Inbound marketing derives much of its effectiveness from creating content that is relevant to your consumer base. Demonstrating value for people interested in your industry is a great first step towards converting them into customers. Once they’ve become accustomed to interacting with your brand (and deriving value from it) on your website/blog/social media presences, they’ll be fully comfortable returning as repeat customers as well.
But what if it never gets to them in the first place?
All the hard work you put into creating valuable content won’t do you any good if you’re unable to distribute it to the segments of your consumer base that will get the most value out of it. It’d be like if you had designed a brilliant invention and spent all your time and money marketing it in Antarctica. Sure, the satisfaction of creating something truly unique is probably a great feeling, but that’ll only get you so far.
Marketing specialist Ritika Puri has written of how content distribution can be best looked at as something slightly separate from the inbound methodology, but still a vital complement to it: “Content marketing programs need more than blog posts, infographics, and videos to take off. Your team needs a carefully defined distribution strategy – which is, in many ways, more like business development and less like marketing.”
She’s tapping into a very interesting conversation about where content distribution lies on the inbound-outbound spectrum. The word “distribution” itself brings to mind things like passing out pamphlets on street corners and going door-to-door with literature – decidedly outbound methods to be sure.
The reality, however, isn’t that clear. The most successful content distribution strategies are ones that share the spirit of inbound and are not meant to be interruptive at all. Let’s take a look at some examples of distribution best practices and see how they combine to form a smart, revenue-raising, and inbound-in-spirit component of marketing.
Content distribution channels can be split up into three main categories:
- Owned Channels – these are the channels that you have complete control and proprietorship over. These are the online counterparts to your brick-and-mortar location. This category includes your blog, website, email newsletter, and social media pages. These are the obvious but crucial first steps towards successful distribution. This is your turf, and like a home field advantage for a baseball team, you better take advantage of it.
- Earned Channels – these channels are the ones that are created for you by your hard work and success with owned media. If you are careful and consistent about creating and curating remarkable content in your owned channels, that content will enjoy the longer shelf life and new life offered by earned media. This represents the (hopefully frequent) occasions on which members of your audience decide to share content from your owned channels on their own platforms: be it showing to friends verbally, forwarding email offers, sharing or liking social media posts, etc. Earned media, to my mind, is the most important step in separating a good content distribution performance from a great one. Success in earned media means that you are not only growing your audience, but also confirms that the people you already had as customers are garnering genuine value out of their engagement with your brand: it’s both a “Hey, keep it up” to you, and a “Hey everyone! Check out this great brand!” to all those other customers you’re hoping to attract.
- Bought Channels – these are the channels that you pay to promote your brand through. In my opinion, these aren’t quite as is important as earned channels (at least not within the context of inbound marketing) because they shade closer to the realm of outbound and reflect inorganic engagement, which is less likely to be as rich and rewarding as organic growth. That doesn’t mean bought channels aren’t important. The important thing with bought channels is to be careful and strategic about choosing which channels are worth paying for. Target your funds in this category towards the places where you know brand engagement has been solid in the past, and you’ll see the most rewarding results from this category of content distribution.
Email occupies an interesting and vital space in the marketing world. In recent years the method has drawn some detractors, but most still find it to be an integral part of a company’s marketing strategy. There’s just no other platform that allows access to a customer’s personal hub of correspondence.
Think about the all of the different types of visitors to your blog. Your peers, coworkers, friends are out there checking in on it periodically. You’ve got the organic visitors who were searching for a keyword that you used on a given post. And then there’s the diehards – those folks who’ve come to know and trust consistently high-quality content from your brand. While you can’t expect this group to immediately skyrocket in numbers, they can represent the ultimate goal. In order to make that happen, why not nudge the process along by sending out email blasts to the followers you already have?
Interestingly, and perhaps in large part due to that very personal element of email marketing, determining whether it is more accurately considered inbound or outbound can be a tad ambiguous. This is something that’s been discussed at length, a discussion that includes (and is summed up nicely by) an interesting video made by HubSpot, in which industry leaders discuss the different ways email marketing can be categorized. On the one hand, it is something that you actively send out to current and potential customers. Other than safeguarding their email address, they have no control over the “when”, “why”, or “what” of receiving that email.
On the other hand, how interruptive is an email, really? Most major email providers have efficient ways of siphoning off emails from brands for marketing purposes into a separate category. When I see that my “Promotions” folder has some unread mail, I’m eager to open them up and see if there’s anything worth checking out. This has changed from when people dreaded the “Spam” emails with subject lines with terrible grammar and worse manners. Nowadays, emails from brands are personal, polite, and demonstrate value.
So ultimately, despite their “outgoing” nature, I see no reason why they can’t be considered a vital cog in the value-demonstrating machine of inbound marketing.
Let’s be honest. Creating remarkable content is tough. We work and work and work to make sure what we’re creating is unique and sincerely borne out of an attempt to demonstrate value to the audience.
Because of this, we owe it to ourselves to make sure that we support that content creation with the right distribution strategy. This requires carefully maintaining all three realms of content distribution: owned, earned, and bought channels are all important to the process, earned channels especially.
Also, because of the imagery conjured up by the word ‘distribution’ itself, it can sometimes be lumped in with more traditional, interruptive aspects of marketing. I think this is a mistake, because distribution doesn’t have to be pushy and it certainly doesn’t have to come from a desire to encroach on your audience’s free time. If the content you create is genuinely valuable, do what it takes to distribute it to the audience who will get the most out of it. The benefits won’t stop there: they’ll come right back around to you in the form of increased revenues.
In order to distribute your content without being interruptive, you have to get to know your audience! Download our free target audience and buyer persona worksheet below to get started.