There are Three Types of Marketing – Inbound, Outbound and… Plain Rude

Reading one of the vast number of content marketing pieces from HubSpot, I noticed the following from a basic piece on What is Digital Marketing?, after paragraphs about the virtues of Inbound marketing techniques:

Digital outbound tactics aim to put a marketing message directly in front of as many people as possible in the online space -- regardless of whether it’s relevant or welcomed. For example, the garish banner ads you see at the top of many websites try to push a product or promotion onto people who aren’t necessarily ready to receive it.

Now HubSpot obviously have an agenda here – their whole business model rests on the validity of the Inbound marketing approach over Outbound approaches (such as “garish” banner ads ), and so they’ve over-stated their belief in the inefficiency of ads. But are ads really garish and intrusive? Are they really “push” advertising (rather than the “pull” of good content)? What’s the problem here?

Since becoming CMO of Redgate and, perhaps foolishly, updating my LinkedIn profile to reflect this, I’ve started receiving endless emails from agencies, recruiters, marketing data organisations and so on. And many of these are what, I would call, if not rude, certainly intrusive and over familiar. These techniques have been written about elsewhere – this week alone I’ve had:

  • Use of “RE: Our conversation” in the subject line (really, I don’t remember this!?)
  • Taking names from my LinkedIn network and saying “Your colleague <Insert Name Here> said I should speak to you…” – when I know that’s not true
  • Assumptive closes (“Shall I book 20 minutes in for a chat on Wednesday?”)
  • Stalking (early messages which seem innocent enough, chatting about marketing issues, but then soon turn in to sales patter)

…and so on.

I find all this pretty intrusive. But isn’t it just the same thing as “garish” banner ads, intruding on my field of vision, when I’m trying to get something done on the Internet? Interrupting my work when it should be me in charge of my flow (as per the Inbound model)?

I think this is to overstate the intrusion from banner ads. Firstly, yes there are very interruptive ads which fill the screen, and you have to either play “hunt the X” to try and close them, or wait 15s before you can move on. These are pretty annoying. But most graphical ads aren’t like that – they’re well branded rectangles, which are as ignorable as you like. As a marketer I hope you’ve picked up on the branding, noticed a message, that the ad has lodged somewhere in your subconscious, so that next time you’re looking for a solution you think, “Oh yeah, who were those Redgate guys?”. But of course, you might just ignore them (and I’d be very surprised of you clicked on them – we all know the stats on banner ad click-through rates), and that’s fine.

I don’t feel this is nearly as intrusive as aggressive cold-calling and emailing – these are marketing techniques too, but exhibit the worst traits of “push” marketing – interruptive, based on your timetable, not mine and quite frankly, not leaving me with a particularly positive experience of your company. A well designed ad, perhaps with humour, certainly beautifully designed isn’t in the same category.

As I say, HubSpot have an obvious agenda – to push the Inbound model and disparage outbound techniques, but the latter shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush. Ads are as popular as ever on the web, and as more options for personalisation and targeting become available to graphical media – combined with the deluge of mediocre content – I feel this un-intrusive channel will have a resurgence.

But you’ll never find me pushing the dishonest cold-call/email (“I spoke to your colleague yesterday about how we could help you..” – no, you didn’t!). That’s truly interruptive marketing, which does nothing but damage to your brand.

Your Primary Job as a Marketing Leader is to Prioritise

I’ve just finished the excellent Complete Guide to B2B Marketing by Kim Ann King. It’s very “List-ey” – it’s full of To Do lists (“Want to figure out your budgets for media spend? Here’s a 7-point list of how to do it”), which I really like. Many marketing books are rather waffly and vague, so a practical guide is always welcome.

But, here’s the rub – by the end of the book it would be very easy to feel completely overwhelmed by the list of things you need to do to be running a world-class marketing organisation! From reading the book you’d be left with the impression that you must be doing all of the following:

  1. Fully integrated web, marketing, customer and predictive analytics
  2. Implemented full experimentation and optimisation platform
  3. Full marketing automation
  4. Advanced personalisation and targeting across all channels
  5. Complete oversight of the marketing funnel from out-of-funnel to leads to MQLs to SQLs to closed
  6. A clean, de-duped and pristine CRM
  7. A full inbound/content strategy
  8. Deep and extensive planning cycles from data to goals to strategies to tactics to results and back round again – carried out quarterly
  9. Segmentation, positioning, messaging, buyer personas and so on for every product group and segment
  10. A Brand awareness plan for new markets
  11. Demand generation activities across all stages of the funnel
  12. Full retention marketing plan for your “existing customer” segment
  13. A plan for organisational enablement for all of the above including budgets, staffing, forecasts
  14. On top of all this, keeping on top of new developments in marketing, self-education and so on

..and this is just scratching the surface. In fact she’s very open in the first chapter about how the role for anyone in marketing today can feel overwhelming, that there is so much to keep on top of.

How do you cope with this? All of the things above seem vital, important – how can you be doing your job properly unless you’re doing all of the above?

I’ve also just re-read Porter’s great article on Strategy (https://hbr.org/1996/11/what-is-strategy – you need an HBR subscription to read it unfortunately). One primary point he makes is to ask the question “What is a strategy?” and one of his tenants that qualifies an activity as “strategic” is whether or not you are making choices to not do something. For example, if at your business you want to “Improve the reporting system so that we can see product performance better” – this might be a big project, but you’re not choosing to not do anything. No-one would choose to “Make reporting worse so that we can’t see what’s going on”. All you’re doing is improving your business effectiveness.

However if your company had two products, A and B, and you said that “We’re only going to sell product A going forward and stop selling product B” – that’s strategic, because someone else could choose to sell product B instead (or stick with both, or neither).

How is this relevant to Kim Ann King’s book? You have to make choices. You have to make choices about which elements of marketing activity you are going to focus on, and to which you are going to say No. This is your job as a marketing leader, to prioritise and say no to things. Anyone can take the list above and propose “Doing all of the above”, but that road leads to a lack of focus and burnout.

How do you choose? It’s the simple, but difficult job of understanding your business, and where your problems are. To take an example from my own organisation, Redgate. There’s a section in the book about “Building a community site, with content to build trust and inbound for your brand”. But, we are fortunate to already have this (a couple of sites, http://www.sqlservercentral.com and http://www.simple-talk.com). It’s not that these can’t be improved, but is it a priority to start a new community site at Redgate? No it isn’t.

This is an easy one though – when you’ve already ticked something on the list. What about all the things you haven’t done yet? This gets more difficult, but then this is your job. Should you spend the next year cleaning and de-duping your CRM system so that you can implement advanced personalisation and targeting? Or re-branding your company? Or building analytical capability for the future? Or implementing a MarTech platform? Or experimenting with new channels?

The job is to diagnose – what are your current problems? What is currently holding your business back, your constraints? What work could you do that would move you towards your company goals next year? This latter point is vital – if your company objectives are about growth rather than, say, cost-cutting, or process improvements, this suggest different activities.

What’s very important is to recognise the different go-to-market strategy and type of company that you work in, compared to others. Perhaps my one criticism of this book is that, though it purports to be specific to B2B marketing, there’s not enough opinion on what is most useful for B2B marketing, and what’s more relevant to B2C. There’s some (e.g. that LinkedIn is more relevant than SnapChat) and there is more of a focus on lead nurturing through to sales people (more relevant to the high-value/low-volume world of traditional B2B), but there isn’t quite enough direction on “This activity is popular about B2C marketers, but really is a waste of time for you”.

This is where your job comes in – what sort of B2B org do you work at? At Redgate, really we’re B2BC. We’re absolutely selling software to businesses – there’s no way Jo Public is interested in SQL Server comparison tools. But, where most traditional B2B orgs are high-value/low-volume with all that entails (low lead volume, high ATV, significant sales nurturing, multiple buyer personas in each org etc etc), we are much closer to B2C in our business model – low ATV, high volume, mass (1:many) digital marketing and so on. So for us, certain activities are more relevant than others. As an example, most marketing automation platforms use a nurturing model based on slowly taking leads through a number of stages (awareness, leads, MQLs, SQLs etc), using personalised content – based on in-depth data and analytics for different customer segments. This is needed because often B2B organisations have complex offerings that need to be explained and “sold” to companies, so that they understand the benefits of spending $500k with that vendor.

But – what if this isn’t you? What if you sell software for $400 that, quite frankly doesn’t need explaining in this way? What if it’s pretty darned obvious what it does, and the free trial tells the end-user everything they need to know? In that scenario, is it worth investing millions of dollars in a new marketing automation platform? What’s the uplift going to be – will you ever get payback?

It’s these hard decisions that you need to make to ensure you and your team don’t get overwhelmed with new activities. You’re making strategic decisions when you decide not to do one thing and instead do another. May be you put marketing automation off for a year (despite the overwhelming message from the industry that you have to be be doing it ) and focus on finding new customer segments instead? Maybe for you, it’s about starting a significant community platform this year, and everything else can just keep ticking along?

Once you’ve decided, there’s then the equal challenge of leading the change through your organisation. Every idea (automation, branding, content, channel, sales support etc etc) will have its advocates in your company. You need to hold on to the logic for why you’ve chosen A, not B, and try to get that adopted through the company so that everyone is working to the same goals. The strategy is just the start of the process…