The trade show: It’s a classic meet and greet, “get-your-business-out-there” event that traditional marketers and those who’ve been around the business block a time or two know quite well. Cue the bold pop-up banners and steam-pressed table linens, enticing giveaways and booth activities.
Years ago, trade shows were one of the best ways to network with prospective customers and see what your industry rivals were doing, even if that meant channeling your inner sleuth to capture some collateral from the competing booths around the ballroom. Trade shows were (and still are) about getting in front of a broad audience to tell your story, qualify your prospects and grow your business – whether the prospect was “all in” for your elevator pitch or looking for the nearest exit.
Think of such shows as traditional marketing efforts, or what is now referred to as outbound marketing. This type of marketing involves raising brand awareness and marketing a particular product or service through general media advertising – much like what a business would do at an industry trade show or tabling event in the 1990s. Other examples of outbound include print advertisements, television and radio ads, billboards, cold calling and the like.
In addition to outbound marketing, there is inbound marketing (also known as content marketing), which was coined by HubSpot in 2005. This style of marketing was born out of the growth of the internet and search engine optimization (SEO), emergence of Google Analytics, and consumers’ increasing use of smartphones, tablets and other devices. To better understand inbound marketing, consider the following: You’re perusing a drugstore or specialty shop to purchase a greeting card for someone. Each holiday, celebration or situation has specific cards with messages tailored to that observance. Then, the messages are further personalized for everyone from your mother to your pastor. Similarly, inbound marketing involves drawing prospective customers in with targeted messaging and timely, relevant and seemingly personalized content, much like the greeting card, which is only meaningful and relevant to the recipient.
In all, inbound marketing stems from understanding the buyer journey – or the steps involved in making a purchase. These include awareness, consideration, decision and loyalty. Content is then crafted around that buyer’s journey and can include blogs, whitepapers, podcasts and targeted social media.
As you adjust and refine your marketing mix this year, you’ll want to consider which efforts you currently use and reflect on their successes and shortcomings. Outbound marketing has undoubtedly received its fair share of criticism as of late, being called a “blanketed” approach with generalized messaging. On the other hand, inbound marketing has grown in popularity amongst more and more content creators due to its highly personalized approach. But does that make one or the other the “right one” for your business? Not necessarily.
Ultimately, deciding which marketing strategy to use comes down to understanding your buyer, business offer and big goals. Why? Because there’s a difference between how you go about marketing certain products compared to others. Doing a little research on who your buyers are and what their purchasing decisions look like will help shape your marketing efforts. For example, consider classic billboards along the highway that tell drivers how far a fast food franchise is from that particular location. This content isn’t very tailored, but the outbound marketing effort works well because the busy traveler likely isn’t embarking on a full-fledged buyer journey before pulling off the nearest exit. Put simply, this individual is hungry, and he or she isn’t going to be as selective when determining what to eat.
Conversely, if your target audience needs to do thorough research before making a purchasing decision, e.g. new brick ovens for a pizza shop franchise, he or she might benefit from inbound efforts in which you educate and engage him or her subtly in every stage of the buyer journey, eventually turning to your business to make a purchase and form a loyalty to your brand.
While there is no clear-cut answer as to which marketing strategy to use since every business is different, you might consider adopting a healthy mix of the two to add vigor to your marketing efforts. For example, if you’re used to developing outbound pieces, start thinking about inbound. First, you’ll want to clearly define your buyer and plot their journey from awareness to loyalty. Ask yourself: Who is this person? What are his or her pain points? What are his or her purchasing habits like? Who is this individual as a person – not just a buyer? Consider the individual’s demographics and any other pertinent information based on what you know.
Next, choose a topic that your buyer would likely be researching and need to think deeply about before purchasing, keeping in mind that awareness is also key and can begin with those generalized outbound efforts. Begin developing content for each stage in that buyer’s journey, aiming toward eventual purchase of the product. Echoing the brick oven example, a business such as this might start curating a series of blogs or develop an e-book that exposes the benefits of specific brick oven cooking methods. Getting prospective buyers to download the e-book or return to the blog will help that business move the prospect down the sales funnel, hopefully converting that individual into a loyal customer and promoter.
If you’re all-in for inbound but one of your goals is general brand awareness or quick lead generation, it might be time to experiment with some outbound efforts. While not as targeted, billboards, print ads and the like could establish better brand recognition and meet your objectives in a way you didn’t consider, especially if it is a new product or service offering that people aren’t necessarily hard-pressed to make an informed decision about before purchasing, e.g. fast food off the nearest highway exit.
Think about your company’s brand story and the ways in which you plan to use it to engage your target audience. Don’t feel you need to, figuratively speaking, pack up your trade show materials just yet or forego all traditional advertising methods for the latest and greatest content creation strategies. Know that it’s okay – and often a smart marketing move – to be “in[bound]”, “out[bound]” and somewhere in between. The most important point to keep in mind isn’t really so complicated at all: Go back to the basics and understand what you are marketing, to whom and your end goal. The rest will fall into place and help your marketing efforts not only generate success in 2019 but in the years ahead as well.