solve highly complex problems, such as stripping ionic impurities from industrial wastewater streams or moving massive objects with intricate rigging gear.
Your content needs to provide value to highly trained professionals and, if you’re in the B2B space, help project managers and other businesses offer complex solutions to high-stakes clients of their own.
Here’s the thing: Your business is different. But it’s also similar to other industries in that the content you produce will help your ideal buyer find and trust your company.
This means the fundamental concepts of inbound still apply, but the way you approach that content will depend on your buyers.
Here’s what to do:
1. Build an inbound marketing culture
There is a key difference between businesses that succeed with inbound and those that fail: Businesses that succeed don’t approach inbound marketing as a program, but as a culture. Programs are often set up, executed, and die out. Cultures, on the other hand, are nourished and grow, becoming embedded in your business’s everyday mission.
For manufacturing businesses, this can be a tough one. Sales and leadership are, a lot of the time, set in their ways.
To get your leadership and sales teams behind you in your quest to create an inbound marketing culture in your business, you need to get buy-in from your team. This means they need to understand the what, why, and how of inbound.
You might get a lot of pushback and hear sentiments such as, “We don’t have time.” But what this really means is that content creation isn’t a priority for your company, and they don’t understand the incredible benefits inbound marketing could have on your business’s bottom line.
This is why we always recommend beginning this journey with a workshop that clearly explains the effect inbound marketing can have on your business. Once everyone is on board with how it works and why you need it, the rest will more easily fall into place.
One of the biggest components of inbound marketing success is insourcing your content creation. So many companies that fail or don’t generate big wins turn to outside sources like agencies or freelancers to take care of their inbound marketing strategy.
You need people inside your organization working on your inbound marketing initiative who care about the project and represent your business.
Hire a content manager
The companies we’ve worked with that get the most inbound marketing wins the fastest do one very simple thing: They hire a full-time content manager. This person is ultimately the backbone of your inbound marketing efforts.
You need that one person in-house who owns the content creation process and can:
Create consistent, high-quality content that accurately reflects the true tone and spirit of your brand.
Interview your company’s subject-matter experts to capture their insights and integrate their unique perspectives into your content.
Work directly with the sales team to help integrate content into the inbound sales process so they can close more deals faster.
Monitor organic reach and search performance and routinely improve ranking and traffic results.
Update existing content to ensure it remains relevant and effective.
Oversee your website, email, social media, and other areas of the business where content is critical.
As you can see, this role is truly a full-time job — and it’s one of the first steps we push our clients to take. If you’re thinking there is someone on your marketing team or in sales who can create content for your business, but they already wear too many hats, it won’t work. You need to dedicate someone to this role exclusively, or you’ll never be able to reach that cadence of producing at least three pieces of content per week.
As your team creates content (ideally led by your content manager), remember that you have an entire staff of subject-matter experts at your fingertips. The salespeople who have worked for your company for years, the engineers on your team, the people you hired that have years and years of industry experience — use them!
Your inbound marketing content needs to be as educational as possible, so use the people on your team who can best explain how your process works. Let your prospects see your employees’ faces on camera and read their advice on your blog. However the people on your staff want to contribute, they need to. This will help your business tap into an unlimited supply of content that looks, feels, and acts like your brand.
There’s nothing more authentic and true to your business than that.
3. Create the most effective inbound marketing content first
After you’ve succeeded in getting your leadership, sales, and marketing teams on board — and you’ve hired a content manager — this is when your inbound marketing strategy starts to really come together and creating content becomes the main focus.
But you don’t want to create just any content. You want to create the most effective content possible to get the biggest return on your investment in the shortest time. There are five main article topics you can address that will do this. We call them The Big 5.
Here’s what they are and how to create them.
The Big 5
The Big 5 are topics that represent the questions buyers obsess about and search in-depth before making big purchase decisions — and when you answer them on your website, they do the heaviest lifting to attract prospects and increase traffic, leads, and sales.
The Big 5 are:
Pricing and costs: How much your solution costs (factors, considerations, what defines value, etc.).
Problems: The negatives about, or issues with, your solution that buyers ask about.
Versus and comparisons: How your product or solution compares to similar products or solutions.
Reviews: Honest and unbiased opinions and observations about your product, solution, etc.
Best in class: What the best solution available is.
It’s important to write these articles to educate buyers in an unbiased way and give them all the information they need to make informed buying decisions. Doing so builds the trust your prospects need to hand over their hard-earned money in exchange for your business.
Manufacturing cost and price articles
Most manufacturing businesses don’t talk about cost on their websites. You might be thinking, How can we? Our market is volatile — raw materials constantly vary in cost depending on the rules of supply and demand.
But if you think of it from the consumer’s perspective, one of the first questions you have before you make a large purchase is, “How much does it cost?” If we go to a business’s website and can’t find this information immediately, we are frustrated.
We know our prospects want to know cost information, but we typically avoid having it on our websites for a few reasons:
Our solutions are custom. Even if you don’t give a price tag, by simply addressing the topic, you are answering the question.
Our competition will know. Chances are your competitors already know what you charge. Don’t let your competitor dictate what you share with your prospects online. Focus on your buyers and their needs — exclusively.
We might scare customers away. Explaining cost doesn’t scare your customers away, but keeping this information from them will. Your customers know you know how much your products cost, and if you don’t share the cost with them, they won’t trust you.
If you’re not willing to address the question and explain the marketplace to your buyers, they won’t understand what goes into your process and will always seek the cheapest option — even if you’re the best one.
Here’s a cost article published by one of our clients, Mazzella Companies, which you can reference to get an idea of what these articles include.
Every company gets asked questions about the problems with their products and services. We’d love to pretend everything about our businesses is perfect, but that’s not the case — and your customers already know this.
We can address the problems that customers might run across with our products and services, which makes us part of the conversation, or we can allow our competitors to address them.
Some of our clients have generated millions in sales by simply writing these articles. They work because, when we’re willing to address the problems our buyers might experience, we explain them before they are a concern, and our customers appreciate the transparency.
Again, it all comes down to trust.
In this example, IMPACT client Sheffield Metals discusses possible issues that might arise with different metal coil and sheet suppliers — when a customer goes for a low-cost supplier.
We love nothing more as buyers than to compare our options.
Yet again, most businesses feel uncomfortable addressing this issue because it often forces us to talk about our competitors. Your prospects want to know how your products and services compare to other options, so you need to talk about them.
But if you want to do this and still build trust with your buyers, which is the business we’re all in, you need to remain unbiased and show both sides of the coin, as River Pools did in their comparison article.
As buyers and consumers, we also love to search for reviews and the best in class. If we are able to see all our options and what people have to say about them, we can make better-informed decisions.
Topics such as “Best Companies for Extracting Lithium from Geothermal Brine” might sound like one to avoid — especially if you also provide the service. But again, your prospects want to know. List the options, and talk about your competitors without putting yourself on the list. If you create a “best of” list, your prospects will know you wrote it, and if you put your own business on it, you appear biased and you lose credibility.
For more information on how to create these articles, watch our free course How to Write “The Big 5”. Also, set up an appointment to talk to an advisor here at IMPACT. We’ve taught hundreds of businesses like yours how to write these articles, and we can answer any questions you have.
4. Use inbound marketing content in your sales process
If your sales and marketing teams do inbound marketing together correctly, your website acts as your company’s best salesperson, and it will be easier to zero in on marketing- and sales-qualified leads.
Great content means more trust, which leads to shorter sales cycles and happier sales teams.
5. Obsess over your customer for a stronger inbound marketing strategy
We need to overcome our buyers’ fear and build trust. You do this by answering their questions as thoroughly and honestly as possible.
When our clients succeed with They Ask, You Answer, it’s because of their willingness to lean into fear.
The question is, are you willing to answer your buyers’ questions truthfully, no matter how difficult they are to answer?
This is the essence of They Ask, You Answer — it’s a monumental shift in the way businesses operate today, and if you do it right, you won’t believe how much the course of your business can change.
Using search engine optimization to drive relevant traffic
While we understand how important it is to drive website traffic to your website — after all, more traffic equals more visibility — we also believe it’s important to focus on the right traffic.
Writing about The Big 5 and answering your buyers’ most pressing questions will help you rank for important keywords without giving too much thought to the technical aspect of SEO, but it’s still important to understand how to use search engines to drive traffic too.
Here are some of the basics.
1. Develop content based on target keyword research
As you develop your content strategy, SEO tools like Semrush, Surfer SEO, and Ahrefs can help you zero in on what your ideal target keywords should be. Your keyword planning tools are set up to help you align your content with what your searchers are looking for.
Whichever tool you use should provide suggestions based on:
Primary keywords. These are your high-level keywords meant to serve as the main topic.
Secondary keywords. Should be used as often as possible as the subheads in your articles and pillar pages.
Supporting language. Lower-level keywords you can use throughout the text.
In your research, when you find strong secondary keywords that have enough search traffic around them, see if you can justify creating articles and content for them alone. When you publish articles about a larger topic and link them to an article about a subtopic — and vice versa — you’re telling search engines you know a lot about that keyword/subject, which increases your chance of ranking for it.
2. Use effective header text and meta descriptions
Well-constructed header text does two important things:
Includes the primary keyword you’re trying to rank for.
Makes people want to click or read the content.
If your content gets indexed by search engines and ends up ranking but doesn’t get clicks, Google will deprecate it in favor of articles that do get clicked.
Your metadata or descriptions are the block of text that shows up after the header text in the SERPS (search engine results pages). This is the text that explains what information that content provides.
Metadata is not used in the ranking algorithm; however, the number of people who click through to your article is. So, make your meta description as attractive as possible, even if Google ends up rewriting it for you. It’s worth trying to get the information out there you want.
3. Optimize all images
You want your pages to load as quickly as possible, so make sure your images' file sizes are as small as they can be.
Use Google Lighthouse to scan your site and find what images might cause it to be slow. Optimization services, such as Bulk Resize Photos and Ezgif, can help you reduce media file sizes, but most CMSs offer some optimization features too, that allow you to edit directly in the post.
4. Include a number of internal links
You want to link whenever it's appropriate, but always include a few links to relevant pieces of content with strong optimization. Google crawls every page and wants to see that you are linking to two or more articles around the article that you’re writing.
Also, link with intention and keep search in mind, especially when choosing anchor text. This means that instead of using phrases such as, “Read this article,” you’re using the entire name of the article, which tells search engines more information about where the link is headed (providing you’ve created the titles with the header text best practices mentioned above).
With inbound marketing for manufacturing companies, create better leads for less
Inbound marketing is quickly replacing traditional means — and this goes for manufacturing businesses too. Cold-calling, magazine ads, and manufacturing directories might snag you a few good leads, but to really scale your business today, you need to build trust with and reach your ideal buyer online.