[M]Power Series: Craig Coffey of Lincoln Electric Talks Content Marketing for Manufacturers

This is the first of the [M]Power Interview Series, highlighting the manufacturing leaders that will be featured at the [M]Power Manufacturing Assembly this Sept. 30 in Akron. A special thank you to Fathom Digital Marketing for their help!

The belief that manufacturing and marketing don’t mix is held for many reasons. It’s often true that manufacturers are oriented towards technical details such as lean operations and product specs while marketers focus on external goals such as brand awareness and audience engagement. One man has successfully managed to stand between these crossroads and navigate a path for success.

Craig Coffey of Lincoln Electric has spent the last nine of his 20 years of B2B marketing experience in the manufacturing industry. On August 28th Coffey took some time out of his bustling life—which consists of such fascinating activities as launching a groundbreaking welding magazine and planning for his upcoming segment at Content Marketing World—to speak to me about the junction between manufacturing and marketing and how exactly he hopes to address this at [M]Power on September 30th.

Below you’ll find Coffey’s thoughts on everything from the changes in the manufacturing industry that are making content marketing a real area of opportunity to his hopes for [M]Power as the moderator of the “Digital Marketing Smackdown – Who is the Best Around?” breakout session.

VG: Can you tell me a little bit about your marketing background?

CC: Sure, I’m a lifelong business to business marketer, I’ve spent the last nine years in the manufacturing space specifically. I’ve been with Lincoln Electric for three years and prior to that I spent six years with Parker Hannifin. I also have some experience in publishing and services marketing (architectural and accounting) I have a little bit of background in the publishing industry as well. In all, I’ve got a little over 20 years of B2B marketing experience…which makes me feel very old to say out loud.

VG: You touched on this a little bit already, but do you want to talk about your experience specifically in marketing in the manufacturing industry?

CC: Absolutely, and I think in the past 20 years marketing for manufacturing has changed radically. There have been a lot of different water shed moments that have led to these big changes, including the dawn and early acceptance of the internet as a viable channel for marketing (Yes, I was around for that. Yes, that also makes me feel old). While that was a big deal, it took a long time to set in then catch on, relatively speaking.  I think the expectations and uptake has shifted even more rapidly since then. Look at things like the radical changes in search algorithm, remarketing and retargeting, social media, to lead generation and marketing automation.

Demand generation has been one of the biggest changes for digital marketing for manufacturing.  It’s not pumping out content anymore—it’s not just outbound marketing; telling others about us. The shift continues to be towards inbound marketing–to attracting customers to your content and getting them to engage. It’s moving faster and tougher to keep pace with, especially when you think about manufacturers who typically—and I’m not being pejorative—react slower to new concepts in marketing.   

But, I think that the good manufacturers get it. And the ones who get it and do it well are poised for a lot of success. Not keeping up doesn’t mean you’ll be a little behind—you’ll be left in the dirt. And I think manufacturers, just by virtue of the types of businesses they are, tend to rely on what they know:  engineering, process improvement, cost control.  I think it’s easier for them to adapt to those kinds of changes and perhaps don’t give as much credence, or as much attention to marketing as they do to operational side of their business. So, there’s an imbalance. You spend a lot of time and effort to right size your manufacturing operation or improve your manufacturing processes but when it comes time to take your product to market, you have an antiquated, potentially outdated marketing approach.

That imbalance is likely something that a lot of people who are going to be at this event can relate to.

VG: Do you feel that there are any specific reasons there is a little bit of a lag on the marketing side as opposed to the manufacturing side?

CC: Yeah, I think it’s the old adage—when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. So if you’re an organization that’s primarily focused on operations or manufacturing, all of your problems look like operational or manufacturing problems. That’s where that mindset comes from. I think that’s something that any manufacturer will probably admit.

On the other side of that, every marketer will probably say that everything is a marketing challenge. Every sales guy will say it’s a sales challenge. When the reality is there’s lots of different challenges and you have to have a broad tool set to address them.        

VG:  At the [M]Power event you’re going to acting as a moderator and talking about content for manufacturers. So, let’s talk about ARC Magazine, which I know was recently launched and has created quite a splash in content marketing and manufacturing spaces. What is your best piece of advice for marketers in the manufacturing industry that hope to one day launch a content marketing initiative such as ARC Magazine? 

CC: The best piece of advice is a simple piece of advice. Your content is not going to come from inside of your organization—it’s going to come from your customers. I think that’s a simple thing to say and a hard thing to remember. I think that content marketing has to start with…the customer because the intent of content marketing isn’t just to tell a story.
It’s a great vehicle to tell a story but the intent is to move product. Customers buy products if they see that we understand the challenges they have and that our products can solve them. Starting with the customer, and the resolution of a customer’s issue, is a much better way to start your content marketing efforts than starting with yourself and talking about products or process. 

VG: Building off of that a little bit, we know as marketers in the manufacturing space that many manufacturers feel that creating engaging content, such as ARC Magazine, is too difficult or not worth it for them. Do you have anything to say to these manufacturers?

CC: It’s hard—but you’ve got to take the hard stuff. When we approached content marketing it was in addition to the rest of the things that we do. You have to recognize if you are measuring the Return on Investment the right way, if you have your eyes open about how long the investment is going to take before it pays off, then you have to be ready to invest in it. It’s not easy but it’s worthwhile.

You know, you can keep doing the things you’ve always done and you can get the same results you’ve always gotten. Or you could try and break the mold and do something different and hopefully get a better result. When you start comparing the results, and that’s ultimately what you have to do, you start to see which ones stack up as more valuable and which ones don’t.

The biggest push back you hear about when it comes to things like digital and content is, “What’s the ROI?” Well, what’s the ROI on a lot of things we do in our ‘traditional’ marketing toolset? Isn’t it worthwhile to try and take a chance on something that is new (and not even that new, content marketing just hasn’t been adopted by manufacturers well—so far). Finding those stories isn’t easy but it can create a deeper level of engagement with customers, current and future.

So when you start trying to stack up what’s working—can you tell me that a printed brochure has an ROI? They have a cost, they’re difficult to produce, and it’s difficult for them to do well. Aside from being a security blanket, what ROI value do they have?  I’m not saying we jettison all our traditional practices. I’m just saying that the quest for ROI might be a little bit of a red herring.

VG: Now, let’s dive into the [M]Power event specifically and what you’re most looking forward to at this event.

CC: I’m looking forward to learning as much from the panelist and attendees as anyone is that will be attending the [M]Power event. I think that the forum of panel and Q&A is a much more Socratic learning environment than it would be to just go listen to somebody tell me how they were successful with a certain, finite effort and to try to relate to that.

Honestly, I think that’s kind of the core of content marketing–digging a little deeper. So, one of the things I’m looking forward to, is being able to learn. It’s always fun to be in front of a group and it’s always fun to mingle with other people who share the same pains as you do but ultimately we’re all there to learn, irrespective of where we’re sitting or standing.        

VG: As the moderator, what are you hoping attendees get out of the digital marketing session?

CC: I think the biggest thing is that the pains that people deal with are not isolated. Lots of people are dealing with them in different ways. You’re probably going to hear that there are some very common themes about challenges with digital [and] challenges with old thinking that are not unique to any organization that’s going to be in attendance, especially not to manufacturers. I think you’re going to hear people talking about successes that they hopefully can take back with them that can become the fuel they use to continue to drive for the change they’re looking for.

VG: What excites you most about speaking at MPOWER?

CC: I’m not sure if this is what excites me but it’s always daunting to get in front of a group of people because you’re supposed to be some sort of expert in your field.  Like I said, I’m still learning. I’m going to be learning through this presentation, up to this presentation, past this presentation. So, the biggest thing for me is to kind of level set that fact that I’ve had the opportunity to do some good things. The opportunities have been given to me because of the organization I work for and I’ve been very lucky in that way. Hopefully the people that are at this meeting will find those kinds of opportunities as well with the organization they’re at.

VG: What are some marketing best practices Lincoln Electric uses that other manufacturers should emulate?

CC: Definitely product differentiation, [that’s] something that I’ve been preaching here. Finding and developing products that fit into a market place because of their uniqueness not because of their sameness. Focusing on the unique attributes that make our products different not specs and tech that just line us up in a row…We have to create difference, not sameness. That can be tough, because they are designed to meet a certain specification but we have to look for those differences between our products. It’s the marketers’ job to find those differences. 

For more on Coffey’s invaluable take on content marketing in the manufacturing industry, register for [M]Power Manufacturing Assembly and be sure to attend the Digital Marketing Smackdown breakout session.

Posted by MAGNET Ohio in Events, MPower

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