Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last 5 years, you’ve watched the shift in marketing toward “inbound.” You’ve probably been around for the soapbox preachers screaming, “CONTENT CONTENT CONTENT!” Maybe you’ve subscribed to the Hubspot (aka inbound King) newsletter.
To me, it’s starting to feel like a frenzy.
45% of marketers say blogging is their #1 most important content strategy. – Social Media Examiner
70% of B2B marketers plan to create more content in 2017 compared to 2016. – Content Marketing Institute
Please tell me I’m not the only one cringing at that stat. More content? As if we aren’t swimming in content already?
Believe me, I like good content – I’m a writer! But notice the key word there….good.
According to Business2Community, brands spend 25%-43% of their marketing budget on content, yet only 23% of CMOs feel they are producing the right information for the right audience, and delivering it at the right time using the right format.
If that’s true, we can say that 77% of brands are producing content that is: the wrong information, the wrong audience, the wrong time, or the wrong format.
What do you think that feels like to the average internet user? To me, it feels like this:
You’re trying to find an article about getting hard water off your tub, and you have to click through four or five articles before you find something that’s actually helpful (and don’t get me started on something actually interesting).
So why is inbound so popular?
I’m not against inbound! It’s a really strong strategy, with several HUGE selling points:
1. It’s Cost-effective.
Compared with traditional advertising (the paid kind), content like blogs or ebooks tend to last longer and can be treated like investments that pay dividends for years to come. Also, content helps with your SEO score because more shares and keywords mean more ‘Google juice.’
2. It’s Respectful (or it can be).
Don’t interrupt – rude.
I’ve never met one person who likes having their content interrupted to watch an ad, have you? Inbound targets people who are already searching for the topic you’re addressing, so you can position yourself as a helpful part of their search instead of a pain in their aspirations.
3. It Gets You Better Leads.
This is especially true when you have a long sales process or a complicated offering. Through your content, prospects can get to know you and have their most typical questions answered before they even pick up the phone. This saves you time and allows them to decide whether or not they’re a good fit for your business.
All good things, right? So, how do we keep this inbound train from going off the rails?
Let’s Think of This Like Dating
Your customers are human. Nobody wants to be treated like a data set, so a good litmus test for inbound best practices is to think of your inbound funnel like the dating process.
If you do things in marketing you wouldn’t do dating…you’re probably being creepy. So don’t.
Let’s follow a typical inbound funnel process (Attract, Engage, Convert, Delight) with a relationship in mind.
Flirt (aka Attract)
You all know the story: Guy walks into a bar, orders a drink, and a girl catches his eye. Let’s name this guy Brennan. Brennan’s now got quite a few choices. Should he talk to her? What will he say? Should he play eye-tag from across the room? Does he send a friend over to talk her up?
You have the same choices in your inbound process. How will you introduce yourself? Through social media? Intriguing blog posts? Relevant ads?
Whatever you choose, your opening line needs to capture your audience’s attention and put your best foot forward. The best openers speak to your audience’s experience: their thoughts, feelings, and pain points (don’t be the guy who prattles on for twenty minutes about his dog or his career). Keep it pretty chill and non-committal – you’ve only just met.
D-bag Alert: Coming on Too Strong
Your opening line is NOT the place to proposition your prospects. Yeah, I’m talking to those, bait-n-switch blog posts. You know the ones – when you thought you clicked on an article about applying vinyl wraps…but ¾ of the blog post is a glorified sales pitch for Custom Wraps, LLC?
Too soon, Man.
Also, if you’re sending salesy push notifications to your prospects’ cell phones simply because they’re in your vicinity (and have Bluetooth turned on), you’re that guy who sends unsolicited “photographs” in the flirting stage. Your potential customers will shut you down hard (and, let’s be honest, you should probably do some marketing jail time).
Get Digits (aka Engage)
Let’s say the dashing Brennan in our story did strike up a conversation with his mystery girl. Through the course of the conversation, let’s say he’s getting vibes that she might be digging him, too. If he’s hoping to see her again, he’d better get some contact info. That might be asking for her number (or, if he’s a millennial, following her on Snapchat).
Marketing works the same way. If you can’t get in touch with your prospects after their first interaction, you might as well pack up and go home.
There are a couple of ways to “get digits” from your prospects – if they’re picking up what you’re laying down. Some of the most popular options include gated content like ebooks, white papers, informational guides, or case studies. To download these gated pieces, your potential clients will fill out a form – usually giving you their name and email address. Some other engagement options would be a newsletter sign-up, social connections, or sales offers (like 10% off).
If your content or offer is relevant and appropriate to their pain points, they’ll see the value in “exchanging numbers” with you.
D-bag Alert: Not Enough Value
Your customers didn’t give you their number so you could booty call them in the middle of the night.
If your “Complete Guide to Redesigning Your Office” is pretty much a catalogue for your products, you’re doing it wrong. Consider offering helpful information, like basic office design principles, finding the right chair, choosing colors, inviting waiting rooms, etc. Your customers are the ones who decide if your download was worth their email address.
Ask Them Out (aka Convert)
Phone numbers do absolutely no good if they sit in your phone’s contacts…unused. Thank God our Casanova didn’t make that mistake. He texted his leading lady the next afternoon with a more invested request – a date.
Sometimes it’s tough for businesses to ask for the sale at the risk of being too “pushy”.
The truth? If you’ve built a solid relationship with your audience thus far, they won’t mind if you just come right out and ask for the sale. It would be weird if you didn’t. If you’ve created the right service offerings and targeted the right people, you’re probably making their life a little easier. This could look like a “checkout” reminder, a sales email, or a customized proposal.
Make business as easy as possible. The “Three Day Rule” doesn’t apply here.
D-bag Alert: Missing Your Window
I can’t stand it when people claim they’ve been “Friendzoned” when they never even asked their crush out on a real date. If you wait around too long, don’t be surprised if your customers go find someone else.
In the Digital Age, your audience has very limited free time. You need to be extremely clear about what an engagement with you will look like, because it’s not cool (or cost-effective) to “keep them guessing.”
For instance, I recommend putting some kind of pricing information on your site whenever humanly possible. People don’t want to talk to you (submit a form or make a phone call) until they know what the “relationship” is going to cost them. Even if it’s a range or a “starting from” price, it helps potential clients benchmark the engagement.
Keep Investing (aka Delight)
If you like your clients, don’t be the jerk that drops off the radar after one date. No “I’m-sorry-life-got-busy” excuse is going to cut it. Be the company that keeps pursuing and delighting clients, even after you make the sale.
Plus, acquiring a new customer is anywhere from five to twenty-five times more expensive than retaining an existing one (depending on what studies you believe). Continue investing in the relationship as time goes on – consider launching special loyalty programs, social media campaigns, or email campaigns.
D-bag Alert: Clingy and Possessive
Don’t over-do it. Just like the top of the funnel, this content needs to be perfectly tailored to your customer’s needs and pain points. Communication frequency should also depend on your customer’s preference.
If you’re a window cleaner, your average customer only needs your service once a year (maybe twice). If you’re sending weekly sales emails, you’re heading straight for an unsubscribe.
Determine what content is valuable to your customers and offer that.
This is just like dating. If your girlfriend is allergic to flowers, maybe bring her a heart-shaped pizza.
Inbound to the Fullest
Bottom line: If you’re getting inside your audience’s heads, offering them value (as they perceive value) and following up, you’ll kill it. You’ll build better relationships with customers instead of taking advantage of them.
Do you agree? Do you disagree! Let’s talk about it! Drop me a comment or hit up my email: firstname.lastname@example.org