How inspired are your reasons for doing marketing? At INBOUND 2014, the largest gathering for inbound marketers in the world, it was clear that attendees believe marketing can actually change the way companies around the world do business.
Headliners included important public thinkers like Malcolm Gladwell, Martha Stewart, Simon Sinek and many other important figures. But for me, the most compelling ideas came from the real practitioners of inbound marketing—those who strive to break down the organizational barriers to marketing progress in companies around the world.
After reflecting on the many messages circulating at INBOUND 2014, I think there are 4 important ideas that marketers and business leaders should take away to apply to their own attempts at business growth. Note: these may not be the most popular concepts expressed all last week, but from my perspective, these had the most game-changing potential for businesses of all shape and size.
1. Companies that Ensure the Entire Organization Adopts Inbound Marketing See the Most Value
More and more, the businesses that are trying to adopt inbound marketing are ill-equipped to make the commitment to its high-impact approach. Back when inbound marketing was new, the companies that adopted an inbound strategy were already setup for an "inbound" culture.
Nowadays, more and more companies are hopping on the inbound marketing bandwagon with little experience adopting new, non-traditional techniques. For instance, in the industrial distribution and manufacturing sectors, non-marketers aiming for business growth may not realize the untapped potential of newer, less tested strategies.
That’s why thought leaders like Simon Sinek, Marcus Sheridan and HubSpot’s Mike Volpe are thinking more and more about how organization relates to effective marketing implementation. It turns out that when whole companies understand inbound marketing—often beginning with the top dogs in the C-Suite—they're far more successful in executing it properly.
We used to think that it was crucial to get the marketing director on board with a new approach. Now, it’s clear that sales, operations, finance, and leadership all need to understand inbound marketing in order for the company to make the kind of powerful change that inbound can create.
2. Content Marketing Actually Declined in 2014 Because Marketers Aren't Analyzing Enough
Because of recent success, most online marketers make the assumption that content marketing will only gain speed as the most reliable form of marketing online. But it appears that too many content marketers fail to analyze the situation for what it is.
According to Gartner, content marketing was on the rise in 2011 and 2012 as it became the second most funded marketing tactic after digital advertising, hovering between 10% and 11% of marketing budgets. However, according to Jake Sorofman, a lead analyst and regular publisher at Gartner for Marketing Leaders, trends in 2014 point to a significant shift in how companies today view the investment in content creation and management.
In their report last January, only 9.3% of marketing budgets were given over to content creation efforts—that’s below online advertising, social media marketing, website creation, mobile marketing, and digital commerce. Sorofman, who spoke at the INBOUND 2014 attributes this shift to the fact that content marketers aren’t proving the value of the work because they’re not focused on the numbers.
When you think about it, it takes a special kind of person to have both the creativity required to produce lots of content and also the analytical mindset to measure success quantitatively. Nonetheless, according to Sorofman, this is what content-focused marketing requires. If marketing leaders convinced of content’s value want a full round of funding, they’ll need to be prepared to analyze the ROI of content, down to the relationship between keyword strategy and leads generated. Check out more of Sorofman’s great data on the matter on the Gartner for Marketing Leaders blog.
3. The Best Inbound Marketers are DARC
Perhaps a solution to the previous lesson from INBOUND 2014, another important idea shared throughout the INBOUND conference is that the marketers of the future need to be DARC—very DARC.
This idea comes straight from HubSpot’s Mike Volpe, in his description of what makes a good inbound marketer, regardless of what company she’s at. DARC stands for Digital, Analytical, Reach, and Content, and from Volpe’s perspective, no person is worth hiring for marketing if they don’t have all four.
It’s the kind of recruiting strategy that values well-roundedness over depth of knowledge. For Volpe, being “digital” means that a marketer can “speak digital” without an accent—a digital native or somebody with lots of experience working in new media. Being both “analytical” and “content-oriented” means that marketers should have a natural propensity to create attractive content without problem, but they also enthusiastically aim to measure the impact of that content. As Sorofman described, too often marketers want to produce creative content without actually aiming to understand the performance of the marketing content they produce.
Finally—and maybe most importantly—“reach” is the ingredient for identifying marketers who actually know how to promote and market whatever they create. From Volpe’s perspective, promotion doesn’t really happen because of an organization’s brand; it blooms from the collective reach of the organizational components: the employees. If there’s one way to grow your following, it’s to hire somebody who has a natural inclination to attract a following—to have reach.
4. Personalized Marketing is the Biggest Differentiator in Digital Marketing Today
Personalization is a concept that marketers have been talking about for a while, but few companies have actually taken the time and energy to implement. The big impact of a personalization strategy is that contact is no longer created along general customer interests. Instead, content should be targeted to specific, segmented lists of contacts.
The only problem is that few people have been able to personalize content in real time. Until now, the only personalization that has existed for most companies was in writing different emails to different segmented lists of contacts.
At INBOUND 2014, the talk among marketers was clear: Companies that adopt the technology to build a website that responds to an organized set of contacts will have a supreme advantage in funneling leads toward a purchase. Their communication will be more direct; the prospects will find the content more helpful, and sales-qualified leads will be able to make decisions with a stronger user experience behind them.
There were multiple sessions on personalization at INBOUND 2014, but it was clear that very few companies have the foundational organizational work completed to produce powerful personalized content. HubSpot’s Content Optimization System is among the few products on the market that enable website design with full personalization capabilities, but because most companies don’t have an organized database of leads with complete data on industry, target persona, and contact role, marketers’ ability to create targeted content is still somewhat limited.
Those companies that spend the time to identify their targeting goals and to complete the necessary database work will enable the creation of content that could redefine how we view lead conversions.
Why These Marketing Strategies? Why Right Now?
Overall, these four INBOUND 2014 ideas all point to the same thing: the barriers presented by a failure within companies to organize and plan effectively.
If a company's leadership doesn't pay attention to its marketers' qualitative abilities to implement inbound marketing or its organizational path to adopting a new marketing plan, then there will always be a low likelihood of reaching inbound marketing's full potential. Similarly if there's a lack of commitment to think through the foundational work needed to execute powerful marketing strategies like personalized targeting, then it will be harder and harder to find success among companies that are more committed to a specialized approach.