I just spent the better part of a month travelling across the country talking to industrial marketing specialists about the increasing role of digital media. One question kept coming up – what’s ahead?
There’s no doubt that 2012 was the year when social really exploded for the industrial/B2B space. According to a recent study, 61 percent of engineers use social media for work-related activities. This study, by Cal Gavin, further showed that 8,522,177 engineers are currently on LinkedIn. Clearly, social isn’t going away, and plays a key role in virtually every marketing trend. Here’s the scoop:
1) Show Me!
As Internet users become more passive, image-based social networks are becoming all the rage. The leader of the pack is Pinterest. Less than three years old, Pinterest now drives more referral traffic than Google+, LinkedIn and YouTube combined (according to a study by Shareaholic). Really. Pinterest is evolving beyond wedding cakes, cozy cottages, leather boots and such. The biggest clue that it’s time to start paying attention? Brand pages. That’s right – your company can now have a dedicated profile page with your logo on it – just like the other social networks. I know what you’re thinking, and I still (sorta) feel the same way: does anyone really want to see pictures of your bolts or pumps (the boring kind, not the shoe kind)? Not really – but, engineers are starting to share interesting images, infographics, drawings and more. In fact, infographics are the most shared content on Pinterest. If your products are visually exciting, your job is easier. Just as with other social networks, why not get in early? Start by registering your brand page, then poke around for a few images that relate to your industry. Then “pin” some of your own exciting photos on your website. Try it. You’ll like!
Instagram is slowly bleeding into the commercial space too. While it’s cool to share pictures about nothing with folks in Australia and Zimbabwe, the use is expanding. Instagram presents a fun way to humanize your company, and connect with people visually. The best tip? Start with great photography. Don’t bother with stock images or boring shots, you will need a creative eye and engaging images to be successful. It’s critical to #tag your #uploads accordingly, since this is how #neweyes will #discover you. If you have lots of snappy, thought provoking images, and contribute regularly, more and more will follow and engage with you. These relationships can eventually be monetized.
Here’s the critical difference between Pinterest and Instagram: on Pinterest, you are finding, grouping and sharing images you like online (even your own), while on Instagram, you are developing, sharing and promoting your unique images and graphics. For either, keep your content simple, yet interesting and engaging. Remember that most of your users are on mobile devices, most likely a pocket computer (aka cell phone). So, jamming 20 pages worth of stats into one infographic won’t get you too far.
Lastly, the veteran of the pack is the slowly dying Flickr. While it’s been a great way to organize and share photos, it never quite mushroomed like Pinterest and Instagram. It’s still a good solutions for cataloging lots of photos, and applying organizational structure – ie categories, subcategories, etc. There are also many apps out there that allow for publishing Flickr content on your website. This can be great for image galleries of your products or completed jobs. Remember to add captions to each image to help educate the viewer and the search engines.
2) Bait Me, Educate Me
Blog – this is the easiest way to develop and grow your content library. This is my favorite piece of the social puzzle since you get to talk in paragraphs instead of virtually incoherent chopped-up sentences. (Sister Pat, my 3rd grade teacher, would be very proud to hear about that!) Blogs are the ideal way to establish your thought leadership, and expand your search engine promotion (since Google loves fresh, well-written relevant content!). Focus on topics that are interesting to your industry as a whole – news, breakthroughs, new applications for old capabilities and products. Limit the focus on your company/brand. Nobody is reading blogs to be sold anything. Write as often as you can. Trust me, it’s hard to stay on schedule, but it’s also important to train your readers so they know when to come back. After you have a few solid entries, think about promoting your blog and syndicating your content through related blogs and websites. This will help you pull in readers and maximize your reach.
Whitepapers and Ebooks – while these take longer to develop, the will help you attract new customers and establish your position as “go to” people in your industry. With the explosion of inbound marketing (discussed later), it’s time to stop dreaming and start drafting. These digital docs act as tempting bait that lure prospects ripe for nurturing into buyers over time. Your white papers should cover a few simple rules: the theme must be interesting enough for a visitor to give up their precious email address to give it to you. Don’t simply write an article fit for Wikipedia, think about it from a different, much more enticing angle. Answer the questions your clients and prospects are asking, let them learn from you. Again, don’t be “salesy” in your language – educate your audience. It’s ok to have your logo, toll free and website subtly on every page, they’ll know why it’s there and use it when ready.
Case Studies – I’m almost tempted to move this one into the “show me” section! Why? Well, you can brag about your capabilities all you want, but proving that you can do it, particularly for custom manufacturers, is how skeptics become believers. Would you hire an architect without seeing a portfolio of previous projects first? Of course not! Follow the classic format here: client came to you with X challenge, and you delivered Y solution, and you all lived happily ever after in Disneyesque fields of rainbows and butterflies. Focus on stories that will resonate with larger audiences. Also, use attractive images and other snappy graphics to support your text. Nobody reads anymore. In fact, I’m shocked you made it this far on my longest blog ever!
3) On The Run
Cellphones and tablet devices are everywhere. Chances are, you are staring at one right now. By 2015, tablets will outnumber desktop computers. In fact, seven out of eight people sitting around me on the train right now are lost in them as I clickity click away. Are you ready for them?
Let’s start with the basics. Make sure your website is accessible and usable on mobile devices. While most websites will show up on them, many are still not optimized for various formats. In the recent past, people would develop multiple versions of a site – typically, one for desktop and one for mobile. This required paying for a website twice. Today, there is a better approach. Basically, you have one set of content, then multiple sets of display rules (that are handled by multiple style sheets). As a result, websites are smarter than ever, and can automatically adjust to their displayed environment. It’s ancient news now, but remember that languages such as Flash do not work on Apple devices. If your site requires Flash to deliver key content, stop reading this blog and go fire your web developer.
Next up, mobile apps. You might be thinking, “What? I couldn’t possibly come up with an app that anyone would care about!” Well, how about a calculator? How about an app that helps your sales people, distributors and customers figure out what product is best for them? If you are a distributor, a catalog app would make lots of your customers happy. Think about apps that will make their jobs easier. Since you have to create separate versions for each mobile platform, development can get costly. Make sure you do some ROI estimation, but when calculating, don’t underestimate the size of your potential usership – and their desire to have your app! It’ probably best to go with a firm that specializes in app development. In any case, make sure you beat up their portfolio of completed projects before handing over that meaty deposit check.
Of course, there are mobile ads. You’ll need to develop digital advertising specifically for users on the go. There are many facets to this approach. For instance, Google now allows you to target mobile users differently than desktop ones. Your ads can show phone numbers, even with a “call now” button when displayed on a mobile device. Usually, if someone is search for your product or service on one, the need is urgent. So you’ll want to capitalize on their situation and make it simple for them to connect with you, (and maybe charge them double?). Also, consider opportunities for mobile display – there are many networks, including Google, that have rather unprecedented ways of reaching target audiences.
4) Entertain Me!
Here’s another one that belongs in the “show me” section, but video usage is so huge now – it deserves its own spotlight. Let’s start with one of my favorite facts: YouTube is the #2 search engine, second only to Google (which happens to own YouTube!) As a result, videos do get preferential treatment in Google search results. Start with a simple company profile – capture the essence of you company in a minute or two. Focus on what you do, how long you’ve been doing it and for whom, why you do it better than anyone else. Use humans to personalize the video, allowing viewers to make a connection. Don’t forget the most important part – finish with a strong call to action, “Call us now”, or “Click to Learn More at our Website”, or, “Click to Request Info/Quote”. Additional videos can feature happy clients and their strong testimonials, case studies, educational videos on new uses for old products and capabilities.
Have a little fun here! While I don’t recommend it unless you are a semi-pro, you can start with your phone or camcorder and a free video editing app. Or, spend a few bucks and have a professional do it. Prices can range from $500-$50,000, but it’s pretty amazing what you can get on the lower end of the scale! After your videos are done, load them up to YouTube or Vimeo. Make sure you write keyword-rich descriptions and tag the videos with other relevant words to help people find them. You can also add them to your website by grabbing the YouTube/Vimeo link, and inserting it into your site’s code. Simply if you have a CMS, or just call your webmaster – they’ll know what to do.
5) “The whole of your digital marketing is greater than the sum of its parts.”
Yeah. I said it. While each of the strategies outlined here will help you, the magic really starts to happen when you do them all and strategically link them together. How? Enter inbound marketing. Through this method, you strategically mix the various forms of digital media to increase your lead generations and new business. The approach starts by baiting prospects with delicious content that they can not resist. So shiny. So yummy. Their desire for your content is so great, that they are willing to give up their precious email address to get it. Once you have that, the fun begins. You can now market directly to them based on their stated interest. Of course, you have to promote your content so they see your bait in the first place. This is where blogs, and social come in. These approaches will scratch the surface, but invite them to download the core content – such as whitepaper or ebook. Online display ads can be used for the same purpose. Once you have their email address, then you can reach out regularly and eventually turn a few into customers. This is just one example of how an integrated strategy can work. There are so many other things you can do. Be creative!
“So how do I manage all of this stuff, Flip?” Glad you asked! By using a marketing automation platform. These web-based solutions allow you to launch, maintain, track and improve your inbound strategy all in one convenient place. While the list of inbound solutions is growing, HubSpot remains the forerunner. Do not be fooled by it’s ease of use, as the results are extremely powerful!
I’m sure I’m going to get yelled for a few things I missed. Actually, I can’t believe I wrote this entire blog and mentioned LinkedIn only once (actually, my daughter would remind me, “That’s twice now, Daddy! Silly Daddy…”). Digital marketing continues to explode, and there are many players in the game that fill different needs, while new solutions help tie them all together for integrated strategies. In case you haven’t noticed, we are still amidst a revolution in communications. It’s time to take it up a notch. Don’t be a Luddite stuck in the Dark Ages!
Images courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net