What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
I use inbound marketing and content marketing nearly interchangeably, even though they aren’t exactly the same.
It seems that “inbound” is generally seen as the overarching strategy and that content marketing fits within the confines of inbound. I have it the other way around.
But, meh, debates over terminology can be a fun exercise to sharpen your opinions on marketing in general. However, when it gets down to the doing of the things, it doesn’t really matter what you call it.
Inbound has been a “thing” for nearly a decade, ushered in largely by HubSpot’s founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmash Shah, who literally wrote the book on inbound marketing (every marketer should read it). The budding grumpy old man in me suspects we’ll be getting a new phrase trotted out so that the consultants and thought leaders can do some thought leading.
And, of course, in the process muddy the waters and sow confusion to sell consulting services and garner keynote spots for the next shiny new thing in marketing. At least that’s what the cynic in my says.
I suspect if someone can figure out a way to create AI-marketing (AI is increasingly a part of marketing and sales, cool stuff) or some other BS, someone will. I’m starting to think something around “customer experience” will be the next big thing and cause companies to overinvest in customer-facing sites with lots of bells and whistles while underinvesting in the content those pretty, customer-facing sites will need to create the desired experience.
I have a simplistic view of marketing:
Inbound rose or content marketing petunia, you’re using words to get someone interested in and eventually purchase your products and/or services.Tweet
It’s also culture. Let me tackle culture first.
Marketing As Culture
One of the biggest ideas behind inbound marketing, influenced (I think) by Seth Godin’s thinking about marketing, is that marketing is more than creating leads and handing them to your sales team.
The giveaway is in the word “delight” in the HubSpot methodology: attract, engage, delight.
I know that marketers weren’t trying to delight me prior to inbound. They were constantly pushing to get my attention via email, Google ads, pop ups, and keyword-stuffing SEO tactics to trick traffic to a page.
Marketing largely sucked.
You did marketing “to” your targets, not “for” them.
The culture shift implied by the word “delight” is that you need to serve your customer. You need to create an internal culture that is customer-focused in deed, not word.
Zappos is a tired example, but still a useful one. You can spend an hour on the phone with a Zappos rep and not feel rushed to move on. They don’t have a quota or a clock on their calls. They are mandated to make the customer happy and have the authority (within reason) to do so. Plus, order shoes online and return them for free? That is literally easier than driving down the street to the Dick’s, finding the shoes don’t fit quite right, and driving back to the store to make a return.
It is delightful.
Is your entire being focused on your customers and making them happy?
If not, you’ll never have a complete inbound strategy because you’ll half-ass it. You have to believe that you are helping your customers, otherwise, you’ll see some success but you’ll never take off.
You gotta want it.
You gotta work for it because while the concept is actually very simple, the doing is actually very hard.
Marketing Is Marketing Is Marketing
Back to Shakespeare and roses, I’m not quite sure it matters WHAT you call it these days.
At least in the talking heads portion of the marketing Interwebs, there’s been an inbound-influenced shift in the strategic thinking of marketing to delighting customers (or at least trying to). Not all companies get this, but many do.
All that said, I still prefer “content marketing.” As I’ve said before, I still often think of myself as an editor. I’m biased in favor of content. I’ll repeat what I wrote above:
Inbound or content marketing, you’re using words to get someone interested in and eventually purchase your products and/or services.
HubSpot Defines inbound marketing as follows:
Inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have.
Content Marketing as defined by the Content Marketing Institute:
Content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.
Further in the piece, CMI outlines the role of content in marketing, because I’m lazy, I’m going to quote in full:
Quality content is part of all forms of marketing:
Social media marketing: Content marketing strategy comes before your social media strategy.
SEO: Search engines reward businesses that publish quality, consistent content.
PR: Successful PR strategies address issues readers care about, not their business.
PPC: For PPC to work, you need great content behind it.
Inbound marketing: Content is key to driving inbound traffic and leads.
Content strategy: Content strategy is part of most content marketing strategies.
No content, no marketing. Know content, know marketing.Tweet
Interruption Marketing and Pull Marketing and Outbound Marketing, Oh My!
Remember how exciting email was at first; “You’ve got mail!” How friggin’ awesome! I can share my thoughts with someone in minutes rather than the three days it takes to find and lick a stamp and envelope flap, remember to put it in the mailbox, and hope it gets delivered to your intended penpal.
Then the marketers got ahold of email.
“BUY THIS THING NOW” invaded our inboxes. That’s interruption marketing. So is advertising, those annoying auto-play videos on sites, billboards, unsolicited emails, all the crap in your Facebook feed, etc.
Inbound marketing is a combination of permission and pull marketing, but you can’t forget to push either.
You use content to attract (pull) people to your site where you convert them to leads, then customers by receiving their permission for you to share other content and, eventually, offers to buy with those leads and customers.
One of the biggest misconceptions I had about inbound marketing at first was that I overly relied on the “pull” part.
Write good stuff and they will come.
The co-equal partner in inbound is, oddly enough, outbound communication. I’d go so far as to call it “semi-interruption” marketing. You have got to share the ever-loving shit out of what you create via:
- Your website and blog
- Social media channels
- Email and newsletters
- Even the occasional smart use of advertising via Google adwords to lead back to an inbound content asset
- Whatever else you think might work, try it
Of course, you’re pushing useful content your audience wants, but you can’t forget to use outbound tools. I did and could have done better for a few clients if I hadn’t.
The Content King Is Dead, Long Live the King
Years ago, when Enterprise 2.0 was a baby buzzword, all of those new online collaboration tools and the apps that have morphed into what’s now called “social media” were going to kill email.
That always left me scratching my head.
Every single platform I looked at at the time relied on email for updates and reminders (and often for log-in). Many still do, though Whatsapp is entirely self-contained, and others are too.
Never could figure out how the tools that were going to kill email relied on email for critical functions.
There’s been some of that with content marketing as the occasional “content marketing is dead” articles will pop up. Scratch at most of those lightly and they’re usually talking about a specific kind of content: infographics are now dull, who needs blogs, no one is going to read your ebook, et cetera, et cetera, and etc.
They then often proceed to tout . . . a new content delivery methodology as the new king: podcasts or videos or, I swear to god this was written without any sort of sarcasm, smart content. Those are — like blogs, ebooks, and infographics — just different containers for words you want to use to move someone to take an action with you. Content.
There is an increased focus on storytelling (read Storybrand) as the killer of content marketing. I believe storytelling is a fantastic addition to your content marketing arsenal, but you tell a story via a blog, your website, a podcast, etc. Your story is still a piece of content. Storytelling is an extension of content marketing, not its replacement.
Content is king. It’s how we deliver the useful information that connects and delights our audiences.Tweet
But, again, content marketing, inbound marketing, customer-centric marketing, customer experience marketing, or even storytelling; it is all just marketing.
So whatever the hell you want to call it, love your customers and potential customers. Share with them the useful information that will improve their lives. Deliver a great product or service.
But, yeah, I still like content marketing best. 🙂
Need help creating your content marketing strategy and/or content? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, reply below, or give me a call (or text, text is better, what with all the phone spam) at 301-275-7496.
About the Cheeky A-Z Guide to Content Marketing.
There are groaning shelves of books and whitepapers you can read about content and inbound marketing. What’s missing from (some) of them is the stuff between the cracks. The dirty, nuts and bolts examples of things that can go wrong and the random things that can go wonderfully well. I decided to run down the alphabet a letter at a time and highlight personal lessons learned from creating content for 25 years and from applying those content creation lessons to content marketing over the past decade-ish. I hope you enjoy.