Monthly Archives: April 2015

Back to Basics: What is Inbound Marketing?

the-future-of-marketing-dan-moyleOkay, so maybe you’ve heard the latest buzzword term “inbound marketing.” I can’t explain it any better than the folks who are truly on the forefront of this revolution. Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan wrote an entire book about this movement. They even titled it “Inbound Marketing.” Now that’s what I call genius. They also founded a marketing software company called HubSpot. So if you want the long explanation of “what is inbound marketing” then get their book on Amazon and read the HubSpot blog.

But if you’re looking for a layman’s explanation of this new marketing revolution, then let’s go. Inbound marketing uses content like websites, blog articles, videos and ebooks to get found on the Internet, convert views into leads and customers, then analyze it to do it again efficiently.

You’re probably already on social media if you run a business. Maybe you’re even wondering if you should be on every social media platform as a business. Before you rely too heavily on Facebook, learn a bit about what inbound marketing is.

Here’s the long and the short of it. When you want to solve a problem (looking for a product or company) where do you go? Do you pick up a phone book? Seriously – go look at the layer of dust on that phone book. If you can even find it. Almost no one goes to the phone book anymore.

When was the last time you sat down to watch prime time TV and actually watched the commercials? Short of the really funny ones (baby speed dating?! Love that eTrade kid!) commercials are an intrusion into the latest episode of The Walkng Dead. With DVRs, Netflix, Hulu, Amazon streaming video and the like, ads are fast becoming a thing of the past.

How about billboards? On your last drive, did you take down the phone number on that attorney’s billboard? Yeah, there was a number on that billboard full of text and a picture of some guy in a suit you passed at 80 miles an hour. But hey, someone paid a bunch of money for that billboard and that photo shoot so you’ll remember to look later and call him next time you need a lawyer right?

Let’s put this into a practical application. How do you begin to solve problems like figuring out what your credit score should be for a mortgage? How do you find the best kitchen cabinets for your kitchen remodel? Where do you find the best price on your children’s birthday gifts? You go to the all-knowing Google (or Bing and Yahoo). You search online long before you pick up the phone or go to the store and you research from the comforts of your home. Maybe you’re on your mobile phone during your work meeting. In other words, you’re a user of inbound marketing.

Where shouting and pushing their message used to be the way businesses got your attention as a consumer, now they have to draw you in through search engines, social media and other new marketing techniques. That’s the basic philosophy behind the inbound marketing revolution.
There’s more to it than that. As a business, you’ll use inbound marketing to drive website traffic through search engine results, you’ll be able to convert those visitors into leads with offers of eBooks and email subscriptions, then analyze it all to build on the successes.

We have learned to tune out the shouting and interrupting

One key to the inbound philosophy is a complete 180 from traditional business practices: Give away your material in the spirit of educating customers and potential customers. That’s right. Your “secret sauce” of doing business is no longer a secret. As a consumer, I can find information on almost anything I could ever want to know about on the internet. I can compare prices at the click of a button. I can find out “best solutions” to my problems from my friends or search engines.

Reviews on Google, Facebook, Amazon or Yelp are gold in today’s economy. If people are talking about you with rave reviews, business goes up. Yes, it’s also called “word of mouth.” The difference: a much larger audience and a way to track it all. Everyday people now have hundreds – even thousands – of followers on Twitter and heaps of friends on Facebook. The internet has given power to the people.

The best example of this: the actual secret sauce on the Big Mac. We all know (don’t we?) that the amazing sauce in the catchy song is really just Thousand Island dressing, basically. Each major fast food joint has tried to duplicate the Big Mac. You can even do it at home. But it’s just not the same.
McDonald’s recognizes this, and is no longer afraid to share its secrets. The social media campaign for McD’s now includes videos behind the scenes. Food photography, debunking the myth about how long a burger will last on a counter and other word of mouth stories are covered by McDonald’s corporate marketing team now.

The secret sauce is no longer the biggest asset you have. It’s your transparency, your customer service and the loyalty it all builds.

Here’s another example.

Marcus Sheridan runs a pool business in Virginia. It’s not a national company – you can’t install pools all over the country from one shop. But if you’re looking to compare concrete pools and fiberglass pools, you’ll find River Pools & Spas. By using inbound marketing and simply answering customer’s questions, Marcus was able to own the pool space online, hands down. And it’s driven millions of dollars in business.

Sounds good right? It wouldn’t have been possible without River Pools & Spas sharing its secret sauce. The company has blogged about price, problems and competitors. Practically any question you could Google relating to pools is answered on the River Pool blog.

So far so good. You’re understanding inbound marketing. How about the why?

Why Inbound Marketing?

The short answer to “Why inbound?” is this: Inbound marketing costs less than outbound marketing. How much does a TV or radio ad cost? How effective are they (and can you measure that)? Can you pay one price and they air forever? Inbound marketing – specifically blogging – is evergreen. If you publish an article about your product and how it solves a particular problem, that article serves as a magnet for interested parties. Each subsequent piece of content you create becomes another magnet, drawing prospects to your business.

Also, the generations coming up now can recognize a traditional advertisement from a mile away. Instead of shouting at customers, inbound is a quieter conversation that draws people in for more information. Blogging, e-books, videos and podcasts help to draw people in and gain trust. Wouldn’t you rather do business with someone you trust rather than “just another salesperson?”

Warm Lead vs Cold Lead

Inbound marketing creates warm leads. How much work is it to cold call potential customers and convince them they need your product? Maybe the better question is: When was the last time you bought something after an out-of-the-blue phone call, direct mail or email? These are all traditional outbound techniques. What if, instead, when a possible customer was looking to solve a problem and your product or service did just that, they found you? That’s a warm lead. You have their attention, if only for a short time. You need to grab that attention with relevant information.

A warm lead takes less time to convert into a customer. A warm lead has a better chance of becoming a repeat customer (depending on what you’re selling and your service) because you’re offering them something of value up front – something they’re looking for right then – not just a random sales call.

You Are What You Publish

Marketing guru David Meerman Scott (@dmscott) is known for this quote, and it’s a simple truth. “On the web, you are what you publish.” If you’re not talking about your company and the solutions you offer, someone else is. Whether it’s customers talking about your business or your competitors, you are what you publish online.

The businesses who get this, get inbound marketing. If I’m searching for the best landscaping solution for my shaded yard, and you sell shade plants, don’t you want to come up in Google for something like “shady yard plants?” If your only presence on the web is the name of your company, no one will find you. Unless someone knows you or has heard of you, they’re not searching for your brand. Set aside your ego (it’s hard, I had to do it too) and start producing content that solves the problems your prospects have.

You know the what, why and how. For more on all of this, and who you may want to consider hiring to do it for your business, download the ebook below. It’s a short read, and shares a bit about my story. Maybe you (business owner or boss) can find the right person to get you on the inbound marketing track.

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5 Tools for Marketers in Boring Industries

I wrote the original version of this article originally for Relevance here. I’ve made a few changes in this version.

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5 Tools for Marketers in Boring Industries

Let’s get to the first point: get over yourself and your industry. That stigma of being in a boring industry is only going to hurt you in the end. Just because you’re not selling a sports car, beer or some sports team doesn’t mean you’re in a boring industry. No, it may not be the perfect industry for a Super Bowl commercial, but your business is interesting to a very important group of people: your leads. More specifically, warm leads.

Think of it this way. Would you walk door to door, knocking on strangers’ doors and pitching your product or service? Or would you rather have people knocking on your door, asking you to tell them all about your business? That’s the difference between outbound and inbound marketing.

So … now that you know you’re not boring to the leads who want to know about the problem your business solves, how do you overcome the stigma of stale? Content! From relevant content directly tied to your business to peripheral information tied indirectly to your “widget,” content can come in many forms.

I happen to run the marketing department for a mortgage lender. Talk about boring … who really wants to talk about a mortgage payment? Interest rates? Yawn! However, if you’re looking to buy a home, especially for the first time, you’re probably looking for a lot of answers! You’re likely also interested in many things about the home.

The key to be not-so-boring in your drab industry is to be helpful and interesting in delivering your message. In fact, as I prepared to talk about this subject at a major marketing conference, I decided that super models and fast cars are no longer the measure of what’s sexy.

 

Helpful is the new sexy.

Think about it. When it comes to business, a helpful company is an attractive one. Good customer service and friendly reps are sexy. We’re drawn to helpful, interesting content.

Below are the 5 tools I’ve found extremely helpful when it comes to marketing in a boring fascinating industry.

1: Buyer Personas

The first tool any marketer needs to have in their tool kit is the buyer persona. If you have little or no idea who your customer is, you’re starting off on the wrong side of the business development coin.

Buyer personas are a deep dive into your customers. It’s more than just demographics. Think of it as your customer’s stories. Get to know their demographics, their pain points (and how your company solves them), their technology appetites, where they “hang out” and gather information … really get to know them.

Develop buyer personas through interviews. Talk to your sales team about the people they work with every day. Your sales team is a valuable tool in your marketing. Ask them about their “usual” customer. Once you’ve developed your first draft, go back to the sales team and ask them if that person sounds familiar.

Share your buyer personas with your entire company. From sales to marketing to customer service to the receptionist, every person in your organization should know who it is you’re working with. Consider putting these personas on posters and hanging them in your break room or a hallway each employee walks every day.

2: Blog/CTA/Landing Pages

Blogging or content creation is the bedrock of inbound marketing. Research shows that companies who blog more than once per day acquire customers through their blog? In fact, according to HubSpot, 92% of businesses blogging multiple times per day drive customer acquisition through their sites (http://www.hubspot.com/marketing-statistics).

But it’s not just about throwing some content on a page and hoping for the best. Your articles need to have purpose, complete with a call to action (CTA) that goes to a landing page.

What is a CTA? A CTA is the instruction in your article for the reader to take the next step. It can be text or an image, but it lets them know they have a place to go. Whether it’s for more information, a demo or another offer, the CTA moves the prospect through your process. Every article should have a CTA of some level, even if it’s as top-of-the-funnel as “subscribe to receive updates.”

What is a landing page? A landing page is the web page where an “offer” lives. A landing page has a form your prospect fills out in exchange for something of value. Guides, videos, case studies, research whitepapers and free consultations are all offers your prospects would give up contact information to view or download. A landing page and offer is what drives your next level of connection: email marketing.

3: Email

Email marketing is a lot like courting. This is where relationship develops. Here’s a scenario to imagine.

I’m a prospect, and I find your business because you’ve done your SEO and promotion well. On your website, you offer me the chance to download some terrific content that takes me on a deep dive into the solution to my problem, through your product or service. Now that I’ve downloaded your offer, you have my email address and first name. Maybe you’ve also asked pertinent questions about my situation. If it’s a B2B relationship, maybe you now know how many employees my company has, the area of the country we’re located and the greatest challenge we face.

Now that you have data on me and my business, you can create emails to speak to each of my points. Your emails can talk about the problem I’m having – my pain points. You can use the size of my company to craft a message speaking to the unique challenges of a smaller company – or larger one. Your emails can seem smart and connected – developing a trust from me that you’re helpful and knowledgeable.

Building trust through email marketing isn’t ridiculously difficult: offer more helpful content rather than just another sales pitch. Tailor the information to me as a buyer persona, so you know what level of information I require.

Email marketing isn’t just a way to “blast some email to a list.” It’s a way to nurture the relationship. With the right tools, you can see if I’m clicking links you’ve embedded in the emails. You can tell if I’m ignoring them, so maybe a change of subject line is needed. You can use data and personalization to help increase engagement.

The golden egg of email is the sharing of information. Think of it like this: if I tell my friends what a great experience I had at a specific restaurant, they’re more likely to try it than if that restaurant bought ads on a local radio station they listen to. Social proof is powerful. We trust our sphere of influence. Forwarding your business’ email to someone I think it might help means I trust you, and my friend trusts me … so they’re starting off with a higher level of instant trust. As you already know, referrals are golden. The best email marketing becomes a way for you to empower your leads (and customers) to become your very own promoters.

4: Social Media

Social media can take your marketing – and your customer satisfaction campaigns – to new levels. Whether it’s delighting current clients, developing business partnerships or looking for new customers, social media can really add to your communications portfolio. It’s also another way to empower an army of evangelists for your brand.

Let me say that I adhere to the philosophy of Dan Zarrella in that unicorns and rainbows need to be ignored. When it comes to social media, terms like engagement are an elusive measurement. However, I’ve also come to realize that social media is often a terrible place to sell.

Here’s what I mean. Think of most social media platforms as a social entity, like a party or gathering of friends. Would you want a random sales person interrupting your time with a sales pitch? Imagine you say to a friend, “I really can’t stand my apartment. I think it’s time to buy a house.” Some guy appears and says, “You should look at this no-down-payment mortgage option for buying a house.” What do you do?

As businesses, we look at social media as a place to reach new customers and sell them. But what if we looked at it as a place to develop relationships and deepen our connections to customers? What if social media became a place for us to find business partnerships that could become guest post opportunities?

When we look at social media as a real place with real people, we tend to interrupt less and instead offer content, empowering others to share. When we share and connect, we – as a business – become real. This strategy takes time and planning, and it can certainly include the things we already do like share articles, images and videos. But it also shifts our attitude from “always be closing,” to “always be connecting.”

Social media can be a powerful tool and PR opportunity when we’re using it for things like customer service and delighting our promoters. Just like any other business development strategy, it takes time, effort and strategic planning to pull off. You can’t simply have a Twitter account and never visit it. That would be like opening an office on a main street in town, keeping the lights on but never going in to answer the phones or talk to people walking in.

5: Video

Much like email marketing helps develop deeper relationships, video can add a very personal touch to your marketing and sales cycles.

When I was a TV news producer, I was friends with the on-air folks like anchors and weather personalities. I noticed something back then – people treat you like they know you even when they’ve never met you, simply because you’re “on TV.” Think about it – that anchor is in your living room every morning or every evening. As a viewer, you see them every day. You hear their stories and you trust their delivery of news. You get to know them through the screen.

Every time I’d go out to lunch with my on-air friends, someone would approach them and talk to them like they were friends. So often, it was the first they’d met each other. That video connection fostered a relationship that seemed reciprocal from the viewer. You can have the same thing.

When you create videos that answer questions about the problem your business solves, offers advice, gives information or positions you as the expert you add value to your content. Your viewers talk to you like they know you. That trust leads to deals and referrals. Video is powerful.

Think of all the questions you and your sales team hear. Every one of those questions can be a video or a series of videos you send to prospects. You’re answering their questions before they have them.

Here are tips from the trenches of a video marketing strategy:

  • Just start – Don’t be afraid of video. It’s not like you’re performing open-heart surgery. Even if you start with your phone’s video camera and you don’t upload the videos, get in front of the camera and begin to tell your story. Or find someone to be your “face.” But the key is to start. A marathon begins with that first step.
  • Be patient – Your videos will likely be average at best when you start. It takes time to build an audience and get better at video. This isn’t an overnight initiative. Someday you’ll look back on your early videos and wonder how you got through them. Patience pays off.
  • Get the right tools – You don’t have to have a Hollywood budget for the right tools. Consumer video cameras run in the hundreds of dollars now. But having the right tools is key. Keep in mind, we buy high definition TVs and enjoy quality video. As consumers we can be pretty forgiving, but video with bad audio, no lighting and the steadiness of a drunken sailor in a storm will turn us off eventually. Or right away. Get the right equipment from the start. You’ll need a camera, a tripod and a microphone. The microphone can be hard-wired or wireless, but it need to be an external mic that plugs into your camera. When shooting, be sure to take lighting into account. Light your subjects with natural lighting or lights, but make sure you can see them. Finally, editing software is likely available on your computer already. Start with that, then look at upgrading to an Adobe Premier or Final Cut.
  • Hire internally – Video production can get very pricy. If you want to create consistent videos, you’ll need to hire internally. A production house can produce a great “company” video. If you go this route, learn from them. You’re paying for more than the video – you’re paying for their expertise. Ask questions. Then when you’re ready to create weekly or monthly videos, hire someone and buy them the equipment to help you on the inside. Even if you think you only have one video idea, you’ll be surprised at what you can do. We create 2-4 videos every week at work. And we “just do mortgages.”
    • Who do I hire for video? This is a great question almost everyone has. My suggestion is to hire a TV news photojournalist with a few years of experience. They know how to tell stories through video. They’ve worked with reporters. They’re also paid terribly in the TV news world.
  • Be helpful. Be concise. – Video doesn’t have to be just 60 seconds. One of our most popular videos at AmeriFirst is 11 minutes long. But it’s full of helpful information. Your video should be as long or short as it takes to tell your story. However, a general rule of 2 minutes is good to follow. Help, inform and educate. Don’t go for that viral video hit. That’s not a solid strategy. Build your audience and you’ll drive leads.

So here is your rally call: Helpful is the new sexy. You don’t have to be in an industry that everyone clamors to be a part of. Your industry is interesting to those warm leads you’re trying to reach. Reach them with relevant content in a digestible manner. You can be sexy and not boring – be helpful!

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Lessons from a TV Newsroom: Trust and Test

After almost a decade in the newsroom at a CBS affiliate, and another 4+ years as a marketing guy – inbound marketing specifically – I’ve realized I learned some great lessons from my time in the trenches.

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1) Trust people.

When you hire smart, driven people and empower them flourish in their skills and desires, your team will be unstoppable. Squashing talent is a lonely world to live in, and a terrible way to do business.

Let your talented people help get your message out there. Empower them to help spread the love. Newsrooms can often be incubators for oppression. I’m not sure if it’s a fear of losing one’s job to the up and coming producer or the young reporter, but it’s hard to get ideas heard and validated. Don’t be that kind of business owner or leader.

Let your marketing team, that understands social media, teach you the benefits of it and the way of the new world, like AmeriFirst Home Mortgage has done and continues to do as we grow.

2) Test, test, test!

Even though callers to the newsroom would complain about “all the negative news” shown on TV, the most popular and shared articles online were about car crashes, child molester and embezzlers.

Even if you think you know your audience, they may not know themselves. You can track your online visitors to see where they came from, what they downloaded or viewed, and what they like. This tracking and testing can help you hone your marketing department into a finely tuned revolutionary machine.

In the last few years heading up the Welcome Home Marketing Team at AmeriFirst, I’ve tested everything from call-to-action button colors to using personalization in emails to smart (dynamic) content on the website. We’ve tried “how to” articles, lists, infographics, videos, big pictures … content testing can help you find the best-converting material for your leads. Test, test, test.

Gone are the days of “Always Be Closing” … we’ve ushered in the era of “Always Be Testing.” Let’s be scientific marketers!

Because of these 2 lessons, the “How I Turned Journalism into an Inbound Marketing Career” eBook is newly re-dsigned! Thanks to JannaThe What If Monster – it looks amazing! Check it out at the link below and please share with companies looking to hire a “new” marketer… and journalists looking for a change!

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