How Content Marketing Can Drive Double-Digit Sales Growth
With signs pointing up for the U.S. economy, despite inflation and supply chain challenges, manufacturers, software developers, service providers, and nonprofits have a unique opportunity to grow their share of the market.
But it won’t happen for everyone. As with luck, economic tailwinds favor the prepared. That’s why it’s critical to establish an effective content marketing strategy.
Door knocking, cold calling, and tradeshows might have been effective in the past but that’s no longer the case for most businesses – even if you can find enough salespeople to do it.
Today’s markets demand educational, online content – with information that helps educate prospects who are increasingly researching solutions before ever speaking to you. If you effectively satisfy this demand, double-digit sales growth is achievable, faster and easier than you think.
Lead with Problems & Opportunities, Not Features & Benefits
Relatable brand storytelling converts the curious into prospects (on the path to purchase) and prospects into customers (over the finish line).
Creating relatable content starts with making sure you have a clear understanding of what your prospects need and where they are struggling—in other words: their problems and opportunities—before introducing features and benefits. Prospects can more easily relate to someone who understands their problems rather than a product they may never have heard of.
Prospects are the hero of their story, so your messaging and content must articulate how they, like the hero of every story, can overcome obstacles that stand between them and their goals – with you as their guide. Your products, features and benefits then become part of how you solve their problems, along with your people and process.
Your “brand story” should then be woven into your home page, about page, sales presentations, proposals, company profiles on third-party sites, press release boilerplates, tag lines, and throughout all of your content.
“Sub-brand stories” can be created for different markets you serve (vertical and geographic), describing how you solve the problems unique to their market. Sub-brand stories are also useful for covering your different solutions.
Establishing Thought Leadership
Since prospects are eager to educate themselves, and are researching online before talking with you, it’s critical to develop educational content that aligns with where they are in your funnel:
Top of Funnel (ToFu – Awareness)
Like college 101 classes, this content provides an introduction to the types of problems you solve and your solutions that solve them; for example, a blog like “How Is Induction Heating Used in Farm Equipment Repair?”
Mid-Funnel (MoFu – Consideration)
Like 201 classes, this content goes deeper; for example, an e-guide like “How Induction Heating Removes Seized Parts Faster & Safer than an Oxyacetylene Torch.”
Bottom Funnel (BoFu – Decision)
Like 301 and 401 classes, this content gets very specific: “Best Practices for Inboard Boat Repair Using Induction Heating” or “7-Step Guide for Removing Windshields with Induction Heating.”
Warning! Avoid “Out of Funnel” Content
“Out of funnel” are blogs and other content that have nothing to do with what you sell; while the additional traffic to your site can help you rank for more compelling content, it can attract a lot of the wrong people and be distracting. Our favorite: a project management software developer targeting mechanical engineers wrote the blog: “How to Build a Dam” – WTF?!
A common mistake is to create too much “top of funnel” or even “out of funnel” content. If you sell industrial equipment, you probably won’t get much out of blogs about hot dogs or having a happy 4th of July (this is better as social media content).
Especially in B2B, it’s important to know that prospects want to learn not only about your solutions but also how they compare with direct and indirect competitors, and how the investment can be cost-justified if you sell value-adding vs. commoditized products. Product comparisons that include some areas where your competitors excel (not just how your products do) and case studies that include ROI estimates for your customers are essential for establishing credibility.
Remember: prospects might be 50-75% down the path to purchase before ever reaching out to you, and a lot of this searching happens at night and off-hours when they have time.
Start with Keyword Research
To get them into your funnel, you need to understand and prioritize what prospects are searching for by conducting keyword research on different clusters of terms that relate to your products.
Conducting search engine optimization for all current website content will more fully leverage what you already have by incorporating these keywords throughout your page titles, meta descriptions, H1 headings, and throughout body copy – in this way, SEO is primarily strategic copywriting.
Then brainstorm new content ideas that relate to these keywords and answers questions throughout the funnel, establish a content calendar that prioritizes this new content, and get a copywriter to interview your subject matter experts and create fresh content.
Tip: Google Search Console’s “Performance” reporting can provide ideas for new content – it’s the part of Google that actually tells you what people searched for to get to your site (Google Analytics does not).
Generating Leads from Thought Leadership
Your prospects will fill out a form and share their contact information with you to unlock appealing, longer-form, deeper funnel content that goes into more detail than blogs and case studies. This “gated” content includes e-guides, technical whitepapers, e-books, training materials, and recorded webinars. Tip: require them to fill out a “How did you hear about us?” field so you can attribute each lead to its source.
Deeper funnel content also can be promoted through pay-per-click campaigns (Google, LinkedIn and don’t forget Microsoft Ads), social media, blogs, third-party article publishing sites (e.g. Medium), as well as old-fashioned PR.
We do not recommend gating blogs, infographics, data sheets, case studies, or any other promotional marketing materials – prospects expect this content to be freely available.
Manufacturing Content Marketing Case Study
A recent marketing audit for a manufacturer of induction heating tools revealed the following obstacles:
- Messaging that focused more on features and benefits rather than identifying the problems their tool solves, how it solves them, and examples of how these problems were solved for actual users
- A lack of thought leadership on why their technology was better, more profitable and safer than direct competitors and the status quo
- Top-of-funnel blogs posted inconsistently over long periods of time
- No search engine optimization
- No e-commerce: they were too afraid of competing with their distributors
- Brand story messaging was developed and implemented on the home and about pages, and throughout the company’s online presence
- Blogs were created and published on a consistent schedule, educating prospects on a wide variety of topics
- Microsites were developed for the top vertical markets
- An e-commerce site was developed that avoided channel conflict and generated millions in additional, highly profitable revenue.
As a result, this manufacturer generated an ROI of over 800% on content marketing and related marketing efforts. The company was no longer a well-kept secret in the industry and pricing could be justified as prospects understood the true value of the products.
Start with a Marketing Audit
While it may be tempting to hire a full-time copywriter or outsource to an agency that bedazzles you with their own marketing, it’s critical to first conduct marketing due diligence with someone who has deep experience doing so and understands your industry.
An effective marketing audit will identify content marketing problems and opportunities, along with an evaluation of your overall marketing strategy and inbound/outbound marketing efforts. Increasing thought leadership, demand generation and customer acquisition is only achieved when all of your marketing is working together effectively, and is also aligned with sales, engineering and your overall business strategy.
While most marketing audits focus only on promotions/marketing communication, it’s also worth considering auditing the other three Ps of marketing: product, pricing and placement (channels). This can be done by evaluating your product roadmap and future revenue gaps, pricing (especially cost-plus vs. value-based), and gaps in your go-to-market strategy and distributor/reseller coverage.
Effective content marketing that incorporates the insights of a thorough marketing audit and establishes your brand story, can help you achieve growth you never thought possible.