When you think of marketing today, the first word that typically comes to mind is content – whether it be blog posts, images or video. But the one thing that may be keeping your marketing content from reaching its intended audience is context, or lack thereof.
Mike Volpe, chief marketing officer for inbound marketing platform provider HubSpot, talks about the importance of understanding context in order to create content that builds long-term relationships. Below is a portion of our conversation from the exhibition floor at Dreamforce 2012.
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Small Business Trends: What does inbound marketing really mean to a small business person trying to make their mark building relationships with customers?
Mike Volpe: Inbound marketing is really the ability to attract more people into your business…. It is really about creating content with context, so it is connected with the right people at the right time, using those two concepts together to attract more people into your business.
I actually think for small businesses this is even more critical than larger ones because small businesses have smaller budgets and less time. Making small changes in their lead generation and their sales can make a huge, huge impact.
Small Business Trends: So you hit on that whole context thing. You hear the term content is king, but is it really now? Isn’t context and content about the same today?
Mike Volpe: I think content and context need to work together. We are getting better at having personalized messages on email, and I think even to some degree on social. But why is your website home page the same for every single person visiting it, the same for your customers, the same for people who have already or already in your sales pipeline?
You should be able to display personalized context on your website and have personalized relationships there just like you do on email and just like you do on social. So it is really figuring out what ways you can bring all that stuff together and have those good contextually based conversations.
Small Business Trends: How has inbound marketing changed over the years with the entry of all of these social networks, mobile tools and the Cloud?
Mike Volpe: I feel like the theory of inbound marketing hasn’t changed at all, but the actual tactics used have. I think in 2006 and 2007, a lot of inbound was really SEO and blogging and that was when we first connected. You were starting to blog and you were a big podcaster and doing all of those things. It has gone from that to Twitter and Facebook and mobile has become more important over time with tons of proliferation of smart phones.
All of those things have become more and more important. But I think that those are all tactics and channels that will continue to change over time.
I think what is not going away is that consumers don’t want to consume advertising, they want to consume content that is useful and interesting to them. That needs to be the cornerstone of your marketing and that is why we talk so much about inbound.
Small Business Trends: Can you talk about the power of LinkedIn and what it can offer small businesses?
Mike Volpe: I think that for small businesses, especially if you are a B2B small business … selling to other businesses. The data we look at for Web traffic – LinkedIn vs. other social networks – if you are a B2B company the conversion rate can be three to four times higher of that traffic converting into leads and then the conversion rate of revenue is much higher.
We found with B2B companies, LinkedIn can be a fantastic community. There are some great ways for small businesses to get involved with LinkedIn. You have company pages and LinkedIn just launched functionality in companies for segmentation of your audience company pages. There … are groups you can form. So there a lot of ways to get involved there. I think that LinkedIn, especially if you are a B2B company, should not to be overlooked.
Small Business Trends: How does Pinterest fit in to how a small business can actually leverage inbound marketing?
Mike Volpe: I think the key to Pinterest is visual context because it is such a visually based medium. So a lot of consumer B to C companies have made really, really good use of Pinterest by posting pictures of cool, innovative, interesting products and being active within those communities. There are a lot of consumer retailers that have done well branding products on Pinterest.
Even within B2B we have a Pinterest account because we do all of these things ourselves. We have found that photos, images, pictures of charts and graphs of data, are interesting to our audience and have performed well. Images of the covers of our ebooks and then linking out to where you can get the ebooks, things like that have performed well for us.
Small Business Trends: How important is video to a small business?
Mike Volpe: Video is one of the things that is both easy and hard. I say that video is easy to create but it is really hard to do well. You do a lot of podcasting and you do a bunch of videos as well and you have a huge background in radio, which helped you become good a doing those things.
For many small businesses, video is not the place that I would necessarily start first. You can do it and it can be effective, but I would start with many of these other things. Blogging, creating content, ebooks, webinars – all of these things I would do before I really worked my way up to video.
Small Business Trends: We talked a lot about inbound marketing, content and the top of the funnel? l know that you guys are really getting into the middle-of-the-funnel, or as you call it ‘MOFU.’ Can you talk about ‘MOFU’ and where automation fits in and how that can help a small business?
Mike Volpe: What is interesting about the middle-of-the-funnel, or further down in the sales marketing process is that, as you learn more about people, context becomes more important and brings us back to the beginning part of the conversation.
As you learn more, you need to really respect that. When you’re communicating, show them that you still know a lot about them. It is annoying when you have interactions with the company and then someone else calls you and they don‘t even remember or recognize any of the things that they have been talking to you about.
With email communications you are sending out there are ways to automate that stuff. But make sure you are segmenting and personalizing those so that you’re recognizing the context of the conversation. The same thing with social and the content of your website. Again someone is already talking with your sales rep and then maybe a meeting is setup for the next day. You should be showing something that is relevant to that type of conversation on the home page or other pages of your website.
The middle-of-the-funnel is really about context. Yes, you can do a bunch of automation, whether it is automating emails or other work flows or other content that is appearing on your site. So automation can help there. But make sure that you use the automation in a smart way to respect the context of what’s happening within that portion of the conversation.
Small Business Trends: So we know that content is really important for marketing, branding and promotion, but what about customer service? Retaining customers, not just looking for new ones?
Mike Volpe: We all know companies drive a lot of ongoing value from their customers. More and more of the companies are moving to a subscription model, or keeping customers for a long time becomes more and more important; so continuous marketing to your customer base is a really smart thing to do because it helps to drive the top line and the bottom line.
One aspect of it is to continue to understand the context of the relationship of the customers. But there is also a lot of content. If you have a customer community or customer feedback, you can take that content and use it for marketing to your customers. You can also use it for marketing to your prospects.
Sales people can take customers stories and things like that from the customer community and use that and use social for marketing at the top of the funnel and getting new prospects in, as well as communicating with people at the middle-of-the-funnel. After that, your customers use all of the content from all of the stages to help you.
A lot of people know if you can get content from your customers in front of your prospects, then more than likely, you can convert. Because they’re going to trust what your customers are saying more than your sales people. So those types of things can be really, really effective.
Small Business Trends: That’s cool to see because we are used to seeing integration with services like HubSpot, with the front for marketing and promotion. So it is nice to see that integration is starting to carry through to the service side.
Mike Volpe: Absolutely. We talk about the notion of a funnel more because there is not another great model out there to really understand the process. But it is not something that ends. There are so many opportunities. I think there are a lot of synergies between what’s happening between customer support and marketing, because social is what ties it all together.
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Watch the video below of my interview with Mike Volpe of HubSpot.
This interview on the importance of context to the success of inbound marketing for small businesses is part of the One on One interview series with thought-provoking entrepreneurs, authors and experts in business today. This transcript has been edited for publication.