One problem manufacturing companies face is that their products don't have wide appeal to a large audience. Tool and die manufacturers? Surgical equipment makers? Foundries? These products appeal to specialized audiences with customers that can be measured in the few thousands — if not hundreds. As a result, some might overlook the importance of content marketing for manufacturers.
I worked in the poultry-equipment industry for 12 years, and they were always several years behind the rest of the internet when it came to online marketing. We were so ground-breakingly innovative when I launched our company's website in 1996 — our competitors thought we sold the family cow for magic beans.
Even now, poultry equipment manufacturers still haven't embraced content marketing. When they finally discover it, they could dominate the industry. Just like any myriad of manufacturing companies out there looking to boost their presence.
Why is content marketing for manufacturers important?
Remember, your customers are still flesh-and-blood people. You might spend your days assembling machinery fit for robots, but the customers who purchase them still need to be engaged. They watch TV, read, listen to music, watch movies, and view art.
Manufacturing customers aren’t cyborgs that go into sleep mode at the end of each day.
You can — and should — entertain and wow them just as much as regular marketers try to convince regular consumers to buy their clothes, drive their cars, and eat their food. Many manufacturers still rely on traditional marketing methods to spread information — brochures, trade shows, salespeople, occasional press releases and the like. And while these are great, they don’t have the same breadth as content marketing.
This type of marketing works all year long by reaching people when they want to be reached and when they're seeking information. Best of all, manufacturing companies that try to be exciting and interesting will have a distinct advantage over those stuck on the more conservative, belt-and-suspenders approach to marketing.
Content marketing for manufacturers isn’t so different from general content strategy. Here are five steps to consider if you want to inject a little creativity into your plans and stand out from the crowd.
1. Blog with a personality and voice.
I can go into a lengthy and thorough explanation as to why you should start a blog, but for now, we'll stick with some of the basics:
- This is a chance to demonstrate your company's expertise in your field. You can analyze new trends and issues before everyone else is even aware of what's going on. Get a jump on your industry's trade journals!
- Google wants fresh content regularly. So, you can change your website on a regular basis, or you can write new blog posts. Google is a hungry beast, and a blog feeds it.
- It will help you be found more easily on search engines, especially compared with your competitors who aren’t doing anything on this front.
- You can become a valuable resource to your customers and industry. They'll turn to you for up-to-date information on your company. You might even be asked to be a contributor to other industry websites and trade journals.
- Ultimately, it helps you promote the executives and faces of your company. They become thought leaders to the industry, and you look like a powerhouse company for employing so many brilliant experts.
Blogging lets you share small nuggets of information, usually between 300 and 700 words, that can persuade people through education and information.
Rather than turning these into 700-word advertisements, treat them more like news stories, magazine articles or even newspaper columns.
Discuss issues that concern you, and do so with an interesting voice and style (for inspiration, think about your favorite newspaper columnist or author). Don't just relay information in a dry, boring manner. Have a voice, have a hook, and make your work something people enjoy reading.
2. Write creative eBooks.
eBooks let you share bigger chunks of content with potential customers and can serve as a great lead-generation tool. Offer a free eBook in exchange for an email address, which you can add to your subscription list. Then, you can send subscribers a monthly newsletter with new blog posts and special information as a way to keep them interested in your company.
eBooks serve to educate people about the benefits of a particular product or service. Imagine creating a how-to book about solving a problem your customers face, or instructing people on a new technique in your industry.
I've written eBooks on using reflective insulation to cool your home in the summer, how to hire a mystery shopper for a wireless carrier (that one resulted in a client winning a million-dollar contract), and how to use social media for crisis communications. They all had one thing in common:
They solved problems — or made people aware of problems — that our product or service could fix.
eBooks don't have to be boring. In fact, this is where you get to shine. Work with a professional writer — journalist, fiction writer or creative nonfiction specialist — and have them write a short story worthy of sale on Amazon. That’s some great content marketing for manufacturers that your customers will love to have.
And if the eBook is long enough, you can even print out a few hard copies to share with clients via Amazon's print-on-demand service. (Talk about credibility! There's something special about handing someone a book and saying, "I wrote this.")
3. Take advantage of photos and videos.
For manufacturing companies that make finished, non-OEM products, try sharing some photos and videos of your product in the real world. Ask your customers to share them on their social networks as well.
Pro tip: Consider holding monthly contests as a way of promoting your products, and then ask customers to share photos of it in use.
Before you know it, you’ll see images crop up on Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. Customers are helping you with your marketing — for only the cost of a monthly prize.
Not interested in the prize game? Go out and find yourself some brand ambassadors. These users can produce entertaining content surrounding your product (videos, photos, blog posts) that don’t blatantly scream, “advertising.” Plus, when a brand ambassador suggests something to their friends, it’s more genuine than the in-your-face approach.
Can we get professional photographers and videographers to create high-quality visual content to showcase the product? Absolutely. But we're going for creative, enjoyable content that people want to share. So that means real photos by real people in the real world — not staged product shots in a photography studio.
4. Manufacturing companies can podcast too.
We're in a golden age of podcasting: Some 57 million Americans listen to at least one podcast per month. This isn't a niche art form: 1 in 5.5 people listen to at least one podcast on their mobile phone, tablet or laptop each month. Why not take advantage of this relatively inexpensive, but far-reaching, media channel? You can sponsor a podcast that already exists in your industry. Or if there isn't one, you could create one.
What if you had a weekly podcast where you shared the same topics you wrote about in your blog, or reacted to current events and discussed how they affected your industry? What if you could interview some of your customers about their work and their company, as well as how they're dealing with the same industry issues? This could be a resource you share with your entire industry, and would put your marketing far and above anything anyone else is doing.
Pro tip: Podcasts can even be used as sales tools. Potential customers might not be interested in taking a sales call, but an invitation to talk on a podcast can seem much more engaging and exciting.
5. Take some risks and do something new.
Some of you may be old enough to remember GE's Adventures in Science comic books. I read mine in the late 70s, although they were reprints from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Recently, General Electric has decided to bring back the Adventures in Science comics by turning the stories over to noted artists like Batman's George Roussos and creative writers like young adult novelist Sarah Perlmutter. They reimagined and retold the original Adventures in Science stories for a modern school-age audience.
On the other hand, some of you may remember The Second City's Sassy Gay Friend sketches on YouTube six years ago with a retelling of Othello, Romeo and Juliet, Adam and Eve and even The Giving Tree. Drink additive Mio loved the sketches so much, they hired The Second City to produce additional SGF sketches, but to also turn them into a pitch for Mio Liquid Water Enhancer (my personal favorite was the Macbeth Mio spot).
Break out of the press-releases-and-brochures mold, and get funny and creative with your content.
Now, I'm not suggesting that you hire The Second City to write commercials for grain elevators, or for you to get Neil Gaiman to write a novella on orthopaedic joint replacements (although I'd totally read that!). But who says you can't be a little more creative?
Content marketing for manufacturers has been around for more than a hundred years. It persuades people by educating and informing them. But the best content marketing is usually fun, interesting and even funny. So why not try something a little risky and see what non-boring content marketing can do for you?
After all, the worst thing that can happen is nothing. But the best thing that can happen is your new content marketing will be a success, you'll attract a lot of new customers, and your competitors will be scrambling to catch up with you.