Using a Manufacturing Marketing Knowledge Base to Reach Buyers

Ed Marsh | Mar 4, 2022

Tl;dr - B2B manufacturing marketing is about more than websites, industry journals and trade shows. Increasingly it demands the thoughtful integration of sales and marketing operations, an expanded digital footprint, and tech stack that boosts internal efficiency and helps to meet customer expectations. A knowledge base is an important part of that footprint, and it delivers a number of significant benefits to customers and to manufacturing companies.

The Many Audiences of B2B Manufacturing Marketing

Who is your company's marketing audience?

Your first answer is probably prospects who are looking for what you sell, and comparing you to competitors.

That's an important audience for sure, but hardly the only one. Your list might include others in addition to these common audience groups:

  • Customers - helping them maximize the value of what they've bought from you already, and to understand additional ways in which you can positively impact them and their business
  • Vendors - in a supply-chain challenged world, you can be sure that vendors are having to weigh which customers they want to allocate resources to
  • Employees - ideally all your talent will be engaged, understand the difference you make in the world, and consume your information to help them see the importance of their contribution. It's an especially important tool for the sales team.
  • Employment candidates - in today's tumultuous talent market, this should be clear
  • Investors, Finance Sources, Strategic Suitors - you might be completely self-funded and sustaining with tightly held family ownership, but regardless of the current structure there will be circumstances when outside capital will be attractive. You should be attractive to those who can provide it
  • Students and others trying to learn - you can help make a difference by providing helpful information to those working to improve themselves

Different audiences seek different kinds of information. Often in different formats that are appropriate for their use case. Some will come directly to you to find it. Others will find you initially through search engines as they work to find important information.

manufacturing marketing should include a knowledge base in the marketing strategy and marketing efforts. It can provide manufacturing marketers and teh sales team a toolkit to optimize content marketing to reach teh target audience for a manufacturing business at all phases of the customer lifecycleThat means that you need broad information (for aggregate domain authority and reach), specific information (e.g. to help each role on a complex buying team to research from their angle of interest), and various types of information for various audiences such as financial strength for procurement, vendor and finance research; product/service information for prospects comparing competitors; and "a day in the life" type information for employment candidates. This is a complex set of requirements to be woven into the marketing strategy.

Even within groups - say customers - you'll need different types of information in your content marketing. While many of my clients see process and package engineering as their primary contacts, they also interface with marketing, nutrition and food safety, logistics, supply chain, maintenance, operations, and other roles. Each of those will have different information requirements during the project phases as propsects initially, and later as customers.

manufacturing marketing strategy isn't built on a silver bullet, but rather on various tactics to generate leads and support the buying processHere's a cardinal rule of B2B manufacturing marketing - you have to make the right content available to the right people without them having to work hard to find it.

That means a variety, that's integrated in aggregate, and with thoughtful and efficient user experience (increasingly that means chatbots and conversational marketing & sales.)

Let's look at how a manufacturing marketing knowledge base fits into this high-level view.

What is a Knowledge Base and Why is Knowledge Management Important?

For a typical manufacturing company, a knowledge base is a published set of information that's organized in a self-service online library. It normally includes how-to information, troubleshooting and error/malfunction resolution tips, and frequently asked questions.

How Should a Manufacturer Structure a Knowledge Base?

manufacturing marketing strategies should incorporate various marketing campaigns for lead generation. These include email marketing, social media marketing, online marketing and digital marketing to reach potential customerIt can be located on the same domain as a company's primary website, or a subdomain, and the CMS (content management system) may be the same as the website or different knowledge base software.

The self-service requirement requires that the schema be purposeful and supported by tagging, navigation, well-indexed search, and ideally integrated with chatbot tools to facilitate rapid access to answers. (And we'll see later, easy to be searched by your own team as well as they work to deliver great customer experience.)

What's the Purpose of a Knowledge Base?

This is public information. It is indexed by Google and other search engines. This means that it is a manufacturing content marketing asset that contributes to domain authority, SEO key term optimization, and inbound lead generation. Anyone seeking answers to questions they're asking might end up on your knowledge base - believe it or not, even if they include a competitor name in their search. Therefore it can be a really, really effective competitive marketing tool (because common challenges with your product often exist with competitors as well.)

However, these are ancillary benefits (not insignificant, but not your primary objective.)

The principal purpose of a B2B manufacturing knowledge base is to improve the customer experience. Therefore the primary audience is current customer end-users.

Reasons to Create a Manufacturing Knowledge Base

Let's look at how a manufacturer can use a knowledge base to improve customer experience. After all, those same customers are increasingly accustomed to B2C and even some B2B experiences (often in areas like tech while not yet in industrial manufacturing) that offer wonderful self-service capability that they value.

Force Multiplier for Your Subject Matter Experts

manufacturing marketing strategies should employ all appropriate marketing channels and marketing materials. This includes a knowledge base which can boost search results and reach more potential customers with the broader reach of manufacturer marketingEvery company has a handful of folks who have seen it all. They've been on factory floors during nightmarish factory acceptance tests, installations and commissionings. They've figure out the intermittent and phantom issues that have impacted performance. They even know as much about ingredient inputs and related consumables as the vendors of those products.

And all that information, including the "algorithm" for contingent recall and contextual application of that valuable information, is resident in their heads. That limits your ability to unlock the value for customers. It's only available 1:1. That's inefficient. It's unacceptable to the next customer in line waiting. And it's exhausting for your SMEs who are "always on" helping in stressful situations.

Your B2B industrial knowledge base will allow you to share that knowledge many:many. Sure it will take some work, frustration and learnings along the way. There will be days of doubt and complaints. But in the end you'll have a resource which helps you address the common 80% of issues quickly and efficiently (not to save money, but to improve customer experience) and free your experts up to work on the really unusual and vexing issues.

Increase Trust and Satisfaction

People have an easier time trusting vendors that are open and transparent. Prospects will appreciate your knowledge base (probably even stumble into it while they're researching) and customers will feel a higher degree of comfort with your company when you provide a robust knowledge base

But customers aren't the only users. With a bit of training your service technicians, parts customer service, and other customer facing roles can incorporate the knowledge base into their customer interactions. When someone calls to order a part, for instance, they can include a link to the article on replacing it with the order confirmation for the part. Even those that aren't experienced in field technical service themselves can leverage the SME expertise captured in the knowledge base to share it with customers proactively - acting as tech service staff even without the training and background.

It's also common to integrate a knowledge base with a chat bot. So a visitor on your "Parts and Service" page on the website could engage a bot which asks if they want to research a specific problem, talk live, create a ticket or order parts. (Of course, those are just examples - you create the bot to reflect your organization, priorities, culture and customer expectations.)

If they respond that they're researching a problem, the chatbot (either navigating through a topic tree, using natural language, or increasingly enriched by AI/artificial intelligence) will help the visitor find an answer quickly - and if it's not the answer they need, then efficiently connect them with live assistance.

All of this is about speeding resolution and empowering customers to find efficient self-service solutions.

Here's a huge caveat.

If you undertake this to reduce your customer service cost, you'll fail and annoy customers in the process. Sure, you'll realize some efficiencies. But to succeed, plan on redirecting those savings to continuous improvement and expansion of the knowledge base, and to reducing time on hold to reach live assitance.

Enrich Your Database and Customer Records

Every capital equipment manufacturer loses track of their installed base. Maintenance contacts retire or change jobs. Machines are moved to different locations, scrapped and sold.

A strong public knowledge base will attract current users which provides opportunities to engage them, collect contact details to nurture them, increase aftermarket sales and track the installed base for forecasting and sales purposes.

Integrate with Customer Portal

Manufacturers that design and implement a robust CRM solution with appropriate custom objects can then integrate information from the knowledge base within a customer portal to deliver a best practice customer experience.

This fosters a stronger customer relationship to improve lifetime value (reorders) and increased satisfaction (continued high performance) and aftermarket sales.

Important Additional Benefits of a B2B Manufacturing Knowledge Base

The goal of the knowledge base is principally to improve customer experience; to deliver an experience that meets customer expectations and is commensurate with your brand, product quality, industry leadership, and company ethos.

Doing the work for those primary and important reasons is reward enough as customers buy your products because of their enhanced experience...and tell others about it.

But that's not all. You'll also accrue significant manufacturing inbound marketing value (boosting website traffic, attracting new prospects, improving SEO performance through both increased domain authority and large numbers of specific long-tail key term optimized articles, and converting new leads.)

Perhaps most importantly you'll develop a process and build the muscle for codifying the incredible institutional knowledge that walks out your door each evening in the minds of your long-time SMEs. You'll formalize an enduring corporate asset solidifying one that is often ephemeral.

A B2B Manufacturing Website is More than Visual Design

the manufacturing industry can improve marketing efforts by creating content for search engine optimization and using various marketing tactics to drive marketing successThis is an important example of why manufacturers need to think in terms of a continuously evolving digital footprint, rather than a visual design (product brochure) website.

Knowledge base, customer portal, and multiple blogs are examples of "website" components that are critical components for industrial manufacturers but which are often overlooked by typical "website design" firms.

One Final Note - A Manufacturing Knowledge Base is Different than an Industry Knowledge Graph

Your knowledge base is focused on the frequently asked questions, troubleshooting tips and how-to information specific to the products/services that you sell.

Often your blog posts will bleed over into broader industry trends and information. They are intentionally broader.

And both are distinct from an Industry Knowledge Graph which is essentially a Wiki for your industry and would include vendor-agnostic information and topics well beyond the specific capabilities and information about your solutions.

Beyond the Knowledge Base - Manufacturing Marketing Strategy

Enhancing Manufacturing Marketing Strategy through Digital Tools and Customer Engagement

As we create and weave the elements of a manufacturing marketing strategy together, it's imperative to recognize the evolving dynamics of the digital landscape. In an era where online presence dictates market reach, a strong marketing strategy must encompass a multifaceted approach, integrating content creation, social media engagement, and targeted online advertising. 

Crafting a Robust Content Marketing Strategy

The cornerstone of any effective marketing strategy in the manufacturing sector is robust content creation. This involves not just creating content but ensuring that it aligns seamlessly with the interests and needs of the target audience. By developing a content marketing strategy that resonates with both existing customers and potential customers, manufacturers can establish a strong online presence. This strategy should encompass various formats – from detailed blog posts and insightful case studies to engaging videos and informative email marketing campaigns.

All content should be optimized for SEO and for conversions, and sales enablement content is an important element as well

Leveraging Email Marketing and Social Media Channels

Email marketing remains a vital tool for reaching potential and existing customers. It offers a direct line of communication, ideal for sharing new developments, product launches, and company news. The key is personalization; tailoring content to meet the specific interests of different segments of your audience enhances engagement and fosters loyalty.

Similarly, an active presence on social media channels can significantly amplify a manufacturing marketing strategy. Platforms like LinkedIn, Twitter, Reddit, and even Instagram offer unique opportunities to engage with buying process influencers, share content, and participate in industry-related conversations. This boosts visibility and positions the company as a thought leader in its field.

Understanding and Utilizing Buyer Personas

A pivotal aspect of a successful marketing strategy is the understanding and creation of buyer personas. These personas represent your ideal customers, crafted based on customer feedback and market research. They help in tailoring your marketing efforts to address the specific needs, behaviors, and concerns of different segments of your target market.

Engaging with Trade Shows and Events

While digital strategies are essential, the value of traditional channels like trade shows cannot be understated. These events offer a unique platform for direct interaction with potential customers, showcasing products, and understanding market trends. Integrating trade show participation with digital strategies, such as social media promotion and post-event email follow-ups, can significantly enhance the overall impact.

Strengthening SEO and Online Advertising Efforts

To ensure that your content reaches the right audience, a solid SEO strategy is crucial. This involves optimizing your website and content for relevant keywords, thus improving visibility in search engine results. Complementing SEO efforts with targeted online advertising can also drive traffic and generate leads. Platforms like Google Ads and LinkedIn advertising allow for precise targeting, reaching potential customers at various stages of the buying process.

Focusing on Customer Feedback and Repeat Customers

An often-overlooked aspect of manufacturing marketing strategy is the emphasis on existing customers. Repeat customers not only provide steady revenue but can also become brand advocates. Encouraging customer feedback and acting on it not only improves products and services but also demonstrates a commitment to customer satisfaction.

The Role of the Marketing Team in Content Strategy

Behind every successful marketing strategy is a dedicated marketing team. This team should be adept in various aspects of digital marketing - from content strategy development to managing social media channels. Regular training and staying abreast with the latest marketing trends are crucial for the team to effectively meet the marketing objectives.

Leveraging Knowledge Management for Enhanced Customer Support and Efficiency

B2B manufacturing marketing may underestimate the power of knowledge base software and information to become a cornerstone for effective knowledge management. By establishing both internal and external knowledge bases, companies can streamline the dissemination of critical information, ensuring that it is always up to date and accessible. This dual approach not only enhances customer support teams' efficiency but also fosters a culture of knowledge sharing within the organization.

Internal knowledge base systems serve as a repository for the company's collective intelligence, allowing for the seamless exchange of information among team members. This internal platform supports the knowledge management process by enabling employees to quickly find solutions and share insights, thereby reducing redundancy and improving overall productivity.

On the customer-facing side, a well-organized knowledge base provides a self-service option that empowers customers to find answers to their queries without direct intervention from the support team. This not only improves customer satisfaction but also allows support teams to focus on more complex issues that require personalized attention. The integration of robust search functionality within these knowledge bases ensures that users can efficiently navigate through the content, further enhancing the self-service experience.

Furthermore, external knowledge base software plays a pivotal role in expanding the company's digital footprint. By making a vast array of resources available to the public, including troubleshooting guides, FAQs, and how-to articles, companies can significantly improve their SEO performance and domain authority. This outward-facing component of the knowledge base management system acts as a magnet, attracting potential customers and establishing the company as a thought leader in its industry.

The strategic deployment of knowledge base software underpins a comprehensive knowledge management strategy. By maintaining both internal and external knowledge bases, manufacturing companies can ensure that their customer support teams are well-equipped to meet the demands of modern consumers, while simultaneously fostering an environment of knowledge sharing and collaboration. This approach not only enhances the efficiency of the support team but also significantly improves the customer experience, making it a critical element in the overarching goal of sustained business growth and customer satisfaction.

A Marketing Strategy Integrates Multiple Tactics

A comprehensive manufacturing marketing strategy in today's digital age should be a blend of various elements – from creating engaging content and leveraging social media to optimizing for SEO and valuing customer feedback. By understanding and catering to the needs of both potential and existing customers, manufacturers can build a strong digital footprint, driving growth and fostering long-term customer relationships. Integrating these strategies with traditional marketing avenues like trade shows ensures a holistic approach to reaching and engaging with your audience.