It’s no secret: traditional marketing techniques are getting less effective every day. “How many people answer their phone without looking at who’s calling?” asks Dharmesh Shah, founder and CTO of marketing software company HubSpot. “People don’t do that anymore.” Direct mail hasn’t fared much better. “The average U.S. household gets 40 pounds of direct mail per year, and the sad part is that 41% of that mail never gets opened. It’s straight to the landfill.”
The only viable alternative, he says, is inbound marketing – “the kind of marketing you’d want done to you.” By creating relevant content that people actually want to seek out, you’re positioning yourself for long-term success. In contrast to traditional advertising, says Shah, “With inbound marketing, you haven’t paid your way into someone’s life. You have to earn it.” Appropriately enough, I spoke with Shah last week at the Inbound Marketing Summit, where we were both speakers. Here’s his advice on how a business can get started.
Test the premise. If your company has been reliant on paid search advertising, Shah advises shifting a small amount of your ad budget toward inbound marketing. “I’ve seen that companies will be able to displace more and more of their ad budget with the content they’re creating,” he says. “The nice thing is that when you do pay-per-click, you’re renting attention, and as soon as you stop paying rent, you won’t get that visibility anymore. But if you write a blog article today that’s really good and useful, even if you stop writing tomorrow, it will continue to deliver traffic. It’s an asset that keeps delivering.”
Next, master the content. “The most common mistake businesses make,” says Shah, “is to focus too much on self-promotion, rather than focusing on their customers. Ask yourself what the customer is looking for, what questions they have, what they need to learn about the industry, what problem are they having.” In the early days of HubSpot, he literally forbade his bloggers from mentioning the company in their posts. “We never ran promotions, never talked about pricing – it was the ‘marketing without marketing’ model,” he says. Their focus on customers’ concerns (rather than self-promotion) paid off; they now employ more than a half-dozen staffers to create content.
Find your medium. Different social media channels work for different companies – so try a variety and measure the impact, says Shah. Some companies with visual products may do really well with Pinterest; others may excel with podcasts. “Experiment and do more of what works,” he says. He also counsels businesses not to be afraid of video. “The reservation folks have is they believe in order to do video well, you have to have high production values, but that’s not true. We live in the age of YouTube, and as long as it’s interesting and useful, production values don’t count for all that much. Most people have a perfectly acceptable video device sitting in their pocket, the iPhone, so you can turn the camera on yourself, have someone interview you, or take a video at a conference. People overthink how hard it is to use video, but that will change over time.”
Keep it simple. With the rise of mobile, Shah also encourages businesses to focus on what matters – the content, not what he calls the “dressing around the content.” In recent years, he believes web design often bordered on the precious: “It was very focused on being pixel-perfect, with just the right shade of blue.” That may have been an acceptable indulgence in the past – but now it represents a fundamental hindrance. “What people care about is content. They don’t care about fancy graphics; that gets in the way. What you want is elegant, fast, simple design.”
Does your company use inbound marketing? What are your techniques to draw customers in, and make them want to come back?
This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on October 31, 2012..
Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.