Is it inbound marketing or is it just me?

Unsplash Stijn Swinnen Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam

I’m an inbound marketing noob. I’m still learning; still questioning. I started working for a HubSpot agency and inducted myself through the certification videos to get a handle on it all. The videos were common sense, really. Like, ‘here is everything you’ll ever need and it’s laid out for you – follow this methodology and you can do no wrong.’

I come from a client-side, B2C content background, but it didn’t feel like a stretch to enter the world of B2B and inbound. HubSpot makes sense – familiar, like content marketing.

Yeah, well, I’ve had some challenges.

Aren’t content marketing and inbound marketing the same thing?

Here’s what HubSpot has to say about inbound: “Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.”

And content marketing? I’ve followed Joe Pulizzi since first becoming aware of this thing called ‘content’. He founded Content Marketing Institute and here you’ll find the definition: “Content marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience – with the objective of driving profitable customer action.”

At first glance, content marketing and inbound marketing are the same thing, right?

Not in practice – in my experience.

‘Quality over quantity’ has been drilled into me throughout my entire content career.

I began as a designer and took care in what I produced. “We are communicators. We should be obsessed with the details that enhance the effectiveness of our communications,” says Jan Conradi, Design Educator.

Later on, I entered the field of web content strategy and applied this to the student experience at a couple of universities; quickly learning the value of empathy. If any audience is going to hold you to high standards, it’s students.

Kristina Halvorson has been my web content strategy mentor for the better part of a decade and Anne Handley – my quality content coach (they’re not aware of this, of course.)

Fast forward to HubSpot. Their videos, templates, worksheets, courses, exams – everything you need – it’s all there.

What happens when you give people everything and say, “Here, follow this”? That’s exactly what happens.

Do most HubSpot agencies feel the same to you? We use the same tools, we repeat the same what feel like buzzwords and stories (have you heard the one about the swimming pool guy?), and we fall into a trap of producing the same quality of work.

Another thing I’ve noticed is that people can become obsessed with the process – the methodology – ticking the inbound boxes. ‘We need to make sure we place this keyword into the post five times’ rather than ‘is our persona going to get any value from this?’

You know what I’m obsessed with? The reader. The viewer. The user. The experience they have with our content.

Does inbound care about humans? Is it inbound or is it us – do we lack empathy when we apply this methodology? Maybe we just like living in a pattern of predictable results.

But doing the same thing over and over is dangerous for us marketers.

If you use a template, a machine is going to do it for you.

AI is coming for our marketing jobs; our copywriting jobs; our web design jobs. Watson is already cranking out content. It’s composing symphonies, creating art and writing blog posts. (Most B2B blog posts look like they’ve been written by robots anyway.) Chris Penn shares the confronting truth about cognitive computing in a Marketing Over Coffee Podcast episode, AI Part 2: World of Watson.

Are you interested only in inbound optimisation? Are you happy with purely following the inbound playbook? Watson will do that quicker and better than you – and it doesn’t take sick leave and vacation days.

Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose give us their views on algorithmic content in their PNR podcast episode Is It Content Marketing Or Sales Collateral (among others). Content is already being automated (such as sports articles), but the content that’s going to be harder to automate is the deep-thinking content. Stand for something, use a particular tone of voice, automate what can be automated, but add your original point of view and create experiences that make a difference to your customer’s life.

Dave Pell warns us in a recent Next Draft email blast, “Automation is killing jobs faster than they can be outsourced (…) How long will it be before you lose your job to a robot?”

You don’t need you to write like a robot. We have robots for that.

Steve Rayson writes that HubSpot published more than 4000 posts within a 12 months period, compared with Social Media Examiner’s 400 posts in the same period. On average, HubSpot’s posts were shared 600 times and Social Media Examiner’s were shared 3900 times per post, which totalled 2.8m shares for HubSpot and 1.8m shares for Social Media Examiner.

Shares equals eyeballs. If your strategy is to serve ads to make money (*cough* Buzzfeed), these stats are a delicious justification for producing a large amount of junk food articles.

But, it’d cost a lot to create this much content, right?

Through The Marketing Companion Podcast we learn that a Chicago agency quoted Steve Rayson US$250 for 1000 blog posts a month.

unsplash Nolan Issac

My flat white costs more than a blog post.

Steve cautions this high-volume strategy may not work if you’re just starting out – that you’ll first need to build an audience with authoritative, quality content over time.

But what is the cost of building a trustworthy brand, creating an audience of advocates, providing an experience you can be proud of; then spamming your fans and potential customers with bot-written content? If you’re purely measuring click rate and website visits, maybe you don’t mind taking a hit to your bounce rate and un-subscribes, not to mention brand perception.

Sure, there’s an economic argument for this strategy, but if you – like me – can’t stomach polluting the sea of content with dry, fluffy, unoriginal, keyword-riddled snoozefests – high five. Let’s unite for a better world.

This is just the beginning of my inbound marketing … journey. (Gawd I hate that word – can you tweet me a better word?). I have a lot to learn, a lot to question and a lot of room to do things differently.

Spoiler – I’m not the only one questioning the ‘accepted marketing playbook’.

In the Jumping the Shark episode of Jay Acunzo’s podcast, Unthinkable, Dave Gerhardt of Drift schools us on B2B marketing basics:

  1. Drive people to your website.
  2. Get them to fill out a form.
  3. ‘Nurture them’ – which means spam the hell out of them until either they buy from you (which only 1–2% of people are going to do), unsubscribe, or die.

Drift’s CEO also hated doing things just because everyone else does them, so they rejected the practice of gating content.

Read more about how Drift unlocked the gates on its content and set it free. And yeah, it worked. Drift grew their product adoption by 30%, their traffic has doubled and each month, and more people sign up to their email list than when their content was trapped behind lead forms. They now treat people like humans, rather than leads, and write fewer, valuable pieces.

Dave laments that everything is expected to be direct-response marketing (paraphrasing), ‘We got this number of sign-ups from this blog post.’ Drift made their B2B strategy fit their business culture and they’re doing better than fine.

Todd Henry pumped me up in his book Louder Than Words, “To develop your authentic voice, you must overcome the forces that keep you in a place of conformity and comfort.”

unsplash Jonathan Simcoe

Know the rules well, so you can break them effectively – Dalai Lama XIV

Let’s take the best lessons from B2B’s marketing playbook and change the ending.

Do you work in B2B? Do you take pride in producing quality content? Please let me know how you stay true your standards – I’d love to connect with you here or over social media (we can have a therapeutic chat.)

I’m a nobody, but I promise more of my posts on this topic will be, you know, helpful. There’s a lot more to unpack. 

I had to set a personal ‘theme word’ for 2017 and I chose ‘meaning’. Is my career personally meaningful? Am I making meaningful contributions to the lives of others? Sharing my experiences, connecting with people, questioning the status quo, and making shit better – these give my life meaning.  


One comment

  1. What a fantastic read. Good luck with 2017 and thanks for taking the time to pen down your thoughts! Hope you find ‘meaning’ and drive your career to your life goal.

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