run for the ball

Dateline June 2020. Congress passes a bill that forbids marketers from using email marketing and cookies. Industry analysts call it “the end of lead nurturing.”

As content marketers, would we survive?

Let’s see: a. we produce content that’s interesting and valuable to our target audience. But b. we rely on instrumentation to find and deliver content to our audience: email blasts, drip campaigns and email nurturing, all with the requisite cookie-dropping and marketing automation. That instrumentation helps us measure, analyze and tweak.

We know that the buyer, not the vendor, is now in control. And buyers are taking fragmented and disjointed journeys to a purchasing decision. That journey can look far different from what marketers are instrumenting. On the other hand, marketers fear that if they don’t instrument, they’ll miss their goals for pipeline and revenue. 

What to do?

If this fictional Congressional bill were to pass, it would signal a return to pure inbound marketing. Brian Halligan, CEO and co-founder of HubSpot, is credited with coining the term “inbound marketing” back in 2006. If you think of email blasts, press releases and advertising as outbound marketing, then inbound marketing is the inverse: using content to have your target audience find you.

Eliminate Outbound? The Resulting Benefits to Content Marketing

Let’s consider this fictional 2020 scenario, in which inbound marketing becomes the only marketing. I see numerous benefits to our discipline of content marketing.

1. Higher Quality Content

In the competitive race for the attention of our audience, content marketers have adopted a Buzzfeed mentality: capture the click with a captivating headline, then hope visitors read it.

That’s why you see B2B content marketing with titles like these:

  • Why American Pharoah Isn’t Really the Winner of the Triple Crown (But Your Content Is)
  • The One Infographic B2B Marketers Must View This Month
  • Staggering, Completely Unbelievable Headlines That Just Work
  • How I Got Beyonce to Favorite My Tweet (and Why It’ll Work For You, Too)
  • Why You Must View this SlideShare before Finishing Your Morning Coffee

Besides a smirk, giggle or even a click, how much value do these articles provide to your target audience? Not much. But we think they generate awareness. If they don’t, we simply slip them into an email nurture stream, to try and score a click.

If we were confined strictly to inbound marketing, we wouldn’t spend our time on these sorts of posts. Instead, we’d understand what our future customers really want and we’d create content that delivers on their needs. Content would become more useful and valuable to our readers.

2. Content, Not Email, Becomes the Glue

When Marketing gets a lead today, email becomes the “glue” for subsequent interactions with the lead. Whether it’s an invitation to an upcoming webinar or a nurturing message, email is the distribution vehicle.

What happens if we’re banned from using email? Content would become the glue:

  • Our upcoming webinar would be listed in our next four blog posts
  • Our infographic would have its own blog post and also be embedded in guest blog posts on other sites
  • Our brand new e-book would be contextually linked in product and solutions pages, and in upcoming blog posts related to the e-book’s topic

Buyers may not click on the links you insert. Or they might just click on one. The difference is that they choose what (and where) to engage, rather than having an email pushed at them. By sprinkling a trail of breadcrumbs throughout your content, you give them a path to their ultimate destination: your products and services.

3. Your Future Customers Prefer It

While we know that B2C purchase decisions are different from B2B, imagine shopping for a refrigerator and receiving weekly emails from manufacturers offering e-books like “Buyer’s Guide: Your One Stop Shop for Selecting a High Efficiency Refrigerator.”

Most consumers looking to buy a high efficiency refrigerator wish to do the preliminary research on their own schedule. They may eventually find that particular buyer’s guide, but they prefer pull versus push.

In B2B purchasing decisions, customers will contact you when they’re ready to engage. With inbound marketing, the focus of vendors will solely be to provide the world’s most useful content. Buyers will find that content, then contact you. And that makes the process more pleasing for them. In fact, they’ll thank you for providing such great content.

4. Bonus: Built-In Reader Engagement

When you move from outbound marketing to pure inbound marketing, an amazing thing happens: users who find your content want to read it and engage with it (assuming you’ve done a good job creating it).

With outbound marketing, you tell the user, “We think this content is useful, so you should check it out.” With inbound marketing, on the other hand, users are actively researching. They’ll go to Google and see your content in search results. They’ll click through to read it. If you’ve created good content, you’ve just scored a few points.

Isn’t that great? As marketers, we often score users (i.e. give them lead scoring points) when they engage with our content. With inbound marketing, we’re the one scoring the points!

Wishful Thinking

While writing this article has been a fun exercise in “what could be,” I don’t think we’ll ever see a day of pure inbound marketing. We’ll still need to send emails, track page views on our websites and nurture prospects along the sales cycle. So maybe the best legislation that Congress can pass is one that forbids B2B marketers from using headlines as clickbait. Let’s hope it arrives prior to 2020.

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  jot.punkt 

Title image by jot.punkt