Man searching with binoculars to represent inbound marketingIf you think SEO is the abbreviation for an airport, then you’re in big trouble. If you think customer-focused marketing is about deciding which segment of customers to SPAM, then you’re in big trouble. If you think you need to get some “more of the twitter,” then you’re in really big trouble!

The simplest definition of Inbound Marketing is to attract new customers. And you can’t do that with boring, promotional content. You can’t do it without engaging with your prospects in the earliest stages of their buying cycle, and on social channels. And you can’t do it without helpful content that isn’t properly placed on the channels your prospects are using.

The keys to inbound marketing success are search, social and great content that allow you to get found, get shared and gain the trust your prospects are looking for in a new business relationship…

How Marketers Market

The problem all starts with what I like to call “linear” thinking. As marketers, we have a product to sell. So we immediately think that the best way to sell it is to talk about it. Here’s what most of us marketers do:

  1. We identify “targets” based on flat labels that don’t accurately represent our customers
  2. We “position” our products vs. the competition
  3. We identify key “messages” for audience segments (industries, functions, sizes of company)
  4. We combine a series of promotional “tactics” like emails, webinars, events and cold calling “campaigns”
  5. We get lucky and sell some stuff

The problems with this approach start with the fact that this is the biggest mistake marketers make – it is all about us. It is not aligned with the way our buyers think. And it is increasingly ineffective as prospects tune out our unwanted messages.

How Buyers Buy

Our prospects are people (not labels) who have families and bosses and stressful jobs. They don’t want to be sold to or talked at and they don’t have time for marketers who only care about themselves. Here’s what most buyers do:

  1. They think about the best way to achieve their business’ objectives
  2. They identify the obstacles, challenges and risks to achieving those objectives
  3. They search for answers to the questions those obstacles, challenges and risks pose
  4. They make decisions about the best path to help them achieve their objectives
  5. Sometimes, this process leads to the purchase of a product or solution

So where our prospects are looking for answers to questions, we give them promotions they don’t want.

Inbound Marketing = Get Found

In order to deliver the answers to your buyers’ questions, you need:

  • A content strategy that identifies all the content that answers your customers top questions in all the places they search for it, for all stages of the buyer journey, for all the types of buyers you serve
  • You need a search strategy that effectively places that content in all the places they search for it
  • You need content that is engaging enough to get shared
  • You need a conversion or nurture path that maps to the buyer journey by offering the right content to the right person at the right time.

Tips To Effective Inbound Marketing

Here are just a few tips to review the above and to help get you started:

  1. Stop making your content all about you.
  2. Freeze your investment in outbound promotion.
  3. Identify the keywords your customers use. If it isn’t a top keyword, it isn’t a customer need.
  4. Create content that tells a story. Use your customers to help you.
  5. Identify and cultivate relationships with your top influencers. Have them help you tell stories.
  6. Test and learn what types of content gets shared.
  7. Optimize your efforts to the content, channels and buyers who convert

OK, so I tried to create a little scratch doodle to visualize what I am trying to say here about the disconnect between marketers and our audience. I am a terrible artist so be nice, but please tell me if this article helps? If the picture helps? Or if you disagree?

how marketers market vs how buyers buy

Photo Source

About Michael Brenner

Michael Brenner is the Head of Strategy for the leading content marketing platform, NewsCred. He is also the author of B2B Marketing Insider, a contributor to Forbes and a frequent speaker at industry events covering topics such as marketing strategy, social business, content marketing, digital marketing, social media and personal branding.  Follow Michael on Twitter (@BrennerMichael)LinkedInFacebook and Google+ and Subscribe to B2B Marketing Insider by Email

19 Comments

  1. Doug Kessler said…

    Great post — you really boiled down the difference between inbound/content marketing and old-school spamming.

    I wonder, though, if outbound promotion will make a comeback as it becomes harder and harder to make our content leap out of the pack.

    This time around, we’ll be advertising our content instead of our products…

  2. Michael Brenner said…

    Great point Doug! I have heard that called “push-to-pull” and I agree. I think we will see more outbound marketing used but to point to more customer-focused and “helpful” content.

    When you remove the self-serving component, I think this type of promotion will perform at a higher level.

  3. Eric Wittlake said…

    Michael, I like the graphic you used here. I think the real purpose of Inbound as you have laid it out is for companies to position themselves in the middle, become a source of answers instead of product pitches.

    To Doug’s point, yes, the pendulum will swing back. Two years ago is was almost easy to be heard through content. Now, content marketing is almost as noisy as advertising. That said, I don’t believe we have hit the point where that will shift quite yet, it is still cheaper for many companies, particularly those with internal resources, to be heard through their content marketing.

    Hopefully, to your point, more outbound marketing will be done through a new inbound lens in the future.

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hey Eric, you got it. We (companies) have to be “the answer.” Position ourselves as helpful, trusted sources and earn the right to win customers.

  4. Mark Wheatley said…

    Michael that’s a great post about inbound marketing its very insightful.

    If your readers would like an inbound marketing calculator to figure out their potential return from inbound marketing we have one at our site at this address. http://www.integrated-marketin

    Regards

    Mark Wheatley

    Integrated Marketing agency

  5. Jacqueline Drew said…

    I get what you’re saying, but in the big picture, but a good strategist (within a company or outside it) knows that an organization must solve some main problem (their overall mission)…. and then they have to solve it, either through a great service offering, a product line, or through offering content. I am here at the Mirren conference in NYC, and you would be surprised how many ways there are to utilize outbound promotion to work with inbound. I’ve just written a little blog about the “new model” as I see it (it will be live 9am tomorrow). You’re too fast on your trigger finger if you want to axe traditional — after all this you can use traditional branding and media to drive online traffic, which then drives data, the REAL gold nugget that helps us, marketers, keep our jobs!

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Jacqueline, thanks for the comment. I agree with you. I am not suggesting we abandon outbound but there needs to be a balance. Effective marketing will always be a combination of push and pull. But many marketers are going broke trying to cold call and spam their way into customers hearts.

      And I do believe we will start seeing a ot more truly integrated marketing plans that effectively utilize, push, pull and push to pull tactics.

  6. Derek Donnelly said…

    It’s never about selling but about service. Provide a service to your customers (i.e. what they want, how and when they want it) and they will come to you. It may take a little longer, but they also stay longer and, ultimately, it’s more profitable for all. Thanks for the post.

  7. Lynn Bruno said…

    Enjoyed your post and you make some great points. Providing information and positioning yourself as a resource wins hearts and minds, and as Derek says, customers tend to stick around longer. As others point out, some combination of inbound and outbound is necessary, especially when you are trying to grow your audience and make people aware that you exist. The trick is to let them know you exist as an expert resource and not be screaming, buy, buy, buy all the time.

    Not sure the graphic works, but keep refining it. Infographics are a great resource . . .

  8. Hi Michael.fantastic stuff. One thing you may want to talk about in your future writings, is the effectiveness of blogging in lead capture for business websites. I wrote one article on that on our blog. I’ve subscribed to your blog. Thanks.

  9. Henley Wing said…

    What are some good suggestions for learning which content your audience would most likely want to share with others? And other than keyword research, is there any other way to find out what your customers are asking (besides asking them too)

    • Michael Brenner said…

      Hi Henley, There are a ton of insights you can glean for good old solid keyword research. This will tell you both what questions your customers are asking as well as allowing you to see who is best answering those questions. The content that ranks for those important keywords, is generally also the most socially shared.

  10. Ashley S. said…

    Great post. It can be scary to break out of the traditional marketing mold, and be customer centered instead of self centered. I’m involved in many Calgary marketing projects and I will definitely use this info!

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