Ingredient branding is one of the core principles of B2B marketing for those companies whose products are a component of other products. It differentiates the product offerings and establishes how they are essential to other, more familiar products. According to research conducted by Industrial Marketing Today, ingredient brands are shifting budgets and resources from traditional industrial marketing programs to inbound. While some in the C-suite were skeptical about the efficacy of content marketing to generate sales, today’s path-to-purchase overrides these concerns. The decision journey includes multiple decision-makers who want to discover new ways to do things or understand how a component will integrate into their systems. Different content types have different authority and influence at each point of the journey and each individual decision-maker has its own preferences and “go-to” places for high authority content.
Today ingredient brands need to sell their smarts; not their products. Component manufacturers need to overcome their “vender” mentality and instead create a content strategy that demonstrates their value as a visionary partner. Old school content such as product collateral, sell sheets or component catalogs and price books, still have a place on the roadmap but do little to convince the multiple decision-makers of the company’s innovation, solutions orientation or provide an experience that makes them “need” to work with a specific partner.
A recent conversation with Carlos Abler, Leader – Online Content Strategy at 3M, focused on some of the complexities faced by ingredient brands in selling to OEMs or system integrators. According to Abler, “Ingredient brands need to deepen their customer centricity to a more role-based approach. They need to holistically understand the tasks undertaken by each role that ultimately touches or influences the buying decision.”
Companies selling to OEMs, for example, need to consider multiple roles, including:
- Industrial designer, who is interested in ideas and applications
- Design engineer, who wants to know the specifications
- Process engineer, who needs to determine if the solution will work in the company’s manufacturing environment
- Compliance officer, who ensures the components are environmentally compliant in all manufacturing locations
- Program manager, who wants to find companies that can contribute to multiple projects
- Economic buyer, who negotiates terms and pricing
- Partners, who can integrate products into net new solutions
This suggests a complex sales construct with multiple cells, which needs to be reflected in the content strategy. Companies can no longer act transnationally with customers and prospects. The content strategy needs to combine thought leadership with innovative use cases that span multiple industries and sectors. The content strategy also needs to provide great evaluation and simulation tools; this type of content underscores the partnership mentality of the company vs. the transactional view of a “vender”. According to Abler, “Buyers want an ideational partner. They want to work with visionaries who can articulate and demonstrate future possibilities and share application content that demonstrates this. If the ingredient brand waits until the buyer is at the specification stage, they are too late.”
Another consideration is NDA compliance, which can prevent ingredient brands from disclosing their coolest or most innovative applications. This requires a lot of creativity to communicate their vision and ability to be a creative thought partner without disclosing actual applications.
BASF handled this issue through their long running ad campaign, which established its brand as a component that made products better. Their advertising showed multiple applications that never disclosed customer names. The campaign used arresting visuals of familiar products in engaging situations with a voice over that said things like:
“We don’t make the dress, we make it brighter”
“We don’t make the motorcycle; we make it quicker.”
“We don’t make the sand board; we make it lighter.”
BASF. The Chemical Company.
3M positioned its innovation for the electronics industry through a video with a science fiction theme. It featured various futuristic applications such as wristbands with flexible displays, glass touchscreens and wearable technology. The video highlighted 3M’s innovation without ever showing any customer’s actual application. Yet, it appealed to designers wanting a partner who could take them to “what’s next”.
Ingredient brands also need to include “to” and “thru” content as part of the roadmap. This is important for communicating with partners and for helping with intra-role interactions. Partners need content “to” them that spells out why the ingredient brand’s applications and innovations matter to the partner’s customers. They also need “thru” content that helps with sell-through to their customer base. These dynamics also apply within a prospect company. Ingredient brands need to speak the language and address the needs of each role and help those in those roles communicate up and down the chain. This is a huge gap in many content strategies.
Huge organizational and cultural challenges exist that prevent component manufacturers and integrators from adopting this type of matrixed content strategy. Often, the corporate level has the best horizontal view of the impact it can have on industrial design across industries and organizations. Yet, the budgets for content live in the product or business level, which tends to have a more parochial view. In some instances, multiple products can compete for the same piece of business, each offering a different solution or application. These divisional or product siloes prevent the company from presenting an overarching story that tells the big “ideation” and “innovation” story. If this becomes a centralized function, they can tap the divisions or product areas for deeper, role focused content.
The resulting content strategy will reflect understanding through the lens of the customer and further refract it into the subtopics and interests of the multiple decision-makers. Ultimately, ingredient brands need to inspire design and product engineers, inform program managers and instill confidence in economic buyers. Your sales people may or may not have relationships with all decision-makers and influencers. A content strategy that offers spec sheets and price lists will leave your potential as an innovation partner undiscovered.
Kathy’s forte is enterprise content strategy, content marketing and thought leadership. Over the past 40 years, she has worked with both emerging brands and large enterprises in developing content and thought leadership strategies. She has written several research reports, white papers and has been a key contributor to Forbes Publish or Perish Report.