The promise of Inbound Marketing
In the internet era, the traditional outbound marketing campaigns based on user lists, email blasts, telemarketing, advertising, PR, etc, have become less effective in generating meaningful leads. Most folks don’t want to be bothered with unsolicited calls or email and now instinctively turn to their favorite search engine when looking for a solution. They will browse through the most relevant content until they find what they are looking for. Inbound marketing was developed to help companies get found by their prospective customers, through the creation of content-rich websites, blogs and social media content.
Content will become your company’s biggest asset
The key success factor in inbound marketing is the creation of tons of brilliant content for your website that your target audience will find informative and engaging, … or truly remarkable, as HubSpot, the pioneer of inbound marketing, likes to say. Once you have good content, you can use social media like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. to spread the word out. As other bloggers link to you, and people tweet about your content, this will have a multiplying effect and improve your ranking in the search engines.
The ultimate goal for your website is to show up on the first page of search results and help build a growing community of followers. You will need to refresh the content frequently so that your website doesn’t become stale, customers keep coming back and your website continues to rank high in internet searches.
The implication of this is that your company needs to become a publisher. If you are an emerging high-tech company, your biggest assets may not longer be measured in terms of inventory, patents or lines of code, but instead will be measured in number of blog entries, infographics, videos, presentations, free offers, testimonials posted. It is the production of these assets that will help you build a growing community of followers that are interested in what you have to say and offer.
One of my summer projects was to learn how to kite-board. I was referred to a leading kiteboarding school by an enthusiastic colleague. I still made my own research on Google to make sure that I was going to the best possible program. That same school kept standing out and their website was attracting me back to them. The reason is that they had the largest number of educational videos, the clearest presentation of their offerings and a much larger community of followers that were very generous in their comments. For whatever question I asked, they kept showing up with well documented and easy-to-consume answers, …unlike their competitors.
End result: I joined that program along with my two sons, even if it was the more expensive of all; I referred them to two more friends; I signed up to receive their updates and am most likely to go back for follow-on courses. When I finished the course, they asked me if I was satisfied and upon my positive response they asked me to post a comment on social media. Enough said…
You should consider posting content even before a product is launched, as it will validate the market’s interest in the subjects that you are promoting and help create a base of early followers that are most likely to turn into prospects and try your beta products.
Need a content czar to make the content creation strategy succeed
Not every company that wants to adopt inbound marketing has internalized the criticality of content production and given itself the means to succeed. From an organizational perspective, I see three critical success factors:
1. Create a content culture
The first step is to make the company understand the importance of content creation. The company leaders have to make this a corporate priority, not just of one person in marketing. When companies delegate content development to one person in Marketing, you see an initial wave of good deliverables soon followed by a decrease in throughput and quality, as this person starts running out of ideas.
To create a content creation culture, set the example via your own blog and start engaging your most passionate employees who have a vision of your industry, deeply relate to your audience’s issues and interests and who can present original solutions to real problems. If I think about my most recent company, these employees were the CTO, our technical founder, or most outgoing professional services consultants and our solution architects. Invite them to contribute to the company blog and make content creation part of their monthly or quarterly objectives. Then start adding blogging to the job description for new hires.
2. Nominate a content “czar”
If you are the CEO of a growing start-up or the VP of Marketing of an emerging company, you will soon run out of cycles and will no longer be able to effectively drive the content creation strategy. To help create and sustain a content culture that will pay dividends in the long term, you will need to nominate and hold a person responsible for content creation across the company. This content “czar” shall ‘own’ two numbers:
- Content produced on monthly or quarterly basis: number of blog entries, videos, presentations, testimonials, free offerings, etc.
- Number of followers added and/or leads produced: this is to ensure that remarkable/quality content is produced, that prompts your target audience to engage with your company. The measures will vary depending on the type of content/campaign the content czar is responsible for and can include numbers such as website traffic, blog subscribers, email opt-ins, registrations for free offerings, trial requests.
This position usually reports to the head of marketing or a combined sales-marketing lead. I have seen titles as diverse as: VP of Content Marketing, VP of Content, Inbound Marketing specialist, VP Content Operations & Audience Development, etc.
Until they can afford a full-time leader in that role, some companies start working with outside inbound marketing consultants that are familiar with their industry, to accelerate the development of their content creation strategy and the adoption of best practices.
3. Build the right team of content creators
As you look to expand your content creation capabilities, you will need to build a team of content creators. These are the bloggers, video creators, podcasters and producers of other creative content. They can be a combination of internal and external contributors and typically have the following profiles:
- Dedicated content creators: if you are looking for blog writers that can write original content or can interview employees, customers or partners, note that there are lots of journalists looking for jobs, including in the specialized press.
- Part-time content creators in Marketing: you usually find them among product-marketing or marketing communications specialists.
- For more detailed technical content, you may also want to consider tapping into:
- Customers: consider engaging the most enthusiastic ones for testimonials and/or the more visionary ones, for thought leadership content.
- Internal Technical specialists: you may want to add content development to the quarterly goals of internal technology specialists that are experts on specific subjects (product managers, consultants, developers…)
- Industry experts: Consider hiring the best blogger(s) in your industry. Also, industry analysts or technology consultants can be another good source for content development, especially for independent 3rd party product validations, customer case studies and ROI analysis.
When it comes to the attributes of the perfect content creators, I will refer to and extend the criteria elaborated by Hubspot’s CMO Mike Volpe in a past blog and summarize them in the “DARCI” acronym:
- Digital: means they live their lives online and are familiar and comfortable with blogging, social media, and the web in general.
- Analytical: means they like to measure what they do, and they make decisions based on data.
- Reach: means they have a knack for growing their network by creating a gravitational attraction to what they do — and people want to follow their work.
- Content: means they are naturally a content creator, and they’re not afraid of it.
- Industry: means they have a deep understanding of the dynamics and challenges of the industry in question or have access to the industry experts for interviews.
In the high tech industry and especially for more complex solutions, I have seen an increasing number of content creation roles handed over to engineers, as they were considered more likely to learn about inbound marketing techniques than a marketer to learn the ins and outs of advanced technologies.
Please share your personal experiences and opinions in the comments section below, so we can learn more about the subject from one another.