Every new technology, and every new marketing fad, is discussed long before it’s widely implemented. How many of us would have guessed that the history of autonomous cars goes back to the 1920s, or that technical content marketing can be traced back to the Hartford Steam Boiler company’s ‘Locomotive’ news sheet, first published in November 1867 to help people run their boilers more safely? The Locomotive is still published today, as a blog. But technical content marketing takes an inordinate amount of effort to do well – much more than, say, placing an advertisement in a trade media outlet, or bashing out an e-newsletter. Perhaps that’s why it’s been so slow to take off across the industry as a whole. That said, some of our clients, not least the major component distributors, have been enthusiastically pursuing this activity for several years to create amazingly diverse and informative online technical resources for design engineers.
Last year, B2B electronics trade media experienced a bit of a shake up. AspenCore, part of Arrow Electronics, added to its publishing stable of online media by buying EE Times, EDN, Embedded.com and more. By some estimates, it captured 65% of the North American electronics design audience, not to mention a big chunk in China and other parts of Asia. This was an electronic component distributor looking for a smarter way to reach engineers than relying on third-party media, so buying some media outlets was seen as a shortcut. And it’s not just conventional trade media that can be attractive to distributors. In November 2016, Avnet announced the purchase of the Hackster community as the race to influence ‘makers’ accelerated in the belief that some of the projects these guys are playing with will become hugely successful.
The publishing industry has been quick to address the perceived gap in the market in the belief that ‘independent’ publishers still have an important role to play, and I wouldn’t argue with that. In addition to several smaller outfits, there’s Penton Media, whose acquisition by Informa was announced in September 2016. Electronic Design and Wireless Systems Design are just two of over a hundred B2B digital and print brands in the Penton stable, and it seems likely that these titles will benefit from the changes. But the really big change is the commitment that companies are making to becoming publishers in their own right. Blogs, technical libraries, online communities and even glossy print magazines designed to appeal to corporate egos are in the ascendency as never before. Of course, many of these initiatives are in their infancy, and toddler-like mistakes are being made along the way. Here are four of the most common:
- Content development is driven by what the seller wants to say, rather than what interests buyers. The essence of B2B technical content marketing is to stimulate interest in products or services, rather than explicitly promote them but some marketers and writer’s just can’t help themselves – if it’s not a direct sales pitch, they can’t see the value in the message.
- Content is under-utilised. White papers should be re-purposed into technical articles that can be pitched to trade media, blog posts, PPT presentations and video. Each piece of derived content can then be delivered through the most appropriate channels, with each channel cross-linking to others, perhaps with the original white paper as the call-to-action at the end. And all content can be promoted through e-marketing campaigns. Rather than this approach, we often see silos within companies. The demand creation teams don’t speak to the PR people. Social media teams look down on the ‘traditional’ marketers. And SEO teams keep their dark arts to themselves – with little reason, because it really isn’t that complicated thanks to the raft of easy-to-use online tools now available.
- Lack of planning. Engineer-to-engineer communications, white papers, technical articles and blogs form the heart of most content marketing activity, with video growing by the day. Getting commitment from engineering and product marketing teams to support content development in a planned and sustained way is tough, as is getting budget approval to hire external writers or consultants. In-house teams have other priorities in their day-to-day jobs. External agencies can seem expensive, particularly because the ROI of content marketing campaigns may not be immediately apparent. Where the content is used as a call-to-action in email marketing, results are relatively easy to quantify. Where blog posts are used to deliver long-term value for inbound marketing – getting found in searches – ROI is harder to measure, but it can be done. Without planning and long-term commitment, many content marketing initiatives fizzle out within weeks or months.
- Content is not search-optimised. Search engine optimisation is not a dark art – it involves both intuition and data analysis. However, any competent marketer will make content marketing efforts more effective by thinking about SEO in everything they do, from headlines in articles and blogs to file names for graphics and alt tags. To identify the search terms that are likely to be most effective, try to imagine being a buyer, rather than a seller. What is the buyer most likely to search for? When you have a shortlist of terms, you can use various tools to establish the average number of monthly searches for those terms, the degree of competition for search rank, and the relevance of each term to what you have to offer.
Those companies that have embraced content marketing effectively in recent years now reap the benefits of greatly increased inbound web traffic and efficient, effective lead generation as a result.
At the heart of Publitek’s services for engineer-to-engineer marketing communications is ‘technical content marketing’. Key the phrase into Google. See how we do. You don’t have to be big to achieve page 1 results in Google search, and practising what we preach brings us valuable new leads every week.