How To Build Relationships and Earn Trust with Inbound Marketing

Discover the two most important factors of a winning inbound marketing strategy, because you can’t build trust on a weak foundation.
September 11, 2014

Decision makers today usually don’t trust marketing messages, but beyond that, it’s more likely they don’t even pay attention to them at all. Inbound marketing is being heralded as the solution for savvy marketers to cut through the noise and reach an independent, oversaturated audience – but how? It’s important to first understand why inbound is succeeding where traditional marketing is failing, because inbound is not just another set of tips and tricks. It’s a new mindset for marketers. Outbound marketing is largely missing its target in the new marketplace. Consider:

Users are even installing plugins and apps like AdBlock, that hide PPC ads altogether.

I think fundamentally, most people will always view advertising and outbound marketing with a level of caution. There’s a certain skepticism that people develop towards adverts – for good reason. Adverts get people’s attention, but they don’t really build a trusting relationship. Inbound marketing on the other hand helps bring people closer to your brand. – James Blackwell (@JWBlackwell), Co-Founder, Buzzsumo

Not only is trust in the digital marketplace at an all time low, new buyers don’t even need to concern themselves with the credibility of ads because they’re self-educating deep into the sales funnel – if not all the way through. Even if they see a banner ad, they don’t really see it. Buyers today have all the information they need for self-diagnosis and prescription at their fingertips. Inbound marketers are spending more time producing the content that buyers are looking for, and less time producing ads that grasp randomly after their attention.

Inbound marketing is the starting point for building a relationship with your audience, including decision makers. Before anyone becomes a customer, they will learn everything about you and decide how to proceed. Inbound marketers need to make the decision easy for them with the best information that is educational, informative, comforting, and entertaining. Brian Hansford (@RemarkMarketing), Director – Client Services & Marketing Automation Practice, Heinz Marketing

Inbound marketing is the communicator’s answer to a new, self-directed marketplace. Where trust is at an all time low and social channels are emphasizing conversations, inbound strategies are opening doors and establishing relationships between brands and buyers.

Inbound marketing helps build that all important trust factor with your target market because it provides value and the proof of expertise without a financial transaction having to take place. Inbound marketing allows customers – on a small scale – to try before they buy. This helps reduce the perceived risk of doing business with your company. – Peter Geisheker (@Geisheker), CEO, The Geisheker Group Marketing Firm

It’s a whole new way of thinking about how we communicate with decision makers, and there are better and best strategies. A winning inbound marketing plan will build an authentic brand voice based on two foundations: provide top-tier content and use social media generously.

Provide Top-Tier Content

Content marketing is the lifeblood of inbound, but bad content is the drive-thru diet that will fatten it up only to kill it off prematurely. Bad content is fast, simple, and easy to consume, but the meat has holes and it’s mostly junk. Marketers who are genuinely interested in building an inbound marketing strategy that generates trust and builds relationships are slow-cooking steaks. Top-tier content supports your brand in many ways, and the first thing it does is establish expertise. A robust content library sets your brand apart from the amateurs and hobbyists.

Business owners want to work with other businesses that are experts in their particular fields, and they want undeniable proof. Inbound marketing allows you to build and showcase your expertise through your blog, case studies, white papers, videos, eBooks, podcasts, etc. Businesses cannot afford to try out new businesses unless those new business have undeniable proof that they can deliver on what they promise. Inbound marketing allows a business to showcase their expertise and prove that they can deliver. – Peter Geisheker (@Geisheker)

After building a reputation as an expert in your niche or field, a thorough content marketing strategy will promote your brand to the position of a “thought-leader.” Beyond being an industry expert, building a collection of resources and curating the best third-party offerings through your social streams will secure your brand as a leader in your field.

When you create content – whether it’s a blog post, video, podcast or newsletter – you’re trying to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. The aim is to become a trusted source of information for your target market, and you do that by consistently creating quality content. Over time, you’ve earned the trust of your audience by providing them with something valuable for nothing. When they come to make a buying decision, you’re miles ahead of competitors who have just paid for their attention and given nothing in return. – James Blackwell (@JWBlackwell)

Making sure that buyers and decision makers get the content that they need is where top-tier content meets top-tier strategy. Your best content will never establish your expertise or, better yet, build your reputation as a thought-leader, if your audience doesn’t find what they’re looking for.

  • Rethink your model – Marketing and Sales need to get together and rethink the sales funnel/marketing cycle models in light of the revolution happening in the marketplace. How much of the funnel is really Marketing vs Sales? How many stages of the cycle are people really hitting?
  • Develop personas – Who are your decision makers, and what questions are they asking? What questions should they be asking? What questions will they be asking?

With the buyer’s journey clearly mapped out and personas developed, create content for each prospective buyer at each stage of his journey. When content is not only resourceful and informative, but predictive and preemptive, buyers know that you’ve walked this road before and lived to tell the tale.

Consumers don’t want to talk to a sales rep if they don’t have to, and they certainly don’t want bureaucracy and inefficiency slowing their decision making process. Where inbound marketing is getting incredibly interesting is actually anticipating the need for a response. The companies that anticipate the best – with content, timing, and channels – will win the most customers. – Brian Hansford (@RemarkMarketing)

It’s easy to agree with the value of a well-developed content marketing strategy. After all,

But inbound is not a new set of marketing tricks to add to your bag. It’s a new communication ethos. There are no short-cuts, especially when it comes to the quality of your content. Invest the time to develop a thorough plan, and provide your audience with top-tier content.

Use Social Media the Right Way

Your social media channels are not a broadcast medium. They are “social” first, and “media” second, and brands that keep their social opportunities in that order will reach their audience to establish trust and build relationships. Anyone can use social media to talk, but organizations that are getting the most ROI out of social are using it to listen and curate as well.

Using Social Media to Listen

Social media provides some remarkably powerful opportunities for brands to listen to their audience, but most still aren’t doing it – or aren’t doing it very well.

The bar has been set pitifully low, but it gives your organization a great opportunity to exceed buyers’ expectations.

Ask questions and listen. Encourage customers to share their experiences with others through multiple channels. If the vendor company supports the discussion without censorship, levels of trust and loyalty will grow. Admit to mistakes and don’t hesitate to tell someone that your solution may not be the best fit for them. When companies withhold information they only create doubt, and too much product-speak only shows that you care about yourself and not your audience. Inbound marketers who share the most will build trust. – Brian Hansford (@RemarkMarketing)

You can listen to, and learn from, your audience via social media in two ways

  • Eavesdropping – Social media tools like Hootsuite and LinkedIn Groups make it easy (and free) to browse the social landscape to see what is being said about your brand, your competitors, your industry, etc.
  • Conversations – From Google Hangouts to TweetChats, there are a variety of ways to host public or private conversations with your market.

Marketers used to have to rely on surveys and painstakingly collected data to know what their prospects were thinking, but social media has given buyers the tools and the voice to air their reviews, complaints, and opinions with a few simple clicks. And it only takes a few more simple clicks for brands to find the feedback they need.

Using Social Media to Curate Content

Curating content establishes your expertise and elevates your authority because it demonstrates to buyers that your brand has a finger on the pulse of your industry. It serves as a proof that you are genuinely interested in helping your audience find the answers they need, and that your organization is not intimidated by other professional voices in the marketplace. There are all kinds of tools available to help you curate content.

  • Google Alerts sends you emails when new content is published online based on the keywords you select.
  • News Aggregators like Flipboard and Pulse are starting to replace some traditional RSS feed readers. You can select blogs and news outlets, and these apps will display the content in an organized (and visually appealing) format that is easy to share.
  • Curation Engines range from free services like Klout, to inexpensive apps like Hootsuite Pro, to serious B2B marketing platforms like Oktopost. These engines will all, to varying degrees, help you find and share content to your social networks.

Whichever tools you decide to you use, remember that curating content is about building your reputation as a trusted expert and thought-leader. That means you want to do more than just throw catchy titles and trending hashtags at your audience.

  • Check the links – Content moves and links get broken, and too many curators retweet or repost well-written headlines without checking the links. Don’t get caught cheating when a buyer clicks a link you provide and finds it broken.
  • Be picky – Your audience should know that any link you share is worth their time. Buyers and decision makers are busy, and there’s already more content available than anyone can ingest. Share the best.
  • Add your voice – Include a comment, insight, or explanation of the content with the link, so your audience knows that you’re still the expert. It’s also an effective way to link your brand to the content.
  • Include a snippet and an image. This is harder on Twitter, where the character count is severely limited, but on your other networks, include a teaser. Curated content that includes images gets 47% more click throughs, and those with medium snippets (141 to 1200 characters) get 20% more click throughs.

Curating content is one important strategy in using your social media channels to generate trust and build relationships. Take the time to do it well.

Social First, Media Second

Listening to the marketplace is at once more important and more accessible than ever. Similarly, filtering the content overflow is a valuable service to provide for your audience.

There’s no channel faster and more open than social media for interacting with your audience. They are already there, and expect to see the brands they like (or dislike) there as well. Responding to consumers through Twitter, Facebook, etc. shows that you’re engaged as well, and helps you take control of the conversation, which will likely happen without you anyway. Sharing your content and curating other valuable content directly on social media also helps build relationships and trust, as well as making up an essential part of the content promotion stage.– James Blackwell (@JWBlackwell)

Social media is the perfect tool for listening and curating, as long as brands keep the end game in mind: build trust and establish relationships. Make it about your audience.

The New Marketing Reality

Today’s buyer-driven marketplace has forced marketers to change the way we communicate with decision makers, but some are already trying to whittle a philosophy down to a bag of tricks. The value of inbound is not in the strategies themselves, but in understanding the new buyer.

Inbound marketing is first about attracting the right type of traffic, creating content that resonates with your audience, and interacting through social media to start a relationship. Then it’s about ensuring that content is findable (SEO), and will convert those visitors into customers and eventually advocates (conversion optimisation, email marketing).– James Blackwell (@JWBlackwell)

Providing top-tier content and using social media as more than just another broadcast platform will help brands build trust and develop relationships with skeptical buyers and busy decision makers. Inbound is not the next here-today-gone-tomorrow marketing trend. As long as buyers drive the marketplace and social drives the web, inbound marketing is the new reality.

Nate Dame
CEO and Founder
Nate is the founder and CEO of Profound Strategy, a results-oriented SEO consultancy trusted by forward-thinking companies, including a few of the world's largest B2B and technology brands. Profound Strategy builds holistic SEO strategies, supports internal teams, and offers full-service execution to create an organic search presence that generates significant revenue.

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