147289491Depending on who you ask, inbound marketing is either relatively new, or it’s been around forever.

People tend to think of inbound marketing in tactical terms. They think of blogging, and calls-to-action, and landing pages, and smart lists.

But that’s not really what inbound marketing is. Inbound is a philosophy. Inbound is helping people, and what that means on a tactical level is that you have to offer up great content to people that are looking for answers, and you have to do that in the places where they’re actively (or even passively) researching.

The world of marketing isn’t just about ad space anymore. It’s about being engaging. The issue is that many companies and even agencies that say they’re “doing inbound” are still thinking like traditional marketers.

Inbound has nothing to do with the medium you’re using. It has everything to do with the quality of the content and the way you’re using the medium to connect with your audience. I argue that a company that publishes a new blog post every day but doesn’t creates content focused on their audience is far more “traditional” than a company that uses paid media channels like television or radio and but that is user-centered and working to start a conversation with prospects by directing them to a landing page where they can get more helpful information.

Your Brand Must Tell a Story

Five years ago, it was enough to use the tactics of inbound marketing, even if you didn’t passionately embrace what inbound really is. You set yourself apart by having a Twitter account, by publishing blog articles, and by offering compelling calls-to-action just because no one else was doing these things.

That’s no longer the case, because the amount of content that’s being produced is growing exponentially. Much of it is really, really dull and boring. There’s so much noise out there that, unless it’s truly great, it’s going to be ignored.

Only the brands that are willing to take a risk will grow. That’s just how it is. If you’re unwilling to be bold and embrace the things that make your organization special, then I believe you’ll be ignored. That doesn’t mean every brand has to be boldly provocative in the same way as Dollar Shave Club or Old Spice, but it does mean that being afraid to stand out is essentially admitting defeat.

Tell a story. Bring the audience in with what makes you unique – and what you can offer them. People aren’t dumb. They know when you’re trying to push content on them, and they know when a marketing message is being disguised as something “helpful.” When it is helpful, they’re often hungry to learn more about what you do. But pushing out generic content and clickbait is not inbound marketing. It’s garbage.

Rule of thumb: No more than 50% of what you publish should be about the products you sell.

The Sales Process is Changed Forever

The inbound leads are flowing in. You’re finally reaching the right audience with the right messaging. What do you do next?

Most sales teams must embrace a complete behavioral change when they ‘go inbound’ because the sales process is changed radically. It may be a struggle at first. Don’t give up.

It’s a new strategy for selling. Suddenly, the behaviors that salespeople have relied on for the past 30 years are no longer the primary tools in the sales toolbox. They’re investing their time in leads from marketing, rather than leads they’ve generated through networking and cold calling and chasing lukewarm leads.

Now they’re using HubSpot’s Signals and defining their process based on their CRM, and they can gauge a prospect’s level of interest with accuracy.

And it’s hard. It’s hard to make that change because you’re asking them to take something they’re very, very good at and stop doing it. They have to do it a different way now. And even though the new way shortens the sales cycle and provides them with all this information they would never have had without inbound marketing, and even though these are often high-quality, well-qualified leads, that change is difficult to make.

Because now they’re not qualifying for pain, they’re qualifying for fit. Everyone has the pain. Everyone needs something that you presumably can offer. But some of them will provide you with a rewarding and enriching experience as a client or customer, and some will drain you and offer you little in return. You’ve already set yourself apart. Now you have to force them to set themselves apart.

Make Traditional and Inbound Work Together

Inbound marketing only works because we’ve shifted our messaging channels to match where people are really active. Great content in the wrong places isn’t great content – it requires context, as well. It’s audience-dependent. That’s why today’s television commercials incorporate hashtags and are shared not by word of mouth but through social media and YouTube. Many utilize user-generated content. Most are a part of a larger campaign that spreads across multiple forms of media.

We have to stop thinking of traditional marketing and inbound marketing as wholly separate from one another. If “traditional media” is tied to content education and converting people into customers by driving them to a landing page on your website, or by getting them to promote your brand for free by using a hashtag on Twitter, suddenly that’s not so traditional anymore.

And the inverse is that social media networks like LinkedIn and Twitter are being flooded with paid content. Even Instagram now has sponsored ads. And there’s nothing wrong with targeted posts like these, as long as they’re targeting people likely to be interested in the product or service. It’s not pushing a message on an audience if it’s the right audience and your content can actually help these people.

The bottom line is this: create an entire experience around your brand and great content that draws people in. If your television commercial draws people to your website, which is full of great content and answers to their questions and solutions to their problems, then your television commercial IS an inbound technique. But if it doesn’t tell a story or consider the wider context of the world it exists within, it’s not inbound.

Don’t create content because you think you have to publish a certain number of blogs every month. Do it because it’s helpful content that people are looking for. Connect with people through your expertise, guidance, and usefulness.

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Originally published May 19, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated February 01 2017

Topics:

Inbound Marketing Branding