You must sit down and have ‘the talk.’

Far and away, the the most common mistake I see made by well-meaning but frustrated manufacturing businesses is ignoring ‘the talk’ about what their Web site & Social Media strategies should be. They discuss colors, or layout. They jump head-first into building a web presence, or establishing a Social Media voice – but rarely discuss content. It just doesn’t seem to matter much.

‘What will we say? What resonates most with our clients and prospects? What are they looking for? What are they trying to do? And what do they need that we can give them to make those things easier? Or better?’

In a perfect world, you’d think manufacturers would be the last to make this mistake. When you receive an RFQ or or inquiry from a prospect, the first thing you want to do is assess what’s needed – review the print, discuss the processes, dissect the job, find a better way. Do it right.

But with mixing marketing & most manufacturers, reality goes into suspended animation. They tend to make it up as they go along. And it’s probably like that at your company.

Here’s a guide to get your conversation about content marketing started. No matter where you are in your marketing journey, use this Marketing Quadrant for Manufacturers to get yourself on track & help ensure that you’re more successful in your own markets.

There are two primary characteristics that define and influence Buyer behaviors in the industrial buying cycles: product/service complexity and the length of the buying cycle itself. And both of these influences should shape content and marketing strategies, because of the varied requirements Buyers must conform to within them. For example, capital equipment purchases can take several months to complete after the initial identification of available options. The same goes for high-functioning machine shops. Because much of the qualification processes within these sectors takes place after the role of marketing has run its course, the messaging and strategy must be constructed to serve those unique needs.

Review the quadrant, determine where your company resides, and use the accompanying lists to get your own content & marketing conversations off the ground.

Industrial Marketing Content Quadrant

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Quadrant 1 – Service and price trump product details, capability & experience

  • Common tools, equipment, materials, services or products
  • High, over-populated competition
  • Buyers have multiple sources from which to choose
  • Long-term relationship loyalty less dependable
  • Relationships are transactional
  • Price is most significant factor to buyers
  • Service represents strongest differentiator for return business
  • Social Media lead-to-sales value higher (short Lead-to-Sale cycle)

If your company falls into Quadrant 1, the content of your Web site should focus on customer services that differentiate you from the strong competition in your space. Consider the strong use of social Media – as much as resources allow – to nurture relationships and drive awareness toward your Web site. While price is a strong differentiator in this quadrant, so it total cost. Heightened content that focuses on customer service and personalization – examples of services, testimonials & hyper-detailed specifications around products – may offer the best opportunities to maximize your marketing investment by giving Buyers what they need most in a shorter buying cycle.

Quadrant 2 – Product compatibility is paramount over service & price

  • Standardized but complex products (i.e., off-the-shelf workholding & handling, maturing or abundant – but sophisticated – machinery, tooling/tools); common or lower-tolerance machining services
  • Long-term partnerships more common, after qualification
  • Higher competition, but less than Q1
  • Higher costs
  • Qualification of product performance more critical

Companies in Quadrant 2 are speaking to buyers under more pressure to comply with technical, regulatory and compliance requirements, and must survive a higher level of scrutiny than those in Quadrant 1. Due to the longer buying cycle (driven by higher standards of compliance), your content should strike more of a balance between product specifications and what customers can do with what you offer. Focus both on specifications AND specific examples of what value customers have gotten from what you provide them – improved cycle times, improved quality & dependability. In this quadrant, it becomes less about what you sell and more about what others have gotten from buying it. Also, a Social Media strategy here becomes more about initiating relationships than sustaining them. Use those channels to know more of the players in your space, listen to the market chatter, and share that intelligence with others in the organization (i.e., sales, management, etc.).

Quadrant 3 – Product details, expertise and experience are important, but so are services to fulfill stricter scheduling requirements; often returning customers for custom solutions; ubiquitous high-technology products

  • Specialty tooling & tools; rare or exotic materials; high-quality standard products specific to buyer or industry standards
  • Higher costs
  • Fewer but fierce competitors

Quadrant 3 companies are very similar to Q2 in their content strategies. But because of truncated buying and research cycles & the shorter Lead-to-Sales cycle, you should look to stress strong service and added value in your content proposition. Develop rich areas of your site that balance specifications, quality-control, and dependable servicing info alongside testimonial-oriented data for the buyer – like tolerance improvements, material purity, tool life, engineering expertise & examples of other customers in specific industries. And because of the truncated buying cycle in this quadrant, Social Media use should likely resemble Q1 in driving awareness to your site, and supporting intelligence sharing in the organization to spur the Lead-to-Sales cycles.

Quadrant 4 – Product details, expertise and experience trump service & price

  • Extremely customized or sophisticated machinery; custom components & assemblies (i.e., material handling, robotics); super-high-tolerance machining services
  • Custom, high-end custom machining; strong design expertise
  • Less Social Media value (long Lead-to-Sale cycle)
  • Sources are limited or difficult to qualify
  • Relationship loyalty most solid, but more difficult to secure
  • Relationships are most collaborative, less transactional

If your company is in Quadrant 4, you’re in an enviable position. But to differentiate yourself from your competition – and just because you’re here doesn’t mean you don’t have any – means you have to step it up in terms of content. Buyers in the initial stages researching solutions here require near-perfection in all areas of performance – tolerances, quality, service, design, collaboration, communications & dependability. And those are your content points. Don’t just show the parts you make, explain the details around what you did to make those parts (and your customers successful). Don’t just show the machinery you sell, show the products and value that resulted for your customers for having used your technology.  Don’t just say what you do, show what you’ve done. To use an old analogy, don’t talk about the ‘drill,’ talk about the ‘hole.’ Buyers in this quadrant are the most fickle and burdened by compliance to select the most qualified solution – to attract their attention, prepare and present content that addresses their most specific technical concerns. As for Social Media, understand that many Buyers in this space are limited in their use of them for purposes of researching or engaging high-technology solutions. Many larger companies limit access to these platforms, few high-functioning sourcing teams engage them for these purposes, and stricter security & compliance directives likely restrict their use – which limits the Lead-to-Sales value of Social Media in this segment.

This Content Quadrant is meant to be a guide – you SHOULD find discrepancies in it and unique values in your company that will drive deviations. But focusing on what your Buyers are doing, want to do & are looking for are at the heart of what your Web site and marketing strategy should be saying. Everything else is flowery, useless and probably not nearly as helpful to your cause as you might think.

It’s all about your customer. And that’s what this quadrant is for – focusing on your customer.

And one last thing about Social Media for manufacturers – in case you think I’m making the case for many of you ignoring them, I’m not. I recommend that each & every one of my clients adopt Social Media (and content creation & curation) in a fashion that suits their customers’ behaviors, their resources & their business goals. But to suggest that everyone of you should adopt a marketing strategy in the same ways would just be wrong. That said, proper Social Media use can enrich any sized organization dramatically – through networking, education & market intelligence. But don’t expect it to serve the Lead-to-Sales cycle on its own.

Would you accept an order without reviewing a print, an RFQ or specifications? Of course you wouldn’t. Use this quadrant – or create your own – to initiate your own content and marketing discussion.

You’re going to find – just like in any manufacturing process or project – that there’ll be some ‘making in up as we go along’ agility needed in marketing. Prepare for that now, to be more agile when you need it most.