What’s Happening To Inbound Marketing “MPG”?

ethanol-addedInbound marketing has a couple of big problems.  By that I mean many well-intentioned companies especially those that are just starting their own inbound marketing program are facing two considerable issues.

The first is a common one and that is unrealistic expectations like namely the amount of time and resource necessary to sustain and power an inbound program into a true conversion machine. Getting started is hard. Staying with it just like any good habit is even harder and for inbound that means generating good content and lots of it, day in and day out.

Secondly, the “per unit energy” of online content is going down in a manner of speaking. Content is the primary fuel that powers an inbound program and like what happened when our gov’t mandated the addition of ethanol to our gasoline, suddenly it took more fuel to go the same distance; ethanol just doesn’t have the same energy content and punch. So what in the world does this have to do with inbound you ask?

We are experiencing an astronomical, exponential growth in online content which is the digital equivalent to adding ethanol to your gasoline except what your typical car will run on has a limit so ethanol content is capped; online content dilution has no cap, no governor and so it is getting worse as the volume of online content grows. As the amount of online content goes up, the greater the dilution of its power and so it takes more and more content to “go the same distance”  ie., powering a robust, organically driven inbound marketing program.  And the discomforting part about this equation is it will only get worse, not better. That is the trap and the spiral which I started thinking more about after I read Mark Schaefer’s post on “Content Shock”  http://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/01/06/content-shock/

Let’s put this in the context of the marketplace. Of course it’s competitive and not everyone is at the same stage in their marketing efforts. If you were one of the businesses that jumped on inbound early like back in 2009, consider yourself not just visionary but also lucky. That was like buying Apple stock when it was cheap. Just five years ago online content volume was a fraction of what it is today and there were fewer competitors vying for inbound dominance.  If you got started early it’s likely you’re in the lead and may well have locked it in; late starters will have to mount an extraordinary effort to just get in the race much less take away the lead.

So what’s a marketer to do? Bail? Hit the silk? Take the off ramp? No. Inbound is a vital tool and practice for all but the rarest of businesses. Instead, do like a good financial planner and have a balanced portfolio. A healthy mix of elements in a marketing program that integrate the best of both outbound and inbound by weaving them into an effective conversion process is just smart. Yes by all means have a polished brand, perfected positioning and well crafted content that caters to the needs of your audience and then use them wisely.

As an example, instead of just posting up a best practices on say, farm tractor maintenance and hoping a few people will find it on your optimized, dynamic website, promote it with outbound like an email or direct mail with a link that takes them to a landing page with a portion of your post shown. Then for the entire article in PDF, have a conversion form to collect basic info on new prospects or to update/track activity from current customers, which then goes into a CRM or MAS.

Or, perhaps look over the marketing calendar and strategically time the release of new content around any number of traditional marketing elements like a new product intro, trade show, newsletter or branding initiative and coordinate them so they support one another for greater effect (synergy).

The options are nearly endless but you get the idea. Inbound has a role but it’s not a panacea.  In light of the explosion of online content, there’s an ever greater need for it’s role to be carefully balanced with its ability to deliver reasonable “mileage” (MROI) within an integrated marketing approach.  Now more than ever content generation is something that warrants careful monitoring against the cost of other marketing practices and channels including traditional outbound.  I’m starting to think all inbound programs should carry a disclaimer like those on products and ads;

“Inbound is part of a healthy marketing program, it is not intended to replace it.”

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