Companies that overlook the importance of having a healthy inbound marketing culture do so at their peril. The result: performance that falls well short of expectations, frustrated employees, a lacklustre ROI and ultimately, disillusionment.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 5 essential characteristics of a strong, inbound culture you should be cultivating and a 10 action steps you can take to embed them in your organisation.
Be truly customer centric
Inbound marketing is customer centric marketing that attracts people to you. But more than that, it’s a philosophy grounded in a commitment to helping your prospects and customers accomplish their goals – what HubSpot call “solving for the customer” - and ensuring they enjoy an amazing experience at every single touch point with your company.
“Marketing doesn’t end after a stranger becomes a user or after a user becomes a customer. Marketing isn’t just the website, or the words or the emails. Marketing is the experience, the way the product feels, the way the design connects to the customer, it is the way we touch the customer’s emotions in every way they interact with us” Drift’s Marketing Manifesto
Delivering a customer experience that delights isn’t the sole responsibility of your marketing department. It requires team working and collaboration with all functions - sales, customer service, finance, IT and operations - playing their part in solving for the customer. In that sense, it’s everyone’s job. Which is why developing an inbound culture starts with infusing a deep understanding of customers and their needs throughout the whole organisation and getting everyone to think in broader terms about their role, committing to adopting the “inbound way” and being a positive brand ambassador, no matter what their job title.
“Everyone in your company should think of themselves as a sales guide, whose mission it is to help people decide to become customers -- and stay that way! “ - Marisa Smith, The Whole Brain Group
To get across the board buy-in you’ll need to educate your people about the inbound philosophy and why it’s critical that you make the shift, explaining how it will allow you to better serve your customers and achieve your business goals. You’ll also need to explain what it means to be an inbound organisation and how this will require you to do things differently from the way you may have done them in the past.
“You have to start telling different stories. You have to tell stories of the aspiration of what you want and what that looks like. Here in my marketing department I told a lot of fables that involved animals—The Blind Men and the Elephant, the 4 Oxen and the Lion. All of these were fables that were easy to remember that reminded us of who we wanted to be as opposed to who we are.” - Jonathan Becher, CMO of SAP
Expect some initial resistance. After all, inbound is likely to be a new concept for many of your employees. But seek to overcome uncertainty and doubts and create a sense of shared ownership by allowing everyone to contribute, bringing all parts of the organisation on the journey.
One final piece of advice. Like any major change initiative, an inbound culture will only take root with visible leadership from the top of the organisation. That means the CEO and the whole of the C-suite need to walk the walk as well as talk the talk and make it clear to everyone that doing things the inbound way is mandatory - no exceptions.
One of the key pillars of successful inbound marketing is the ability to draw people to you magnetically by creating content that is so good people will naturally want to share and talk about it.
But here’s the problem. The amount of content being created daily is increasing at an exponential rate.
- 130,000 articles are published every week on LinkedIn.
- 350 million photos are posted to Facebook every day.
- Over 300 hours of video are uploaded to YouTube every minute.
Unfortunately, the amount of human attention is finite. So no matter how much content you produce if it’s not truly outstanding no-one is going to listen or talk about it. You’re just going to end up drowning in a sea of sameness, along with all your "me-too" competitors who think they can win the marketing game by playing it safe.
The companies that excel at inbound are the ones who dare to be different, constantly questioning the status quo and seeking out ways they can be the proverbial purple cow. The ones who understand that the more remarkable their company, the more compelling stories they have to tell that their audience will connect with, remember and pass on.
“Remarkability lies in the edges. The biggest, fastest, slowest, richest, easiest, most difficult. It doesn't always matter which edge, more that you're at (or beyond) the edge.” – Seth Godin
If you’re not sure what remarkable looks like or simply need some inspiration check out these 10 remarkable marketing and advertising campaigns.
Don’t be afraid to fail
Successful marketing involves a lot of trial and error.
Fortunately, with inbound marketing you have a lot of data and tools at your disposal that allow you to measure and track every element of your campaigns and zero in on the winning formula – for example, which headlines convert the best, the best time of day to post to your social media accounts or send emails, short form copy versus long-form copy, different messaging, offers and landing page designs etc. These closed-loop metrics create the perfect environment for experimentation and optimization.
Unless you’re prepared to test new ideas, take a few risks and fail along the way you’ll never learn the lessons that can put you on the road to success. But in order for this to become engrained in your culture your employees need to have the confidence to experiment, knowing the company will have their back if new ideas don’t come off.
Unfortunately it’s all too easy for managers to kill off new ideas and for many companies “no” is the default setting. That’s why Amazon introduced the concept of the institutional yes and why companies that want to encourage experimentation openly celebrate creativity even when it ends in failure: for example, advertising agency Grey New York’s quarterly Heroic Failure award and Tata’s Dare To Try award which recognises “sincere and audacious attempts to create a major innovation that failed to get the desired results”.
Value data over opinions
“Without data, you’re simply another person with an opinion.” Jonah Harris, CTO at MeetMe.
Organisations that are successful with inbound set metric-driven goals, report on progress regularly, back up marketing decisions with data, find ways to measure the “unmeasurable”, use data to improve their content, leverage A/B testing and share data-driven insights across the whole organisation.
They have a healthy respect for the science of data-driven improvement that values validated learning over opinions and conventions and make decisions based on facts, not hunches. And they embed a “test everything” mentality and a love of data in their culture, recognising that a data-driven approach allows their teams to deliver better results.
“Everyone should be more analytical than the average person in their role elsewhere. Even a writer should want to improve their content using metrics and be interested in judging their success that way” Mike Volpe, HubSpot
When you trust the data and use it to inform your creative efforts and guide decision making rather than deferring to the opinion of the highest paid person in the room it will transform your internal and external marketing processes. You'll be making better decisions that lead to better business results and propelling value by engaging customers more effectively.
The 19th century Prussian general Helmuth von Moltke famously said “no plan survives first contact with the enemy” (or words to that effect) and the same is true of inbound marketing.
The days when you could plan out all your marketing activities for the coming year are long gone.
Nowadays, it’s all about agile marketing and being able to turn on a sixpence in a fast changing, dynamic environment.
In an agile culture teams work across organisational silos and collaborate in self-organising teams. Work is done in short, intensive cycles, decisions are taken at the coalface in the interests of customers and teams are trusted to experiment and take the initiative, continually evolving and refining tactics based on what’s working and what’s not working.
It’s an approach that empowers teams, allowing them to work at pace and giving them the freedom to adapt to changing market conditions, be more responsive to customer needs and develop flexible solutions in order to deliver continuous improvement, all within an accountability framework based on metric-driven goals that provide a shared sense of purpose.
- Start by educating your people about what it means to be an inbound organisation, how this is different from the way you may have done things in the past and why you are making the shift
- Align your teams around the inbound strategy and get them working collaboratively by involving them in the planning process and opening up lines of communication across departments.
- Infuse a deep understanding of customers and their needs by sharing your customer personas throughout the whole organisation.
- Empower your people with the insights and the content they need to respond and effectively engage with customers in a flexible, personalised way.
- Define what’s remarkable about your company and craft emotionally engaging stories that demonstrate what sets you apart from your competitors then use these stories over and over in your content.
- Motivate and inspire your teams to experiment by celebrating creativity and creating a safe-to-fail working environment.
- Embed the science of data-driven improvement in your culture by making responsibility for data and analytics part of everyone’s job description.
- Measure and reward your people for agility, allowing them to self-organise and continually adapt and refine tactics and prioritise based on what’s working and what isn’t.
- Encourage ownership and empower teams to act with confidence by devolving decision-making authority to the roles closest to the decision.
- Provide strong leadership and constantly communicate and reinforce desired behaviours, building your performance measurement and reward systems around them.
Developing an inbound culture that fosters creativity, experimentation and customer-centricity isn’t something that will happen overnight. It requires long-term commitment, strong leadership and constant communication and reinforcement. But it’s crucial to your success so don’t sell yourself short by ignoring it. If you do it well, you’ll be rewarded with an engaged and highly motivated workforce that delivers a remarkable experience for your prospects and customers and a truly remarkable business.