Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Inbound Marketing Disorder

Today the new marketing rage is social media and inbound marketing. It started a few years ago when people started developing the opinion regarding email that nobody had any right to contact you via email unless they received your express permission written out on approved forms in triplicate that had to be approved by 13 committees, 24 czars, 5 departments and signed off by God himself. If you didn't follow that route you were not allowed to send even a single email to someone. Obviously I am being a bit factious, but hopefully you get the point.

Then along came social media and inbound marketing. The concept that started with email has moved into this area. Marketers are not to communicate with customers at all. Instead customers must come to the marketer and get the information they want. If you go to them it has become an unforgivable sin for which you must beg the marketing gods for forgiveness. Everyone is apparently SO busy these days that even the smallest interruption, no matter how it is done or how often is not to be tolerated. Marketers who break this sacred *new* rule will be shot on sight and survivors will be shot again!

The famous permission based marketer Seth Godin is a proponent of this school of thought. His blog routinely bashes the marketers of the world who dare communicate with their customers instead of waiting until they communicate with them. That strategy works well when you are an internationally acclaimed best selling author and have a household name among the marketing world and can probably pay people to help you generate content or do all the things necessary to run your business so you can sit around and develop content all day that will attract customers to you like bees to honey. However what is small to medium sized business that needs customers today to do? What if he or she doesn't have time, budget, or skill to become a best selling author and thought leader?

The point is that sometimes businesses just need to sell a product and people that are so busy that even the slightest interruption at any time is intolerable are also too busy to go read ALL the content that every marketer and business owner is now expected to generate so the customer comes to them instead of being notified about a new product or promotion. As marketers change tactics and evolve I believe it is possible to go too far in one direction or another. I don't disagree that that the traditional way of marketing is probably too much of the marketer telling people things and not enough of an interaction or conversation. However it is also possible to go too far the other way and assume all marketing must be this social media and/or inbound marketing approach and their is no room for direct or traditional marketing any longer under any circumstances. I believe the truth probably is somewhere in the middle.

Seth Godin makes a good living out of telling you all marketing is now social, web 2.0, permission based, inbound, etc., but then that works for him and he has made himself a household name telling us all that.

Let's look at another example...

There is a carpet store in anywhere USA. This store is a small family owned business and sells various flooring products such as carpet, tile, and hardwood flooring. They sell and install carpeting within a 50 mile radius of their store and up until today they have used display ads, direct mail, a simple 10 page web site, TV and radio to sell their services. The new media gods have decreed this company change or be destroyed. So using the books and tactics out there let's see how their new marketing program looks...

  1. They set up a huge web site with tons of great content on everything from every style of flooring ever made, but also gripping attention content like "flooring through the ages" and "the history of carpet from the Renaissance to today" and of course more mundane articles like how carpet is made and the process the fibers are treated with to be stain resistant. They have installed a live chat feature on their web site to be interactive. You can now contact them 24/7 through a live chat on their web site to chat about carpet. Their web site has tons of user reviews on carpet and they create a web site that rivals Amazon.com, but it is focused on selling flooring.

  2. They create hundreds of webinars on how to select flooring and decorate your house.

  3. They write white papers explaining the intricacies of making various styles of flooring and how to select just the right kind of flooring for your totally unique situation which is unlike anything anyone else has ever experienced in the history of the world.

  4. They start a world class blog to discuss carpeting and flooring to give decorating and style tips. They bring in the top designers from around the world to write on their blog.

  5. They post tons of podcasts on their site about how to pick carpeting out and the most intimate details of the construction and manufacturing of hardwood flooring. Today's topic is especially noteworthy, "hardwood flooring the real story"

  6. They shoot tons of videos on all the styles of flooring and give detailed video seminars on exactly how to pick out the perfect flooring for your situation.

  7. They start a Twitter feed and update their feed 30 times per day and get 12,000 followers who hang on their every post about flooring. It becomes a situation of running into a person dying of thirst in the desert and suddenly they get water! They keep drinking, but just can't get enough. They want MORE!

  8. They start a forum on the web about flooring and use all kinds of SEO strategies and links built into their signatures to cleverly get all their content indexed and entice people back to their enormous web site of content. Remember you can't tell them about it, they must discover it and be "invited" to visit.

  9. They also open up a Facebook account and set up a Facebook Fan page showing off their world class knowledge of the flooring industry. They post 900 pictures of various styles of flooring and houses it has been installed in.

  10. The owner of the shop writes some best selling books on flooring that take the carpeting world by storm and establish the owner as the undisputed world leader of flooring. He is put on the President's Council of Advisors for his flooring expertise and flown into sensitive flooring meetings and conferences around the world.
They have built a flooring information empire! The information is soooo compelling it goes viral! They have people from all over the world flooding their web site because of all the information they have. Now unfortunately for them the 5 competitors they have in town are not going to be outdone. They also spend piles and piles of cash to create rival strategies.

Before long the average flooring customer in anywhere USA can spend 5 decades reading and watching a staggering 327,000 pages of web and blog content on flooring! They can quit their job and watch 4 months of video and attend a whooping 357 webinars and in the spare time they have left they can read the 6,712 white papers they have downloaded on carpet. If they are still unsure of where to go they can start following these guys on Twitter and click all the "like" buttons on the Facebook Fan Pages or read 1.7 million user generated posts and reviews that have now accumulated on these web sites.

Or everyone can agree to tolerate a little interruption from time to time in their mailbox, email account or on TV to learn about a sale or new product at the local carpet store. Those people that are interested in buying new carpet or flooring will go check out the basic information they need on the little old 10 page brochure web site get the store hours, directions and some basic information about what the store carries and what they might be looking for. Then they will take an hour and half out of their busy life and go see some choices in person, feel them, see the pros and cons of each style and brand, get a price, buy it and have it installed the next day.

What will the rest of the people that aren't interested in buying new carpet, which will include our example customer in the paragraph above the day after tomorrow, they IGNORE IT! And that is OK!

The ridicoulous example above is written to demonstrate that I think we have gone a bit too far with this whole social media/inbound marketing concept. The concept works great for some busineses, but it is not right for everyone. The fact is the ideal marketing mix is somewhere in the middle as are most things. For some businesses the social media and inbound marketing approach works wonderfully and should be used, but for other small businesses the simple web site and direct marketing model are just fine.

This latest FAD with social media is just that, a FAD. I saw it during the dot com era when every single consultant and expert was absolutely certain the rules of business have changed forever and nothing would again be the same. I am hearing many of those same voices this time saying EVERYONE must follow this strategy or go out of business. There is NO middle ground. The traditional approach to marketing is totally dead and so will you be if you keep following it.

I want everyone to first take a deep breath and then take one thing away from this article. The rules of business are still functioning and it is OK to use traditional approaches to marketing in the right circumstances and in other circumstances a new approach should be considered, but it truly is a case by case basis and a middle approach is still acceptable.

Now assuming you want more than one thing to take away, consider that social media will still be here tomorrow morning. For some businesses it is a great strategy. Also understand that while I did call it a FAD and I believe that to be true, I also believe it will morph and change and find it's rightful place in the stars and all the marketing planets will continue to revolve and universe will not end today if you don't immediately implement this strategy. During the dot com era I heard that people like Warren Buffet simply didn't "get it" any longer. He was the old school of investing and the new economy and style of investing was to buy stock in companies that didn't have a single customer and could burn through 30 million dollars of cash in 6 months because they were the next big thing.

Fast forward to today and Warren Buffet is still one of the richest people on planet earth worth tens of billions of dollars. He continues to make more money every single year. Most of the people that owned the gravity defying dot com companies of the late 90s are still not billionaires. What is true today is that there is a more vibrant Internet as a result of the dot com era. There are great technologies out there and wonderful companies. People have found what works and what doesn't some things stayed and some things got left by the side of the road. I promise the same thing will happen in a few years with social media. Some of it will stay, some will go, and we will have a better Internet and marketing world in the future.

"What gets us into trouble is not what we don't know. It's what we know for sure that just ain't so." - Mark Twain

This quote starts off the first chapter of the book Inbound Marketing. I would suggest you keep that quote handy as you read the book.