Digital Strategy

When Inbound Marketing Won't Work for You

February 2018
Che Stevenson

In my humble opinion inbound marketing is the bees knees, but I can tell you – from bitter experience – that sometimes it just won’t work for you.

It’s definitely tough to admit, but sometimes inbound marketing simply is not going to work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a remarkable strategic framework for digital marketing, I can’t fault it, but when it comes to actually applying inbound marketing in your business, sometimes it’s just not meant to be.

Here are my top times when inbound marketing won’t work for your business.

When you don’t understand your customers

You might say, of course I understand my customers! But do you really, deeply understand your customers? Off the top of your head, can you tell me:

  • Age, gender, location, income, family status, ethnicity
  • Likes, dislikes, interests
  • Industry, job role, seniority
  • Goals and challenges as they relate to your products/services

It’s only through a strong understanding of your target audience and their needs that you can create useful and engaging content that they really want. And it is this content that is at the core of your inbound marketing campaign.

Inbound marketing lives or dies on the strength of audience insights.

When you don’t have time and/or budget for marketing

Inbound marketing requires effort, a significant effort in building a multi-channel digital marketing programme of content and promotion.

This effort comes at a cost of time (if you do it yourself) or money (if you engage an agency) – often both, because you’re not going to be able to do it all yourself but your agency doesn’t have the intimate market knowledge that you do.

I’m not trying to scare you off here, the rewards for successful inbound marketing are huge, but you’re not going to get there without and investment in time and money. It’s not a simple ‘set-and-forget’ style of marketing; it requires concerted ongoing effort over months.

You want a quick win

Inbound marketing is about building a highly credible, highly visible presence online and waiting for your audience to come looking for what you are offering.

It’s fishing with a net rather than spear fishing. It’s farming rather than big game hunting.

Whatever the metaphor, inbound marketing requires patience and time. You’re not going to launch an inbound marketing campaign next month and be flooded with leads in the first week!

When you are unwilling to change your sales process

The term ‘inbound marketing’ was coined to distinguish it from what we would call ‘outbound marketing’. That is, forms of marketing that push a message out to the audience and interrupt their day-to-day lives in an attempt to get them to buy, such as:

  • Cold call telemarketing
  • Email blasts
  • Print advertising
  • Direct mail
  • The list goes on…

When we say to ourselves “we want to sell hairdryers this month, let’s do a campaign”, we are engaging in outbound marketing.

When we flip this, and say “what problems are hairdressers having right now, let’s create something to help them out”, we are engaging in inbound marketing.

This change in mindset needs to be met with a fundamental change in sales processes. We’re not chasing customers, trying to win the sale. We’re helping customers out, and maybe our product or service can be of assistance.

When no-one is looking for what you are offering

My final circumstance in which inbound marketing won’t work for you is a tough one.

Sometimes your product or service is so new and innovative that your audience literally has no idea that it exists. People just aren’t looking for it. It’s a problem they don’t even know they can solve.

Maybe it’s a cure for sleep “Nev-R-Sleep” (man, I’d buy that!), or a way to teleport coffee over long distances “Tele Café” (if you’ve invented this one, please call me!).

Seriously though, if this is you, you can create content, promote it, get it in front of your audience. Your campaign may have elements of content creation and digital promotion, but it won’t be inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing requires the audience to at some point to step out and seek a solution to their problem. Then your net will catch them and deliver them to your door.

But if the audience never sets foot outside of their cave on the seafloor, you’re never going to catch them. Your campaign will need to become interruptive; you’re going to have to get down there and interrupt that little cave-dweller and show them what you’ve got!

With all of this said, in most cases inbound marketing is a great fit. You just need to know your customers, be willing to put in the work, and patience to get it right.

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