Ensure Inbound Marketing Success with The First, First Impression

Posted by Todd Hockenberry on Jul 10, 2013 7:31:00 AM

beer goggles
You don't want your prospects to need these to make your site experience better!

The first "first impression" happens when a visitor finds you online. More often than not the first impression your company makes takes place far from any representatives of your business. Not that long ago you could control your first impression — a perfectly staged trade show booth, a well researched phone call, an amazing sales pitch. Nowadays you still have opportunities to make great impressions, but more often than not the first impression happens without you even knowing it.

Back in my days as an EVP Sales & Marketing at a manufacturing company, we always tried our best to get requested test samples back to a prospect as fast as possible. We were a small company playing with some big competitors and we figured if we got our stuff back to them first, we would set the table for everyone else.

If our samples were high quality, correct to the specifications, and the first in the door, then we had the upper hand. Everyone else was now measured against our quick response and quality work. Whenever we conducted a win analysis with our customers, this first impression was often cited as a critical reason why our company was chosen.

That was few short years ago and while the idea of making the first impression still holds, it now relates to what your prospects see before they ever call you.

For you manufacturers and industrial B2B companies out there, I am talking to you.

There are a lot of examples of great websites, but so often industrial and manufacturing companies websites are examples of what not to do. I've seen many manufacturing websites that look like a glorified business card or catalog, but in today's business climate that just doesn't cut it anymore.

Your buyers are turning to the Internet for answers long before they reach out to you. Between online directories, social media, and stellar web content — it's no wonder that the first place consumers turn for a solution is a search engine. Inbound marketing principles are gaining traction, content marketing is becoming a standard marketing activity, and more and more companies are spending their money on building great sites that attract the best prospects.

Making the First Impression Count

If the first thing that your prospects are going to see about you is your website, you need to make it count. To make sure our clients' sites are packing a punch, we start with a simple checklist to make sure the basics are covered. Once you've nailed down the basics you can worry about the details.

1) Great Images - people are visual and becoming more so every day. Make all of your images top quality, focused on your solutions, and please stop using those stock images (see the lady with the headset on supposedly depicting someone's customer service).

2) Statement of Value - who are you, what do you do, and who do you do it for. Do not use marketing mumbo jumbo words like 'world class' or 'top quality.' Say what you do plainly and clearly. This makes a strong first impression and sets the tone for the rest of your interactions with a visitor.

3) Compelling Offer - give way your knowledge, show that you care about them and now what issues are relevant to them by sharing something of value to them, not to you (your catalog does not count as interesting or valuable).

4) Call To Action (CTA) and Landing Pages - put high quality offers behind landing pages and attract visitors to them by using compelling calls to action. This step alone has generated an outsized level of value for our clients by taking existing content assets and requiring a conversion on a landing page to get them.

5) Sharing Options - make it easy for your site visitors to share your awesomeness with others. Enough said.

6) Easy Ways to Connect - e-mail, blog updates, social media, phone calls. Give your visitors as many ways to connect with you as possible.

7) Reasons to Dig Deeper - add interest to your site by having a varied approach to content so that the first impression is of a company that has something to say and is worth investigating further.

The first "first impression" is the one you do not even know you are making or when it will happen. Make sure you set your company apart by leaving an impression that keeps them coming back for more.

Beer Goggles Image Credit: Guardian UK

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Topics: industrial marketing, marketing for manufacturing, Top Line Results

How to Grow Your Manufacturing Business with Inbound Marketing

Posted by Todd Hockenberry on Jun 12, 2013 7:21:00 AM

how to grow your manufacturing business

Beetle Plastics, founded in the 1950s, designs and manufactures custom fiberglass pipe, large diameter fiberglass ductwork, fiberglass tanks, fiberglass vessels, other equipment and services relating to fiberglass products.

Beetle Plastics is a subsidiary of Midwest Towers, Inc., a world-class manufacturer of evaporative water cooling towers. Beetle Plastics' operations include its headquarters and plant facilities in Ardmore, Oklahoma, and a nationwide network of sales and representative offices.

As a part of Midwest Towers, it was content for many years supplying the components for cooling tower projects sold by the parent company. President Larry Brown knew the firm needed to branch out and find more direct customers for Beetle Plastics. So when he read an article in Composites magazine about inbound marketing, he was confident that he now had a method to help him do just that.

In early July 2012, Beetle signed up for HubSpot and hired Top Line Results to guide their inbound marketing efforts. The initial goal was simple—work with Beetle professionals assisting them to translate their fiberglass expertise in to web content that would attract high-quality prospects and help to convert them into happy customers.

Our plan was simple, we focused on three keys things:

  1. Optimize the web site for long tail keywords
  2. Create calls to action and landing pages for existing content to drive conversions
  3. Create new content targeting ideal prospects

During the first 30 days of the project we developed keyword sets based on end products, vertical markets, and specific solutions. By using this format, we were able to speak very directly to site visitors. Previously Beetle Plastics, as well as all of their competitors, were using high level, general keywords like:

The end results was that there was significant competition for these keywords as well as no differentiation in the searches. A search for 'fiberglass tanks' would yield results for small tank for animals all the way up to large industrial tanks. By narrowing the keyword focus, we were sure that the quality and quantity of traffic would increase.

Our new keyword sets came out as:

Next, we took existing content bundled it up as valuable downloads and created calls to action, landing pages, and thank you pages. However we were still facing two major obstacles with respect to quantifiable results. Number one, the site was generating a low level of visits and number two, it was not producing any leads.

Potential leads were visiting the site, but very few were converting. This was primarily due to a lack of conversion opportunities. For example, potential customers only were given the option to ‘contact us' or ‘request a quote.' Using existing content, we created an engineering catalog targeting top of the funnel visitors looking for information on using custom fiberglass as a building material.

Finally, we embarked on a multi-faceted, aggressive content creation campaign. The campaign was tailored to address the needs of a variety of vertical industries and a large line of custom solutions. We developed technical stories relating to chemicals and fiberglass resins. Most importantly, we wanted to incorporate the benefits of Beetle’s end products and how fiberglass construction materials and custom products solve difficult industrial problems like chemical handling and storage harsh environments.

The intent was to position Beetle Plastics in the composites fabrication world as a thought leader and progressive thinking company. Content ranged from regular blog posts to case studies to whitepapers.

Our goals for the marketing projects were to:

  • Significantly increase traffic from the <10 visits per day starting point
  • Drive leads from ideal target prospects
  • Increase the credibility of Beetle Plastics and assist in driving leads through the buying process
  • Contribute to a significant increase in sales

After almost one year the results are clear:

growing your manufacturing business

 

Credibility can be tough to measure, but in August of 2012 Beetle Plastics landed a very large project from a South American firm and using HubSpot we were able to see how often the engineers and decision makers from this company were using and interacting with the web site.  "Our salespeople closed the business but our web site was certainly a huge help in building our case and enhancing our credibility with the customer and in winning the business" says Mr. Brown.

Beetle Plastics' use of inbound marketing is steadily expanding their reach into end users of fiberglass products and, more importantly, engineering and design firms that design, specify, and oversee construction materials purchase and large construction projects. "We are opening doors for our engineers and team of experts that traditional sales approaches would not open. By focusing on the builders' needs and solutions they are looking for, we are more often seen as the experts in our field and are being sought out as the expert. Our solution-based content is very attractive to our target engineer prospect and our website and the inbound marketing methodology give us the tools to be there when they are looking online" says Mr. Brown.

Was the investment worth it?  

"We grew Beetle Plastics by over 20% since we started our inbound marketing project and we feel like we are just getting started," states Mr. Brown.

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Topics: industrial marketing, marketing for manufacturing, Top Line Results

Content Marketing for Folks Who Shower AFTER Work

Posted by Ed Marsh on Apr 11, 2013 6:49:00 AM

Hipsters of the world unite!

inbound marketing practitionerWait a minute...they already have.  They teamed up with the programmers, some MBAs and a couple artist types and created an innovative discipline called "content marketing."

The natural base of customers? The types of companies, products, services and business sectors where they feel most comfortable and intuitively understand the business value and buyer persona.

It makes sense - you work within your comfort zone. That's often where you're most effective.

The end result?  
  1. Although hardly ubiquitous, inbound marketing is pretty well recognized and established in areas that were first identified. 
  2. There are huge gaps between Cambridge and Menlo Park and between islands of software and service companies.
"Fly over country" and manufacturing industries haven't yet embraced the potential of inbound marketing. (I know that there are practitioners - both agency and company - that represent geographic and industry diversity. This isn't an absolute, and some may contest the generalization. But there are indisputably huge gaps.)

content marketing powerWorkers of the world unite!

Wait a minute....we've tried that a couple times and it hasn't worked!

But seriously, there are huge swathes of American industry that are slipping between the content marketing cracks. And in many of these cases they have innovative technologies, quality differentiators and effective solutions to real manufacturing problems.

Somehow we've allowed a business "digital divide" to develop - between the SaaS, mobile app hip crowd that showers before work, and the metal bending, hydraulics-using manufacturing workers that shower after work.

This isn't to anyone's benefit. How do we overcome it?

Digital marketing isn't just for digital business

There's fault on both sides. The carefully cultivated, slightly crusty, down home folksy rejection of new fangled stuff is endearing (and those of us slaves to email may be envious), but self-defeating.

Conversely the hyper-caffeinated, buzz word laden, BYOD techy approach tends to dwell in a parallel reality — brilliant, intellectual and creative, but slightly detached from the core.

industrial content marketingBut there's real power in digital marketing even (or perhaps especially) for industries that may be constrained by self-limiting beliefs.

So those of us in the content marketing community have both opportunity and obligation. If we can figure out how to distill the benefits of content marketing into a language and presentation that is sensible for traditional industries, there's gold in them hills. (Not to mention over seas and oceans - the international value of inbound marketing is enormous for American industry as well!)  

And if you believe that American manufacturing can regain its role as the soul of a strong middle class (at least until additive manufacturing/3D printing becomes fully established), then you have an obligation as a practitioner of the inbound marketing discipline to help make it accessible.

Let's take responsibility as a group to figure out how to distill the amazing value of content marketing to a heartland audience. Let's have the discussion. We can all benefit regardless of when we shower!

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Topics: inbound marketing, content marketing, b2b marketing, industrial marketing, small business

Use Inbound Marketing Principles to Plan for a Successful Trade Show

Posted by Todd Hockenberry on Mar 20, 2013 7:47:00 AM

planning for a trade showWhen was the last time you went to a trade show? If you're like most of my agency’s clients, you've been to a trade show sometime in the last year or two. What was your trade show experience like? Did it involve a lot of standing around the booth hoping someone would make accidental eye contact and feel guilty enough to come over and talk to you? How did you prep for the show? Did you spend a lot of time on having promo material ready, getting your backdrop just so, and filling your toolkit?

In my experience trade shows are a prime example of how otherwise engaged companies drop the inbound marketing ball. So often companies spend all of their time getting their physical materials together for a show. Those same companies then show up and hope attendees with find them in the show directory and come over to the booth. Trade shows become very inwardly focused and passive. I've seen companies with great social media followings go to trade shows and the only thing on their profiles is a single update about the show! If you're going to spend the money to go to a trade show, do the leg work to make it successful.

Before the Show

Long before the first day of a trade show you should be preparing your target audience. Just because a trade show is something that you physically attend doesn't mean it shouldn't follow the rules of any good inbound marketing campaign.

Your first step should be to decide what your message is and develop calls to action. Of course you're also going to need a great landing page for prospects who engage with your call to action. And once you've got your CTA and landing page you are going to need to attract some attention to them. Maybe you email your current customers and tell them about the trade show and include your CTA. You could also buy/rent a list of the shows attendees and contact them with your CTA. Some shows even have social media accounts or hashtags that attendees can follow or "like" to stay up to date with show news. You can post links to your CTA on the shows' social media outlets.

The key principle to follow is before the show, attract as much attention as you can to the fact that you're going to be there. If you can get people excited about your attendance, maybe with a giveaway or demo you've been talking about online, then you should see more foot traffic to your booth.

At the Show

I've been to a lot of trade shows, and I've noticed a few things about show attendees over the years. The first thing I've noticed is that people tend to lack concrete answers to a very simple question. I like to ask the people manning the booth what makes them different/better than their competition. A lot of the time they say, "Our quality," but what does that mean? No one goes into a trade show and says that they have a substandard product or service; everyone is going to say they have a quality product. How much better is your quality? How does that quality transfer into better performance or results for your customers? If you want to stand out, figure out precise and evidence-based answers to those questions before you step onto the trade show floor. Find the answers, work to define, quantify and support them. This work needs to be done, and marketing needs to do it.

My second piece of advice for day-of-success deals with the people you have manning your booths. Basic rules of business attire are essential; dress neatly and conservatively in clothing that fits well, is clean, and is ironed (if need be). Once you've replaced the too small/too large, rumpled, and casual clothing, you need to work on the enthusiasm levels. If you need to, you can rotate out teams throughout the show to keep your people fresh, awake, and enthusiastic. Whatever you do, you need to keep in mind that the people in your booth are the face of your company. For best results you want the face of your company to be professional, knowledgeable, and engaging.

After the Show

Once you get home after a trade show it can be tempting to sit back and wait for your phone to start ringing, and that's what a lot of companies do. If you want to maximize your trade show efforts, you should treat the post-show just like you did the pre-show; work the inbound marketing. Did you collect emails/business cards at the show? Create a lead nurturing campaign designed specifically for the trade show contacts you collected. Did you hand out flyers or proportional material? Stick a QR code on anything you hand out that directs people to a landing page with a great offer. Did you make new industry connections? Make sure you get on your social media accounts and connect with any new contacts you made at the show.

Don't be afraid to work the trade show angle as much as you can. For example, trade show interviews on your YouTube channel, photo diary of the show on your blog, or blow by blow show updates on your Twitter stream. The key to a successful trade show experience is making every aspect of the show work together. Keep your message clear, arm your people with the quantitative data they need to back up your message, and stay enthusiastic!

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Topics: industrial marketing, Top Line Results, trade shows

Marketing for customers in all the wrong places (or not the right ones)

Posted by Ed Marsh on Mar 11, 2013 7:34:00 AM

Creatures of Habit...or convenience

inbound marketing personasEvery business knows who their customers are, right?  After all, that's about as basic as it gets. But how often is that knowledge of customers predicted on open minded, robust analysis? Not often. Rather it's typically an extrapolation based on gut feeling impressions of how it's always been.

Is that horrible? Not really - after all that's what most companies do. But compared to what "could be", it's analogous to the proverbial drunk looking for his car keys under the streetlight - not because he lost them there, but because that's where the light is.

Grab a flashlight!

So if we're going to peer into corners beyond the arc of our neighborhood streetlight looking for prospects, where should we start?
  1. Prospects you should know about...but don't
  2. Prospects you couldn't possibly know about
  3. Prospects that everyone else in the world knows about but you pretend don't exist


First, grab the sales team, CSRs, and anyone else who is customer facing during the sales process. Map out all the interactions from leads through delivery and subsequent support to identify what topics, roles, pains, decision points and themes emerge. Be careful about discounting outliers as aberrations - this may well be the data you seek!

With the perspective you generate you now have the data to map personas, value and buying process against actual experience rather than just lore. Additionally you'll identify key gaps. For instance, if financial benefits are a key part of your value (e.g. not just lower cost but a legitimate reduction in WiP inventory due to a process improvement - and resulting reduction in working capital and manufacturing floor space requirements), but nowhere in your personas, influencers or buying process are you helping the buyer extrapolate the corporate financial implications, you have a gap to fill and an opportunity.

Remember that most folks have a lens through which they see this topic:

  • The type of buyer personality with which they are comfortable
  • The type of industry where they have succeeded
  • The value that they find most compelling based on their personal biases, etc.  

And of course the inverse of each as well. Don't allow individual biases to limit the range (really hard in small companies where the owner is the primary sales driver, where the company is formed around his/her biases, and where the assumption is that every company has the same priorities and buys the same way as them).

Second, get your R&D and marketing folks together. (Note - don't try this at home.  Seriously. Get some sort of experienced corporate facilitator to help plan and execute this!)  If done clumsily this could be a colossal waste of time. However, managed artfully, this will let you continuously troll for opportunities by creating conceptual content that highlights core technology capabilities. This will allow buyers searching for component solutions to stumble across your company. This is precisely how GE intends to identify many of their new market opportunities.  

Put simply, you can't possibly anticipate the various serendipitous applications for your technology, and therefore can't market to the folks who might need it. Naturally you can't create content for every possible situation. But in parallel to your focused, persona based content you can create some that is more focused on the technology (NOT the old product crap of GB of RAM, RPMs, HP, mm, torque, ANSI, etc.) in general ways that will allow R&D folks in other businesses to identify core capability that they need to support their developments.

international inbound marketingThird, accept that customers are defined by their needs and budget NOT BY THEIR PASSPORT (or time zone, primary currency, language or continent)!  From a simple perspective, your distance from Toronto, Mexico City or London is likely less than between many pairs of American cities between which trade is reflexive. But more importantly many buyers in many corners of the globe fit your ideal prospect criteria. With shrinking incomes, low to negative GDP and policy uncertainty that constrains investment here in the US, why not take the easy route? If you can shift your mindset you'll find you have a global market with areas that you can enter relatively easily where "Made in America" is craved.

If you're already inbound marketing, you already have a base of leads and data for initial market opportunity analysis. Eventually as you select focus markets you'll create parallel market specific personas, content and even locally hosted microsites with the relevant TLD - but those are refinements for later and not necessary for initial success.

And as a bonus?  What about paying 50% lower tax on the profits from those sales?

But what do personas really represent?

buyer personasIndulge me while I make an awkward segué into a related topic.  

I've become increasingly convinced that personas are the simplest way to evaluate potential clients and prospective inbound marketing practitioners for suitability.  What do I mean?

It's pretty simple. Real effectiveness at inbound marketing requires: 
  • Lateralized cognition - artistic and logical cognitive predilections must be balanced
  • Broad business understanding - empathy (and ideally experience) with different functions and priorities across business
  • System perspective - intuitively understanding how all the pieces must be interwoven because omitting even one damages the program
More than any other step of the program, the exploration and development of personas provides a handy crucible to assess these required attributes. Someone who approaches the persona step with a flat, check the box, simple mentality will never fully embrace the system of inbound marketing.

You can gauge quickly whether a potential client grasps the concept and engages with you in the persona process, or simply parrots back the routine and reflexive. If it's the latter, I would contend that you will always be justifying your program rather than collaborating.  

Similarly while you may focus on hiring "position players" such as an SEO expert, you can't afford to be the integrator between their silo efforts and the comprehensive program. An SEO expert that doesn't embrace the persona process, and push aggressively to be involved and demonstrate awareness and interest in the related aspects, will likely not be able to grow with the organization. Further, their work won't manifest the nuanced, systemic perspective that ultimately distinguishes average from exceptional. It's far more critical that role players and technical specialists understand how their piece fits into the larger context than for you to understand the detail of their specialty - beyond adequate knowledge to manage effectively.

Maybe the question is...can someone who has never owned and run a business, is uncomfortable with systems and strategy, nor achieved noteworthy sales mastery, really create personas much less drive an effective inbound marketing program? Answers? Debate? Skepticism? Incredulity? Vitriol?  (On second thought, hold the vitriol, but let's have some discussion.)

About the Author: Ed Marsh is co-founder of Consilium Global Business Advisors, an international marketing consulting agency focused on developing strategic global business development and channel programs.
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Topics: b2b marketing, industrial marketing, international inbound marketing, personas

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