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B2B thought leadership

B2B Thought Leadership Marketing—How Small Manufacturers Can Drive Big Results

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B2B thought leadership marketing is not clearly understood by most small to mid-sized manufacturers I talk to regularly. They tend to roll their eyes as in, “Here we go with more marketing-consultant speak.” Don’t be so quick to dismiss this idea.

B2B thought leadership marketing directly impacts long and complex industrial sales cycles. Don’t believe me? Here are some eye-popping statistics from the 2024 B2B Thought Leadership Impact Report published by Edelman and LinkedIn.

B2B thought leadership influences decision-makers and C-suite execs

Now, consider those stats in the context of another research study that made the provocative and controversial statement, “95% of business clients are not in the market for many goods and services at any one time.”

Do you see the big challenge in manufacturing marketing? In the next section, we’ll explore how this statistic, seemingly at odds with outbound advertising, actually reinforces the need for inbound B2B thought leadership marketing and how it can help you reach those elusive industrial buyers.

The 95-5 Rule: Guidance for Industrial Sales

While the 95-5 rule generated controversy when it was first published in July 2021, it’s important to understand it is not a hard-and-fast rule but is valuable guidance for industrial sales.

Let’s break it down. If the average time between purchases for your product is 5 years (interpurchase time), this suggests that only about 20% of potential customers are actively in the market at any given time. This highlights the limited number of potential buyers you can directly influence through immediate sales tactics.

As a manufacturer of custom-engineered systems or specialized industrial products, you know your audience isn’t searching for solutions every day. Low search volumes for related keywords reinforce this reality.

What is B2B Thought Leadership?

Definition: B2B (business-to-business) thought leadership is a content marketing strategy where companies and individuals establish themselves as experts in their industry. It involves sharing valuable insights, unique perspectives, and innovative solutions to the challenges faced by your target audience.

Thought Leadership is Not About Self-Promotion:

  • The wrong approach: Focusing solely on your company’s products and services will turn readers off. They are wary of thinly veiled sales pitches.
  • The right approach: Position yourself as a valuable resource that provides actionable insights. Prioritize solving problems and addressing the industry’s needs. This builds trust and establishes you as a partner, not just a vendor.
  • Think like a consultant: Offer practical advice and guidance that would be valuable even if the reader never becomes a customer.

Effective thought leadership takes time and consistent effort. It is a long-term commitment.

  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Don’t expect immediate leads or sales. Thought leadership builds reputation over months or even years.
  • Compounding effect: The benefits increase the more content you create, and the reputation you build attracts an engaged audience.
  • Repurpose content: Maximize your efforts by turning a webinar into a series of blog posts, etc. This consistency reinforces your expertise.

Examples of Thought Leadership Content in Industrial Marketing

Original Research: Conduct surveys or studies. Publish findings in reports or infographics. (Example: A state of the industry report on manufacturing automation trends)

Data-Driven White Papers: Deep dives into specific pain points, offering analysis backed by data. (Ex: A white paper on optimizing supply chain resilience in the face of disruption)

Insightful Blog Posts: Share opinions or analyses on industry news, trends, or challenges. (Ex: Commentary on the impact of emerging technologies on the factory floor)

Webinars, Podcasts, or Videos: Host experts to discuss topics relevant to engineers and buyers. (Ex: A webinar panel on predictive maintenance for earthmoving machines)

Case Studies: Demonstrate the success of your solutions with real-world client examples.

The good news is that there is a clear correlation between content format and intent to buy. According to the 2024 State of B2B Content Consumption & Demand Report published by NetLine, there are “12 unique content formats with two Immediate Buying Decision Association distinctions: More Likely and Less Likely.”

B2B thought leadership content and intent to purchase

B2B Thought Leadership Marketing is Your Strategic Advantage for Sales and Customer Loyalty

Remember the 95-5 rule of thumb? While only 20% of potential customers might actively seek solutions at any given time, the other 80% still form brand preferences and gather information. Thought leadership positions you as a trusted source of solutions well before buyers are ready to purchase.

Here’s how:

Top-of-Mind Awareness: Consistent, valuable content establishes your brand as a thought leader in the industrial sector. This primes potential buyers to remember you when they enter the market. (Think back to your own buying habits—you’re more likely to consider brands you’ve already encountered favorably.)

Building Trust: Sharing insightful content positions you as a partner, not just a vendor. This builds trust, which is crucial in long industrial sales cycles.

Targeted Content: By addressing specific industry pain points, your content attracts the right audience, even if they aren’t ready to buy today. This is particularly powerful when you connect your thought leadership content to a strong brand identity.

Thought leadership and branding work together to create a “power couple” for driving industrial sales. See my earlier post, How to Use Manufacturing Branding & Industrial Lead Generation as a Power Couple.

Thought Leadership as Strategy, Not Just Content

While the benefits are clear, creating effective B2B thought leadership content for the industrial sector is more than just publishing frequently.

Achieving genuine impact requires a strategic initiative. Each piece of content you develop should have a defined purpose: building brand awareness, targeting specific pain points, or nurturing leads at various stages of their buyer journey.

This is where many manufacturing content marketers face challenges. Let us show you how we do things differently with our results-driven industrial content marketing.

The Challenge for Manufacturers

Manufacturers often struggle to produce consistent, high-quality thought leadership content. This can be due to limited internal resources, a lack of in-house expertise, and bandwidth constraints.

On top of that, most manufacturers are heavily sales-driven, which can lead to overly product-centric content instead of focusing on customer challenges. To build effective content, you need deep insights into your audience, not just guesses. Your sales team’s frontline experience is invaluable input.

I suggest you read the blog Top 5 Challenges of B2B Industrial Marketing and How to Overcome Them to understand these challenges better.

The Right Partner Makes the Difference

Finding the right partner is key to maximizing your thought leadership efforts. Going with the cheapest freelancer won’t guarantee the needed depth of expertise and understanding of the industrial sector.

Partner with a team specializing in industrial content creation who can collaborate with your marketing and sales teams to craft compelling, strategic pieces that align seamlessly with your business goals.

Offense is the Best Defense: Grow New Business and Protect Your Existing Customers with Thought Leadership

Don’t wait for competitors to snatch away market share. Thought leadership empowers you to take the initiative. By consistently providing valuable insights and solutions, you can:

Drive New Business: Establish yourself as a trusted authority, attracting potential customers when they are actively seeking solutions.

Become the Go-To Resource: Thought leadership positions you as the go-to resource, making your company the top-of-mind choice when new needs arise.

Protect Your Existing Base: Proactively address your customers’ challenges and demonstrate your ongoing commitment to their success. This builds loyalty and makes them less susceptible to competitor advances.

Don’t let competitors outshine you. Elevate your thought leadership game today.

Ready to explore how B2B thought leadership marketing can transform your industrial sales? Let’s talk! Schedule your free 30-minute consultation to discuss your goals and how we can create a customized content strategy to position you as the industry expert.

Achinta Mitra

Achinta Mitra calls himself a “marketing engineer” because he combines his engineering education and an MBA with 35+ years of practical manufacturing and industrial marketing experience. You want an expert with an insider’s knowledge and an outsider’s objectivity who can point you in the right direction immediately. That's Achinta. He is the Founder of Tiecas, Inc., a manufacturing marketing agency in Houston, Texas. Read Achinta's story here.
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