Advertising has earned a bad reputation after years of forcing itself upon unsuspecting victims. It has interrupted your daily life through cheesy TV and radio commercials, cold calls, obnoxious billboards, door-to-door salesmen, walls cluttered with fliers, and online pop-up ads. Marketers would do anything and everything to steal your attention.
I used to imagine marketers as middle-aged white men in black suits who would sit in conference rooms at the top of skyscrapers, sip bottomless cups of black coffee, and maniacally laugh about all the money they made by tricking consumers into buying sub-par products. People in the ad industry seemed more like crooks than comrades.
Due to traumatic direct marketing experiences, when I recognize the advertising tactics used to appeal to people like me, I automatically dislike the product and company out of principle.
What is Inbound Marketing?
I’m glad you asked. It’s pretty nifty.
The Digital Revolution is transforming the way we make and spend our precious income. Marketing strategies need to accommodate for those changes. People are more selective about the products and services they purchase. We have higher expectations for the quality of company websites and social media accounts. Every cog in the digital wheel of brand identity is up for scrutiny, and it’s up to businesses to prove themselves as trustworthy, relevant, and helpful.
Inbound marketing is the inverse of direct marketing. In direct marketing, salesmen and advertisements disrupt the natural flow of daily life with product offers and discounts. With inbound marketing, customers actively seek out or come across companies on their own accord. The inbound methodology is structured so that businesses produce helpful content that (1) attracts visitors to their websites and social platforms, (2) converts those visitors into leads, (3) nurtures leads into paying customers, and then (4) creates meaningful customer experiences which turn those customers into enthusiastic promoters.
Inbound is about taking your customers on a journey. It creates memorable experiences that add value to people’s lives.
The Power of Informed Purchasing
Inbound marketing puts power in the customer’s hands. I love transparency, especially when I’m spending money on something I hope will solve a problem. I’d wager that most consumers in today’s marketplace enjoy knowing exactly what they will get when purchasing a product or service.
With the rise of social networks, consumers have the power to share their experiences (good or bad) with their networks. Consider your own shopping habits on Amazon.com. Most people read the top positive and negative reviews before spending money on a given item.
Having an active presence on social media is a great way for companies to win customer loyalty, make up for bad customer experiences, and establish themselves as trusted resources.
Don’t you hate it when you want a simple solution, but have to jump through hoops to get answers? Some companies give enough information to show that they understand your problem, but then ask for money or contact information before providing solutions.
With inbound strategies, companies provide helpful ideas and solutions without pushing their products. They prove themselves as informed experts on a topic before making people commit to buying anything. They might mention the products their company offers to solve the problems, but that’s not the focus of their articles.
Knowledge should be easy to access. Companies have the resources to be helpful, but somehow being online makes them stingy.
You want to make a nice dinner for your significant other. You visit XYZ Grocery, a gourmet foods store known for its fine wine and cheese selection. You ask one of the cheese experts for his pairing suggestions. The man gives an enthusiastic monolog about the importance of picking the right cheese and wine combination. Right before offering his much-anticipated, expert suggestions, he says you need to provide your name, email, phone number and occupation before he can continue.
Sounds odd, right? Employees at storefronts don’t hesitate to give informed suggestions. That’s how they sell products. This clerk would probably lose your business by asking for so much personal information in return for his knowledge. If he had freely given his suggestions—even if they were pricier options—you would probably still consider making a purchase. If you enjoyed the fancy cheese and wine, you might even tell your friends about the great customer service and quality selection at XYZ Grocery.
A real life example of a company being an online resource is the success story of River Pools and Spas. This small business had a hard time when the economy crashed in 2008 and their potential customers didn’t have the finances to invest in inground pools. Instead of throwing in the towel, River Pools and Spas started a blog that gave in-depth answers to any pool related questions people might have. Marcus Sheridan, one of the co-founders of River Pools and Spas, spent every single night after his kids went to bed writing blog posts that gave tips and solutions for pool problems and concerns. Today, River Pools and Spas is the most referenced online resource for inground pool ownership. People visit their website simply looking for answers.
Relationships Built on Trust
Trust is everything when it comes to consumer-company relationships. If potential customers have concerns about your company’s trustworthiness, they will take their business elsewhere. You can’t buy or manufacture trust. It must be earned and maintained.
Inbound marketing requires companies to be more transparent, ethical and intentional. The customer comes first. No excuses.
There have been some epic Twitter exchanges between dissatisfied customers and smart social media managers. My favorite Twitter customer service story was between a store called Sainsburys and a customer who couldn’t find battered bar cod. The customer tweeted at the store, and it escalated into a good-humored exchange of fish puns.
While social media adds another layer of service to manage, it also presents opportunities to exceed customer expectations and humanize brands.
Learn More About Inbound
HubSpot has an Inbound Certification course that goes in depth about the inbound methodology and how to incorporate it into your marketing strategy. HubSpot did an excellent job of practicing what they preach, which has turned me into an enthusiastic promoter of their course.
If you’re a conference lover, check out INBOUND.
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