Inbound marketing: a primer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?