Inbound Marketing is at risk of becoming this year’s buzzword, but what does it really mean, and is it effective? Is it all a big ‘So What?

At its core, Marketing is about sending out information about what you have to offer, in the hope of someone who might find it relevant happens to spot it, and come to you for further information. Advertising and mailshots, directory listings, press articles fundamentally follow the same pattern – they are ways of trying to get someone’s attention, but in what can be quite an ‘interruptive’ way – Get it in front of them whether they want it or not – which is why we associate them with actually their nuisance value. Modern technologies allow us to skip over the ads when we use Sky+ (Ed: Other digital recording systems are available…..) so that we can ignore them. Legislation around email is all about ensuring we only get emails we have consented to receive, otherwise they can be binned as ‘spam’. Cookies require ‘informed consent’.

What’s interesting is how what were originally disruptive examples of technologies, over time, suddenly become helpful, when we find the ways of using them to our advantage. Take, for example, news media. In the early days of the internet, news organisations controlled editorial content and the channels of distribution. The rise of Social Media, in what was known at the time as ‘Web 2.0’, allowed people to feed back and have their own say, or even publish their own material, providing a voice that could also be heard, and challenge existing voices…… which inevitably, news organisations didn’t like.

They struggled for some years with declining circulations, and disruptive technology had threatened the entire business model. Now, news media has embraced Web 2.0, Social Media and the like and found the positive in it, using Twitter and YouTube as news gathering techniques. Many are thriving again, having recognised the shift that technology has brought, and embraced the upside.

IMHO, marketing is following a similar trend;  Inbound Marketing is nothing more than a manifestation of it. People use the internet to find information – the whole point is that Dr Google can provide them information that they want, when they want it, where they want it. The dynamics of the buyer-seller relationship have changed – 70% of the buying cycle is complete before buyers even pick up the phone to talk products, prices, availability, service; 80% of business decision makers prefer to get company information from a series of articles than an advertisement.

Marketing’s not so different really, though. You are still trying to get people’s attention, but you have to do it in a way that respects the changed dynamics of that buyer-seller relationship. Information empowers people to make their own decisions.  The buyer is in control and can block what they don’t want to consume.   But they are looking for content that will help them in making purchase decisions. It’s not what you’re doing that’s the issue, but the way you’re doing it.

From the marketing perspective, the key is to not interrupt what people want to consume, you need to be the thing that they want to consume. It’s about being part of the conversation, sharing helpful, relevant content with the world. By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your ideal customers, your content becomes a magnet drawing prospects to you.

If you can do it in a way that differentiates you from your competition, that will give you a better chance of being on the end of that phone call when it comes. If you don’t do it, they will make decisions anyway, and you risk not being there at all.

The fundamentals of inbound success revolve around developing better knowledge of your buyers, and distributing great content:

  • Develop Buyer ‘Personas’ – research them, identify trends, spot patterns, create a life for them – where do they go for information, when and how? Who else’s opinion do they respect? Where do they go to get their information, and share thoughts and ideas?
  • Work out how they buy – What is the sequence of events as they go through Awareness, Consideration and Decision Making? What information moves them from step to step? How can you give that to them in an interesting and informative way?
  • Segment your content, create noticeable and remarkable content that they will want to read, and acquire. Something that is meaningful to them.
  • Put your content in the way of your potential customers.  Distribution in the right places makes your content relevant. Use a variety of techniques relevant to your personas – Web pages, blogs, social media, landing pages, calls to action, emails. .

Seasoned marketers will recognise that as good solid common sense, which of course, it is. The difference lies in the fact that internet technology gives you the mechanism to get more of your content out to your market. With greater reach of course comes greater competition, so your content has to stand out amongst the competitive noise.

Inbound may not be a fundamental shift in the base principles of Marketing, it’s still about putting appealing content where you think it might appeal, but it is a fundamental shift in attitude and in the way you do it on the internet.  You need to know who you are talking to, and what they are interested in, basing your personas on research, not your best guess, to ensure the right people get the right content through focused distribution.

That is about respecting the shift in technology that allows the consumer better access to what they want, and once again, using the internet means that as a supplier, you need to sharpen up your act.

Are you ready for Inbound Marketing? Download your free Inbound Marketing Assessment Checklist here.