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How to be Smart in a World of Idiotic Marketers

Pratik Dholakiya

If I’ve learned one thing in my career as a marketer, it’s that the most commonly suggested way of doing things is rarely the best one. There is a reason this industry, like others, is ruled by a relatively small number of firms that actually stay in business.

That reason is simple: most marketers are doing it wrong, and you can’t take their advice to heart.

Here’s how to set yourself apart from the pack.

1. Ignore Lies Told by Inbound Marketers

We love inbound marketing, and it’s a huge part of what we do, but this industry doesn’t come without its share of liars.

Inbound marketers love to throw statistics around that point to a declining interest in traditional advertisements, a growing number of psychological and technical ad filters, and a decreasing ROI for outbound techniques. They aren’t lying there. However, the implication is that inbound marketing always has a higher ROI than outbound marketing, and that it’s just not worth doing.

That’s not true.

Our clients are very satisfied with our PPC campaigns. They’re a great way to target a very specific audience and to pull in warm and hot leads looking for something to buy.

Ever since the first town market opened up thousands of years ago, entrepreneurs have been using both outbound and inbound marketing techniques. They would shout from their market about fresh fish (outbound), and they would leverage that to build a word-of-mouth reputation (inbound).

Outbound techniques do have a lower ROI than inbound techniques if they are built around a churn-and-burn approach. If, on the other hand, you focus on turning those purchases into long term relationships that you leverage in order to boost lifetime customer value and awareness, you are building a solid business and a strong future.

Inbound marketing does not inherently have a higher ROI, either. Work with the wrong firm and it can take years to break your first thousand monthly visitors. Many of these “inbound marketers” are really just former content link spammers who decided to switch over to social media and blogging in order to sound more modern.

Transforming your website into a content farm isn’t going to crash your servers with traffic.

Inbound marketing is about capturing the trust of consumers who are still very far up the buying funnel. It’s a very slow way to make money. Once the momentum is built up, it’s incredible. It earns the closest thing to passive income that’s possible in the real world, and it only gets easier with time. But it is slow. If you can turn a profit today with outbound marketing, you should. It’s just a very good idea to invest that profit back into inbound, in order to earn yourself a long term place in the market and a dedicated following.

Inbound marketers also tend to embrace a “build it and they will come” aesthetic without acknowledging the things you need to do in order for that to happen. Writing “great, unique, valuable content” is only part of the battle, and fails to state things in a measurable, repeatable, justifiable fashion.

The truth is that you’re going to get a lot farther if you start thinking about how you’re going to work on collaborative projects that involve people who already have an established audience. You’re also going to get a lot farther if you invest in building tools and communities, you do some market research before writing to ensure that you’re meeting the right needs, and you bring some proprietary or scarce information to the table when you work on a content strategy.

Finally, inbound marketers who hype social networks beyond reason are some of the worst offenders. Social networks are great because all the social sharing happens in public. It’s good to have a following like this, mainly because it offers social proof to newcomers. However, social networks are not genuinely the best place for word of mouth to spread or the best source of conversions.

A following in social media is not as valuable as a following in email. Users check all of their email. They don’t check their entire Facebook feed. Facebook’s algorithm decides whether users see your post, and they have incentives to ask you to pay for that exposure. This is true of all social networks.

“Dark social,” the social sharing that goes on in email, instant messaging, and other channels actually sends more referral traffic throughout the entire web than public social networks like Facebook. Email is as social as any channel: it just doesn’t happen out in the public where we can brag about it.

Focus on the metrics that matter, like the number of repeat visitors, not the number of Likes you have.

All in all, the divide between outbound and inbound marketing is mostly artificial. You can use pretty much any “outbound” channel like an “inbound” marketer. Arguably, inbound marketing makes you a better outbound marketer.

It’s about how you treat consumers, not the channel you’re using to reach them.

2. Ignore Lies Told by Outbound Marketers

Traditional marketing has its share of liars as well, and most of that comes in the form of overzealous skepticism.

Many outbound marketers still claim that inbound marketing isn’t profitable, that there’s no proof of ROI, and that the whole thing is just a marketing fad. While they’ve been right to criticize some of the hype, they’re just wrong on this one.

They point to statistics proving that the vast majority of people who use social networks aren’t looking to buy anything and don’t use them to find information. They point to clients who tried inbound marketing and didn’t see a cent of profit. They may even point to clients who managed to rank number one for keywords and still didn’t see any sales from it. They’re not wrong. They’re just missing the point.

You can’t compare bad inbound marketing to good outbound marketing. It’s not a fair comparison.

Using social media doesn’t mean you’re using it right. If you put the focus on the number of Likes you’re getting, you’re not measuring its effect on customer retention, and you’re not optimizing for reach, of course it’s not going to work. Pumping out content that you consider “quality” by your own standards doesn’t guarantee traffic or persuasion either. Ranking number one for a keyword, even a competitive one, doesn’t mean you’re going to make sales. That comes down to conversion rate optimization.

There’s no doubt that consumers feel more comfortable with businesses that they discovered themselves or heard about from a trusted friend. If you are continually finding ways to encourage that to happen, you are going to be building a stronger business and a loyal customer base.

3. Value Tests and Data Over Opinions and Dogma

It doesn’t matter how many blog posts you read or how many eBooks you fill your head with; you’re not going to make the most of your marketing talents until you start measuring and testing everything you hold dear.

We’ve learned something over the years. Many marketers, entrepreneurs, and businesspeople are afraid of tests. They’re afraid that their hunches and beliefs will be proven wrong. They’ve convinced themselves that the benefits of their strategies can’t be measured, and that they’re going to toss out that hidden value. And yeah, if you hire people who don’t know how to measure properly, that’s exactly what might happen.

Here’s the thing. If you don’t test your strategies and tactics, you’re going to be responsible for a lot of waste. The Pareto principle is going to take over, and you’re going to spend about 80 percent of your time doing things that are only responsible for 20 percent of your results. That’s a great way to throw resources down the toilet.

Some argue that inbound marketing techniques are impossible to measure, that you have to just keep investing and have faith that it will work, or don’t bother in the first place. I think that’s an incredibly naïve way to think about inbound and SEO tactics.

You can run ads to test which headline’s going to work best for you. You can split test content to see what’s going to maximize conversions, minimize your bounce rate, and maximize sharing activity. You can test which content is most likely to earn a positive response and a link from an influencer during outreach. You can measure which factors are most strongly correlated with your rankings, and measure which tactics are having the strongest impact on those factors.

The same goes for outbound marketing. It should go without saying that PPC is readily measured and testable. But what about brand impressions and CPM? You can test for correlations between ad impressions and direct traffic. The number of things you can measure is virtually limitless.

I’m not saying you should let yourself fall into analysis paralysis. Go right ahead and act on your hunches and impulses. Just make sure that you’re measuring while you do, and clearly defining what to look for as a result of your efforts. Throw away the metrics and tactics that don’t correlate strongly with anything that matters. It’s the only way to truly optimize.

I’ve heard many marketers say this is a 24/7 job that should consume your whole life. I think that’s nonsense, and a horrible vision for the future of marketing. If that’s the way you see things, maybe you haven’t identified the work that actually accomplishes your goals. Maybe you aren’t measuring what really matters.

4. Do What Winners Do, Not What They Say

Look at any successful blackhat SEO guru and you’ll notice something. They didn’t become masters of that niche by spamming the web with blackhat tactics. They became masters because they took a strong stance, gave away proprietary information that their audience found valuable, optimized their landing pages for their audience, and earned a lot of natural links from the blackhats who worshipped them and the whitehats who loathed them.

Many inbound marketers who claim that outbound doesn’t work also use PPC ads and other forms of “interruption” marketing. Many SEO gurus who emphasize “just producing great content” also spend a lot of time collaborating with big names in the industry, writing guest posts, and building influential relationships.

There’s more than one way to win the marketing game, but if you want to be one of those people, you’re going to learn a lot more from the actions of people who have won than from their words.

I love a good case study, and I spend a lot of time looking at the tactics of those who succeed outside of the SEO and internet marketing communities. Many of the sites that dominate Google’s rankings aren’t using any of the tactics advised by self-proclaimed SEO gurus, and a lot of the people who dominate social networks aren’t spending a lot of time using tactics advised by social media marketers either.

If there’s just one piece of advice I’d like to impart on the digital marketing industry, it’s this: learn by expert example. (The word expert is key here.)

That’s where the real gold nuggets lie.

How do you set yourself apart?

Author Bio:

Pratik Dholakiya is the Co-Founder and VP of Marketing of an internet marketing company, E2M Solutions and a creative design agency, OnlyDesign. He’s passionate about startup marketing, entrepreneurship and all things inbound marketing. Catch him on Twitter to discuss on any of these topics.

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Pratik Dholakiya is the Founder of The 20 Media, a content marketing agency and advisor at MoveoApps, a mobile apps development company. He regularly speaks at various conferences about SEO, Content Marketing, Growth Hacking, Entrepreneurship, and Digital PR. Pratik has spoken at NextBigWhat's UnPluggd, IIT-Bombay, IIT-Roorkee, SMX Israel, Florida Public Relations Association's Annual Conference and other major events. Pratik has contributed on sites like Moz, SEW, SEJ, KISSmetrics, and Content Marketing Institute to name a few. He’s a "must follow" SEO expert according to Search Engine Watch and has been named one of the top content marketing influencers by Onalytica.
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Chris Labbate
Hello Pratik:

Great article, I believe it is worth millions more than 10,000 other inbound marketing posts on why "Content is King." It often makes me laugh but I see a lot of Hubspot agencies out there who produce content 24/7 (not all bad) but, with some of the worse SEO in the industry. No real traffic and yet they sell inbound marketing every day to others. Inbound marketing is one thing, but maybe they should sell "inbound leads" so they know they should be calculating conversations too. Im not saying SEO is easy, or that I have all the answers, even being an agency we have a hard time sometimes finding clients that feel comfortable implementing the types of technology and marketing we can provide for their companies. Real Systems with serious data, marketing automation and proper research of campaigns, as you say are key. Great information, I will share!
Caroline Wabara
Wow... Thanks for this valuable lesson. Do as I do. Not as I say.