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“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” is an old-school way to say that people naturally gravitate toward others who are pleasant to be with. Pleasant is one thing; if interactions with an individual are additionally useful and valuable, he or she is certain to be quite popular.

In the b-to-b world, inbound marketing is the honey pot approach to interaction, an approach that has become a critical part of marketing strategy and mix. In this issue of SiriusPerspectives, we share the tenets of an inbound approach, identify key inbound marketing categories and five incremental categories we believe should be added to the mix.

INBOUND MARKETING: KEY PRINCIPLES
As companies look to develop – and allot budget to – a set of inbound tactics that will be included as part of specific campaigns and more generic marketing efforts, it is critical to pinpoint what inbound marketing truly means. To qualify as inbound, a tactic must meet three tests, including:

  • It has been extended to an unknown target audience. Outbound tactics target individuals – specific names from databases or lists – with offers that should be appealing to them based on profile, past behaviour or expressed intent to purchase. Inbound tactics target groups, attempting to provide enough value that individuals within these groups will self-identify in order to obtain even more value from the provider.
  • It has been “placed” into a target’s knowledge gathering process. Unlike their pushed outbound brethren, inbound tactics are consumed entirely at an individual’s discretion. For this consumption to have any possibility of occurring, a tactic must be carefully positioned where
    targets naturally look for information, and be as specific as possible to deliver the requisite value as described above.
  • It delivers – directly or indirectly – value-added content. Inbound strategies are based on the fundamental belief that information is traded for information between company and buyer. Inbound tactics can either provide direct information to a target, or act as a conduit
    for individuals to share information with one another.

Inbound marketing has continued to rise in importance due to the natural desire of b-to-b buyers to drive their own buying processes at their own pace. The ubiquitous nature of the Internet means they have more sources than ever to feed these processes; as a result, sellers must be sure they are
present and valued when buyers come calling.

EXPANDING THE TACTICAL MIX
Over time, most sources attempting to define what qualifies as an inbound tactic have been drawn to three fundamental categories. Paid and organic search marketing is the first, where an organization will ensure that its name and content are prominent when buyers proactively use a search engine to
begin or continue a buying process. Content syndication is the second, where everything from white papers to full-motion video are placed withpopular information aggregators. Social media is the third, where deliverables from blogs to communities are sponsored or participated in to drive information transfer between interested parties. The common thread, of course, through these categories is the presence of the Internet as the vehicle for information delivery.

While we agree these categories certainly meet the requirements listed above, limiting one’s inbound view to them is short-sighted, and puts sole responsibility for inbound strategy on demand creation-related functions. To this core list, we have added five incremental categories, including:

  • Banner advertising. Placing banners on  websites where targets go for information that can be used as an on-ramp for more information and self-identification certainly qualifies as an inbound method. Making the messaging in banners highly relevant to the pages they are placed on,
    rather than using a generic approach, will drive the best chance for clickthrough, content delivery and conversion of a prospect from unknown to known.
  • Non-proprietary events. Speaking or exhibiting at an event not put on by your organization – the justification for which is a relevant audience will be attending – is our second incremental inbound category. By getting value from a speaker or visiting a booth where relevant
    information will be provided, previously unknown individuals will
    hopefully identify themselves.
  • Public relations. Providing messages and content to popular, credible news and information sources that will extend this information to relevant buyers (with proper citations, of course) is a good way to draw attention to your organization and its core campaign themes.The question is, can you identify the sources that your targets trust?
  • Influencer relations. Similarly to public relations, vendors ply trusted influencers with information and data that they hope will be positioned in a favorable light and reused for consumption by buyers. Building and maintaining a list of relevant influencers – both traditional (firms) and non-traditional (bloggers) – is critical to get these intermediaries talking about you in a positive way.
  • Association marketing. Like has been attracting like in the offline world much longer than it has in the online world; thus, why ignore the associations buyers commonly belong to as inbound sources? The more relevant and specific the group, the better chance it has of
    acting as a reliable conduit to your organization.

In the end, what separates inbound marketing from general awareness or branding is its reliance on information. While tactics such as general image advertising, sports sponsorships or cause marketing can have the honey pot effect, they rely on image and association to do it. In the b-to-c world, that
may be enough to drive trial of a product or service; in b-to-b that will rarely, if ever, be the case.

Woody Allen once said that 80 per cent of success is showing up. Consider inbound marketing as a form of “showing up,” placing content where targets naturally go to launch or continue a buying process. Just showing up isn’t enough in this case, however; your content must be highly relevant, easy to consume and frequently updated as the needs of buyers change. You must also be efficient in how you convert unknown parties to those that are known so that you can market to them again. There may be a temptation to think that because inbound marketing is often less expensive than outbound
because it relies heavily on online tactics, it doesn’t take the same amount of focus and coordination to be successful. Believing such an assumption will almost virutally guarantee the honey you put out won't be nearly as sweet as that of your competition.

About the Author:

SiriusDecisions, a leading source for business-to-business sales and marketing best-practice research and data. SiriusDecisions Executive Advisory Services, Consulting Services, Benchmark Assessment Services, Learning and Events provide senior-level executives with the sales and marketing operational intelligence required to maximize top line growth and performance. 

©Sirius Decisions, 2010. Reproduced with permission.

 



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