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Top ways to evolve your content marketing efforts in manufacturing

We all have those seasonal events we look forward to each year. Maybe it’s when leaves start to change, or the snow first falls, or the breeze hints at warmer days ahead. It could be birthdays or holidays or other times when loved ones gather. Or maybe it’s planning season or a trade show or a sales meeting. They’re times when we’re given the opportunity to reflect and look ahead.

Stephani Simon, CEO and Chief Manufacturing Strategist at Inprela, and I recently had a chat about Content Marketing Institute’s (CMI) manufacturing content marketing report—one of our team’s favorite annual events—and below is a snippet that offers advice and insights on how to make meaningful progress in 2023.

Sigrid (SM): CMI puts out its insights report on the state of content marketing in manufacturing, and our team buzzes.

Stephani (SS): Yes! Thank you to CMI. You’ve done it again! The report is such a resource.

It’s always a surprise—often a welcome one—to read survey results that align with and validate what we see in the work we do with marketing teams across manufacturing. And this year’s survey is no exception. We are getting it into the hands of the marketing teams we work with so they can feel seen.

SM: Were you surprised by any of the findings in this year’s report?

SS: It surprised me that 44% of manufacturing companies are focusing on demand gen, a third more than last year. It’s an exciting trajectory, and I suspect the number will continue to rise as manufacturing processes (and marketing) continue to become more digital.

We’re also seeing the C-suite become more engaged with the insights marketing is presenting, which will drive this number up, too.

Insights and advice for manufacturing marketers

SM: The report inspired a lot of insights that could be valuable and applicable to many marketing teams. Layering the conversations you’re having with clients and trends you’re seeing on top of it, what three pieces of advice would you offer to manufacturing marketers?

SS: Yeah, happy to share! Before I jump into that, I’d just like to acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all brands. But sometimes, it’s helpful to have someone else reflect on what you might be dealing with and offer potential solutions, and that’s what I’m hoping readers will get out of this.

  1. Be realistic about the position your company and your marketing team are actually in. 2022 was tough for many marketing teams to navigate because they lacked solid footing. Acknowledge that you might be dealing with talent shortages and turnover of experienced employees across departments, among other factors, that are affecting your programs. Most people tend to push forward on the job to be done without taking the time to think through how to better and more realistically navigate the situation. Not only can that take the fun out of the work and create burnout, but it could also impact your marketing program’s quality.

    For many of our clients, being realistic has meant they are taking time to make sure their team is speaking the same marketing language. Terms like “thought leadership,” “content strategy,” and even “PR” mean different things to different people based on their past education and experiences. Establishing shared definitions and understanding where each team member is coming from, lays a strong foundation that produces more fruitful discussions. You’re starting from the same place.

    Being realistic has also meant anchoring the team on a focused content strategy and/or re-aligning around the positioning, target audiences and the problem the brand solves. These things are so critical to marketing success, and brands sometimes take for granted that existing content strategies and positioning are working.

    Being realistic also helps set expectations beyond the marketing team, extending to outside partners and vendors, and helps to more consistently educate internal shareholders.

    Define the dynamics and what “being realistic” means for you and your team. From there, gain alignment on the underlying challenges and if/what needs to be solved, set a feasible timeline with digestible milestones, and go forth to improve the situation and results.

  2. Push your marketing department outside its comfort zone. While it may be uncomfortable, initially, projects that push us are frequently reported as being the most fun—partially because they double as professional development. And that’s not a terrible situation to be in if employee retention is important. The CMI manufacturing content marketing report offers a volume of excellent recommendations for pushing teams.

    If you’re looking to make organizational progress, tackle a true challenge, such as documenting a mutually beneficial and repeatable process to align sales and marketing that’s developed in collaboration with management. If your company has experienced turnover in marketing, sales, product development, or with other SMEs, getting realigned around your brand’s mission, vision, values and business goals could address the other top two marketing challenges in the report (Creating content for different stages of the buying journey and breaking down communications siloes). Execute and measure progress with the true challenge you’re tackling. Developing a V1 program may surface other uncomfortable realities. The good news is that because of the realignment that you’ve already done, stakeholders will be focused on improving a shared goal over time.

  3. Even with the challenges, don’t wait to start making progress. We’re seeing that executives are looking at the digital transformation happening on the manufacturing floor and assume corporate employees will follow suit. If executives aren’t doing so already, it won’t be long before they’re asking about marketing’s digitalization fprogress.

SM: Where should marketers focus in 2023?

SS: Take it back to the basics, especially if you’ve experienced employee turnover in the past year. Document the audiences you want to reach and understand the most significant challenges you help them overcome. Spend more time messaging around how your brand solves customer problems and less time on selling the product. Go deep in the process—tag along with sales and listen in on their sales calls. The better you can define each target audience and their needs, the easier it’ll be to create empathetic content that delivers value to your prospects.

Measurement and digital transformation efforts

SM: The survey found analytics tools are the top content marketing technology. That seems disconnected from another finding: many brands are not measuring content performance accurately. Why do you think this disconnect is happening? What’s the gap?

SS: It’s true what many have said and continue to say: the pandemic has changed the face of marketing. Digitalization and customer experiences are two big areas. And in manufacturing, expectations around expediting the pace of Industry 4.0 have skyrocketed. Many marketers are still adjusting to the impacts. The gap that you mentioned may speak to how learning and navigating new situations naturally progress. They recognize the need to prioritize digital transformation and the customer experience and are still on the path to making it happen inside their marketing organization.

SM: Digital transformation of production/factory floors keeps coming up. Many manufacturing companies are implementing efforts, yet many marketing departments continue not to have the same resources to develop and implement strategies across their tech stacks. What steps do you recommend marketing take to make 2023 a year of meaningful progress?

SS: A big question, and a very real challenge. I recommend three steps to start matching manufacturing’s digitalization in marketing:

  1. Audit where you are against management’s expectations.
  2. Identify gaps in your tech stack and assess the budget gap to build the business case.
  3. Start the conversation with management.

Create an action plan that breaks each of these steps down into digestible, realistic actions to help hold yourself accountable to making incremental progress throughout the year. Utilize a Gantt chart to identify your timeline and key milestones. But most of all, be realistic about what you can accomplish.

Making marketing progress

The best annual events are ones that inspire thought and action. What surprised you about CMI’s report? How will you evolve what’s done in your marketing department to make meaningful change in 2023?

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