Live from #MMI2013: How B2B Manufacturers can Build an Army of Fans to Promote Their Products

Live from #MMI2013: How B2B Manufacturers can Build an Army of Fans to Promote Their ProductsRallying fans to market your business’ wares works great if you’re Apple or any other huge company making products adored by millions of consumers. But what if you’re a B2B manufacturer with a client base that numbers in the hundreds or thousands?

It’s still doable. The trick is to develop an online community of bloggers, subject matter experts and content managers to keep everybody moving in the same direction, says Kristi Gloppen, a senior marketing executive with Xilinx, a semiconductor designer based in Silicon Valley.

Gloppen gave marketers and business owners a glimpse of how to build an online community during Manufacturing Marketing Innovation 2013, a conference held April 19 in Greenville, S.C., and co-sponsored by Clemson University, PR Newswire and EnVeritas Group, a local content marketing agency.

A B2B Manufacturer’s Marketing Dilemma

Conference organizers invited Gloppen to explain how her company tapped its user base to develop an online community called All Programmable Planet that is widening its reach and expanding its brand awareness.

“I was really staking my career on the decision to start this community,” said Gloppen. Xilinx is the inventor of a chip called a field-programmable gate array, or FPGA, that helps electronic devices do a host of chores that require computing power. FPGA technology revolutionized chip design in 1984, when Xilinx arrived on the scene, because it let users reprogram chips to suit their individual needs. Back then, most chips were preprogrammed by manufacturers.

As Gloppen told the crowd, Xilinx has come to be known throughout the high-tech landscape as the FPGA company. But the market dominance it enjoyed for decades has faced disruption in recent years as FPGAs became common in more and more electronic devices. New competitors were invading Xilinx’s turf, and the company was branching out into new generations of programmable chips.

The company knew it was time for a change.

Xilinx sells its chip designs directly to about 100 accounts and has a worldwide customer base of about 20,000, Gloppen said. How could Xilinx get the rest of the tech world to see it as something more than the FPGA company? And how could it keep serving its client base while reaching out to a larger audience of non-users of Xilinx chips?

Not by tapping Facebook, Twitter or even the company website, it turned out. “Social media did not allow us to communicate with people who were unfamiliar with Xilinx,” Gloppen said. That meant she needed another option.

A B2B Manufacturer Creates a Community

Gloppen knew there were plenty of engineers who were expert users of Xilinx chips. Many of these engineers also help their employers decide which chip designs to buy, making them an attractive target audience. If their knowledge could be dispersed throughout the semiconductor industry from a base hosted by Xilinx, the company could become a hub of FPGA expertise, and it could market new products to the users of that hub.

Gloppen envisioned creating a team of editors, bloggers and community managers, but the infrastructure challenges were daunting. She figured it would take Xilinx two years and millions of dollars to build the community on its own; in the fast-changing world of Silicon Valley, she couldn’t afford to wait.

So Xilinx subcontracted the project to UBM DeusM, a content agency that had already developed its own community platform. The agency created All Programmable Planet for about a third of the hard costs Xilinx would have had to spend to do the project itself, Gloppen said.

All Programmable Planet employs an “army of bloggers” along with editors and content managers who work for UBM DeusM. It usually produces about 40 editorially driven posts per month, Gloppen said. The site posts discussions on chip-related topics and has helped broaden industry knowledge about Xilinx and the products it’s developing beyond the FPGA realm.

A B2B Manufacturer Sees Early Signs of Content Marketing Success

Eleven months into the project, the site had blown past its goals, Gloppen said, with:

  • Page views were at 364 percent of goal.
  • Social media visits were up by 100,000 page views per month.
  • Messages posted to boards were at 346% of goal.

Sales figures are harder to nail down, Gloppen said, because the design cycle for chips takes longer than the site has been in existence. But she did say the company has seen 42 percent growth in vendor familiarity with its products and 44 percent growth in the number of vendors who said they would consider Xilinx products.

The content agency makes the editorial decisions about the site, Gloppen said. Sometimes that will mean mentions of the company’s competitors.

“That terrified our executive management,” she said, but they came to learn that the base of Xilinx users could be vocal advocates for the company and its chip designs.

A well-executed community site gives a company the ability to demonstrate thought leadership in a more credible manner than they’d get from advertising or other venues, she said. You get peers, friends and experts in your industry saying how great your company is. And you don’t have to be Apple.

Reputation Capital Media Services is a Baton Rouge marketing agency that helps B2B companies and their marketing agencies produce high-quality digital content, including blog posts, e-mail newsletters, white papers and multimedia. Our editors and writers are experts in their fields, which include HR technology, employee benefits, and financial services and accounting. Contact us for a free 30-minute consultation to find out how great content can help you attract and retain your customers.

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