The world of web marketing has sprouted its own special level of bewildering jargon – striking even to me after thirty years in the business. This post is part of a series demystifying (and sometimes debunking) web marketing buzzwords. The basic rule of thumb is, web marketing is still marketing, so once you figure out how to translate the buzzwords to traditional marketing activities, the curtain is lifted. Keep in mind that anyone who tells you web marketing is different than marketing either a) is blowing smoke, or b) doesn’t know anything about marketing.
What is Inbound Marketing?
I’m starting this series with inbound marketing because it is my favorite of the new tech buzzwords, and it gets to the question What the purpose of your web site? So here goes: the definition of inbound marketing, as supplied by Wikipedia* is:
Inbound marketing is promoting a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing which serve to attract customers.
How is this different from traditional marketing? It isn’t. It’s the usual flag-waving in the interest of promoting your organization. The difference is that the methods of attracting customers labeled inbound marketing are electronic and web-based. This may seem alien to the uninitiated; keep this in mind as we work our way through this: With inbound marketing, you control the channels, and people come to you. Instead of paying for advertising space, paying for a Yellow Pages ad, working the p.r. ropes to get coverage, buying conference sponsorships, and so forth, you – yes you – are creating and delivering the goods directly to your prospects and customers through the Internet. It’s a pull rather than a push. You are building and maintaining your own online constituency, rather than piggy-backing on a magazine’s readership, depending on people actually opening that Yellow Pages on the bookshelf, or the strength of a purchased mailing list.
Okay, I’ll admit that still sounds kinda scary. But stay with me.
Before I proceed, I really need to take a moment to mention Seth Godin and his essential 1999 book Permission Marketing. Though it predates the Internet as we really know it, the book sets the table for inbound marketing. I’m doing Mr. Godin a huge injustice here by trying to summarize his work, but I’m going to try….
Permission marketing is the alternative to interruption marketing. Interruption marketing is Godin’s term for the traditional marketing channels we grew up with: the telemarketing calls at dinnertime, the poorly-produced huckster ads on the local evening news, the too-loud $9.95 offers that turn 100-minute movies into three-hour ordeals on cable TV. It seems the more we try to shut these things out, the louder, the more disruptive, the more intrusive they become.
Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing is the zen alternative to this race to the top of our lungs. It’s tailor-made for the electronic world, where customers are actively looking for things instead of just trying to watch a movie or a ballgame. Permission marketing proposes that once found, you should ask permission to contact the person who found you with future information.
I’m really not going to try to put words in Seth Godin’s mouth. Please, just go buy his book, or find it at your local library. Let’s get back to how this ties in with inbound marketing.
So, inbound marketing is about promoting your organization through electronic means. In practice, here’s the sequence of events:
- Get found
- Provide information and expertise the person is looking for
- Ask permission to contact them in the future with more expertise
- Close the deal
Let’s take a deeper dive into each of these steps, and connect inbound marketing to Permission Marketing and its practical application on your web site. The short version is, be prepared.
1. Get Found
In practice, this mostly means being as close to the top of Google’s search results as you can get. (Depending on your organization, it can also mean managing your Yelp profile or having a Facebook business page – other ways people can find you beyond traditional search.) In the early days of the Internet, a large cottage industry sprouted up to help us manage our search engine optimization (SEO), which were the search-engine equivalent of padding your résumé. These days, Google is onto most of the schemes we used to pay “consultants” to implement for us, and actually demotes sites that attempt to juice their rankings. In 2015, honesty is rewarded. That makes it much easier for us to manage SEO ourselves.
2. Provide information and expertise the person is looking for
Let’s refer back to the Wikipedia definition of inbound marketing and that laundry list of ways to promote your company online: blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing.
We already covered SEO, but the rest are ways you can prove your expertise to your web site’s visitors and give them a reason to stay and learn more from you. Do you need to do everything on the list? Well, maybe Seth Goden does, but the rest of us have to sleep sometime! The top of the list for most organizations is blogging. I’ll cover all these items in subsequent buzzword posts – stay tuned!
3. Ask permission to contact them in the future with more expertise
Okay, now you’re probably starting to put it together. This is why nearly every modern site on the Internet has a SUBSCRIBE button prominently displayed. They are asking for your permission to contact you in the future. You say yes and the site periodically sends you an email newsletter – a newsletter you asked for. It’s Seth Godin’s permission, right there in a nutshell.
In order to make this part work, you – as the site owner – have to create content that people want. Yes, you have to write. Yeah, I can hear the voice in your head clear over here, but you need to quiet down that voice and write. Or make videos. Or take photos. You are an expert in your field; that’s how you got successful in the first place. Stop selling yourself short and start writing about what you know.
I, too, was once like you. I have made a living with the written word since I was 19 years old, but it was hard to find my own voice and start writing. So start. You’ll probably clank along at first, but you’ll get the hang of it. If you know what you’re doing (and you do), there are people out there who want to learn from you.
4. Close the Deal
Inbound marketing is about building relationships for the long term. You may get lucky and your web site visitors will obey your call to action the minute they arrive. But it’s more likely you’ll have to prove yourself a few times before they trust your expertise and buy what you’re selling. Don’t panic! This isn’t about a quick sale. It’s about building relationships.
Learn How to Do Inbound Marketing
Are you ready? Declare yourself an expert and start building your inbound empire online. Streamline Studio can help.
* Please don’t tell my kids or their teachers I’m citing Wikipedia.
Stoplight photo by aimhelix
Yellow Pages cover photo from the author’s personal collection.