Crafting Purpose-focused Food & Lifestyle Brands

The Role of Story (Content) in Inbound Marketing

Macro photo used in story about Meerkerk Gardens, on the Whidbey & Camano Islands web site.

Macro photo used in story about Meerkerk Gardens, on the Whidbey & Camano Islands web site.

Back in 2000, when we started producing some of our earliest online story-based projects,  we began to notice something … interesting.

People gravitated to the websites that we were creating, although we had virtually zero marketing support dollars to buy eyeballs. Our projects were getting high search engine rankings. This was in the pre-Social Networking, pre-YouTube era. What we observed — based on the consistent “Yahoo Pick of the Day”-type recognition that we were getting — was that the online audience actually did value quality online content, if it was compellingly produced.

Throughout the first half of this decade we would tell prospective clients for our web-based communications services — almost embarrassingly, since we were dealing in an “outbound marketing” world — that “if you build it they will come.” But, there was a caveat.

You had to build it well, with content and stories that had real meaning for the intended audience. It couldn’t be “brochure”-ware. It had to be high value content, content with the power to inspire, to inform and ultimately influence the viewer. This, we found, was a key to SEO strategy — make it the best, the most definitive content about the subject matter and your  client’s website will become one of the top sites in search returns.

For example, one client of ours – Dive Rite, Inc. – went from complete and total Google obscurity (they weren’t in the top 200, much less the top 20, in Google) to #1, 2 or 3 search return rankings for their key terms, such as “cave diving equipment,” or “tech diving gear.” In one year, their site traffic has nearly doubled, as a result of this improvement in search rankings. Yet, this was done with virtually zero ad spending, and minimal e-Newsletter, forum participation and other, outreach.

A key player in all of this is the content. From the Product Catalog, to the Solution Finder,  to the Ambassadors and Customer storytelling, to the Cave Diving Historical Timeline, the Dive Rite web presence is full of inspiring and informative content – good stories, good info to use – keeping this particular niche audience of divers on the site for average visit times of 20 to 25 minutes.

What does this have to do with Inbound Marketing?

Well, over the years, we’ve parried the “how will people find the website if there’s no ad spending to promote the URL?” question with answers like the aforementioned “build it and they’ll come.” Not as simple as that, of course, and we weren’t always convincing. After all, we were bucking over a century’s worth of ingrained attitudes about traditional “outbound” marketing practices.

Which is why I’m particularly excited to be advocating increased awareness of the concepts for Inbound Marketing, as expounded by Hubspot. For example, the top-of-the-grouping prominence of content in the Hubspot’s Venn diagram (below) is no accident, in my opinion. The success of the other two components – SEO and Social Networking — are going to be almost entirely dependent upon the quality of the content in the online offering. If the content is nothing but vacuous, in-authentic, electronic brochureware, then the SEO and Social Networking efforts will fall flat.

Components of Inbound Marketing Diagram, from Hubspot

Components of Inbound Marketing Diagram, from Hubspot

On the other hand, if it’s meaningful, informative, useful, inspiring content — well, kind of like this content we produced years ago to help increase awareness of “florida-friendly” landscaping practices — the audience will come, will share their own interest in the content with others, and so on.

Should these techniques take place to the exclusion of “outbound” marketing approaches? No, I don’ think so. But the outbound marketing approaches — print ads in magazines or ad buys on cable, for example — need to be planned so that the stories in the ads strategically and editorially interlace with the Inbound Marketing tactics.

What’s particularly fascinating about the application of story (and really great content, in general) and Inbound Marketing techniques is that they can be applied to selling consumer goods, to promoting cultural institutions, to selling destinations, to increasing awareness of non-profit or government initiatives, to …even electing presidents.