Blurred Lines: Unbound Marketing

Recently, Sales Engine gave a webinar entitled Unbound Marketing: Why Inbound vs. Outbound Is Irrelevant. This presentation focused on the importance of an integrated, contextualized marketing approach that does not rely on differentiators or distinctions (such as inbound vs. outbound), but rather is firmly rooted in an understanding of who the target customers are and how their behavior indicates their preferences.

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In short, unbound marketing is about content in context. To engage with buyers in a way that builds trust and eventually leads to a sale, marketers must collect and analyze the contextual clues left for them by their prospects’ interaction with their brand. It’s appropriate that the hit song of this summer is called “Blurred Lines.” The concept prevails in the marketing world, too. As technology and connectivity advance at an exponential rate, boundaries are obliterated. Consumers move between multiple devices to make a purchase or to consume content.1 Brands connect with audiences using multiple channels and varied media formats.2 Tactics that may feel like enjoyable interactions to the consumer are actually calculated marketing efforts.

So what does all of this line-blurring mean for marketers? It means they must stop thinking in terms of fragmented, segmented tactics and view the buyer’s journey holistically, unbound by an imperative to stick to only one approach.

The truth is that buyers engage in different ways, through different channels, for different reasons, and different things attract them. How you start the conversation with a buyer is important, whether they click on a paid ad or respond to a post on Facebook or subscribe to your company blog—but how you continue this conversation through the buying cycle and maintain customer engagement is what unbound marketing is about.

The tricky part is that you will have hundreds, maybe thousands, of customers interacting with your brand. They will come to you through different channels, they will have different needs, and they will be at different stages in the buying cycle. How can you possibly give them all the experience they are seeking?

The answer, of course, is to use a marketing automation platform. It’s the only way to effectively monitor and nurture each lead through the complex buying journey. But (and this is an important caveat) this software alone will not nurture your leads or deliver them to your sales department on a silver platter. Without useful, engaging content to power your digital interactions with prospects and customers, your marketing efforts will sputter out. “Content is the currency that drives customer engagement.”3

Content will drive the effectiveness of everything you do across the customer engagement life cycle, and your marketing automation system will give you the tools to continually analyze your leads’ engagement with your content. This analysis can tell you things like:

  • Which content performs the best, so you can promote and distribute that content accordingly.
  • Which topics and formats resonate most with your audience, so you can adjust focus to better cater to your audience
  • How you should engage at an event, based on responses to your content

Most marketers by now realize the importance of having good content to feed and sustain their leads, but creating that content is far from easy: Producing enough content is the top challenge for 64% of BtoB marketers.4 Content creation takes time, resources, and talent. And most important, it takes a deep, deliberate understanding of your audience and how they want to engage. While marketers know that content creation is a vital part of marketing today, many feel bewildered by effective content marketing implementation: only 36% believe they are effective at content marketing.5

How can companies effectively target their prospects through their content? How can they learn from their prospects’ responses to their content to optimize its effectiveness? Here is an example of effective unbound content marketing from the Sales Engine client roster:

Background: The client, an HR management company, was hitting its revenue targets but not its profit goals. It contracted with Sales Engine to improve its competitiveness against HR giants like ADP and Trinet by optimizing its website and marketing campaigns to effectively target prospective customers.

Current Issues: With the availability of information online, the HR management company was struggling to maintain relevance and competitiveness in the marketplace. Brokers and benefit consultants because less useful as buyers researched on their own, and the HR management company fought to maintain a market presence in the absence of a comprehensive in-house marketing department.

The HR company could not get enough opportunities into the top of its sales funnel, and many of the prospects who did enter the funnel were not properly targeted: sales reps often reported speaking to prospects who had just switched to a competitor. The client was missing deals with prospects because its sales reps were not even aware of the existing opportunities.

Solution: Sales Engine worked with the client to turn its website into a proxy for its sales department. Without the resources to hire thousands of sales representatives, the client knew it must build a website that would function to generate and nurture leads—not to act as a static, electronic brochure, like its previous site.

For the site to perform this new function, Sales Engine worked with the client to develop a content library. The first step was defining the ideal prospect profile and the stages of the buying cycle, followed by a content development process mapped to these determinations. As prospects consumed the content available through the client’s website, they self-identified their interest in the client’s services.

Because large volumes of inbound traffic to a website do not appear overnight, however, Sales Engine also worked with the client to develop outbound campaigns to attract leads to the site and gain momentum.

Result: This integrated, unbound approach allowed the client to return to profitability and to develop a productive and growing sales channel.

As you can see from this example, Sales Engine did not limit its approach to outbound-only or inbound-only. We started with one goal: to build a profile of the client’s potential customers in order to give them what they wanted. By putting the client’s buyers in context, we were able to develop an unbound marketing strategy for the client that was far more effective than a forced, prescriptive approach ever could have been. And that’s the beauty of unbound marketing.

Reference:

  1. Google, The New Multi-screen World: Understanding Cross-Platform Consumer Behavior, 2012
  2. Content Marketing Institute, B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, 2013
  3. Forrester Research, Accelerating Revenue In A Changed Economy by Lori Wizdo, January 23, 2013
  4. Content Marketing Institute, B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, 2013
  5. Content Marketing Institute, B2B Content Marketing: 2013 Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends—North America, 2013