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The marketing industry, never known for its transparency, has been overcome by buzzwords in recent years—pull marketing, jacking, clickbait and disruptive marketing. Add to that the dramatic shift in the kind of marketing that resonates with buyers—both business-to-business and business-to-consumer—and it’s no wonder business owners have a hard time planning their next marketing move. 

While business owners may not know their AVE from their CTR, or their OOH from their SEO, the bigger problem is understanding which marketing tactics are going to make the most impact on their business, and why those tactics have radically changed in recent years.

Getting Through the Filters

The evolution of how we use the Internet has thrown businesses a curve in the past decade. The way people shop and make purchases has changed dramatically. Take “Back to School” season as an example.

Twenty years ago, getting the kids ready for school entailed a series of visits to several stores. Today, many parents spend a couple of peaceful hours online and the necessary supplies are delivered to their doorstep. The trip to the mall has turned into the icing on the cake, or for the health conscious, a carrot for the kids, if it happens at all.

This explains why so much marketing that worked perfectly in the past is showing diminishing returns or not working at all.

We fast forward through commercials, avoid unwanted calls with caller ID, throw away “junk” mail, manage our spam settings and generally avoid marketing messages when we choose to. Not only have we become exhausted of being marketed to, but we’ve become savvy at avoiding it.

By and large, when people make a purchase these days they first apply fingers to keyboard and ask Google for advice. Or, they ask their network of friends, family and acquaintances through Facebook or LinkedIn.

Google calls this shift the Zero Moment of Truth: The online decision-making moment when a consumer grabs some device and types a question, a challenge, a need, a problem and starts looking for 

a solution. Whether it’s called inbound marketing, content marketing, pull or attraction marketing, this type of marketing allows a business to be found online when someone is trying to solve a problem.

Finding the Gate Password

You are no longer the sole source or gatekeeper of information about your company. Potential customers won’t come to you to answer their questions. In fact, they likely won’t come to you at all, unless you answer their initial questions first.

Remember the traditional marketing and sales funnel? There used to be a very predictable process for making purchase decisions. It included awareness, evaluation, and decision stages, and it went something like this: Identify a problem > make a long list > research > gather information > conduct interviews > cull to a short list > qualify > select > purchase.

Today, thanks to the web, the purchase process is different. We don’t know where our prospects enter or exit, and it’s much more complex for marketers and sellers of products and services to engage with them.

That means that every business should consider the following questions:

• Who is coming to my website and what problem are they trying to solve?

• What did they search to find me?

 • What kind of information are they looking for?

 • What did my ideal clients do to find me, and what did they need to make their decision?

 Every business owner, manager and marketer must think through who their audience is and what those people are looking for, because they are sure as heck helping themselves to information online.

In addition, it’s important to know the fundamental purpose of the website: Should it educate visitors? Generate leads? Sell via e-commerce? When you know the answer, you can better:

 • Attract people and prospective customers who are looking for what you offer via blog posts and other relevant content.

 • Engage with them during their research and decision-making process via social monitoring and participating in conversations, or via lead nurturing during their decision making process.

 • Demonstrate credibility with your online content by making sure the content is instructional, educational or has value to the customer-—it must go beyond a sales message to provide value.

 • Educate them to the finer points of your offering, or how and why you differ from your competition through seminars offline, or via demonstrations, webinars, product spec sheets or pricing guides online. These are more company-focused materials than earlier in the decision-making process.

 • Nurture them through a purchasing process with valuable information and resources (the higher the purchase price, the longer it typically takes to make a decision) by using targeted, segmented email campaigns that offer personalized content based on the actions website visitors have already taken, such as filling out a form or requesting information.

 • Stay connected and engaged with them when a client makes a purchase. The journey doesn’t end when a client makes a purchase. Make sure that you are responsive to post-purchase inquiries. And make sure that they hear from you other than when you want their money.

To exemplify these principles, consider the plight of a Nashua-based financial services company. Without a streamlined and intentional online marketing plan to drive traffic and generate leads, they found their ability to generate new customers using traditional outbound tactics alone diminishing year over year.

After they successfully developed and implemented an inbound marketing program, the results were immediate: In the first year of implementing the strategy, revenue increased by 20 percent; the following year the company maintained profits while the industry experienced huge losses.

Their new website was built with a lead-generation program in mind, offering educational resources and using calls to action throughout the site to convert site visitors into qualified leads.

The site was positioned as a resource providing valuable content to potential customers, which also worked to improve search engine optimization.

A blog added dynamic content regularly, and the entire program was integrated with the company’s offline programs with consistent branding and messaging across all marketing efforts.

A Massachusetts-based CPA firm went from having a template-based website to a custom-built site focused on generating leads. The company now has a consistent flow of leads through the website, helping the business owner to quickly and easily qualify and identify clients.

The new website provided content that users were searching for both on the site pages and in blog posts. That content made visitors comfortable that they were in the right place, which led to confidence in submitting forms with questions specific to their circumstances, since the easy questions had been answered on the website.

Both businesses are in industries that traditionally need to build trust with potential customers. Website content was strategically developed to build credibility, increase comfort with the business and begin to build relationships before a personal connection had been made. 

Generating an Inbound Flow

While traditional marketing could be executed from inside the silo of the marketing manager’s or marketing coordinator’s office, inbound marketing requires a commitment from the business owner and management, specifically because it will call for contributions from departments across the company, and it is well established that change of this magnitude is only successful if it’s embraced at the top.

Whether it’s the business owner, manager or a marketing professional, he or she can’t be met with “it’s not my job” and still create and deploy a successful inbound marketing program. The most-asked questions of your prospects may be locked in the sales department. The most-asked questions of your customers may be locked in the customer service department. The knowledge about your products or services may be locked in the engineering department. The business owner may be the most knowledgeable about the subject matter or industry.

To build a successful inbound program, you need to unlock all that knowledge and put it to work in your content.  Plus, there are foundational and structural considerations that need to be addressed, including search engine optimization, so that Google will show your website as an answer to the relevant questions being asked.

This may entail working with an external partner to optimize your website for this type of program, no matter how recently or long ago it was revised.

That web presence will need to be maintained on an ongoing basis to ensure it keeps working at optimum levels. Google changes its algorithm hundreds of times each year. Most of those are minor changes, but some will affect how it determines the best search results and what marketers will need to do to maintain the positions they have earned.

A 2013 Forrester report said it best three years ago, though it’s as true now as it was then: “Empowered customers are disrupting every industry. In this age of the customer, the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of, and engagement with, customers.” To be successful, modern marketers will work to earn the attention of their customers and prospects by producing and distributing relevant and interesting and valuable content. 

 

This post was originally published in the September 2016 issue of Business NH Magazine. See original post here.

 

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