Contract manufacturers need to differentiate. But it can be hard to stand out when customers prefer you remain invisible.
A proven solution is to produce educational content to engage OEMs during their research phase.
Thinking like a media company and building a growing audience with content that informs and educates ideal customers across the buyer's journey draws the right people towards your brand.
Publishing a range of helpful, educational content can establish you as an authority and enhance your reputation. The more valuable and trustworthy your content is, the more it will help your SEO.
In the later stages of research, content can help convert better informed and qualified leads and post-sale to better-informed customers who understand how to make the most of your services, reducing the load on customer services.
These few quick points ought to convince you that content is essential – it can draw in and convert prospects and help turn customers into advocates.
So how do you go about creating educational content?
What to share?
As with any content, it's essential to start with the most profound understanding of your audience. Make sure you have defined solid buyer personas and are familiar with them. Know them inside out.
Think about the issues they face – what are their problems, what do they struggle with, what do they need to know to make their working life more manageable?
Think of it in general terms when doing this – not with your service in mind. Educational content is about informing and engaging – not about selling.
Think about buyer education. What do you need them to know to buy your service successfully? Because educating the buyer will make life simpler and more accessible for them.
They need to make informed choices. Buy the wrong solution or one with unknown limitations they didn't know about or accept beforehand, and you will have an unhappy customer.
Look at what you know – is there insider knowledge you can pass on? Snippets of information based on your experience and expertise could prove helpful to your audience.
Another content source could be common misconceptions about processes, services, or industry norms. Are there things buyers might perceive to be accurate that are myths?
Create straightforward, non-patronising content that explains why these commonly held beliefs are false. Don't be shy about this; share as much as possible, especially when related to real-world experiences or case studies, even if you can't reference your customer.
Perhaps there is a topic that is always over-simplified? Try explaining it in-depth with all its nuances and details, along with how these specifics might impact the customer negatively or positively.
Talk to frontline staff – those dealing with customers. What questions do they get regularly? Are there issues that they see repeatedly that might be alleviated if the customer was better informed?
One of the best sources of ideas for content is your audience. Customer surveys and market research are invaluable in unearthing issues that educational content can address.
How to plan it
When planning content – a single piece or a series – always design for your buyer personas. And consider the skill level required; do they have the necessary background, experience, or knowledge to use what you tell them? If not, go back a step and supply the relevant background information they need or create training articles to raise their level of knowledge.
Almost everyone in business has very little time and a short attention span. Think about how much time your audience is likely to dedicate to education or research. Break down your material into segments.
If your content takes half an hour or even twenty minutes to read – they may struggle to find that much time and concentration in their busy day to complete it.
But if you keep content to five or ten-minute segments, they are far more likely to be able to fit that in – and may even find they can work through several in one sitting.
Think of what you want a person to learn in each chunk — the learning points. Define these and make sure those points are stated at the beginning and summarised at the end.
Include plenty of links – links to references or topic explainers, links to other, related posts and links to suggested next steps.
At the end of each of these nuggets of knowledge, the audience should feel like they are making progress - like they have learned something. Summarising what they (should) have learned at the end of each piece will help affirm that in their minds.
So don't try to pack too much into an educational article; it takes a lot of mental concentration and effort to learn something new – people have to be in the right frame of mind, and that learning state can only last for so long.
If you find you have too many learning points in your piece, break it up into two or more parts. Think small wins.
As far as is possible, get your audience to do - get them to try out what they have learnt. Reinforcing learning by doing is a tried and trusted technique – indeed, many people only learn by doing. Try to think of activities they can carry out in the real world and provide exercises or suggested tasks.
Always strive to make completing a piece of educational content emotionally satisfying for the audience.
How to share it
There are an increasing number of potential channels to share educational content – from your company website to YouTube. And a variety of formats you can choose to publish it in.
- Video (on your website, social channels or YouTube)
- Live streaming (on your website and social channels)
- Slide decks (on SlideShare)
- Blog posts
Think about what you are trying to teach and pick a format and a channel that works best for the subject matter. Does it need a visual demonstration? In which case, a channel that supports video may be best. Would step-by-step instructions be appropriate? Then maybe a slide deck would work well. Is it conceptual? Try using a written article to cover the subject.
In every case, the channel should be the best way to communicate that particular topic or add a unique or memorable element to the learning points.
You should also find out which channels your target audience is using. It's all very well creating a live session on Facebook or streaming live to Twitter, but if your buyers are never on those platforms, it's a waste of time, no matter how appropriate they are otherwise.
With any educational content programme, it's crucial to introduce the topic and explain the benefits of spending time learning. Answering the question, what's in it for them?
The introduction should be engaging, short, and designed to motivate them to learn more. A video is an excellent way to do this.
Find a way of measuring how successful the piece has been at educating your audience. Simple online questionnaires can help with the immediate evaluation of learning goals. Still, longer-term, more business-oriented measurements can be used, such as:
- Do you get fewer calls to support?
- Do you attract more right-fit prospects?
- Do customers specify better build packs?
It's vital to test your material on 'friendly' volunteers. It is easy when you are an expert to become blind to what newcomers don't know, making false assumptions about their level of knowledge. It is also easy to miss out on steps that might seem obvious to you but are essential for anyone new to the topic.
Keep your language and references straightforward. Avoid jargon and acronyms wherever possible. Not because your audience is unintelligent, But because they haven't got the time for all that 'inside baseball.'
Where jargon or acronyms are unavoidable, define them at the beginning of content – don't make people think, or worse, guess. Often the same words can mean slightly different things to different people in the same industry, so a quick definition of your use of the word is always important.
Bear in mind all the other general advice about creating content, such as writing motivational titles, taking care to be SEO friendly, and so on. You will find plenty of articles about creating good general content if you search!
At the end of the content, make sure to include a few links to the most logical content pieces that would be the "next steps" in their learning, along with suggested further topics. Don't include too many links, though and prioritise the way they are featured, so it is clear what the recommended next step should be.
Finally, always include a Call To Action (CTA) at the end of any educational piece of content. Although educational content is not about selling, don't put barriers in the way of someone taking the next step.
Inbound marketing is about providing relevant and genuinely helpful content to your target audience. Creating educational content is an excellent way to nurture prospects and leads to make more informed and ultimately easier buying decisions or to support existing customers – improving their productivity and saving their time. Excellent educational content will pull in more leads, retain customers, encourage repeat business and create advocates for your business.