by Lindsey Munson, editor, Plastics Business
When the world shut down three years ago due to the pandemic, manufacturing companies were forced to create new ways to connect with their customers and prospects. The lack of business-to-business interactions and the dearth of tradeshows was affecting brand awareness – which, in turn, affected sales.
But companies in the manufacturing industry aren’t always known for their investment in or knowledge of the latest marketing strategies. Carolyn Young was an order clerk for iD Additives, a LaGrange, Illinois supplier of chemical foaming agents, purging compounds and preventative maintenance cleaning systems. But when the pandemic forced her to livestream her June 2020 wedding, she wondered why the same technology couldn’t be used at work.
Now serving as the sales and marketing coordinator, Young has built a simple, direct and effective marketing plan focused on quality content over quantity. The strategy takes advantage of video distributed through YouTube and Zoom, as well as the company website, blog and targeted emails.
Digital Marketing Has Met its Match
“My degree is in business administration, and I had a lot of fun with the marketing classes I had to take,” said Young. “I looked at what iD Additives was doing with social media and, while the company had Twitter and LinkedIn accounts, the only posts were ‘Hey, come see us at this tradeshow.’ I felt like we were missing an opportunity, so I brought it up to Nick [Sotos, president].”
Sotos’ response? “He said people in the plastics industry don’t really look at social media,” Young laughed. “But I asked if I could start posting more stuff.” The initial efforts with social media led to much more.
“Unmatched Technical Support for Innovative Products,” is the tagline on iD Additives’ website home page, and that slogan speaks volumes for how it handled the introduction of its 2019 product launch of the ECO-Pro 360.
“It really started when we introduce our new product, the ECO-Pro 360,” Young said. “It’s a cleaning system that cleans out heat exchangers, cooling lines and mold lines – but, it’s a hard product to explain. We needed to show what the product could do, and that gave me the idea of making a video.”
In the beginning, these “how to” and product videos were filmed on Young’s cell phone and posted to YouTube from the initial product launch to informational videos on how to hook up the system. Eventually, the equipment was upgraded, and Young happened to have a cousin with a professional video editing company.
“When COVID-19 hit, that’s when our use of video really started picking up because we couldn’t get out and see customers,” she said. “We filmed the videos at our warehouse, so we still were observing social distancing guidelines, but it was a way for us to connect with our customers.” The increase in video use was spurred by Young’s wedding.
“I got married in June 2020 in my parents’ backyard,” Young said. “We had 30 guests in attendance, and we livestreamed our ceremony on Zoom to everyone we wished we could have with us, using a camera borrowed from a friend. And I woke up the next day, thinking, ‘Why couldn’t we do that at work?’”
Zoom is a video platform that allows users to connect online for video conference meetings, webinars and live chat. iD Additives capitalized on the platform’s capabilities to record its presentations and then post them to YouTube. Eventually, that expanded to live chats with question-and-answer sessions with viewers.
With no formal training and being pushed out of their comfort zones, the team members who were in front of the camera initially were resistant. “There definitely was a little bit of pushback,” Young said. “But I explained that COVID-19 had really changed things. We couldn’t go to a customer’s plant and run a trial, so we had to change how we did things. Once they got on camera, everybody was a natural. I don’t know how I got lucky with that!”
Young asked the iD Additives’ team to forget they were on video and instead pretend they were at a plant, talking about the process with customers. “We asked everybody to do it once, and each technical manager did one round of videos,” she explained. “After that, they saw the return we were getting in terms of people asking questions and other sales leads. And, it just felt really good to connect with people.”
Before diving in, Young and the iD Additives technical team map out webinar content beforehand, selecting the live Zoom theme or topic. Then the technical manager writes out talking points, followed by collaborating with leadership on final content and then doing a practice run-through. “We have a few people from our team watching the presentation to offer critiques, whether the presenter took too long on one part or needs to expand another. After that, it’s ‘go’ time.”
A live Zoom presentation typically lasts up to an hour, with time for the topic and then some Q&A. The chat feature is a bonus for collecting attendees’ questions and comments for future “live” ideas. Once complete, the Zoom webinars are posted to YouTube, but Young doesn’t stop there. She takes clips from the full-length videos and makes repurposes them into smaller bites of information. Further expanding its digital marketing reach, iD Additives then posts those smaller recordings, on average one to two times a month, to the company YouTube channel and website.
“It’s a way of taking content you already have and making it seem like new content,” Young said. “It pushes out our keywords again, which is good for SEO, and keeps us on the first page of Google. We’ve noticed a huge return by making more of these short video clips from the long, recorded session and constantly filtering in our keywords.”
With all of this video content, it was time to take an active step in revamping the iD Additives’ website, clearing out the noise and putting forward clear and concise content. “I felt like our website was very wordy,” Young said, “so I started deleting unnecessary content or descriptions that were too long. Customers want information to be readily available when they come to our site, without having to read things that aren’t necessary.”
Young reviewed some analytics to find out how long visitors were staying on the website, which pages they were spending the most time on and whether they were moving to the company’s social media platforms or YouTube after visiting the site. Then she made sure to have links to the company’s YouTube videos on every page off the website. “That’s when I started seeing the subscribers increase,” she said. “There was a huge surge when I started back-linking the site everywhere on the website.”
In addition to its digital platform, iD Additives also has focused on content marketing through its blog, “Plastics Proud.” Young started the blog in 2018, after seeing a breakout session from Team 1 Plastics at the MAPP Benchmarking Conference. One inspiration from the session was the thought that content didn’t just have to focus on a marketing pitch for the company, but could cover world trends and topics with a more personal touch.
“The blog is one more thing that can bring people to our website,” she said. “I try to create content that’s interesting to anyone. In addition to press releases and product updates, I’ve done blog posts about virtual tradeshows and interviews with industry recruiters about how hard it is to hire people right now.”
One topic that produced a huge reaction was, “Tips on Working from Home,” where iD Additives’ team members sent in a picture of their home workstation during the pandemic. It gave readers a personal feeling of getting to know the employee, but most importantly, useful information that could be beneficial to their work-from-home situation. Young also does an end-of-the-year blog post highlighting activities month by month – tradeshows, golf outings, new product lines, new employees, etc.
All of this video content is repurposed in yet another way with targeted emails. “I started thinking about the plastics industry questions we can answer, and that’s when I started sending more targeted emails,” said Young. These emails ask about a common problem that might occur with a purging process and then directs the reader to watch a short video that provides a solution.
“That’s when I started seeing that the return on our marketing efforts was the interaction,” she explained. “It’s not about the ‘clicks.’ What I measure is if we’re getting calls from people who are replying to the emails or signing up for the Zoom chats. If there were 100 sign-ups for last week’s Zoom product showcase and the video clip from three weeks ago produced two customer sales and several inquiries, then we’re doing the right things.”
Quality Over Quantity
Marketing is a crucial part of an organization and choosing the right strategy can be difficult since there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Wondering where to start? Young said it’s about quality over quantity.
“Some experts say we should be posting at least one thing a day or every other day,” she said. “But there are times when I don’t post if I don’t have quality content. I learned that sometimes I was posting just to post, and that’s not the right thing to do. And that goes for YouTube or blog posts, too. It’s better to wait until I have good content than to put out something mediocre. In the beginning, we had a flood of ideas because it was new and exciting. Then, once those ideas ran out, we weren’t posting as much. I felt like the content I was posting wasn’t as valuable, so I took a step back and now I’m more thoughtful about what we do.”
Another lesson Young shared revolved around statistics. “Don’t get hung up on numbers – let go of the dream to have 1,000 YouTube followers,” she continued. “I thought it was going to be so easy, but it’s been hard. We’re at 335 subscribers now, and we’ve been on YouTube for four years. But, we’ve had people watch our videos, call us and put in a purchase order because the video sold the product without us having to do anything. That’s what we should be counting, not followers or views.”
Mostly, Young’s biggest lesson is that the learning never stops with digital marketing. “I can’t even stress enough that I am not an expert on any of this,” she said. “I’m still learning all the time, whether from other people in the industry, by watching videos or through search engines. At the most recent MAPP conference, someone in a breakout session mentioned that local libraries often have video editing software that can be used for free with a library card. And I thought, ‘That’s genius!’ That’s something I didn’t even think to check, but I’m definitely going to see what our library has available.”
And perhaps that’s the final lesson. Manufacturing companies are sitting on a wealth of knowledge that can position their team as the experts in the field, driving higher sales numbers and increasing customer loyalty. It doesn’t take a large investment to begin sharing that knowledge through video clips and other digital marketing methods – but it does take a little courage and a willingness to learn.