The Drum speaks to John Hornell, CEO of inbound marketing agency Brightfire, asking him to explain how an organisation can tackle inbound marketing for the first time, where all the content is going to come from and when is the best time to deliver a sales pitch.
What’s so great about inbound marketing then?
At its heart, inbound marketing is focused on how, in the online age, a business gets found by people and how it engages with them in ways designed to generate qualified sales leads and, ultimately, convert them into customers. In practice that means businesses moving away from delivering organisation centric websites towards providing customer centric online experiences.
Inbound is a technique or a set of tools that has completely refreshed the effectiveness of the marketing function and, as we move forward, it will be a vital element in the success of businesses large and small.
Is awareness of inbound marketing growing?
Undoubtedly. I attended the HubSpot inbound marketing conference in the US in 2011 and there were 1000 delegates. One of my colleagues at Brightfire attended the conference this year and there were 3000. In the US, the use of inbound marketing is spreading like wildfire. Here in the UK, awareness is growing but I’d say the market is lagging behind the US by about 12 to 18 months.
Our experience is that we’re meeting with companies who have a vague awareness of inbound marketing but are unsure of how to tackle it. They say things like: “We need to change our website; it’s not generating enough value; we know we need to be doing something different – but what?”
Many people think that inbound marketing essentially means content creation. Content is a big part of inbound, but it’s not the whole story. Lots of companies are making tweets, publishing blogs and posting videos in a fairly random fashion which are not tied back into a strategic process firmly focused on lead generation. Every piece of content that we develop for a client has a purpose. It plays a part in a cycle design to drive conversion.
Are companies daunted by the challenge of becoming original content producers?
The idea of moving from having a relatively static website with content that hardly ever changes to essentially becoming an online publisher can be daunting for some, yes, but there are established tools and techniques available to help simplify the task.
A useful starting point is to develop a set of ‘personas’ that sum up the key characteristics of your target audience: 1. What are their preferences? 2. What are they thinking? 3. What are their key information requirements? 4. What are they searching for online? By building up a portrait of the different personas you’re looking to attract into your marketing funnel, the question of what sort of content to create becomes a lot easier to answer.
What questions are your salesmen being asked all the time? What questions are your support desk answering most often? Use those prospective customer touch points to understand the sort of information that your target audiences are demanding and build a content plan from there.
What should be the balance of customer-led content to product-focused content? What’s important is where the potential customer is in the cycle of their interest; their position on what we call the marketing/sales funnel.
What inbound marketing does, based on user behaviour over time, is generate a much deeper level of understanding about the prospective customer. This means your sales team can make targeted interventions at the bottom of a marketing funnel rather than at the top, where nobody has put their hand up to say what they are interested in.
If you’re planning to supply content containing specific product information, that kind of material is obviously better targeted at people at the bottom of the funnel than the top. This gives you a smaller audience but a much more receptive one.
We recently produced a white paper for companies in the software sector. One of the issues we identified was that on the homepage of most software companies’ websites, one of the first things they do is try to get you to sign up for a demo. We estimate that about 95 per cent of new visitors simply aren’t ready to be receptive to that kind of approach. They’ve just arrived at your website for the first time. They don’t know you yet.
Inbound marketing allows you to be much more elegant and efficient in your sales efforts. Just as a good salesman can gauge when a prospective customer is ready to receive a sales pitch, inbound marketing can build the same level of personalisation into the online transaction experience.
How important is video within an inbound marketing strategy?
Video is a hugely important component of inbound marketing. There’s already a lot of benefit around the use of video: it’s clear that online users will consume a one-minute video clip more readily than a long scroll-down page of text based context. Likewise, people are much more likely to share or recommend video based content than written articles.
We’ve just signed up to a partnership with a company called Brightcove, the world’s largest business video platform, based out of Boston. They have some really interesting data about the use of video online, particularly on the wisdom of posting your video content on YouTube.
At Brightfire, we call it ‘donating’ your content to YouTube, because after a prospective customer has viewed your video there, YouTube will try to sign-post that user to wherever they fancy rather than back to a landing page on your website. A lot of companies are going to have to consider what their conversion strategy is going to be moving forward and whether YouTube fits in with that or not.
What will be the impact of inbound marketing in the near future?
The future is all about personalisation: bringing the Amazon style experience to the B2B and SME market. The evolution of inbound marketing means that, for the first time, smaller organisations can build scalability into their marketing strategy and automate sophisticated processes that they could not deliver manually. Expect increased competition as SMEs begin to take on their larger rivals head to head and win. It’s going to be exciting.