"I believe that a scientist looking at nonscientific problems is just as dumb as the next guy." - Richard P. Feynman
You might not know much about marketing, but that doesn't mean you're an idiot. You're running or working in a successful manufacturing business - that takes a different kind of skill that we, as marketers, probably do not possess.
For you, what will make your inbound marketing campaigns successful is taking what you DO know and putting it on display for your buyer personas. That's how you, a non-marketer, are going to get leads, sales, and ROI with inbound marketing.
(While we're talking about knowledge, here's an inbound marketing dictionary in case you don't recognize some of the terminology in this post.)
So, how do you show off your expertise? There will be five major outlets for your inbound marketing strategy:
- Content Marketing (Blogging and Multimedia)
- Search Engines (SEO & PPC)
- Social Media
- Your Website (CTAs, Landing Pages, Forms)
Before we jump right into this comprehensive inbound marketing guide, let's address the first question on your mind: What the heck is inbound marketing?
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing encompasses all forms of non-interruption marketing - instead of throwing ads out all willy-nilly, you target the right people at the right time for maximum ROI. The vast majority of inbound marketing is done online.
Traditional marketing, also called interruption marketing, is simply not successful anymore. We mute the TV during ads (or skip them altogether), flip radio channels during commercials, and ignore our phones if it's an unknown number.
All of these - TV ads, radio ads, and cold calling - are called interruption marketing. They literally interrupt buyers in their daily activities and use the most annoying tactics to get your attention (yelling, keeping you on the phone as long as possible, pretending the call is important only to switch to selling once they've hooked you). It can be absolutely exhausting and incredibly annoying.
Inbound works to remove that element of annoyance, and attract buyers when they're already showing interest in your product or service. Buyers who give indications of interest are much more likely to convert and purchase. 90% of business buyers say when they're ready to buy, they'll find you. (Tweet This!)
Before the Internet, phone books were one of the only ways to practice inbound marketing. Advertisements in the Yellow Pages are unintrusive for buyers, and they allow people to find you when they need you.
Today, the Internet has made phone book advertising overpriced and obsolete. Two of our own clients were advertising their construction business in the Yellow Pages, and they had to build an entire house every year just to cover the cost.
You're much better off focusing on web marketing - that's where all your customers will be. Although 40% of consumers still prefer to make their final purchase in-store, over 80% of shoppers do research online before making ANY purchase. That number jumps to 94% when the purchase is B2B.
As a manufacturer, you're probably selling B2B. 94% of your best buyers do research online before making a purchase. Can you really afford to ignore web marketing?
Now that we've got your attention, let's look at how you can do inbound (the right way) as a manufacturer.
There's a phrase us marketers have been throwing around for years: Content Is King.
In reality, content is more like the components of a ship. If those pieces are high-quality and fit together well, the boat won't spring a leak when the king and his entourage sail into the sunset. If the ship wasn't manufactured with care, have fun swimming back to shore.
Your content is the basis for everything you do online. All other topics in this post (search engines, social media, your website, and email) depend on a foundation of high-quality content to generate traffic, leads, and sales. Here's a quick overview of what content is, exactly.
So what kind of content works best? And how do you create it?
Blogging is something you should be doing religiously. At least once a month. 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog, as opposed to 57% of marketers who blog monthly. -HubSpot
Even if you're not a marketer and you've never blogged before, your blog will greatly increase the odds of lead generation. This comes back to showing off what you know. If you can establish yourself as an expert and a vendor of knowledge, your buyers are more likely to trust your input on their projects and purchases.
So, for instance, if you manufacture car parts, you can talk about the manufacturing process, how to identify a high-quality part, signs that their parts are defective, etc. Overall, your blog topics should be relevant, valuable, and useful for your buyer personas.
Content isn't just the written word. Anything you produce is a form of content - video, audio, images, interactive content, surveys, and more.
One type of content people love is infographics. Words and images? Put together?! We love words slapped on pretty pictures. A good infographic should be scannable, easy to follow, and contain some statistics or research. They're an easy way to digest new concepts, and to relay information quickly.
Another great form of multimedia content is video. A survey by Forbes Insights shows that senior executives are particularly responsive to video marketing:
Three-quarters (75%) of executives surveyed said they watch work-related videos on business-related websites at least weekly; more than half (52%) watch work-related videos on YouTube at least weekly. Overall, 65% have visited a vendor’s website after watching a video.
Video allows you to demonstrate the production process, proper product usage, facility operations, and more. It lets you and your employees speak directly to your audience and puts a face to your name.
If you want to drive more conversions, try interactive content. Interactive content increases lead form conversions by 40+% and doubles conversions versus static content. Interactive content includes calculators, surveys/polls, quizzes, contests, and more. You can offer an image or video tour of your facilities, or provide a calculator that estimates how many red pandas you'll save with your environmentally friendly equipment during the production of their order.
Once you've got a content strategy laid out, you can move on to search engine marketing and optimization.
Search Engine Marketing: SEO & PPC
There are two ways to approach search engines in inbound marketing. SEO (search engine optimization) and PPC (pay-per-click advertising). What's the difference? Take a look at this image:
SEO will affect the organic (non-paid) search results. PPC will put an ad that you create in one of the paid sections. SEO is free, while PPC (pay-per-click) requires you to pay when someone clicks on your ad, but ONLY when they click on it (you do not pay for impressions).
Search engine optimization means optimizing the content and components of your website so Google can understand your site and categorize it accurately. There are best practices for SEO, and there are bad practices that will get you penalized.
SEO is not an immediate fix. It takes time to build links and archive your pages, so most people don't see tangible results for a few months. But when you do start getting results, they will be stable and reliable.
Some things to consider: Google has changed its algorithms quite a few times since its inception. It used to value keyword usage above anything else; now, high-quality content is the main concern.
In April, Google added a mobile-friendly qualifier, so sites that are optimized for mobile will show up higher in a mobile search. Optimizing your site for mobile is an SEO necessity - mobile Internet searches are quickly surpassing desktop. Check out this graph by ComScore:
Things that Google will penalize you for: keyword stuffing, buying links, slow loading speeds, duplicate content, and plenty of other bad practices that amateurs often mistake for good practices. Check out this list of Google penalties for more information. If you're looking at hiring an SEO agency, keep in mind that it's not uncommon to receive penalties for cheap SEO.
So what are good SEO practices?
- Keyword optimization. Keyword optimization is different from keyword stuffing, and Google knows the difference.
Optimizing your keywords means you use them naturally in your copy and don't overuse them. At the same time, keywords let people find you in search, so don't avoid them just because you're scared of penalties.
Just don't make every other word "best organic dog food" or whatever you're trying to rank for.
- High-quality, unique content. Google does recognize content quality, believe it or not. It can tell when you're writing valuable information for your fellow human beings, versus writing for Google's robots to wiggle your ranking a little higher.
It makes Google happy when you write for humans.
- URL optimization. Yes, you can optimize your URL.
Simple things like keeping it shorter, leaving out filler words (and, but, or, of), matching it to your page title, and removing unnecessary nonsense characters will make your site more readable for the search engines.
- Image optimization. The images you place on your site can have an alt text. This is text that's embedded in the image, and allows the image to be read by a search engine.
You can and should write your own alt text for each image - use your keywords when possible.
- Inbound link building. Remember how we said Google will penalize you for buying/bribing/ soliciting links? That's why you need inbound links.
Paid links are links to your website that you pay other website owners to place on their sites. It's obvious when a link has been paid for, since the links are generally irrelevant in context.
Inbound links are links that others add to their websites that lead back to relevant content on your site. Remember the list of Google penalties I linked to up above? That provided an inbound link for that article on Kissmetrics.
The reason inbound links are so valuable is they are extremely hard to get. You can't control when others link to your content, so receiving a true inbound link looks impressive to the search engines.
There are some other things you can do to improve your SEO - more than we could fit in this one article. Don't stop researching!
PPC, also known as pay-per-click or sponsored advertising, allows you to place ads at the top and sides of search results. PPC can run anywhere from very expensive to pretty cheap depending on the keywords you choose. Keyword difficulty depends on:
- Competition. How many others are trying to rank for those keywords? If there's a lot of competition, it will be more expensive per click.
- Short or long-tail. Short-tail and long-tail refers to how long your keywords are. When we say "keyword" we're actually talking about keyword phrases - strings of words.
So, for simplicity's sake, anything under three words is short-tail, and anything over three words is long-tail. Short-tail keywords tend to be more difficult - and therefore more expensive - because they're more broad.
Long-tail keywords allow you to add the words that are unique to your business, meaning it's less likely that others are competing for them. (e.g. "car parts" vs. "aluminum car parts manufacturer")
Unlike SEO, PPC starts working immediately. It's great for supplementing the SEO takeoff period, promoting seasonal or limited time offers, and simply giving your traffic a boost when you need it.
Although PPC is a paid advertising service, we still consider it an inbound marketing tactic because it doesn't interrupt. It will show up on a buyer-initiated search, and is completely relevant to their query (if you're doing it right).
The rise of social media has made us marketers very, very happy. Why? Because it brought a bunch of new, free platforms for spreading our inbound marketing joy. It will certainly bring you joy, once you start spreading the word about your unique manufacturing business.
Not familiar with social media? Start with these major sites:
- Facebook: over a billion monthly users. Users connect with friends, family, and acquaintances and share personal stories and media.
- Twitter: a fast-paced, quick draw type of social network. Your followers and the people you follow are constantly posting new content, so timing is everything.
- LinkedIn: focused on building business relationships. Good for sharing industry info, networking with peers and professionals, and building your professional reputation.
- Instagram: a visual and artistic image-sharing site. An ability to take good photos is absolutely necessary - it helps if your product is aesthetically pleasing. If it's not already pretty, there's usually a way to make it pretty.
- Pinterest: a visual site, like Instagram. The demographics skew heavily towards women. Pinterest is just starting to build up its marketing capabilities.
- YouTube: a video sharing site. YouTube videos receive billions of monthly views, and people of all sizes, ages, and colors enjoy this website. There is probably a place for you here, if you put the time in to make great video.
These social networks are great because they provide multiple marketing services in one, such as:
- Content sharing. The content that you create for your blog and CTAs is perfect for sharing on social media.
More people will see and read the content (since they're probably hanging out on Facebook, not your website), and they can easily distribute it among their friends and followers.
- Community building. You can create your own little community and following on multiple social networks. Some brand communities, like Trader Joe's and Lululemon, are almost cultish.
- Customer feedback. Social networks give your customers a platform to provide positive or negative feedback, which you can respond to to increase engagement.
- Q&A. If buyers are confused or unsure about your product, they can ask you directly through social media. Again, if they use public comments to do so, others who have the same questions can see the interaction. Everyone is happy.
- Exponential reach. You share a piece of content to your 1,000 follwers, one of your followers shares it with their 500 friends, one of their friends shares it with their 500 friends... See where this is going?
All of those services are free. Most social networks also provide their own paid advertising services - like PPC, but no search engines are involved. You can choose to promote your profile page, your website, an event, or a single post (anything you want, really).
You can target demographics down to job title, income, and relationship status. When your ads show up on that Senior Project Manager's Twitter feed, he's more likely to stop and say, "Hey, that looks like a good investment."
Each social media site has its own unique advertising program. You'll have to get familiar with each of them before you launch a campaign.
Your website isn't just your homepage. Your website includes everything within your domain.
The domain is the basic form of the URL - for example, our domain is www.protocol80.com. Everything that falls under that domain (blog, landing pages, downloads, media, everything) is a part of our website. That opens up some interesting marketing possibilities.
As an amateur marketer, we suggest you focus on these two website basics (but necessities): CTAs and landing pages.
CTA stands for call-to-action. You are quite literally calling out your website visitor to perform a desired action. CTAs are ALWAYS connected to highly relevant landing pages, which we'll be talking about next.
Here's an example of one of our top-performing CTAs:
The first thing you might notice is how simple the image is. When you see it, you understand two major pieces of information: it's an SEO checklist, and you're being invited to download it now. When you click on the link, you'll be taken to a landing page that explains the offer in more detail.
The most effective CTAs are simple, direct, and compelling. Here's how you do it:
- Not wordy. Your visitors should be able to absorb your CTA with one glance. DO NOT try to stuff a bunch of information into a CTA - that's what landing pages are for.
- Attractive. CTAs are designed to make you want to click them. That means sleek design, eye-catching colors that connect with your brand, and a decent typeface.
- A/B tested. If you're not familiar with A/B testing, it basically means you're testing two different designs to see which one works best.
You'll have one design (A) which will be the control. "A" will not change. You'll also have a second design (B) which has ONLY ONE thing different from "A." That way you know the thing you change is causing the difference in performance.
- ACTIONABLE! You're calling your visitor to action. That means you need to have action! words that make them want to do things. No pussyfooting around the issue. Surprisingly, people are more likely to take action if you tell them exactly what to do.
For example: "Download Now!" "Sign Up Today!" "Register Now!"
- Beneficial. People are more likely to click on offers that provide obvious benefits for them. Make sure they know what they'll gain by clicking.
Landing pages do a few different things for you: they provide more archived pages for search engines, they act as lead capturing devices, and they fulfill the offers that your CTAs promised. So, what makes a great landing page?
- No distractions. Landing pages work best when there's nothing to distract the visitor from the offer. That means no navigation bar, no other ads, no sidebars. Keep the page minimal and simple.
- Details please. Unlike CTAs, your landing pages will contain a longer, detailed description of what the visitor will get by signing up/downloading/subscribing/etc. Bullet points are best, since they're easy to read and relay information quickly. You should explain the benefits, features, and add instructions if needed.
- Obvious title. What's the first thing your visitor should see? The title! Your landing page title should accurately describe the offer and make the visitor want to read more.
- Relevant image. People love pictures - just be sure the picture makes sense with the offer. If you can get a screenshot/demo image of your offer, even better.
- Lead capture form. The form is the most important part of your landing page. This is how you capture the visitor's contact information so they'll turn into a lead. Once they become a lead, they're one step closer to making a purchase.
Forms should onlyask for necessary information. Less is usually more. For a non-expert, we suggest sticking with name and email address, and one more field if you absolutely need it. Phone numbers usually aren't good, since people don't like the idea that you'll call them just for downloading something.
- The Button! Don't leave out the CTA button! It should be located at the end of your lead capture form, and use actionable wording that makes them want to click.
- Thank you page. Don't forget to thank your visitor for their time and participation! The thank you page should be unique and include a link to their downloadable content.
Additionally, your CTAs and landing pages should match visually and content-wise. You should only have one landing page per content offer, but you can use multiple CTAs to promote that landing page.
Email is essential for turning leads into sales (also known as lead nurturing). Once you have their email in your database (because they converted on your landing page!), you can nudge them towards a sale.
Email marketing is easiest if you use email automation or a customer relationship management system (CRM). These software let you create custom email campaigns, which will trigger automatically depending on where and how your visitors convert.
Automation software basically does your marketing for you. We do recommend using it - it will make your life so much easier. We personally use MailChimp, but there are lots of options available.
Your email campaigns should follow the inbound trends we've mentioned throughout this article: relevant, not annoying, and valuable. Here are some examples of useful emails:
- Follow ups. If they convert on a landing page, you should have an automated email go out a few days later. It should remind them that they were doing something important on your site.
- Discounts and coupons. Nothing makes people pull out their wallets faster than saving money. Which is kind of counter-intuitive if you think about it.
- Related offers. If they downloaded your report on "aluminum vs. steel performance in rail cars," they might be interested in another article comparing stainless and galvanized steel for train parts.
As with the other inbound tactics on this list, we recommend keeping it simple until you're more comfortable with inbound marketing. It does take practice and lots of testing to find what will work for you and your buyers.
Now you can add "basic inbound marketing knowledge" to your résumé.
Follow these tips, get cracking, and keep learning. You're only just starting your inbound marketing journey, and there is a long road ahead! At the end of the road is success and profit, so don't give up when the going gets tough and the results are slow. If you need help, there are lots of resources available and experts to talk to.
Thanks for reading our Manufacturer's Guide to Inbound Marketing. If you want some more manufacturer-specific content, here's a piece on why manufacturers struggle with marketing. If you're interested in what constitutes an inbound campaign, check out our co-branded Inbound Campaign Checklist.