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"Know Me Before You Need Me" Is Inbound Marketing

inbound-marketingYears ago, I don't want to say how many but it is more than quite a few, I worked in the newspaper business as an advertising account executive.

Something we did back then were TOMA initiatives. TOMA was short for Top Of Mind Awareness. Maybe some of you remember these efforts.  They weren't limited to newspapers, TV and radio had their versions of these too.  The notion was having businesses that have a longer sales cycle, or don't really have something they could convince people to buy until they really had a need for it to advertise on a frequent basis. The goal of the advertising strategy was to have people feel connected and familiar with a business so that when the need did arise, the advertised business would be the first place that came to mind.

The programs worked well for those who took them seriously and applied the entire strategy.  It worked incredibly well for those who really embraced the idea and made it part of their entire business plan. To have a high level of success it had to be about much more than just running frequent ads in the paper (or on TV, the radio, etc).  Those who had success with it had to set up an entire process using the advertising as part of it instead of depending only on the ads.  Those who didn't do so well approached it with more of a "run-the-ads-and-sit-back-and-wait-for-the-phone-to-ring" approach.

Successful Long Term Marketing Plan

When a TOMA plan worked it was because it was viewed as a long term plan. Typically people expected, and I think many still do now, that any type of advertising was a way to meet the monthly or perhaps quarterly sales goal.  Run the ads and see the sales ring in as soon as the paper hit the streets.  Unless you're the only one offering a product or service in a 200 mile radius that probably won't happen.  It didn't work that way then and it surely doesn't now when there are so many more ways for people to find something they want.  The market is much more diversified now so you can't count on enough consumers seeing your message this way.

What you do instead is much more similar to a branding approach in that you must create a long term, continuous way of engaging with people, build friendships with them, before they need you.  It takes time, effort and commitment but it is how the more successful businesses are operating these days. 

How Businesses Get Leads and Sales from Social Media

The short term, live-in-the-moment business owner is often frustrated because they just can't understand why they keep hearing all this talk about generating new business from Internet tools like websites, blogging, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and email marketing.  They've been to seminar after networking event, paid their $25, $100 or more to hear someone explain how to promote businesses online and don't have a thing to show for it except a trail of wasted time and money.  I know how they feel because in the early days of my discovery of online marketing I had the same problem.  I also got kind of angry, feeling so ripped off after walking out of a session like that thinking "all I know after hearing that is that I really need to be on whatever platform they were talking about". In other words, no more than I did when I got there.  I sold advertising for a living and it still took me a little bit of time to connect all the dots.

Newsflash, a lot of us business managers, owners, and marketing professionals are forced into the short term planning mindset because we are pulled in so many directions.  Limited budgets, a tough economy, and other factors (maybe even just our personalities) have us hopping from one thing to the next at warp speed. Then, seeing another one of these success stories (oh no!! my competitor has a better website than mine) and you get something like a feeling of tiny hot needles stabbing into you that launches you into some kind of panic effort to catch up.  We all know panic marketing plans don't usually give results or a good return on investment but we have to do something. Now! 

My Inbound Marketing Isn't Working

I wish I had a dollar for everytime I heard this remark, heard it implied, or flat out said that inbound marketing doesn't work. People often don't "get" what inbound marketing is and wrongly assume it doesn't work because they really didn't experience it. Because of this it isn't for everyone.  If a business doesn't have the time to be patient and the commitment to follow the process - and be assured it is a process - they will waste a lot of time, money, effort and also an opportunity.  Just like those TOMA campaigns it will not work if shortcuts and "hurry-it-up" thinking gets mixed in there.  It's particularly tough on the smaller businesses, who likely need it and could benefit from it the most, since the owner is usually wearing a lot of hats and probably isn't interested in or able to think too much about elaborate marketing strategy.

When we've lost a client it has always been because they would not participate in the overall process of inbound, insisting instead on changing parts or all of it or going down other paths in a quest for the overnight solution to their revenue goals. I've seen this same attitude dozens of times back in the day when I talked to businesses about their newspaper ads. Everybody wants that big hit, run the ad, put up the website, set up a Facebook page, create a Twitter account, publish a YouTube video followed by a stampede of customers. Easy prey for the companies who market on those kinds of promises because the business owner is already mentally bought into the notion that there is an easy fix that they simply haven't found yet.  Turns out they are right, there is, but it requires a bit more effort.

With the overnight success attitude, the disappointment is deep when this kind of marketing effort doesn't work as an overnight solution. Instead, this marketing strategy is part of building a business. The flash in the pan will vanish quickly, the half hearted approach won't be rewarded and businesses are going to fail because they are missing inbound strategy. For it to work, there must be a unique selling proposition - it could be as simple as being the only local business offering some service that's available somewhere else too - and you must offer value and have a passion for the success of your business. Inbound marketing is telling your story, explaining why your the best choice and a display of genuineness for the customer's best interests. If you really only care about running people through and taking their money please, please don't bother with inbound.   

Another common theme with clients we've lost has been focusing on the wrong measures of success. We've found that getting entrenched ideas out of someone's mind is pretty near impossible. Business owners and marketing managers will say a goal out loud - it likely is the true goal - but they are so rooted in some idea that is actually hurting their own effort that they just can't get results or won't stay the course to get them.  We've all heard the old saying that change is hard, for some it is near impossible.  Businesses fail for a lot of reasons and failure to adjust marketing strategy happens to be one of them. 

Does Your Business Model Have An Expiration Date?

Some businesses will fail purely because they cannot or will not adapt to the changes. It's not impossible for a business to thrive without inbound marketing strategy right now. The day is coming when it will because we are in that transition phase now (it actually started several years ago). The switch to automobiles is a good example. The horse and buggy manufacturers still stayed in business, had some loyal customers, people who didn't want a car. However, over time there were more and more children who grew up without ever having ridden in a buggy pulled by horses. When they got old enough to need their own transportation, the buggy sales dwindled down until business closed shop or embraced innovation to stay in business. Because it was a gradual shift, a lot of horse drawn carriage businesses were able to insist the automobile was no threat to them.  I guess it wasn't if they meant for their business to have an expiration date.  The ones who stayed in business evolved their business model in some way in order to keep from packing up and closing shop.

To avoid fading into the past, learning how this new way of marketing should be applied to your business is the first step. Most businesses that are established and have a good product or service offering can start seeing progress in 6 months or so if they are willing to put all the pieces together. The good news is most businesses have the pieces all around them and don't even know it.  How do you know what you have and what you need to start moving toward an inbound model? Start by learning what you need then taking inventory to get a top down view. This will form the foundation of an overall strategic plan to build a core process for growing your business into the future.  Inbound online marketing can have a broad range of do-it-yourself aspects to it and we support everyone we work with in that approach. The better you understand it, the more likely you are to have success with it. Slow and steady can absolutely win the race! Go at your own pace, learn it first and then apply it.

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