The Press, June 2012

When the little monsters gathered to worship Lady Gaga in Auckland over the weekend, they were responding to that classic marketing tactic of the music world, screaming for attention by being as outrageous as possible.

In the more prosaic world of business to business (B2B) marketing the opposite dynamic is becoming a powerful way to market and sell your products.

Stefani Germanotta (as she is known on her birth certificate) certainly stands out, if just for the fact she has been known to wear high heels of up to 46 centimetres. Wearing dresses made of meat and singing tunes with salacious lyrics has helped Lady Gaga to both be one of music’s top earners and have concerts banned recently in the Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia.

The Gaga recipe is often seen as the secret of good marketing – attracting potential customers by screaming about how cool and different you are.

This ‘outbound’ approach is becoming less effective, especially for companies selling complex products like technology to other businesses. Not only are consumers increasingly immune to being marketed at, their attention is simply diverted by the volume of marketing messages they see and consume every day.

An exciting trend for smaller businesses is the evolving concept of ‘inbound’ marketing. Instead of constantly reaching ‘out’ through expensive trade shows, direct marketing, advertising and telemarketing, companies are using techniques to get potential customers to come to them, to come ‘in’.

Typically this involves providing useful information (e.g. a whitepaper, ebook, instructional video, iphone application, podcast, case study) to potential customers, typically through online channels like your own website and online communities like LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Slideshare, Pinterest etc.

Inbound marketing is becoming effective because consumers, especially of complex products like technology, are conducting more and more of the buying process online, instead of engaging through sales calls, trade shows and the like. They gather information online and come to you relatively late in the piece to buy.

When you are selling something complex and expensive to other businesses, they need to spend time researching and understanding it. Providing lots of useful content that helps them do that positions your brand as a credible choice.

To be effective with inbound marketing takes a mind shift. Traditional marketing is all about how loud you can toot your horn, telling anyone who will listen that you are the ‘world-class, industry-leading and ground breaking, able to save them millions and bring world peace into the bargain’.

With inbound marketing you have to instead think how a piece of marketing content will actually benefit the receiver of that information, not simply look for a another way to mindlessly scream for attention.

An inbound marketing strategy requires earning a customer’s attention by giving them something intrinsically valuable, regardless of whether they want to purchase your product.

This means you need to know who your target market is, the main business problems in that market, who the buyers are, their typical demographics and the goals and challenges of their job. The more you know about this, the easier it will be to produce content that they find interesting and useful, and the easier it is for you to entice them into your sales process.

As a simplistic example, with a traditional outbound approach the seller of accounting software might typically place advertisements extolling the virtues their industry-leading, integrated suite of financial modules and its ability to give you faster, richer information to manage your business.

The inbound approach could be an e-book outlining five practical ways of reducing your level of aged debtors. It is something of value to the customer’s business, and earns you the right to engage them as a sales prospect.

Companies are running incredibly sophisticated and multi-layered inbound marketing programmes, but these are the some of the basic elements.

First is simply getting found. Your website needs to be set up in right way so when potential customers are searching for solutions to the problem your product solves, search engines point your way. Online channels like Twitter or LinkedIn can also be used to push people to content on your website.

Secondly is converting those visitors into leads, i.e. qualifying them somehow to assess whether they are interested buyers. For example, they might come to your website and register to receive a whitepaper, making them a good target for an initial follow up sales call or email.

Lastly is tracking exactly what happens very closely. How many people visit your website from where for how long, what they click on and download, what they do after downloading those items?

This digital ‘footprint’ is one of the reasons inbound marketing is gaining traction, as you can gather rich information about people you are marketing to and determine what tactics work to earn their attention and interest.

Taking an inbound marketing approach also makes it more likely you can cut through all of the noise of the other Lady Gagas screaming that they are different.

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