Marketing is a field that is in constant flux, but in the past decade, inbound marketing – a subset of the field that is still relatively new – has become a new necessity for many business owners, even if they don’t recognize the term.
In the past, marketing focused solely on selling a product to customers. With inbound marketing, that has changed. It has become more about making connections, creating two-way interactive relationships and offering customers more than just products or services.
According to Scott Collard, owner of Battle Ground-based J. Scott Collard Designs, changes in marketing have been ushered in, in part, by the rising use of technology.
While Internet-based marketing offers ways to get people interested in products and services, Collard said it’s not strictly about making those sales. Inbound marketing, he explained, is about creating a relationship, communicating unique selling points and building relationships that could later lead to sales.
Technology has “tremendously affected” the advertising industry, noted Heather Jordan, founder and principal at Vancouver’s D Studio 21. “So many people are online – on Facebook, Linkedin. It’s about putting out content and pulling them in. Inbound marketing has allowed companies to humanize their brand.”
Aaron Brotherton, marketing director at Vancouver-headquartered Nautilus Inc., described his view of sales in the past as a funnel, but said that is now changing.
“Today, with consumers’ media and content consumption fragmented across devices, it probably looks more like a sponge, with hundreds of potential paths to entry that drive to the center,” he said. “The shift to support more channels with customized messages and unique content requires additional resources and support from the organization.”
Brotherton said that inbound marketing has allowed Nautilus to find customers that they weren’t reaching through traditional methods.
“Activating influencers and thought leaders in our social channels, creating content for the Bowflex Insider blog, distributing fund and informative workout videos and developing event marketing experiences provide consumers the opportunity to interact with our products and brand on their terms, and on their own time,” Brotherton said. “In addition, these tactics allow us to give the brand a voice and personality that the more disruptive and less subtle outbound marketing efforts can’t always achieve.
“Delivering the message that fitness can be fun [and that] it can be a struggle, but it can also be life-changing, is difficult to convey in a direct mail piece or a 60-second television commercial,” he added. “Inbound marketing shows a different side of a brand that makes for very compelling, relatable and relevant content with which consumers want to engage.”
Puj, a Vancouver-based company that offers a variety of products designed to make life with children easier – from tools to bathe your baby to products that keep toddlers’ cups corralled and within easy reach – has never paid for advertising, according to co-founder Katie Richardson.
Instead, when Puj launched in 2009, Richardson said, the company focused on inbound marketing by leveraging a format that fit with its target demographic: “mommy blogs.”
“From the beginning we got publicity and we got noticed because we have a unique product,” Richardson said. “Moms became almost evangelists for products they believed in, and those blogs got very popular.”
All of Puj’s messaging has focused on company values – simplification in life, value, family and “now and wow.” So when its products were featured on television, albeit by organic means, their story was tied together.
“I didn’t even know about it,” said Richardson about the television coverage. “I started getting orders and people said they saw us… We’ve [since] been featured on Ellen, Rachael Ray and The Today Show a couple of times and it’s almost all organic. Having that television advertising gives validation to your brand. It really does.”
Using inbound marketing successfully
Businesses looking to harness the power of inbound marketing efforts have an intimidating number of options in front of them. According to Collard, a good first step is to start with content creation.
“Search engines crawl websites looking for new content to index, which leads to higher rankings,” he said. “Businesses should blog once a week, because this alerts search engines to new content.”
New content, Collard explained, can create conversations. However, he warned against bombarding the audience with straight sales pitches. Instead, he said, choose marketing channels that fit the specific customers you’re targeting – if you’re marketing to executives, Linkedin might be a better choice than Facebook, for example.
“If a 96-year-old is used to going into your store or picking up the phone and calling you, that’s what they are going to do. Younger customers will likely check out your website and reach out electronically,” Collard said. “You need to figure out how your product or service fits into their life and choose channels (Facebook, email, traditional marketing campaigns) that will fit into their lives.”
Jordan, at D Studio 21, echoed Collard’s advice, adding that marketing efforts (inbound and outbound) become easier when businesses take the time to understand their target audience – how their customers talk about them to others and how customers find them.
Additionally, Jordan explained, the size of a company may not matter as much when it comes to inbound marketing, except that larger companies may have more resources for marketing research to help them understand their customers.
“For medium-sized businesses, marketing research is something they can afford more easily, but for small businesses, it’s more of a grassroots effort – getting people to recognize that they are here and get the message out, that’s what’s most important,” she said.