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Establishing credibility and engaging target audiences are key aspects of what both inbound marketing and public relations are designed to achieve. Inbound marketing is actually an ideal manifestation of aspects of strategic public relations as its content is predicated on having identified what target audiences are interested in and value, then the organisation working hard to satisfy those needs.

Rockin hard and totally hip PR guy who looks not too rough in a suit

Of course, there need to be benefits to the organisation in going to the trouble of providing the content for inbound marketing. The first of these is enhanced credibility leading, in turn, to enhanced reputation. Enhanced credibility/reputation comes from a perception that the organisation is making an investment into the target audience, without looking for any blatant return from the target audience.

‘Blatant return’ is a relative term, however.

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Take this blog, for instance. It provides regular content that it is hoped is of value to readers (an inbound marketing approach). By the same token, a main reason I do this is so that potential customers think I know what I’m talking about and give me work. This is reasonably obvious, I would have thought.

Another reason is that the content is on a blog and it is relevant to the services I provide, so when people do their Google thing, I might be fortunate enough for my blog to come up when they type in ‘rockin’ hard and totally hip PR guy who looks not too rough in a suit’. Just for a laugh, I have used this entire term as the alt tag on the image on this post, which will help the zillions of people using the search term ‘rockin’ hard and totally hip PR guy who looks not too rough in a suit’ find me. Anyway, you know what I mean…

So that’s a second reason explained – the intention is for inbound marketing to lead to sales. Unless you or an organisation are totally dedicated to doing the world a favour and seeking nothing in return, this is the ultimate reason for undertaking inbound marketing.

(And the likelihood of the ‘seeking nothing in return’ approach being an honest one is very thin, too. Satisfying the ego will always play a part in any putative inbound marketing gambit.)

A third reason for inbound marketing is differentiation. Of course, we are going to keep going back to reason two with all this, because differentiation is undertaken to help generate sales.

Differentiation makes your organisation stand out from the crowd. It also gives it a unique personality or brand that, ideally, coincides with what potential customers are looking for and feel an affinity with. One important characteristic of this differentiation through inbound marketing is that you are giving something for free and of value to your target audience. Not many organisations do that – hence differentiation.

Thought leadership and content curation

It’s not technically necessary to feature thought leadership as part of inbound marketing content, but in most cases you’ll find it an intrinsic element of successful approaches to inbound marketing. Social Media Examiner and Hubspot (not like these guys need a backlink!!) are probably the two best known examples of this approach in the digital marketing space.

Thought leadership assists in providing further differentiation and branding equity. This is because it provides new content and/or stimulating commentary that is of value (the latter is certainly what I hope my blog does, provoking people into thinking differently about PR and marketing-related topics).

You don’t have to be a genius to do this, but you DO have to be willing to hang yourself out to dry somewhat. Being a thought leader is not for the faint hearted. If you’re not willing to take a few risks and expose yourself (via your thoughts) then in my view you won’t ever qualify for the thought leadership description.

Relying only on content curation (i.e. collating the others’ ideas into a tidy package for your target audiences) for inbound marketing content is certainly feasible, and I’m sure it’s done, but it’s not likely to generate sufficient differentiation and value to help you achieve sales. Not on an ongoing or long-term basis anyway.

The curation approach works to a degree when used on platforms like Twitter and Google +, but even then to rely on it purely is somewhat hollow. It’s like hanging around with someone cool in the hope that you’ll be seen as cool too. It’s a bit sad, really. Muscle up, people!

Public relations using inbound marketing

The inbound marketing approach has been used by PR professionals for many years through mechanisms such as placing op-eds in the media and gaining speaking engagements for organisations, but it’s yet to reach its optimum level in the online environment. Significant reasons for this are organisations’ lack of willingness to commit to the approach and the time it takes to create outstanding content (these reasons being very much connected, of course).

There are many ways to leverage the investment into inbound marketing content, though. A single piece of outstanding content can be used in a plethora of ways:

  • On a blog or website to attract customers and stakeholders and to build a database of prospects
  • As the basis for a speaking engagement, including an organisation running its own breakfast et al seminars
  • To email to existing customers to enhance the quality of relationships you have with them, cement their commitment to you and to grow the business
  • Sharing with organisational employees to help in their own development
  • For utilisation in the media as a customised op-ed.

Finally, the success of the inbound marketing campaign can be promoted to employees to show off how their organisation is engaging with its target audiences. This will make them proud of their organisation, hopefully improving commitment and productivity and, possibly, even attracting a higher calibre of new employees.

What inbound marketing approaches do you use in your work? Can you give examples? What are the strengths and weaknesses of PR and marketing utilising the inbound marketing approach? Are there other commonalities between inbound marketing and public relations I have not discussed?

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