In 2005, Brian Halligan coined a new term that more accurately described the process for the online world: "inbound marketing." That brand of marketing is prevalent in social media, SEO, blogs, and podcasts to make themselves known to potential customers.
Inbound marketing is the future of company-customer interaction, as old models lose their luster to an audience that find intrusive tactics as off-putting. This new method isn't a walk in the park, though; it severely complicates the buy-and-sell system to a degree that frightens many business owners.
Suddenly, good products, quality service, and a can-do attitude weren't enough anymore; blogs and SEO techniques became essential; staying up to date with what's happening in the world became a priority.
Most of the time, companies just hire online marketing companies to do all that work for them. That allows the owner to not think about the online world, and focus on the company. That comes with a risk: if an owner just hires someone to do a job they know nothing about, then there's a good chance they're not on the same page.
That lack of awareness isn't the owner's fault, however. It's up to the marketer to explain the challenges of the new industry and that not everything comes at a keystroke. If you're a marketer who is worried about losing clients if an owner sees the less-than-rosy side of inbound marketing, then you're not doing your job.
Here are a few inconvenient realities of inbound marketing that owners and marketers need to be aware of, to survive the online onslaught.
It's a Socialist Internet
In outbound marketing, money talks. In fact, money is the only thing that people trust to make things work. If people aren't buying a product, companies just buy more airtime and ad space. For inbound marketing, money-driven strategies count for very little. Big businesses can spend millions of dollars on campaigns and never see any results.
The essence of social media is the shared experience, and it's good at making the playing field more even for small companies. Establishing a presence in social media is reasonably priced, taking money out of the calculation of whom the customers get to see. This means no additional spaces for people who pay more.
The online world is a pure contest of who gets the most attention. The only way to get ahead is to become genuinely interesting to the customer. That means everyone comes in with a clean slate, a situation any perceptive marketer will be eager to benefit from right away.
It May Never Make Money
Companies compete for the most likes, the most shares, and whatever else pops up on social media. Though receiving social mentions means that the company is generating more attention, that doesn't translate into sales. It takes a lot of effort to get people to "like" something, but it's a different story to get them to spend money.
Before, brands were the kings of social media recognition. Skittles was at the top of the heap with the most likes and comments. But did the company set the world on fire because of that online recognition?
There's definitely an effect. It's just almost impossible to judge how big of an effect inbound marketing has on real-world sales. Business owners must understand success in more than monetary terms for inbound marketing.
Recognition by itself is a big win for a company. ROIs have to mean more than money to companies if they are to survive in inbound marketing. That makes large-scale investments an even less appealing strategy.
Switching from traditional marketing to inbound means more than just hiring different people; it means a complete change in the way companies think and strategize. Not thinking about whether a campaign makes money allows them to focus on the message.
The Golden Viral Video
Some companies hire inbound marketing firms in the hopes of hitting it big with a viral video or article. That should serve as an instant red flag for marketers. One does not simply make viral content. Creating viral content is impossible because the secret to the spread isn't in the content; it's in the people.
According to Microsoft's Duncan Wallace, "If you want something to spread, generate an enormous number of seeds."
People only share things that they think other people will find interesting, and company services aren't very high on that list. Rather than focus on creating a budgeted multi-platform project in the hopes that it reaches millions, concentrate on small conversational pieces. That's inbound marketing at its finest—short, low-priced, and (hopefully) interesting enough to share.
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Inbound marketing is a new world for many business owners, and the old tricks just won't cut it anymore. Companies need to embrace the new line of thinking, and let go of the putting the bottom line first. Customer engagement is the new name of the game.
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