Chemical industry marketers have much to gain from the enhanced audience knowledge and message targeting that can be unleashed through digital and social media. If you do the basic upfront homework to frame your audience properly, you can use these technologies to achieve greater precision and reach than you may have thought possible.
Your Decision Maker Is a Committee
First, your communications tools need to recognize that chemical product suppliers are selected by committees, not just a couple of titles like R&D and purchasing. You need to develop a complete suite of relevant messaging to satisfy information needs about performance and price requirements, vendor qualifications, EH&S, regulatory, logistics and more. Here’s one revealing example: The BPA WorldwideSM Brand Report for Coatings World magazine shows corporate management titles actually report higher buying/specifying involvement than R&D titles over core performance ingredients like pigments, resins and solvents.1
How Many Do You Need to Communicate With?
Early on, it’s critical to learn how many people might need your chemical product or service in order to assure proper communications program reach and cost efficiency.
Some formulation products—rheology modifiers, for example—may have broad appeal across many industries and could even call for communication through horizontal chemical print and online publications.
But more often than not, target audiences for chemical products and services are much more narrowly focused, and we’re often surprised at the wide and expensive nets some marketers cast in horizontal chemical media. Instead, media choices can and should be much more focused. Two decades ago, a target audience size of 200 individuals was tough to reach efficiently—a bit too large for effective personal selling and either unknown to or not well served by the business press. Today, search technologies and social media give you far better ways to identify and reach smaller audiences.
Use Search Technology to Locate Your Audience, Learn What They Care About and Learn the Language They Speak
Search engines are remarkably effective tools to help you identify prospects and discover the language they use to search for chemical products and technology solutions like yours. The data produced can inform development of content that is more appealing to your prospects and will be seen as more relevant by the same search engines.
Try this exercise: Ask both your staff and outside partners to use search engines in the hunt for information about your products and the problems they can solve. Be deliberate about not providing too much specific direction about search terms to use. Define the general issue and let individuals approach the search independently.
It’s remarkable how much more high-quality information you can unearth by not defining the box too early. You’ll probably be surprised at the differences between how you and your prospects think about your product or service. Take that learning home and apply it to your content development. The effort is also very likely to reveal associations, blogs and social media groups you should be participating in.
Publish for Credibility, Search Engine Exposure and Prospect Identification
Frequency of exposure matters more than ever. Fortunately, today’s digital media channels give you a far broader array of opportunities to publish than the formerly limited mediums of conventional print feature articles and news releases.
Use your internal talent or hire partner resources to build and maintain a continuing stream of content, both major and minor. Develop technical papers and feature-length articles about your product, technologies and related market needs. Traditional print or online magazine article placements still carry much higher credibility than unvetted online media, and technical and professional journal papers are even better. Be sure to cultivate relationships with relevant editors to be included in round-up articles, to learn about upcoming content opportunities and to propose new content you author. And take advantage of every opportunity for placement of product and news releases, free advertorials and other content you can supply.
Collectively, these efforts will boost your visibility and underscore your brand’s core identity and promise. Even if you don’t succeed in trade press placement, you will have created a large amount of content that you can use elsewhere and that also passes the relevancy test for search engines.
Actively seek opportunities to publish in leading blogs by supplying content where you can and assign your own subject matter experts to comment on blog posts by others and participate in online forums.
Don’t stop with first appearances. Use every opportunity to repurpose major papers and articles, as well as excerpts from them, in your website, social media, blogs, literature, eblasts and other tools. Whenever you generate inquiries through publication activity, analyze quality, follow up thoroughly with the best quality leads and work hard to build and maintain your prospect database.
The Vast Gift of Social Media
Social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube provide enormous opportunities for placement of content and exposure to prospects and existing customers. They’re a special boon to chemical marketers with niche products and limited audiences that traditional media simply can’t devote marquee attention to. LinkedIn and Facebook host a surprising array of special-interest technology groups, and their search capabilities let you discover relevant groups and key industry people you never knew existed.
Keep listening front and center. Social media connects you directly to what prospects need, what they’re thinking and how they respond to new ideas. Develop a disciplined and consistent listening program that builds a true picture over time, rather than one day’s snapshot view.
Twitter has also become surprisingly fertile ground. You might not be able to do much in-depth chemical selling with a Twitter post, but using it as a link to your articles and technical papers can take you places. Also, thought leaders in your organization can help you make headway, 140 characters at a time, as they participate in relevant discussions.
Paid social media advertising, particularly on LinkedIn and Facebook, allows targeted messaging to the groups and people you discover on these platforms. You can manage your advertising directly or use their agency partners for placement.
Social media is no longer just for the digital cognoscente. The largest chemical companies in the world have aggressively integrated social media into their communications. At BASF, “Social media channels and the dialog they allow have become an established and integral part of BASF communications.”2 The company actively shares product information and news on Facebook, Slideshare, YouTube and Twitter. The Dow Chemical Company trains key scientists in social media methodology to “have active conversations and interactions with the world around them…sharing and receiving unfiltered, real-time insights.”3
Be a leader and create your own blog. Add content regularly and use it as a tool to understand who your prospects may be and what they are thinking. Don’t forget to promote it to attract readers and commentary. A brilliant example is the Gaylord Blog, in which Dimethyl Sulfoxide maker Gaylord Chemical comments on technical papers authored by others. Each commentary includes a long list of additional citations that collectively assure readers Gaylord is a true thought leader about its fundamental technologies.4
At Blue Flame Thinking, we’re pioneering new ways to combine digital and social media expertise with 40-plus years of chemical industry experience. We’d love to apply these tools to shed more light on your chemical brand and connect you with the people that matter.
Contact Lynne Hartzell at email@example.com or call 312-382-9000 to learn more.
 BPA Worldwide, “Brand Report for the 6 Month Period Ended June 2014,” Coatings World, page 3, 2014.
 “Social Media at BASF,” basf.com, retrieved Aug. 19, 2014.
 Todd Wilms, “Dow Chemical: Using Social Media to Educate and Train the Next Generation,” forbes.com, posted May 8, 2012, retrieved Sept. 8, 2014.
 “The Gaylord Blog,” Gaylord Chemical, retrieved Aug. 27, 2014.