It's not easy to turn old-style outbound marketers that drive noisy campaigns into inbound digital marketers who genuinely care about your customers and want to help them achieve their goals. Many executives, business owners, and startup entrepreneurs struggle with this. How do you break this outbound culture? How do you make the change less painful? In the last decade the digital automation toolset has exploded. There are so many ways to make more noise, to replicate what others do, to easily scale things. These tools that have become second nature to us have in turn made us lazy. We have gotten used to carelessly doing many things at once rather than doing one thing really well.
This is how students have been educated in marketing schools for the last 15 years. Ok, not every school. Good schools still also teach young marketers about audience personas, great copywriting and doing proper market research. But in most professional environments the pressure for quick results often has marketers fall back on the skills they have been taught to outwit a system, hack their way to growth, and to effectively game Search Engines. This is where the problem has its root cause. We utilize SEO because we're not focused on understanding what people are searching for, why they are searching for it, who is doing the searching, what their needs are, or how they are trying to solve their problems. Instead, we're focused on what they're typing in and whether we pop up on the top Google search list. Of course it's great if we get to be the top choice. Google became very good at predicting and understanding who deserves to be the number one search result based on who has the most relevant answer to the question being asked. But this shouldn't be the sole focus of the marketer.
The marketer needs to go back to his or her roots. I don't mean going back to the Advertising Age of the 60s and 70s, on Madison Avenue, when it was about spray-and-pray, and reaching as many eyeballs as possible without worrying about relevance. What I mean is getting back to the basics. Doing market research. Understanding people's pain points. Testing certain assumptions. Discovering what customers like or don't like, what appeals to them. This skill does not get enough focus in marketing schools and is not practiced in business.
I interview a lot of people for all kinds of marketing jobs. In the first 5 to 10 minutes a staggering number of them always ask the same question, "How much budget will I have to spend?". It amazes me. It's the wrong question to ask, especially at a job interview where you're supposed to display your best qualifications and added value. Talking about how you can spend your way to get to your marketing objective is not a good start for an interview. Unfortunately, many marketing interviews include this discussion, and that is plain wrong.
I'm not fully anti things like paid advertising, pay-per-click, boosting a tweet or Facebook advertising, which can be extremely helpful, especially if you have a great product that you know your customers want. If you've done enough research to understand them, if you've worked hard to create your service, it's fair for you to spend money on promoting it, because if you don’t, nobody will know about it and experience its benefits. It's like writing a good book first and then hiring an agent to make sure people know about you as an author and know that you wrote a book.
Achieving cultural change in the typical marketer who loves optimizing pay-per-click campaigns and buying people's time to write great content is incredibly hard. Why? Because those marketers haven't studied their customers’ needs and have no clue what a great content topic might be. To put a stop to this, at least temporarily, tell your team that they cannot spend money on advertising or pay for content until they build customer personas and grow content organically. And not just any content, but stuff that people love and are linking to. Organically grown content will start ranking for certain keywords because people will genuinely care. This should be your first rule of business: achieving organic performance before you allow your team to do pay-per-click or paid advertising. The funny thing is, once your content is relevant and you have a better authority, you'll be seen as someone known to write interesting things, and pay-per-click will become much cheaper and more efficient. It will accelerate your marketing.
This is how you change the outbound culture: You put a stop to shortcuts for a while. You almost force your team to show that they “get” your customers, that they not only know how to write great content for them, but also how to improve your product and services to wow them. Take one step at a time, and you will change their marketing game, their behavior, and their focus.
Your to-do list:
- Stop spending money on advertising. Have a meeting with your team and start working on an organic growth plan.
- Talk to your customers. They will tell you what they need. They will inspire you to write content they will care about. Do what they ask for, ask them for feedback, stay in constant communication, and you will have plenty of content topics to choose from.
- Meet your customers face to face. Host events, throw parties, invite them to company dinners. Real interaction with one customer will tell you more than ten phone calls.