How to Connect with Buyers in an Inbound Market

New challenges are being answered with insightful, robust inbound marketing strategies that not only attract buyers in a busy marketplace, but also open doors for authentic connections - both intellectually and emotionally.
August 18, 2014

Your brand has a unique opportunity to instantly connect with buyers and decision makers in the new marketplace, because the social, self-published web has forever changed the way that people come together. New challenges are being answered with insightful, robust inbound marketing strategies that not only attract buyers in a busy marketplace, but also open doors for authentic connections – both intellectually and emotionally. Where brands are willing to operate with increased transparency, inbound marketing is not only providing the answers and insight that decision makers are looking for, but is also helping marketers weave their brand narratives into the stories of their buyers and communities. Combining authentic intellectual and emotional connections is putting savvy brands right in the middle of their best markets.

Pull Back the Curtain

Traditional marketing has always involved probably too much smoke and too many mirrors, but a connected, social web has leveled much of the playing field and given buyers a peek behind the curtain. Your customers know there’s a real person behind the shiny website and slick emails, and they really want to talk to you. Fittingly, the internet’s very own Wizard of Moz is all about pulling back the curtain.

I’m a huge believer in authenticity. It is one of the qualities that separates scummy, interruptive, annoying marketing from valuable, empathetic, interesting marketing. – Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), Moz

Speaker, author, entrepreneur, and change agent C. C. Chapman knows firsthand the power of authenticity.

No one likes the big ivory tower company that thinks it is better than everyone else. Showing a human side allows people to feel more connected. This doesn’t mean you act silly or off-brand, but that you know who you are and you don’t get hung up behind lawyers or PR professionals who tell you not to do it. Trust your gut and use your head and you’ll be okay. – C.C. Chapman (@CC_Chapman)

Whether you’re appealing to your audience’s emotional or informational needs, inbound marketing works best when it’s honest, because it creates an authentic connection and because – to put it simply – people like talking to people.

Authenticity Creates Connections

Even the most resourceful content won’t resonate as much as it can if buyers only see a logo and stock photos. If every blog post was written by your brand name, you miss opportunities to connect with your audience. Phil Gerbyshak writes about, speaks on, and coaches and trains marketers in the power of transparent connections through social media.

Honest communication is huge. The more honest and transparent you can be, the more you can connect with your customers and prospects. – Phil Gerbyshak (@PhilGerb)

The smaller the community – the marketplace niche, customers, competitors, and fans that share a common interest with your brand – the more important authenticity becomes. National audiences expect less transparency from large, enterprise corporations, and are thus more forgiving when it’s lacking. (Although some of the biggest companies are still striving for greater and greater authenticity in their marketplace relationships.) But in a small town, everybody knows everybody’s business, and a fake is quickly discovered and discredited.

Anytime you have a tight-knit industry or a highly interconnected group you’re attempting to reach, authenticity is going to resonate well. When the groups are larger and less connected, authenticity becomes less critical (and you can see this difference in the way big businesses market vs. how effective small businesses reach customers). – Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), Moz

In a marketplace saturated with outbound marketing tricks, any inbound effort is going to resonate with your audience. But honest, transparent communication that lets decision makers see who your company is, what your brand stands for, and how your organization works will connect far more than sterile information.

Authenticity Demonstrates Humanity

Authentic inbound marketing opens doors for relationships with your audience, because people connect with people, not logos. Seventy-eight percent of consumers believe that organizations providing custom content are genuinely interested in developing relationship with them. At the same time, however, 27 million pieces of content are shared every day. Jason Falls is an author, speaker, and digital strategist who (almost) always advocates showing a company’s humanity.

Inbound marketing is all about leading people to you, and people don’t wish to talk to a building, a logo or a company. They wish to talk to a human being. Certainly, it takes both inbound marketing methods and direct sales methods in a good balance to be optimally successful, but I can’t think of a single instance where showing the human side of the company is a detriment. Well, unless of course your human side is a bunch of money grubbing scum who don’t care about customers. If so, don’t show that side. – Jason Falls (@JasonFalls), Social Media Examiner

Inbound will stand out in a marketplace saturated by outbound, but authenticity will connect with people as the inbound ethos takes over and more and more content is produced and shared. Sam Mallikarjunan is the Head of Marketing at HubSpot Labs.

It’s a classic reflex to try and make yourself seem larger than you are. In fact, it’s a basic survival instinct! But personification and humanization can arguably be much more powerful. Send emails from a real person. Have a real person interact on Twitter. Do everything you can to scalably connect the end user with a real, live human being so that your company is a person with whom consumers form a relationship, not a faceless logo on a Google Shopping results page where they can just sort by price. – Sam Mallikarjunan (@Mallikarjunan), HubSpot

Buyers in the new marketplace are hungry for transparency from the organizations and brands they work with, and inbound marketing provides unique opportunities for companies of all sizes to authentically connect with their audiences.

Connecting Intellectually

Inbound marketing provides answers and resources that buyers are looking for, but before we can create the answers, marketers need to understand the questions. There are two main ways to do this: talk the talk, and walk the walk.

Talk the Talk

Marketers have some great tools today for metrics and analytics – tools that can tell us where people are on their buying journey, and what they’re searching the web for. We’re grateful for those applications, but they also sometimes make it easy to overlook the power of a simple conversation.

I love the good, old fashioned method: Talk to your customers. They may not know for certain what it is they need, but they will have plenty to tell you. And interacting with them will reveal quite a bit. As you identify that need, draw a map from it to your business. Where do the two intersect? Where does it make sense to present a call-to-action? At what point in the funnel are they entering and when? Knowing those answers can help you map messaging and opportunity to engagement.– Jason Falls (@JasonFalls), Social Media Examiner

Take your best client out for lunch, and talk about him. What does he need? What is his biggest challenge right now? What is threatening his industry or his company? In addition to private conversations, host or join public ones. Social media has made it easier than ever for brands to participate in the marketplace gossip.

  • Schedule a Google hangout or a Twitter chat.
  • Participate in LinkedIn groups.Search Twitter hashtags or keywords.
  • Set up Google Alerts.

The social web has helped buyers find their voice, and they are eager to use it – especially if they know brands are listening.

Identification happens by paying attention, surveying and asking questions, and then listening to what is said. Meeting those needs is about creating content in a variety of formats that answers the how, the what, and most importantly, the why this matters to your customers and prospects.Phil Gerbyshak (@PhilGerb)

Whether privately or publicly, in person or online, find ways to talk to your audience, and then give them the information that they need.

Walk the Walk

Once you know what buyers need, make that information actionable for your team. Going the extra mile to put yourself in the buyer’s shoes will help you create content that not only answers their questions, but anticipates threats and opportunities they haven’t even mentioned yet.

While I love talking to people directly, I actually like doing their work and living their lives as the best way to understand your audience. For example, many of Moz’s customers are consultants at agencies, helping their clients do SEO. Thus, I spent a week last year swapping CEO roles with my friend Wil Reynolds, who runs SEER Interactive in Philadelphia. We slept in each other’s houses, walked to each other’s offices, traded calendars, and even answered one another’s emails! That process of living Wil’s life let me feel, more so than ever before, what the pressures, challenges, and needs of an SEO consultancy are like (and it was great that he came to run Moz for a week, too, sharing his thoughts with our team). I don’t discount the power of 1:1 conversations and surveys, but I love the real-life experience of  being your customer to help understand their challenges and objectives. – Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), Moz

If none of your clients are willing to let you run their companies for a week, carve out some time to sit down with your team and all the insight you’ve gained from interviews, and develop a few buyer personas. Consider:

    • Demographics. Gender, age, education, income level, etc. will help you understand how to talk to your buyers.
    • Your marketing or sales model. Which ever model your organization uses, make sure you develop personas that cover every stage.
    • Job description. Sometimes you’re talking to the CEO, but sometimes the new guy on the sales team finds your content and wants to help his company get to the next level.

Helping your team understand that you’re creating content for “CEO Charlie,” “Marketing Mary,” and “New Guy Nate” will inspire more forward-thinking, practical, and robust content.

Segment your business’ unit economics into buyer persona cohorts. That’s a fancy way of saying that different types of customers have different types of values to your business. You know this intuitively, but most businesses don’t identify different buyer personas in a way that allows them to see what applications of inbound marketing are attracting and converting the most valuable kinds of customers. This will always be a moving target. Use both explicit data (things customers actually tell you in response to surveys or service interactions) and implicit data (things you find out by analyzing the behavioral patterns and correlations of various customer groups) to constantly revise your definitions of the psychographic dimensions of your market. Don’t just focus on who your customers are, obsess over what they’re trying to accomplish and why. – Sam Mallikarjunan (@Mallikarjunan), HubSpot

Once you’ve heard what buyers have to say, and your team is beginning to understand where they’re coming from, start producing. Failure to follow through after your conversations will make your efforts look like a gimmick, and tarnish the brand’s reputation in the marketplace. It takes time to develop good, resourceful content, of course, especially as you’re maintaining and growing your business, but you can take some simple steps in the meantime to let your audience know you heard them:

  • Publish unpolished notes from your meetings (with permission, if they were private conversations). Copy and paste your notes into a blog post, and type up a short summary at the end. Tell your readers, “This is what we heard and what we’re working on. Did we miss anything?”
  • Tweet sound bites. If someone made an insightful comment or asked a good question, echo it in a Tweet a few days later. Make sure you find his Twitter username so you can cite and link to him.
  • Create visual snippets. Use a site like Canva or PicMonkey, or a mobile app like Word Swag, to put some of those same quotes into eye-catching visual content for Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
  • Set a deadline for the resources you are creating – a series of blog posts, an eBook, a webinar, a video, etc. With every small piece that’s released, remind your audience that more is coming, and when, and then nail that deadline.

Inbound marketing starts with giving buyers the information and resources they’re looking for. Understanding their industries and niches, their job descriptions, their struggles, challenges, and opportunities will help you create a range of content to meet their needs.

Connecting Emotionally

Emotional connections between buyers and brands are powerful forces. When someone appreciates a company’s work for intellectual reasons, he or she will continue a working relationship and maybe refer a colleague or two. When someone is in love with your brand, he continues the working relationship but he also becomes an advocate. Connecting intellectually is the first goal of inbound marketing, but a thorough strategy will optimize your content to make an emotional connection with your audience as well. Where you connect intellectually through facts and figures, you connect with your audience emotionally through stories and your brand narrative. Forging those emotional connections means knowing your audience first, and then weaving your story into theirs.

Know Thy Audience

Understanding your buyers’ problems and goals is different from knowing what really inspires and drives them. The former will help you provide resourceful information, the latter will help your brand become part of their story.

If you can’t tell how to connect with the emotions of your audience, then you need to learn more about your audience.C.C. Chapman (@CC_Chapman)

What do they worry about? What do they get excited about? What do they hate, and what do they love? Where have they come from? What is their personal vision? Why are they working in their industry? Learn their stories. As buyer personas are being developed to help you create content that answers questions and solves problems, go the extra mile and ask some deeper, personal questions about those personas.

Empathy is the most important skill a marketer can develop. The ability to put yourself in the shoes of your customers, audience, and influencers is almost a superpower – it lets you create and communicate with far greater resonance than others. The key is to understand the pain points of those you’re trying to reach with the same emotions and same intensity that they themselves feel. When you can rank the most painful points and intense emotions, you can reach the heart of the matter with your messages.– Rand Fishkin (@RandFish), Moz

Put yourself in their shoes. What makes them tick? For example, you can gather demographic data on Marketing Mary, project her position in the sales funnel, and then provide content that will help her teach her team and influence her superiors. If you also understand, however, that her husband works and she has two kids at home, that empathy takes the relationship further. Your brand narrative now mentions how your founder was a working mom, and instead of just providing information, marketing puts together a slideshow presentation that Marketing Mary can download and run with because she doesn’t have time to do it herself.

The best inbound marketers are those that can focus on creating an end-to-end experience that they would love. They write content they want to read. They position campaigns in a way that speaks to them. Focus on that moreso even than traditional marketing skills. You can teach someone to send an optimized email – you can’t teach customer centricity. – Sam Mallikarjunan (@Mallikarjunan), HubSpot

Intellectual connections tell buyers that your brand is on their side. Emotional connections tells buyers that your brand is on their team.

Merge Your Stories

Once you know what decision makers need, and you understand what drives them, find the plot developments where their stories overlap your brand narrative, and highlight those chapters.

Every brand, no matter what they do, has unique things that make up their DNA. Likewise, your audience and customers will share certain things about them that you can be sure to play to when telling your story.C.C. Chapman (@CC_Chapman)

People like stories. We like villains and heroes, rising action and surprise endings, and the very best stories – from novels to movies to brand narratives – are the ones in which the audience finds themselves represented.

You connect by telling the story in a real way, and connect it to real people who use your product or service. – Phil Gerbyshak (@PhilGerb)

Sometimes that means highlighting the past – modest beginnings, near-fatal mistakes, lucky breaks, etc. Sometimes that means continuing the brand narrative in a way that intentionally ties into the personal lives of buyers.

In an ideal world, the two collide. 5/3 Bank recently launched a reemployment campaign focused on helping people who were out of work find jobs. Once they find jobs and have money coming in, they need a bank. So 5/3 was focusing on the emotional needs (and physical needs) of a portion of its audience while telling the authentic story of how the brand does care for its customers. In the event that your story doesn’t necessarily follow the customer’s emotional needs well, focus on the customer’s needs and that relationship. At a minimum, he or she will trust you and want to do business with you whether there’s a direct tie-in or not. – Jason Falls (@JasonFalls), Social Media Examiner

If you’re not sure how to start doing that, go back to the brand’s vision/mission statement, and ask yourself how you can fulfill that ideal outside of your current industry. If you develop marketing software, for example, your vision might be to help small businesses grow, so ask what they need besides good marketing software. If you’re an insurance agency, your mission is probably about helping people save money and gain peace of mind, but insurance isn’t the only way to do that. Speaking to and helping decision makers in line with your brand’s vision –  but outside the box of your primary goods and services – will help you weave their stories into your brand narrative and create a strong emotional connection.

Just Be Yourself!

Mom’s ancient wisdom comes back around. Get to know your audience so you can create the kind of content they’re looking for, and make sure you understand your buyers so you can be the kind of organization that they love. Resist the urge to hide behind a logo and a rigid set of communication protocols, and let the marketplace see your brand’s authentic, transparent, honest humanity.  

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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