For most B2B marketers, creating a content generation and promotion strategy is a no-brainer. After all, most brands engage with buyers today via video, blogs, whitepapers, social and podcasting. So, why should manufacturing companies be any different?
Is your business ready to embrace content marketing?
Research from the CMI (Content Marketing Institute) shows that, on average, content marketing strategies cost 62% less than traditional B2B marketing programmes while generating approximately three times the volume of leads.
And yet… when it comes to winning the argument and persuading the C-Suite and sales teams to embrace a content-led, inbound sales and marketing strategy, the nerves around effectiveness, expense and complexity start to kick in.
So, to help your business consider it, plan for it, argue for it, or even help you review your ongoing strategy, here's a deep dive into the pros and cons of developing a content strategy for your manufacturing business.
The disadvantages of content marketing
1. It can seem daunting with a steep learning curve
If you are new to content marketing, it can seem daunting. I mean, what do you do? Where do you start? Content marketing is such a blanket term, and it covers a vast field.
For a small marketing team in a more traditional industrial business, there are many elements to get to grips with and trends to understand.
You are essentially setting yourself up to become a media publisher, and you'll need to master new skills to compete in a rapidly changing digital landscape. Never mind the creative challenge of making original and relevant content. You need to know how new tools can help you accelerate production and promotion and navigate new search challenges in the Bard and Chat GPT4 age.
Are you up to speed with the latest thinking around organic SEO? Do you know how to use pillar pages, topic clusters and snippeting to maximise discovery by your target audience? Are you using AI to speed up keyword research and content production?
Outsourcing some work is possible, but this brings management issues and challenges.
2. It's time-consuming
Planning and creating the kind of high-quality content that's essential to attract engagement will take time. And that task will be ongoing.
In manufacturing, buying cycles are long; decision-making networks are complex and critical influencers can be hard to reach. If you create content that resonates with buyers, you need to intimately understand the nature of their buyer's journey and plan the kind of content they crave and the platforms where you will cut through most successfully.
You need to spend time researching and defining your ideal customer profile and buyer personas - and then plan to generate the content that can attract, engage and delight your audience at precisely the right moment in their attention and buying cycle.
3. Content marketing is hard work
Given that it is time-consuming, you can probably guess it can also be hard work.
It's a different way of marketing, and it may not come naturally to B2B manufacturers, who may feel that their sales environment is just more transactional than is typical in B2C markets.
If your head is in the sales game, you may be reluctant to give up all those hard-sell techniques you've grown up with; you may feel it's a bit soft and won't result in orders. (you'd be wrong, but it's an understandable point of view from someone who's been making deals and closing sales by cold calling and applying 'gentle' pressure).
Inbound requires a drastic change of mindset and the willingness to reject old-style interruption marketing where you 'shout at people' using adverts, direct mail and the like - until they submit to your will.
4. It helps if you have a lot of creativity and diverse skills
Developing engaging content, by its very nature, is creative. It requires specific skills and inspiration. Not only must you be an expert marketer, but you will also need to hone your expertise in areas such as design, website development, social media, content writing, and strategic analysis. And as video and podcasting loom large on the wishlist, the lack of production skills and high enough quality equipment may feel like a massive obstacle to participation.
5. It can be expensive if you outsource
You can see that the wide range of skills required by content marketing means they are unlikely to reside in one person or even a small team. Inevitably, you may outsource some or many tasks to outside experts – which could prove expensive and require intense management.
6. It can be hard to attribute results
Without a proper measurement and management system, it can be hard to attribute results to your content marketing – mainly if you are simultaneously engaged in several marketing channels.
However, this would be an issue for any marketing activity if you do not have proper metrics, key performance indicators, traceable leads, and a dependable attribution system.
7. It can be challenging to manage
Managing creative people is quite different from managing other personnel – you must keep them motivated constantly, or they won't produce creative work. They will need to feel valued and that their work is worthwhile.
Managing content scheduling, promoting content, and measuring the results also have particular challenges and can prove difficult.
8. It can take time; it's a long-term investment
Another significant aspect of content marketing is its time to get results. It can take months to see payback– and those results may not be impressive at first. It is not going to produce a short-term gain. It has to be considered as an investment in the future.
9. It can be expensive
Producing video and audio content with external agencies can be costly without in-house skills and capabilities. You may need to buy equipment and software and invest in training or hiring personnel to use them, even in-house.
10. It still needs promoting and may need paid advertising
Build the content, and they will come? They might, but promoting your content using social media and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising will be more reliable and effective. This is essential if you are selling in a highly competitive market.
You may also need to budget for seminars, conferences, and other live events to help raise the profile of your content and get the word out.
So those were the ten cons – it's quite a list, but even added together, they are not a good reason not to use content publishing as part of your marketing strategy.
All those cons can be mitigated by suitable personnel, controls, systems, procedures, research and advice and are outweighed by the benefits.
So, let's move on to why your manufacturing company should consider content marketing.
The advantages of content marketing
Getting started may be challenging, but those who have committed to the strategy are seeing ROI.
According to the CMI in 2022, of those regularly creating content for their audiences:
- 60% say they are successfully generating leads
- 85% say they are successfully building brand awareness
- 67% are successfully growing trust and credibility
- 66% say they are educating their audiences.
And there are many reasons why it's proving so successful for them:
1. It's quite simple!
The basic principles of content marketing are simple – understand your audience and publish useful, relevant and timely content that addresses that audience's issues or needs.
This content will attract the right prospects to you, bringing in quality leads. You can then nurture those leads, and when they are ready to buy, close a sale and convert them to new customers.
Afterwards, you use content marketing to support these customers, generating additional revenue through repeat sales or their positive recommendations to peers.
Using a content management system such as HubSpot, you can be guided through this process, with help at every stage, including creating automated workflows delivering targeted content, actionable insights and progress reports.
2. It builds authority
Not only does content marketing result in sales, but it also boosts your authority and standing within an industry. The correct posts can establish you as a market leader, an expert and a helpful guide in your prospects' research and buying journey. It can contribute to brand awareness as a critical sector voice and share and quote your content.
In addition, varying the types of content you create – from social media posts to engaging videos – helps you communicate with your audience more comfortably. By doing so, your prospects and customers can better connect with your brand and feel a sense of trust towards you.
Becoming more human, then, is the key to building trust. Get that right, and you can become a brand embodying values and a mission in the marketplace. It can help you become a respected and influential voice in the mind of your ideal customer.
3. It's relatively cheap
Although there is an extensive and possibly costly investment in time, content marketing is still more cost-effective than other forms of marketing. As mentioned in the introduction, content marketing costs 62% less and generates approximately three times the volume of leads.
Other channels, such as press or media advertising, can prove very costly and may not be nearly as effective for your business.
4. It gives you the big picture
With the right content management system, you can map the entire customer journey across time and marketing channels.
Most content marketing can occur on channels you control and measure with the right tools. Look for a system that manages contact relationships, marketing, sales and service.
This level of data and intelligence means you can see what works and what doesn't, generate useful reports for the board, and gain valuable insights into your customers and your business.
5. It has a compound effect
In the cons section, we mentioned that it is an investment and takes time. But the decisive aspect of content marketing is its compound effect – the more content you publish, the more potent it becomes. In the classic studies of content marketing success - sales, marketing, and account management teams align to continually feedback and support each other's efforts. In doing so, they create a virtuous circle of success - becoming a single' revenue operations' team dedicated to identifying, nurturing and closing more opportunities.
6. It creates assets that cut through and last
Whilst you could spend a sum of money on pay-per-click and get instant leads – those leads will probably only come from prospects who are ready to buy now. And you will need to spend that same sum of money every month.
On the other hand, if you take that sum of money and create great, SEO-friendly content, it will sit on your site, drawing in prospects month after month for no extra cost. With the growing importance of video in the search mix, there are more opportunities to get more creative and eye-catching with the content you are creating.
Once you've published good-quality content, it works for you without you having to do anything.
However, you will want to refresh the content occasionally to keep it up to date, but that work can be pretty minimal.
Updating existing content is often more valuable than publishing new content, as existing content will already have traffic led to it. Again, this is a compound effect – because of the nature of search engines, the more traffic a piece of content receives, the more likely it is to generate even more traffic in the future.
7. You can involve clients and employees
To help ease creating ever more content, you can involve your employees and clients in content creation. This is a good thing for several reasons:
- Using employee experts to create content means it is likely to be more helpful and relevant.
- Using clients to create content gives a different, valid point of view, which will be relevant to prospective clients.
- Content such as case studies involving clients is one of the most effective ways to engage your target audience and convert them to customers.
On top of these benefits, involving your employee experts in content creation keeps them motivated and up to date – an inevitable by-product of their researching and writing content.
Involving your clients flatters them and draws them closer to you. It helps establish a strong relationship that can turn them into advocates for your business.
8. Supports retention and customer service
Content marketing results in customer acquisition and can influence customer retention and service.
Publishing helpful content doesn't have to be aimed just at prospects; post relevant content to existing customers.
Content can help with education, onboarding, training, and support, saving time and money by answering customer questions without using customer service resources.
Similarly, it can help answer common sales questions - freeing up salespersons' time. We know that 47% of buyers view three to five pieces of content before contacting a salesperson. (Demand Gen Report 2021 Content Preferences Survey Report)
Content is also a vital part of your social media presence. Social media is all about sharing content – you have to have valuable content to share. Sharing the right content will gain you followers, increase engagement and boost the effectiveness of your social presence.
Lastly, content helps to develop and propagate your brand image. Every piece of content you produce will say something about you as a business. Your prospects and customers can learn who you are, what you stand for, how you do business and your brand values.
9. It reaches the right audience – even those who reject advertising
Because a fundamental principle of content marketing is spending time defining buyer personas – understanding your target market and their issues; you will create content that will target and engage them more successfully than other types of marketing.
One of the ways to measure your marketing is the quality of leads it generates. According to the CMI, 74% of companies find that lead quality and quantity went up when introducing a content marketing strategy.
Also, B2B buyers are notoriously difficult to reach with conventional marketing. And with ad blockers rising (covering 42% of all internet users worldwide at the last count), it is not hard to see why you need a better way to reach those without interest in advertising.
10. It achieves better results and is cost-efficient
The bottom line is that well-implemented content marketing consistently achieves better results than traditional marketing. It is more suited to the modern age, which is customer and search engine-driven. It is more cost-effective than other measuring methods, reporting is more reliable, and its ROI improves over time. It can even shorten the sales cycle.
If more is needed, inbound leads (i.e. leads from online marketing) have a 14.6% conversion rate, while outbound leads (cold calling, direct mail, etc.) only have a 1.7% close rate.
Why do the pros outweigh the cons?
The pros of developing a content marketing strategy far outweigh the cons. But pressure is mounting on marketing teams to be more accountable from a revenue perspective. As this 2023 research by LinkedIn/Ipsos Mori found:
"Nearly 1 in 2 B2B CMOs and CFOs say the CMO role has evolved to have a more direct role in driving revenue and growth, and that CMOs are expected to demonstrate marketing impact to the bottom line."
As the returns from traditional, interruptive B2B marketing tactics become ever more dismal, a strategic, content-led strategy may prove the best way to generate and nurture buyer demand over time. It also offers a reliable way to build and track relationships with prospects, buyers and customers over long sales cycles - and tie sales back to original marketing activity. You are, in fact, building a significant digital asset with content marketing.
Tales from the content marketing front line
Want more proof? Just consider this short case study. A recent display campaign we monitored for a niche B2B service provider returned just two qualified contacts from over 2 million ad word impressions. On the other hand, a piece of valuable long-form content optimised to attract the same target audience returned 35 qualified contacts with a conversion rate of 5%. And what's more, the interaction around the specific content piece told us a lot more about the needs and interests of the prospect than their clicking on a short-form advert.
As with most things - change is the only constant, and it would not be right to try and position content marketing like a silver bullet. You must be across the marketing mix to maximise your chances of cutting through. But the more original content you produce for the web's organic population, the more it can be sliced and diced to create more compelling offerings in the social and paid-for arenas.
For manufacturers, there are many reasons to be building a content strategy. But above all, it's about adding value to your prospects and customers, becoming more than simply a 'supplier' in their world.