This is a case study of how a manufacturing company, Lincoln Electric, captured my attention and has kept me engaged for several years through many tactics including on-going email marketing newsletters, YouTube videos and other digital marketing strategies.
A few years ago I travelled to Las Vegas to attend and participate in FabTech, the nation’s largest metal forming, fabricating, welding conference. I was there to give a talk, “Is Your Manufacturing Company Ready to Go Digital?” which was about the future of B2B eCommerce and how the web is reshaping the manufacturing industry. Additionally, I spent time meeting manufacturers and wandering the showroom floor shaking hands, watching demos and exchanging business cards.
One particular demonstration stood out to me. An organization called Lincoln Electric from Reno, Nevada had multiple large CNC laser cutters setup and they were cutting out shapes and designs from a sheets of steel and other metals. It was pretty amazing. (For those that don’t know, a CNC cutter is a computer controlled machine that is capable of cutting out intricate shapes with lasers on many types of materials. Imagine a huge printer, but instead of printing ink, it’s cutting out shapes.)
Lincoln Electric CNC Cutter
Having a CNC cutter for personal projects has always been a small dream of mine, but I had never seen one that large in person. It was cutting one inch sheets of metal on what looked like a 8 x 6 foot base. The precision and efficiency of these machines was stunning. As I was capturing a video of the CNC Laser Cutter in action I was approached by a friendly sales guys. I ended up talking with him for about 10 minutes, he understood that I was simply a hobbyist or maker but still answered all my questions and shared my enthusiasm for the technology. As we wrapped up our talk he scanned my conference badge and I continued on.
After I got home from the trip and settled back into my projects I began receiving emails from Lincoln Electric. Usually, this is where I’d unsubscribe and forget about the company, but these guys have kept my attention for the last several years. Every time I see an email from them I think, “Oh cool… another Lincoln Electric email.” as opposed too “Ugh.. junk!”. Each email includes a teaser to a video about an “around the house” type laser cutting project. For instance, the email I received today was about building a kayak rack with Lincoln Electric tools.
This case study was inspired by an experience I had this weekend. On Sunday afternoon I was driving the family home from a weekend trip. On the highway a large pickup truck passed me on the right. When I looked over at the truck I noticed a Lincoln Electric sticker on the back window. Brand recognition. “Oh, I know those guys.” My impression was that the driver was likely a welder, worked with Lincoln Electric tools and this was his work truck.
After that experience I drifted off into a state of highway hypnosis while the family slept. I started thinking about the things that Lincoln Electric was doing right. They are a great example of a manufacturer that is using the web wisely as a digital marketing and communication tool. I started breaking the “relationship” apart and analyzing the touch points they use to keep my attention.
(Before we dive too deep, just know that I don’t have a relationship with Lincoln Electric. They are not a customer and this is not a form of marketing for them.)
Plant the seed
I don’t remember the entire conversation with the sales guy at FabTech. Definitely don’t remember his name. I just remember that he was friendly and we had a good conversation about the products. Plus he taught me a few things I didn’t know about laser vs. plasma cutters. I was mentioning how cool the products were and that it’d be a fun “toy” to have in my garage.
The salesman told me about all the “cool” projects that the guys at the shop work on using these machines. He mentioned all the materials you could cut through and where the technology is heading (less energy usage, stronger lasers, etc). He also referenced that there are several “small shop” options that they offer, less expensive lasers and he mentioned that more and more small machines are being sold to hobbyists and job shops and they are “taking the Maker community seriously.”
Do you see what he was doing there? He’s helping me identify who I am as a buyer. He’s then grouping me in with a vertical (makers and hobbyists) and he’s letting me know that there is a large community of people out there just like me. He also insinuated that those people happen to love these products.
Add me to the funnel
After a few minutes of good conversation he offered to scan my conference badge in case I ever decided to make that leap. He also gave me a business card, but I have no idea where that went.
I had no objection to him adding me to the email list because I was genuinely interested in the products. Also, he was a nice guy and I didn’t want to create any tension during the conversation. I could just unsubscribe later if I wanted too, right? Plus, I was at the conference for xTuple. In the back of my mind I was wondering if they’d be a good B2B eCommerce prospect so staying in touch was just fine with me.
First touch point
A few weeks later I received my first email.
It wasn’t a “remember us?” email or a “do you want to buy something?” email. Instead it was a teaser for a YouTube video about building an awesome looking metal shelf for your home. Clicking on the teaser took me to their YouTube Channel and played the instructional (and fun) video. The video was informative and mentioned a forum where free plans were offered for the project (community building and a ethical bribe).
I watched about half of the video, then I went to their channel and looked at all their videos. At that time there were about 50 or so videos. Their content included “How To” instructional videos about creating designs for laser cutting projects, customer testimonials and a few product introductions.
What their YouTube Videos told me
The videos were great insight for me. I still felt like a stranger to their brand. Other than a friendly conversation I didn’t know much about them. The fact that they had so many videos on YouTube told me several things. It gave me insight to their technical knowledge, showed me that they have a variety of products for different kinds of problems and there were plenty of happy customers.
I didn’t watch many of these videos. I think I scanned through one or two, but what I saw helped me make a connection with these guys. They gave me the impression of being smart, hands-on makers. Guys that spent their weekends building stuff and getting their hands dirty instead of watching TV. Guys that came up with ideas on their own and saw them through. This reinforced my admiration for their community and I felt a sense of kinship with them. Their brand was making an impression on me.
The video collection has grown
I did notice something today as I’m writing this. The first few dozen videos were a bit scattered and not highly produced. You can tell they were experimenting with YouTube in the early days and attempting to figure it out as they went along. However, when you watch some of the most recent videos you wonder if they were produced by a professional media company. I honestly wondered if they got picked up by the Discovery Channel or another major outlet. Their videos are organized into seasons and they reference the episode number. Plus, they now include motion graphics and cool coloring effects. The videos are also getting a lot of views considering the content. Some are viewed a few thousand times, others are in the hundreds of thousands and one was more than a half million. They also have over 10 thousand subscribers.
This tells me that they are a professional organization, they have a group of brand enthusiasts, they make great products and they have money in the bank. When an organization has the time and money to commit to productions like this, you don’t worry about them “drying up” over the next few years. That’s an important point when one is considering a several thousand dollar purchase for a machine that needs to last for decades. (Not to mention a machine that shoots plasma lasers and cuts through steel! In this case, you don’t buy generic!)
Marketing from the side
I also had another revelation today as I write this article. The YouTube channel that I was previewing was only one of several. I had never seen their other YouTube channels but there are several. It seems that I was added to either a “Maker” group or a “CNC Cutter” group (both are my labels) and I have been getting the “how to make things with a laser cutter” videos. I realized today that there are other Lincoln Electric channels that focus on other topics such as welding, automation and training.
This is an important point because their team isn’t overwhelming me with information. They are simply introducing me to the topics they know I’m interested in. I naturally learned of the breadth of their organization on my own.
This is a tactic that I call “marketing from the side”. Ever been in a room full of people and you purposely talk to one individual about a particular topic because you want another individual in the room to overhear you? (No? Ok… maybe I’m the oddball).
This is a great way to communicate to a person without “pushing” your information or agenda onto them. This works in digital marketing too. By Lincoln Electric continuing to engage with me in a way I enjoyed, I naturally learned more about them on my own. I watched the video they sent to me. YouTube suggested a video from a different Lincoln Electric channel. Essentially I “overheard” information about the other channels without their organization telling me directly.
Other media channels
It’s also worth pointing out that these emails and videos are really the only touch points I’ve had with Lincoln Electric. I don’t follow them on Twitter, I didn’t “Friend” them on Facebook. And I think I’ve only been to their website once or twice. But it’s still acceptable to consider me an enthusiast. In fact, video is the best form of communication because while watching these videos of lasers cutting through steel I’m imaging all the cool projects I can work on while shooting sparks across my garage.
Where the rubber meets the road
Now, if you are thinking, “This is all great Josh, but you’re not their ideal customer” you’d be right. My guess is that Lincoln Electric is targeting large manufacturers and job shops as the “perfect” prospect and I don’t fit into those categories. At most, you could call me a hobbyist or a maker. However, there are more ways to play this game.
First, my wife is an artist. She and I have talked for years about how great it’d be to weld our own metal furniture and make wall art from different metals. She’s even talked about making this kind of art and selling it on Etsy. If we ever head down that road, which brand do you think I’d look at first?
Second, a good friend of mine is a maker. He’s also a 40 year old bachelor with a high paying tech job. He and I talk about our dreams of having a garage full of CNC cutters and 3D printers one day. Which brand do you think I reference in those conversations?
Third, my father is a superintendent for a major construction company in the Baltimore/DC area. He works with welders all the time while building office and residential buildings in the city. During a conversation about a new project, I brought up Lincoln Electric. He knew all about them and said they “make good stuff”.
Lastly, I work in the manufacturing industry. I talk to manufacturers (nearly) every day. Many of them work with metals. If the topic ever came up about welding or laser cutting, who do you think I’d mention?
Remember, everyone you meet is either a prospect or a prospect’s friend. If you build a good, solid relationship then you’ll become part of that person’s talking points when they are engaging in your “sweet spot”.
A few final points
There are a few other things that they are doing really well.
- They don’t overwhelm me. I only get emails every now and again. Not every week. The emails are typically what I’ve described, but some are introducing products or special offers. I don’t mind them sending me special offer emails, frankly, because I like them as a brand.
- I don’t watch every video that they share, but I do skim over every email.
- They don’t push me to engage with them. As I mentioned before, I’ve never been on their Twitter or Facebook profiles. Honestly, I don’t even know if they have any. That’s not where I’d want to engage with them and I don’t get the impression they are overly concerned about it.
- They do have a “Fabricators Forum” which I only really focused on today. I have not signed up for that, but it’s a great idea on their part and something I will likely check out. Building a community around your brand (especially a lively community with good people sharing great information) is a terrific way to build brand loyalty.
- If you break it down, there are only 2 important components to this marketing engagement – Email Marketing and YouTube. As I mentioned before, I haven’t spent a lot of time on their website. It’s not to say that their website isn’t important. Instead, it’s to say that a multiple channel approach to communications is important.
How did they pull this off?
In that state of highway hypnosis I thought about how Lincoln Electric pulled this off and it really drills down to one thing. They narrowed down their customer personas and communicated to them in the way that works.
I’ll save the customer persona conversation for another article, but this is something that you should be thinking about when deciding how to market to your target prospects. Define the people that buy from you. Make up a fictitious character that represents that perfect buyer and write about their fictitious life. Then figure out what makes that person “click”. What persuades them? What keeps them interested? What do they think about when they are alone at night before they go to bed? What do they wake up excited about in the morning?
This may all sound superfluous, but understanding the core of your buyers decision making tendencies is the key to increasing sales. These guys grouped me into a demographic that I felt right at home within and it’s worked for them. Do the same for your prospects.
Web Marketing for Manufacturers
The last point I want to make is this – you should be doing this as well. I hear all the time that “manufacturers can’t sell online”. Regardless of what people mean by “sell”, this statement isn’t true. The web is a new media platform. That’s all. It’s part of a lineage of other media platforms like television and radio. But this media platform is far more interactive and democratic. It’s an engaging virtual space where people come together to share ideas, discuss important aspects of their lives and offer help to others. If your brand isn’t in that “pool” of engagement, you are going to be left behind. Don’t be left behind. Follow others leads and Lincoln Electric is a great example of a manufacturer that is “doing it right”.
As my Dad said, they “make good stuff”.