Think back to traditional marketing and advertising campaigns of the 70s, 80s and 90s. A company’s success could be measured by a direct increase in sales during each marketing event. A newspaper ad or radio spot could generate a buzz among the local community and that interest was palpable through busy showrooms and long lines at the counter. It was easy to tell what marketing approach attracted the right buyer by how well customers responded to these ads.
Years ago, the world was a different place. The average person lived, worked and socialized in the same town — surrounded by the same people, day in and day out. The intrigue and excitement of flashy and loud advertisements broke up the monotony of daily life. Catchy was king. But for the past 40 or 50 years, consumers have been inundated with over-the-top advertising tactics screaming at them to “Buy Now!”. This form of marketing has caused buyers to grow numb to it, ignore it and even become incensed by it.
Today’s world has grown smaller due to the advent of technology and social networks. The average person has a smart phone in their pocket with instant access to people and products around the globe at the click of a button. Sensory overload is a real problem and consumers are looking for an easy, safe and reliable purchasing experience rather than the next big thing.
While flashy ads and loud spokespeople yelling about slashed prices may provide a healthy dose of nostalgia for some, it’s not what today’s buyer wants. Today’s buyer doesn’t want to be “sold to”, they want an easy and straightforward relationship with their supplier. They want more than a product or service, they want detailed information, products reviews and expert advice to help them with their purchases.
Several years ago, marketing expert Seth Godin said, “Content marketing is the only marketing left.” What he meant by that is that instead of creating content with the sole intent of making the sale, companies should create content that their customers truly care about and won’t tune out.
For the industrial distributor, this can seem like we are asking them to toss out the marketing playbook their teams have relied on for decades. In a sense, it’s exactly what we are doing. It’s time to stop focusing solely on the product they sell and spend more time showcasing all the various ways they exist to serve the needs of their customers, both traditionally and digitally. This is what content marketing does best.
Content marketing enhances the customer experience and can include examples such as:
- Blog articles that offer solutions to the challenges they face.
- FAQ pages for quick answers to common questions.
- Case studies that highlight how your services can solve their problems.
- Helpful social media posts that engage and inspire customers.
- Videos that highlight your products, services and specialized team and technicians.
- Reviews and testimonials from current customers on their purchasing experiences.
But where’s my return on investment?
How can I measure content marketing success? This is a common question that industrial distributors ask when considering updating their marketing initiatives to include content marketing. Some consider content creation to be the cost of doing business in the modern world. Just as the old shopkeeper swept his entryways, painted the shutters and replaced his signage, your online presence has to be maintained in the same loving and detailed way. The clean and orderly store front that enticed customers to stop in and seek out services can be translated online with a user-friendly website.
An outdated website that provides only the bare minimum and scant information will not encourage today’s savvy buyers to do business with you. More often than not, they’ll keep searching online until they find a competitor who offers the same services but shows interest in creating an enjoyable customer experience.
To that you say, “What’s the point of investing money in content if it’s just maintenance? I need sales!”
Let me take a step back and explain. I didn’t say there wouldn’t be financial reward from a well-executed website chock full of great content, but there are a few things to consider before diving in headfirst.
- Be realistic about your goals. Do you want to increase your brand awareness? Do you want to be considered a thought leader? Are you trying to increase traffic to your website? Are you looking for more sales? It can be tempting to say yes to all these goals at once, but that rarely works in your favor. Choose a few clearly defined SMART goals and create a content plan that can help you accomplish those goals. SMART Goals are:
- Choose which metrics you will track and measure. Choose a few simple metrics to track depending on your goals. For example: If you are trying to improve your social media presence, monitor tools like Google Analytics for network referrals or Buzzsumo to track social media shares. In Google Analytics you can track engagement metrics to view the number of new users, session duration and bounce rate on your website content. Engagement with your content can be a bit more difficult to measure, but it can tell you how well your audience is responding to the content you produce.
- Be realistic about results. Content has a tendency to perform better over time, especially in niche fields that aren’t considered sexy or trending (ie: industrial distribution). While we may get excited about spill containment or inventory management, not all customers experience that thrill. Content marketing is all about the long game and gaining trust from your customers and potential customers over time. It’s also meant to act as a resource your customers can depend on for honest and helpful answers.
- Use a Call to Action (CTA). If you don’t tell your reader what you want them to do, they won’t. If you want them to join a newsletter, download an eBook, purchase a product or contact your team for more information — tell them. Don’t make them guess what their next steps are. Make your CTA big, bold and stand out on the page.
- Take Risks. Don’t be afraid to try something new. While the goal of content marketing is to inform and educate, it doesn’t have to read like a product manual. Mix up your content plan with storytelling. Storytelling is a way to let your customers and potential customers know that behind the company name, there are human beings that understand the challenges they face and are hard at work solving them.
The key to successful content marketing is to clearly define your goals, how you will measure success, and then create helpful content that speaks directly to your customer and their needs.
Search engines can make or break your content marketing.
You know more than anyone that relationships take time to build. It’s why your experienced salespeople are so great at what they do and why you could never replace that personal interaction. It takes time to gain trust in person and online. Not only must you gain trust from your potential buyers, you must gain trust from the search engines they use to seek out information.
Search engines like Google, Bing and Explorer are in the business of making money, just like you. To make money, they rely on user satisfaction and continued use of their search engine. Online users rely on search engines to help them find the information they are seeking. For this reason, search engines must guide users toward reliable, helpful and safe sources of information. Websites that are old, outdated and contain unoriginal content, duplicated content, misleading content or overly promotional content can be flagged by a search engine’s algorithm, hurting your chances of being ranked on the first page of search results. (Hint: That’s where you want your listing to show up)
Some companies try to outsmart powerhouses like Google and gain fast results through bad online tactics like using clickbait, which may yield more page views and clicks in the short term. But quick wins gained by misleading searchers can often lead to long-term damage to your company’s reputation, both online and off.
You need buy-in from everyone at your company.
Well-crafted and helpful content that is routinely shared on platforms your customers frequent the most will help you establish trust over the long term. Here’s the catch: The only way your audience will get excited about this content is if every member of your team is invested. That means your team must play a part in creating, sharing and promoting the content their buyers are looking for, including:
- Answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs)
- Blog articles
- Special promotions
- Social media
- Customer case studies and more
Implementing a new marketing strategy can be daunting, especially when employees wear many hats. Some team members already have a lot on their plate. Change isn’t easy and some initial resistance is understandable. It’s common to hear leadership say:
“My sales team is too busy.”
“My team doesn’t think it matters.”
“My customers aren’t on social media.”
The truth is that unless you have complete buy-in from the leadership team all the way to your intern, few marketing strategies will be successful. However, achieving buy-in doesn’t have to be all consuming. A few simple, but effective actions can take your content marketing plan to the next level. Ask your team to:
- Ask customers what helpful information they would like to see on the website or social media.
- Jot down examples of times they went above and beyond to solve a customer problem.
- Share the company’s social media posts on their own social profiles.
- Record commonly asked questions about products or services.
- Spread enthusiasm in their own networks with personal stories of customer wins.
Here at 3 Aspens Media, we understand the unique needs of the industrial distributor and are here to help you customize the content marketing strategy that’s right for your business. Let us know how we can help you create customer-focused content designed to build trust and engagement with your customers. Reach out to us at [email protected].