IN Bound Marketing

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Northeast Wisconsin companies find success attracting new audiences through latest marketing trend

By Sean Fitzgerald, New North B2B publisher

One of Appleton-based Weidert Group’s most recent success stories comes from a specialty manufacturer in Pennsylvania whose estimators are busy preparing bids on proposal requests it didn’t even seek. The manufacturer is literally attracting these job contracts.

What’s more, said Weidert president Greg Linnemanstons, is that neither he or any of his colleagues from the Weidert staff have ever met face to face with this promising client.

Sounds like a far stretch from the time when businesses would cast out a wide net to promote their product or service, wait a few weeks, and then reel in the net to determine how many fish were caught.

Welcome to the world of inbound marketing, a distinct change in paradigm from the longstanding pedagogy of traditional marketing in which one passively pursues an intended audience of clients and hopes such pursuit will ultimately result in a sale.

Inbound marketing is about actively attracting an audience of potential customers that wants your products and services by freely sharing information they crave.

It’s not about driving traffic to your website, at least not in the sense of driving a herd of cattle to market. Mention the phrase “driving traffic” to Linnemanstons during a discussion of inbound marketing and he’s likely to pause the conversation temporarily for clarification.

“You don’t drive traffic anywhere on a web site. You attract it,” said Linnemanstons, who speaks to audiences of marketers across northeast Wisconsin and beyond extolling the virtues of this contemporary age of attracting audiences of would-be clients. His firm, Weidert Group, became students of inbound marketing – first learning to use it to attract clients to its marketing agency, then using its evolving practice to help its clients achieve similar results in attracting new business.

“I had an epiphany that this is the direction that marketing is heading,” he noted.

What’s fueling the trend toward inbound marketing?

Consumer behaviors have changed to the point in which most major buying decisions – whether business or personal – will at one point involve a search on the Internet to research that purchase and often seek out reviews from others. Such a search could turn up a passing comment on Twitter, a more carefully thought out perspective from an individual writing on a blog, or information directly from the web site for the provider of the purchase under consideration.

Google itself recognizes this trend, and is continually modifying its search parameters to genuinely help those researching a topic. That means Google is measuring interactions through social media, rewarding authentic content with higher rankings, and penalizing those who attempt to disingenuously circumvent its search algorithms.

As a result, optimizing your web site to show up in searches is critical for inbound marketing to demonstrate success.

“You better show up on a search, or you’ve put a wall up around yourself, and you’re missing most of the traffic (that should be going to your web site),” Linnemanstons said.

Getting started

Inbound marketing involves lots of moving parts – not always moving in the same direction – so coordination of efforts might feel a bit tricky. Don’t fret, though. Assembling and executing an inbound marketing strategy takes time and needs to evolve as your business is able to expend marketing resources.

“The analogy we use for inbound marketing is that it’s like becoming physically fit,” Linnemanstons said, noting one has to balance eating right, improving exercise, cutting back on bad habits – all modestly at first – before meaningful results can eventually be demonstrated.

The key to attracting interest in one’s web site – and ultimately in your company’s product or service – is generating original, authentic content with regular frequency. Linnemanstons said clients often aren’t sure what they’d write about in a blog post, or worry that they’d have to invent a topic simply to develop content. It’s not that tough, regardless of whether you’re selling the hottest new lawn and gardening tool or selling a product as seemingly esoteric as parts for the quill housing assembly on a millworking machine. Just write blog posts answering the common questions customers ask when your firm’s sales representatives are out calling on clients. The well-thought-out responses to those inquiries are precisely the kind of content that will attract the audience of customers you want.

Be open and be honest with the content you share, Linnemanstons said. He said too many people worry about revealing “industry secrets” they believe they found which might help competitors improve their standing.

“People worried about giving away proprietary information in this day and age are looking the wrong direction,” he noted.

Social media tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter – the predominant platforms on the web, though others can be just as effective for certain audiences – serve as the avenue for sharing and delivering content to your targeted audience on the Web.

Once an intended audience visits a blog or visits your site, they become a potential lead – they’re attracted to the content you’re willing to share, and chances are, they want more. Offering some call to action, whether it’s a download, an opportunity to receive regular updates through email, or another promotion allows you to collect ever-valuable contact information for these qualified sales leads, Linnemanstons noted.

From that point, converting the leads to actual sales can take any number of forms, including more traditional outreach by phone or a visit in person. Remember, these aren’t cold calls – these prospects have already demonstrated a high degree of interest in the content you’ve provided online, and likely in the product or service you provide as well.

Ministering to those lacking faith

Before MariBeth Theusch and her husband, Kim, opened Butcher Block Meats & Cheese in Oshkosh last November, friends and confidants had advised them both on offering virtual sneak previews of their boutique butcher shop through its web site using social media.

MariBeth, an accountant by trade, and Kim – an engineer – were making their entrepreneurial debut and didn’t have theoretical or practical experience in marketing. Both were skeptical of the effectiveness of social media – particularly among a younger audience that doesn’t remember anything other than the meat counter in a supermarket.

“We were dragged in (to social media) kicking and screaming,” Theusch admitted. “We don’t do Facebook and Twitter ourselves.”

But their business would appear on both. Through the suggestion of a trusted marketing partner, Butcher Block began working with Oshkosh-based Candeo Creative in August a year ago to develop a social media strategy which would attract carnivores to the butcher shop’s web site. The team at Candeo set a series of goals for web site visits, “likes” and “shares” from Facebook, and other measurements to determine the effectiveness of the inbound marketing strategy after one year of implementing it fully. Theusch’s husband, Kim – doubtful that the firm could achieve such lofty results – bet Candeo owner Zack Pawlosky a box of steaks they wouldn’t achieve the targets for online visibility they set forth last fall.

“They met (the reporting goals) and exceeded them at the six-month mark as opposed to the one-year mark,” said Theusch. “My husband owes them a box of steaks.”

Despite the heavier-than-anticipated volume of visitors to its web site, Theusch acknowledged such virtual success hasn’t exactly translated into crowds breaking down the doors to the shop and cleaning out the meat and cheese counter by the end of each day, at least to the end that it’s been able to be measured.

Though the store has only been open nine months at this point, Theusch said word-of-mouth promotion of Butcher Block Meats & Cheese has provided the most encouragement to its first-time customers to set foot in the store, though she recognizes social media has compelled much of the success of word-of-mouth promotion.

Raising standards for performance

At first glance, it might appear an insurance carrier selling property and casualty coverage to businesses and organizations exclusively through a channel of independents agents has no place in the social media sphere.

In some respects, that misplaced notion created the opportunity for Appleton-based Integrity Insurance to set itself apart from its competitors.

“For us, our goal is always to raise the bar on what our agents can expect from us in terms of marketing,” said Tim McAdow, director of marketing and communications for Integrity. “Inbound was a way to raise the bar. At the end of the day, it’s about helping our agents generate leads.”

Developing content isn’t new to Integrity, McAdow said. Content answering the questions agents and policyholders might ask has long been available on brochures, web pages and other marketing material. Attracting customers through inbound meant getting started by retooling that information for delivery on social media platforms.

Late last summer, the executive team at Integrity decided to make the necessary investment on inbound marketing, calling upon Weidert Group to guide its team members on executing an effective strategy, and ultimately, to train its network of independent agents to attract new policyholders through inbound tactics. The goals of the strategy are relatively simple: educate agents and policyholders; increase brand awareness; convert web visitors into leads; and lastly, to convert prospects into actual clients.

Integrity Insurance does use Facebook and Twitter to push its informational content out onto the Web, but LinkedIn has been the primary social media platform to reach its intended audience of business owners and managers, McAdow said.

Within the past four months since the insurance carrier’s inbound marketing strategy has been fully implemented, McAdow said Integrity has grown its online following by about 60 percent, and substantially surpassed initial expectations for lead conversion.

“We actually exceeded by three times the number of people we planned to convert into leads,” McAdow said.

But McAdow noted it’s been critical that Integrity Insurance clearly think about its return on marketing investment – its ROMI, he referred to it in short. The web traffic data Integrity Insurance receives through its integrated HubSpot software allows it a broad array of tracking mechanisms and provides a regularly updated dashboard of activity to help identify trends.

“We want to make sure we make marketing investments that make sense for our agency partners,” McAdow said.

Help from technology

Inbound marketing provides a heap of feedback on what’s working and with whom it’s working. As a result, obtaining, reviewing and responding to data collected from web traffic related to content shared online is critical to the success of an inbound strategy, and resources must be delegated to data collection and review.

Most firms aren’t ready or able to dedicate an entire staff member or more toward such a task, but fortunately technology-based solutions make the task much more manageable for a price.

Weidert Group began using HubSpot a few years ago before jumping in with both feet as a certified partner for the all-in-one inbound marketing software. Its sophisticated capabilities allow users to define any and all aspects of web traffic they’d prefer to track, noted Linnemanstons.

A performance scorecard can easily be assembled to offer daily updated metrics on web traffic patterns to a user’s site. Marketing – like any critical strategic decision made in operating a business – performs most effectively when executed with up-to-date, accurate information.

“It’s having ready access to good analytics that allows us all to make better decisions,” Linnemanstons said.