5 Approaches to Inbound Marketing and Your Soul

I have become fascinated with Internet and Social Media Marketing. This is probably dangerous as I know almost nothing about marketing as a profession or a discipline.

I recently took over an Email bulletin for a local organization and found myself quickly obsessing over usage statistics and A/B tests, wherein I found that with the newfangled technology, freely available to anyone, I can easily run two different designs (called “Campaigns” in marketing parlance) at the same time to see which one “performs” the best with the target audience.

For example, I can run one Email campaign split into “version A” with a catchy subject line and “version B” with a boring and generic subject line and see which one more people open. Better to be interesting and useful than boring and vague, I figure, but the stats either confirm or refute my hypothesis.

This kind of analytic power stumbling into my inept hands is both exhilarating and potential cause for concern.

To serve this organization well, I thought it wise to learn some best practices to make sure I didn’t break anything or unwittingly drive the list users away. This quest for hastily cobbled-together wisdom eventually led me to a book on Email Marketing, which in turn led me to another book on something called “Inbound Marketing”, aptly named, Inbound Marketing. If you are as much of a newbie to Internet Marketing as I am, you may wonder what Inbound Marketing is. Hubspot coined the term originally and defines it thusly:

Instead of the old outbound marketing methods of buying ads, buying email lists, and praying for leads, 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.

In other words, instead of pushing ads and messages out to people who probably don’t care, you develop content that pulls people to your message. This sounds great in theory, but something about this exploration has led me to question the pros and cons of various approaches to Inbound Marketing I have observed. What I have learned is that there is a virtual arms race by organizations trying to capture your time and attention without alienating you. This thirst for traffic can easily lead someone to sacrifice his or her soul if left unchecked.

I will list out 5 different approaches to Inbound Marketing I have observed. While there are other approaches, I’m sure, perhaps some of these will help you think through your own Inbound Marketing strategy.

Approach #1: Ignore the Internet and Social Media Completely

You can ignore the Internet completely by not using it. While this approach to Inbound Marketing may seem like a non-approach, there is actually no avoiding the Internet, so even if you ignore the Internet completely you will likely wind up on it.

Example: The Jesus Guy

How to Get Started: Sell all you have, give it to the poor. Take nothing with you and don’t log on to the Internet. See Luke 18:22.

Pros: Eliminates wasting time with technology and regretting saying something stupid online. Spares others from you wasting their time as well.

Con: You’ll probably end up on the Internet anyway.

Approach #2: Effective Yet Anonymous Inbound Marketing

Another approach is to publish high-quality and/or humorous content online for free, use the various social media channels to amplify your message, but don’t actually use your real name or sell much of anything except for the occasional Internet ad, if that.

Examples: The Dysfunctional Parrot and Why the Lucky Stiff

How to Get Started: Go to WordPress.com and start a new blog, anonymously. Educate and entertain others without letting them know who you are.

Pro: Lets you voice your opinion or express yourself without undue personal attention or scrutiny.

Con: If your stuff gets popular, people will probably find out who really wrote it anyway. This is what happened with Why the Lucky Stiff.

Popular blogger and tech pundit, Robert Scoble, said “Privacy is dead“, so it seems wise not to count on your anonymity lasting long even if you try to preserve it.

Approach #3: Inbound Marketing with Subtlety and Humility

This can be done with extreme grace and subtlety. Someone who is truly humble with the heart of a teacher is probably not thinking of it as marketing at all and is trying their best to respect his or her audience, not to “close” or “convert” them as if they were an object of a quarterly SMART goal.

Examples: Becoming Minimalist and Zen Habits

In this Becoming Minimalist post, Joshua Becker candidly outlines his business model and things he doesn’t do:

  • He doesn’t post advertising at all (including images, banners, sponsored posts)
  • He doesn’t engage in email marketing or list building strategies
  • He doesn’t advertise his own blog
  • He turns down possible sources of income to preserve the integrity of his message and respect his audience

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits goes even further. In this post outlining how he runs his business, Leo says he operates by these principles:

  • Readers first
  • Trust is everything
  • Make money by helping
  • No ads, affiliate marketing
  • Just the text
  • Uncopyright
  • No sales
  • Admit mistakes
  • Don’t front
  • Forget about stats, focus on helping
  • Do what feels right

How to Get Started: Care deeply about a subject and how to share your passion with others in a way that respects their time and attention. Start a blog on the subject and be willing to share what you are learning within your sphere of influence, online or offline.

Pros: Allows you to voice what you have learned and give others valuable information without seeking to control their time and attention or manipulate them into handing over their money.

Cons: Requires consistent thought, soul-searching and introspection about one’s own motives. Maybe that’s a good thing?

Approach #4: Inbound Marketing with Passion and Aggression

Is it possible to engage in Inbound Marketing in a very aggressive, extroverted way? I can’t think of a better example of a person (or organization?) that engages in Inbound Marketing in a more savvy, yet helpful way than Dave Ramsey.

Dave Ramsey helps people get out of debt with time-tested strategies of budgeting and personal discipline. The remarkable thing is he takes a potentially dull and life-crushing subject – Personal Finance – and imbues it with life by connecting it to each person’s story and life journey.

From an Inbound Marketing perspective, he has all the bases covered: Radio, podcasts, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, software platforms, products, and testimonials galore. He doesn’t shy away from Direct Marketing tactics such as advertising or endorsing others either. His reach and influence can make or break your business. It seems like millions of people are paying off millions of dollars in debt while he gives away lots of his product for free and makes an incredible amount of money in the process.

How to Get Started: This book – Platform: How to Get Noticed in a Noisy World – by Michael Hyatt looks like a decent starting point. I don’t have experience building a multi-million dollar business that seeks to help others, so listen to someone else!

Pros: Gets your message out to the most people possible while also making you gobs of money.

Cons: Even if your intentions are good, people will likely question your motives (are you doing this for the money?) constantly. If your intentions are bad, you will ultimately spread your message like a cancer more broadly, and who needs that?

Approach #5: Inbound Marketing that is Barely Concealed Direct Marketing (aka “Intrusion and Manipluation”)

Unfortunately, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, there is an arms race organizations are engaging in to capture your time and attention without driving you away.

Many organizations are facing the temptations of overstepping boundaries, tracking your every click, your every move, swarming you with email and unwanted messages and pop-up windows, hyper-analyzing how to “convert you” into a paying customer, willing to sacrifice your privacy and attention in the process.

There is a very fine line between due diligence when it comes to monitoring analytics and tweaking messages to be more effective and outright intrusion and manipulation to sell a product or service to a customer that has become a number in your system. I can’t be the one to tell you what that line is, but I think you know it.

In your soul.

How to Avoid: Read The Circle by Dave Eggers.

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