A question that keeps coming up is how the Top 50 will stay on top. This may be decided by their ability to improve their marketing and sales technologies to 21st-century levels. Marketing in the 21st century is a moving target. Large automation companies are at a significant disadvantage because by the time they have spent six months developing their online marketing strategy, it's time to crumple it up and start over. The marketing landscape is changing that quickly thanks to the head-spinning pace of innovation from the likes of Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and their ilk.
As if that's not bad enough, automation companies are at a disadvantage for another reason. As our business communication platforms become increasingly intertwined with social media, the computers are paradoxically forcing us all to become more human in our marketing. This is really tough for engineering and technically based companies to grasp, harder to embrace and incredibly tricky to pull off.
What customers want is the freedom to seek vendors out, instead of vendors find them. Fortunately, there is a proven model that works under this new paradigm; it is called inbound marketing, pull rather than push. This approach flips traditional marketing on its head. Instead of trying to interrupt people from what they are doing by shoving advertisements under their nose or cold-calling them, successful 21st-century marketers are embracing the "trust economy" and delivering valuable content to their prospective customers, establishing themselves as benevolent thought leaders instead of pesky, self-absorbed chest-pounders. Inbound marketing has worked in all the other high technology markets.
So how are we doing in the industrial automation market? Well, let's put it this way: The good news is that the bar is low, The first company to grasp, embrace and execute the new approachis going to find great success. No company has quite done this yet. Let's take a look the five major components of inbound marketing and evaluate the current landscape.
The first step in inbound marketing is to generate remarkable content that prospective customers will value. While downloadable content like ebooks and white papers are very important in content marketing, blogging is its bread and butter because it provides so many peripheral benefits outside of the content itself. The industry is taking baby steps in this direction. While a few of the major vendors are doing a great job strategically, most of them are not doing as well tactically.
Most corporate websites make it very difficult to find these blogs. It seems that many companies are uncomfortable with the word "blog," so they use euphemisms instead. Other companies ignore them altogether and don't mention them on their websites or hide them several layer deep.
There are a number of industry blogs posting on a remarkably consistent basis. Others are very sporadic or have abandoned their blogs altogether.
Inexplicably, most every industrial automation blog I've seen is hosted on a domain separate from the main corporate website. Some even have a different domain for each topic—a waste of "search engine juice." One of the great benefits of blogging is the way it can contribute to SEO (search engine optimization)—keyword usage, back-links and social media shares. By moving blogs off-domain, companies are giving it all away.
Search Engine Optimization
Once you're creating remarkable content, it's great if people can find it through search engines. Companies are missing a huge opportunity with their blogs. But even basic, on-page optimization techniques such as using keywords in URLs, page titles and headings are not as well implemented as they could be.
Social Media Marketing
This is one area where most companies are making real efforts. There have been some really clever campaigns executed on Facebook, and we're starting to see more of a presence on Twitter too. However, too many of them are trying to force an outbound peg into an inbound hole. They're spending too much time talking about themselves and not enough time sharing remarkable content that is going to make them a benevolent thought leader.
Another shortcoming I see ignores one of Sun Tzu's warnings from The Art of War: "Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat." Jumping into social media without a comprehensive marketing strategy won't generate the ROI a company could otherwise realize.
This is the one area of inbound marketing that industrial automation marketers almost completely ignore. Once the 21st- century marketer has created remarkable content that is being found by search engines and discovered via social media, visitors need to be converted into leads. This is accomplished by placing calls to action across the website that send visitors to carefully designed landing pages. These landing pages contain offers and conversion forms where visitors trade personal information such as email addresses for something of value such as an ebook or webinar or even a direct product purchase or inquiry.
This is a tough one for anyone to analyze from the outside because it's impossible to know what metrics and KPIs are being monitored internally. However, the very absence of landing pages on most industrial automation websites is strong evidence that they aren't watching the single most important 21st -century marketing metric; conversion rates.
The bad news is that the automation industry hasn't quite moved into the 21st- century yet from a marketing perspective. The good news is that the playing field is wide open. There are a few players on the sidelines stretching and warming up, but from my perspective, the opening whistle hasn't blown yet.