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Inbound Etiquette 101: Engaging vs Interrupting

Sep 26, 2016
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Inbound_Etiquette.pngTraditional forms of marketing like TV commercials, direct mail, and print advertising have been losing their effectiveness for years. Our culture has become so accustomed to being marketed to, that we have learned to just ignore it. What makes matters worse is these forms of outreach are extremely expensive, making the risk even greater for smaller businesses trying to get their name out. After decades of doing the same thing with diminishing results, something had to change. Inbound Marketing was born out of this need for something different. Instead of interrupting people's lives with unwanted messages, the goal of inbound is to engage and attract people by offering answers to their questions. But what happens when we lose focus on our primary goal as inbound marketers? In order to make sure we maintain our focus, let’s take a crash course in inbound marketing etiquette.


A Brief History of Inbound

 
The term "Inbound Marketing” was made popular with the release of "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs" by Brian Halligan & Dharmesh Shah in 2010. But the practice of inbound dates much earlier. Seth Godin is widely known for his blog, books and speaking appearances, but before that he ran an internet-based direct marketing agency called Yoyodyne. It was during his time at Yoyodyne that Seth Godin developed the idea of “permission marketing.” Permission marketing aims to sell goods and services only when the prospect gives consent in advance to receive the marketing information. In 1999 Godin released a book titled “Permission Marketing” that made the case for a new way of reaching consumers. While he doesn’t go into tactics as much as Halligan and Shah do in their book, Godin’s new concept of marketing was the foundation for the rise of inbound as we know it today. 
 

Inbound Basics 

 
The goal of inbound is to attract people to your brand. It’s about fostering a connection and building trust. It’s about educating your prospects instead of pushing more product at them. “Before a marketer can build trust, it must breed familiarity. But there’s no familiarity without awareness. And awareness—the science of letting people know you exist and getting them to understand your message—can’t happen effectively in today’s environment without advertising.” ― Seth GodinPermission Marketing : Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers. Inbound marketing is not about forcing yourself in front of potential buyers. Instead, the goal is to build awareness via content cross-marketed through email, blogging, social media and search. 
 

Inbound Etiquette

 
While inbound marketing has gained a ton of momentum over the past few years, some in the industry seem to have lost the focus. Inbound works well because it is focused on serving before selling. But, if we fall back into traditional marketing behavior we can ruin the effectiveness. Just because you blog, use email and post to social doesn’t mean you are “doing inbound.” All of these tactics can be manipulated and abused to only benefit the marketer and not those they come in contact with. The world we live in is already noisy enough, so adding more junk to the web doesn’t help anyone. So, let's review 8 Inbound Etiquette rules we all need to apply to our process.
 
 

1. The user should be in charge of their journey.

 
People hate being told what to do, but they do like help with making decisions. When we continue to force our products and services on them, the result is most will back away. However, if we allow the user to feel in charge of their journey and position our brand as a helpful advocate, working to help them make the right decision, we will build trust. It’s about educating them and assisting them in making an educated decision. 
 

2. Never send unsolicited emails.

 
Inbound Marketing starts with permission. We have no right to blast unsolicited messaging at people. When we do this, we are no longer using inbound. While this rule seems like a no-brainer, sadly many businesses and agencies still buy lists of email addresses and interrupt their way into people's lives. It doesn’t matter how great your product or service is, if you burst your way into someone's world without permission, they feel violated. 
 

3. Keep the content options balanced for your users.

 
Balance is the key. If all you ever deliver to your users is offer after offer, you could end up pushing them away. By giving them a balance of free content through your blog and site pages, as well as offers, you show your users that you are not just interested in marketing to them but also are looking to solve their problems. 
 

4. Know the tools and how to use them.

 
There are a number of tools available to inbound marketers today. Having these tools is great, but unless you know how to use them effectively they are useless. Knowing how to blog, how to use social media to attract and prospect, and how frequently to send emails can be the difference between being successful and falling short. 
 

5. Always "check one more time" before your post.

 
Rushing and multi-tasking aren’t scalable. Focusing on the task at hand is the best way to ensure that you produce your best work. Before sending a tweet, posting a blog or sending an email, always check one more time. Look for spelling and grammatical errors as well as sentence structure. Posting something that has a ton of mistakes can lessen your credibility. 
 

6. Know the balance between engaging & interrupting.

 
Overloading your audience is never a good thing. We live in a 24-hour content and news-filled world. People are constantly being flooded with information, so adding too much more will result in it getting lost in the noise. The goal is to give them the right content at the right time. Now, there is no “one size fits all” solution to this. Every audience is different so finding balance will take time and patience. A good rule of thumb is to start with less and work your way up. It’s much easier to ramp up than scale back.
 

7. The user should never pay.

 
While the end goal of marketing is to deliver a positive ROI, inbound is about educating and engaging at its core. We must treat those we engage with as our guests. You would never ask a guest in your office to pay for a cup of coffee or for the opportunity to meet with you. The same goes for our marketing efforts. By giving away knowledge, for free, we position ourselves not just as experts but as trusted advisors. In the end, this will lead to better ROI and long-term success.
 

8. Always say "please" and "thank you."

 
Whether someone engages or chooses to opt-out, being polite is a must. When asking for information, do so in a non-intrusive manner. Whether someone gives you their information or refuses, make sure that you thank them. “Please" and "Thank You” when used with authenticity are still some of the most powerful words we can say. 
 
Inbound Marketing has shifted the way many businesses reach new prospects and delight their current customers. While it can be tempting to use the tools available to mass-market, resisting this temptation and focusing on serving our audience is what will lead to our ultimate success. Whether you are new to inbound or have been using it for quite a while, remembering these 8 simple Inbound Etiquette rules will help ensure that you add value to the lives of those you come in contact with. 
 
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Ryan Shelley, CPBI

By Ryan Shelley, CPBI

Ryan is passionate about helping companies make a more personal connection online with their customers and prospects. He is a regular contributor to Search Engine Land, the largest and most popular SEO news site on the web. His works have also been featured on the HubSpot Blog, Business2Community and by LinkedIn Marketing Solutions.

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