Inbound marketing: a primer

Darren would be even more confused today

He'd be even more confused today

I lost faith in the ability of traditional advertising to make a dent in most businesses years ago. The tipping point was probably when my boss strong-armed a client into producing a Super Bowl commercial. The client, an old beer brand, would have had better luck investing in the California Lotto. An entire year’s budget was blown in one fell swoop.

Traditional marketing used to work, no doubt. It was a decent enough trade-off at the time: You watch our awkward and often insulting and sometimes misleading messages, and we’ll subsidize your TV, radio and print content. New technologies — the remote control, 500 channel cable, DVDs, DVRs, MP3 players, caller ID, the Internet — all made these interruptions more unwanted, and more avoidable.

For the vast majority of businesses — mine, and probably yours — traditional interruption-based marketing just doesn’t work any more.

At some point, it became far more efficient simply to help the customer find you online, than for you to find the customer, interrupt him and seduce him.

Enter: Inbound marketing

For most companies, the website is a repository of everything your company does and stands for. But that’s not enough to grow your business. How do we turn our websites and our social media into the marketing and sales tools we know they can be? After years of asking, marketers have arrived at some answers. Taken together, these answers form the emerging discipline of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing encompasses a variety of strategies and techniques that help companies get found online by those who are looking for their products and services. Inbound marketing techniques encourage website visitors to invest time and take specific actions in return for something of value. The inbound marketing mantra: Get found. Convert. Analyze. Here’s a brief overview.

Get found

First, create content. And lots of it: blog posts, product pages, landing pages with offers, videos, photography, webinars, ebooks and white papers. In other words, become a publisher. Don’t worry, you can do it. Just share your knowledge. Making videos and web pages is easy and fun once you get into it. And yes, you can outsource. It generally costs far less than traditional advertising.

Next, optimize your content. Use search engine optimization techniques (SEO) so that Google and other search engines can “recommend” you. Make your content informative and valuable. Use relevant keywords. Get other websites to link to your content. Also, optimize your content for your visitors. Make it easy for them to find what they’re looking for, and make it clear to them what actions they should take.

Then promote your content: Use social media, your email list, AdWords, your email signature, personal appearances – whatever makes sense for your business and your customers.

Convert

Now that you have visitors, convert them into real prospects. Invite them to interact with you. Offer free or low-cost content that has real value – an ebook, a webinar, a sample or an evaluation. You can ask for their email address or more. Maybe they can call a phone number, or join you on Facebook. When they interact with you, they enter your sales funnel — enthusiastically! It’s now up to you to nurture the lead until its ready to become a sale.

Analyze

All this online interaction with your prospects is measurable. You’ll be amazed what you can learn: What content people like. What actions they’ll take. How they’ll react to different versions of the same offer. Which websites referred your visitors. Where visitors are physically located. Learn about your competitors’ web traffic. Learn the relationship between success and dozens of variables, which you can adjust as needed. It’s all in the data.

Sound easy?

It’s not exactly easy. But it’s not rocket science either. Inbound marketing gives you a proven roadmap to success. How well you do will always be somewhat proportional to the time you put into it. You can’t simply turn on a marketing spigot when sales start to dry up. You need to water your inbound garden every day.

Personally, I’m glad it’s not overly easy. The commitment it requires constantly forces you to think about how to better serve your customers. It forces your  commitment to industry expertise, and sharing your knowledge. All of this will make you a better business person. It’s not easy, but that’s why you’ll be successful, while your competitors waste time looking for shortcuts that simply don’t exist.

Are you doing what it takes to attract and convert people who already want the benefits you deliver?

If you want a place to start, go to the Inbound Internet Marketing Blog for some useful information. Or go to Inbound Marketing University for some fantastic free resources. Or just run a search for “inbound marketing.”

What’s holding you back?


What if we listened to the nay-sayers?

“Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.” – Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, 1895

“There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home.” - Ken Olsen, president, chairman and founder of Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

The Wright Brothers fly

“The telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us.” – Western Union internal memo, 1876

“The wireless music box has no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?” – David Sarnoff’s associates, in response to his urgings for investment in radio in the 1920’s

“Professor Goddard does not know the relation between action and reaction and the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react. He seems to lack the basic knowledge ladled out daily in high schools.” – New York Times editorial about Robert Goddard’s revolutionary rocket work, 1921

“Who the hell wants to hear actors talk?” - Harry M. Warner, Warner Brothers, 1927

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.” – Charles H. Duell, commissioner, US Office of Patents, 1899

“We’ll do social media after we get the ad campaign going.” – Countless folks who don’t get it, still today

Can your small business compete without huge marketing budgets?  With only social media and inbound marketing techniques, and a dedication to your customers’ success? Whatever you do, don’t listen to the naysayers.

* * *

Credit where credit is due: The above quotes come from a wonderful web page at NOVA Online.


The shame of Abercrombie & Fitch

The lesson for your business in the video below is best summed up by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.


Add this to their racially demeaning t-shirts and discriminatory hiring practices, and you have a brand with about as much substance as their children’s swimwear.


The trust deficit

Does your company or brand earn your customers’ trust every day?  If it doesn’t, you’ve got problems that transcend marketing and marketing messages.

Think the Better Business Bureau is trustworthy? Not if you’re paying attention.

I had a client in the telecom business who told me that the problem with his customers (already a bad start, isn’t it?) was that they blamed him and his phone systems every time phone service went down due to the Internet service provider. I thought, wow, if my system went down every week, I’d blame the guy who advised me to buy it, too.

There’s a guy on the radio who exhorts listeners to refinance today because rates may never be this low again. He’s been saying the same thing for years. The idea is to make people feel stupid if they don’t call. Why should anyone like or trust this guy or his company?

Did you know that the Better Business Bureau is funded by the companies it rates? A conflict of interest in any book. Maybe it was a necessary model 20 years ago, but not today. Knowing this, why would anyone trust the BBB endorsement? Wouldn’t you feel the opposite of trust?

I’ve worked for ad agencies that clearly put their own agenda ahead of clients’ interests. “You must be willing to take a chance,” is often their motto. Easy to say when you’re playing with other people’s money, and the only guarantee is a media commission. Any wonder so few agencies have the trust of the companies they seek to work with?

You don’t need to see United Breaks Guitars to lose trust in the airlines. How can you trust any company with pricing structures so byzantine that even their own reservations agents are befuddled? How many airlines do you implicitly trust to do the right thing? I can think of one.

The Chevy Volt was going to get the equivalent of 230 miles per gallon. That was when it was in the free-publicity and government-funding stage. Now that it’s actually here, it gets the equivalent of 60 miles per gallon. Not bad, but do you really trust a company that exaggerates its value proposition by nearly 400%?

Have you caught on to how the mega-supermarkets are disguising price increases? When this week’s sale item goes back to the “regular” price next week, it will be 10-15% higher than before the sale. No wonder everyone wants a Trader Joe’s in their neighborhood.

Have you tried to register a domain name at GoDaddy? There are so many offers that you must explicitly turn down, that by the time you’re ready to check out, who knows how much you’ve agreed to spend. It’s really a shame, because their customer service people can be great. You have to guess they’re pretty embarrassed by their bosses’ irritating and untrustworthy sales tactics.

Trust isn’t all that hard. The formula consists of honesty, effort, performance, good nature and a consistent story. The mix differs from industry to industry. But for goodness sake, don’t game your customers. Word will get around and no amount of “marketing” will fix the problem.


One way to respond when your competitors lie to your customers

How do you respond to misleading information spread by your competitors? This video provides one simple example.

I like how they’re not angry or obnoxious (as I’d be tempted to be). Their low-key approach and disarming good nature help nail the message. Yes, the presentation could be better, and I wish they could have taken Paramount Equity Mortgage to task somewhat more aggressively. But I give the two young mortgage brokers a lot a credit for standing up for themselves.

[By the way, here’s my post on the misleading advertising they refer to from Paramount Equity Mortgage. Here’s more information from the Washington Dept. of Financial Institutions.]

Does one video posted to YouTube solve the problem of  competitors who mislead the public? Of course not. Some people will always weigh the pros and cons of playing dirty. They’ll figure out how much they can get away with and go just that far. As social media continues to empower consumers and small competitors, the unscrupulous will look for new and creative ways to cheat. So while I applaud the video, there has to be more.

Imagine if every honest company, small and large alike, policed their own industry like Brandon and Cliff tried to do on their own. Imagine if an entire confederation of honest companies cooperated in showing customers how to recognize and deal with questionable sales tactics. Eventually, I think that will be rule, rather than the exception – and it will be a lot harder for the bad guys to win by cheating. I sure hope so.

Maybe I’m wrong. (I don’t think so!) What about you – do you think companies should respond when they find competitors lying to their customers? If so, how?

Note: from the looks of things, Revolution Financial seems to have gone out of business. But I have a feeling Brandon and Cliff will do well in the long run if they keep using the same instincts that led them to post that video.


From Seth Godin: How to tell a great story

I want to share a blog post about storytelling, or more precisely, telling your company’s story. It’s from a wonderful blogger and best-selling author, Seth Godin. I’ve edited it down slightly, and rearranged it some. I hope Seth doesn’t mind. Read the full post at Seth’s Blog. Here the highlights:

Great stories are rarely aimed at everyone… The most effective stories match the world view of a tiny audience—and then that tiny audience spreads the story.

Seth Godin's blog

I hope Seth doesn't hate me for this.

A great story is true. Not necessarily because it’s factual, but because it’s consistent and authentic. Consumers are too good at sniffing out inconsistencies for a marketer to get away with a story that’s just slapped on… If your restaurant is in the right location but had the wrong menu, you lose. If your art gallery carries the right artists but your staff is made up of rejects from a used car lot, you lose. Consumers are clever and they’ll see through your deceit at once. …

Great stories make a promise… The promise needs to be bold and audacious. It’s either exceptional or it’s not worth listening to.

Great stories are trusted. Trust is the scarcest resource we’ve got left. No one trusts anyone. …

Great stories are subtle… Talented marketers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.

Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. …

The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.

Notice that second sentence? This was written in 2006, way before social media hit its stride. Imagine how more important it is today to make your company story tight and compelling.

I’m going to write a lot about storytelling in the weeks ahead. Just a warning. In the meantime, does your company have a good story to tell?  If not, what are you going to do about it?

More about stories:
When raving fans spread your message
A business lesson from Buzz Lightyear


The future of education – and maybe the future of marketing

Here’s Sal Khan talking about his Khan Academy – to me, at first glance, it looks like a stunning innovation in education.

So what’s this got to do with marketing? “Marketing by education” is huge, especially in B2B markets. Just look at the crazy success of HubSpot, and all the free marketing education resources they and their partners pump out. (See: Google, Salesforce, Sequoia invest in HubSpot.)

Towards the end of Khan’s presentation, Bill Gates steps in and says “I think you’ve just got a glimpse of the future of education.”  Maybe it’s part of the future of marketing, too.

So the question becomes, no matter what size business you are, how can you can use video for your marketing? Should you offer webinars? Can you make better webinars by using some of Sal Khan’s ideas? What about video for customer service? Video messages on Facebook and blogs to help build your community – or honor your customers?

Seriously, what’s stopping you?


When raving fans spread your message

If you’ve crafted a tight and compelling company/brand story, exuberant fans will spread it for you. Your employees will work harder to play their part in the story. Here are a few videos, created by raving fans, that remind us that if you get your story straight, customers have unprecedented means of spreading it. The videos:  Continue reading


Your company story: A business lesson from Buzz Lightyear

In 2010, Toy Story 3 was the top-grossing film in the U.S. by a large margin, and one of the biggest films ever. It Buzz Lightyear with a lesson for businesses was five years in development. But if you assume the Pixar crew spent most of that time using fancy computers to replicate human facial expressions, Buzz Lightyear has a surprise for you.

A lesson for businesses small and large:
Pixar spent the first four years of development just getting the story straight!

For four years, they amped up the drama. They made every detail of every plot twist and turn flow together. They filled the story with emotion. Toy Story 3’s secret sauce is not Steve Jobs, Tom Hanks or amazing technology – it’s the storytelling. Continue reading


Where does a small business even start? (part 1)

So you haven’t paid attention to your marketing for a while and it’s starting to show in your bottom line. Time to ramp up?

Marketers must analyze themselves, their customers and competition

Ready for some self analysis?

Marketing isn’t something you can easily turn on and off. If you don’t make it part of your everyday routine, constantly thinking of how to better serve and interact with your customers, and constantly monitoring your competition, you put yourself at a huge, ongoing disadvantage.

Where do you start to catch up? Before you do anything else: analyze your situation. Do it yourself, or pay someone with an outside perspective – you’d be amazed at how liberating this can be. In any case, here are three things you need to truly understand: Continue reading


Netflix v. Amazon: The loser is…

The loser is… named at the end of the post

Would you believe that a story about Netflix v. Amazon is really a lesson for your much smaller business?

Netflix versus Amazon on your televisionYesterday Amazon greeted visitors with a wonderful announcement: Members of Amazon Prime ($79 for a year’s worth of free shipping) now get streaming video of 5,000 TV and film titles to your computer or TV at no extra charge.

That made my day because I’m a Prime subscriber. But it wasn’t about to make me end my $96 per year relationship with Netflix. Continue reading


“The Idea Writers” by Creativity editor Teressa Iezzi

The Idea Writers by Teressa Iezzi

Marketing in the digital era can confuse and frustrate the heck out of people – clients, agency managers, 20-something interactive whiz kids.

About two months ago a longtime ad-agency pal asked me, “What in the world has happened to our industry?”  I tried to answer. Teressa Iezzi, editor of Creativity, explains it a whole lot better in her book, The Idea Writers. Continue reading


Hayes Barnard, Paramount Equity Mortgage and advertising lies

Hayes Barnard and Paramount Equity fined about $400,000 for violations

This is not a photo of Hayes Barnard of Paramount Equity Mortgage, who was fined $400,000

You’ll notice I didn’t write “Hayes Barnard and Paramount Equity Lie.” No, I parsed the language (quite cleverly, if I say so myself). It leads you to believe something a bit different than what’s actually written.

It’s kind of like the radio commercials of Hayes Barnard and Paramount Equity Mortgage. Continue reading


Don’t make your customers look like twits in the name of “creativity”

Maybe your small business can’t run an ad campaign during the Super Bowl. But you can take lessons from a couple of big brands that did – and in doing so, offended the environmental community, all of Brazil, a huge chunk of the black community and anyone who is sympathetic to the Dali Lama. Continue reading


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