washing hands

Last week a friend stopped me in my tracks with this question: "Should I feel dirty when I buy advertising?"

He assumed I was going to say, "Yes."

After all, I work at HubSpot, an  inbound marketing software  company with a view of traditional advertising similar to the one Whaton professor Eric Clemons spelled out in TechCrunch last week : "Pushing a message at a potential customer when it has not been requested and when the consumer is not in the midst of something else on the net will fail as a major revenue source for most internet sites."

But my friend was wrong. I don't think advertising is inherently dirty; I think it's the traditional philosophy of advertising that's dirty.

Why Traditional Advertising Philosophy Is Dirty

Traditional advertising uses large sums of money to force a message upon an uninterested audience. Television advertising before DVRs and remote controls is the best example.

This approach doesn't work anymore. Force is no longer a viable marketing concept. If you use it, you're wasting your customers' time and your company's money.

You should feel dirty.

The practice of advertising, however, is evolving. Instead of interrupting potential customers when they're not interested, smart advertisers are running campaigns that provide useful information to potential customers.

AdWords is a great example. HubSpot buys AdWords ads for  our brand  and for " inbound marketing " because they're relevant. If somebody searches for "HubSpot," they're obviously looking for us. If somebody types in "inbound marketing," they're obviously looking for information about a topic we know something about.

How Inbound Marketers Should Use Advertising

So how should inbound marketers incorporate advertising into their marketing mix?

Here are my three rules:

(1) Don't Depend on Advertising - It will usually be more expensive than other inbound marketing channels. More importantly, advertising isn't a scalable way to build your business. Your costs increase with the size of the audience you're trying to reach.

(2) Make Sure Your Ads Are Useful - If you do use advertising, make sure it's useful. Don't interrupt people, provide them with something that can help them do their job better.

(3) Make Sure Your Advertising Campaign Is Cost-Effective - Know how it compares to your other channels. Don't pour money into an ad campaign where customer acquisitions cost 10 times more than your alternative channels. (You should be doing  closed loop marketing  so you can track how well each of your channels converts.)

Beyond these rules, you should listen to  Doc Searls . In a post last week  supporting Clemons' TechCrunch article , Doc reminded us of advice he and his co-authors gave in  The Cluetrain Manifesto :

74. We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.
75. If you want us to talk to you, tell us something. Make it something interesting for a change.
76. We've got some ideas for you too: some new tools we need, some better service. Stuff we'd be willing to pay for. Got a minute?

Good advice for inbound marketers.

What do you think? How do you think inbound marketers should do advertising?


Originally published Mar 30, 2009 9:19:00 AM, updated October 20 2016

Topics:

Inbound Marketing