Inbound Marketing: The Listening Challenges





Inbound marketing is the latest must have marketing technique for brands, pushed heavily by companies like HubSpot and Marketo.  As defined by David Meerman Scott, this technique is where marketers “earn their way in” by providing content on blogs etc., as opposed to outbound marketing’s penchant to “buy, beg, or bug their way in” using paid advertising, press releases, and other interruptive tools.  Advocates of this approach cite how inbound marketing offers increased lead acquisition margins due to below average costs per lead.  The crux of the matter is that in turning ‘strangers’ into ‘visitors’, inbound marketing focuses on blogs, keywords, and social media;  old school outbound marketing focused on ads, PR, and other interruptive tools.

Yet putting out content and superb keywords is only half the challenge.  We see the inbound marketer’s role is not just to prime the pump to get people to visit by providing great content and information and easy search-ability, but also to successfully deal with mishaps or shortcomings from the brand that when posted spread like wildfire if unchecked.  Social listening tools abound to help brands hear these conversations on everything from blogs to the social channels.  Here are some challenges which brands may encounter when listening:


1.  Which do we ignore?

Invariably, every brand has detractors.  Even Mother Teresa has detractors, ranging from doubting atheists to a blog poster named ‘Morris M’ who titled his 2013 posting “Mother Teresa was a Crook and a Fraud”.  For many major brands, with millions who either follow or comment, the task of deciding which negative comments are worth addressing and which can be left alone is a challenge.  Yes, the technology can identify the detractors, but a decision hierarchy is needed to decide which categories of detraction warrant effort and which don’t.

Basic RGB

2.  How far back should we go?

Most ‘strangers’ to a brand who conduct search on social sites or the wider web tend to focus on more recent issues and comments.  Take a restaurant review, for example.  If my Yelp app shows negative reviews from 12 months ago, but more positive reviews from last week, I’m more likely to ignore the more dated views.  But a negative review from last month vs. positive from last week?  That’s different, and may make me reconsider.  For many brands, determining this time span is a challenge:  it’s difficult to determine how long skeletons in closets can stay there!  One positive aspect is that tools like blogging, social chat, etc. haven’t been around for THAT many years, so it’s conceivable to draw a line in the sand and not need to address comments from, say, the early 2000s.  Yet marketers need to decide not just how to deal with real time commentary but also how far back to go in addressing older comments.  One acid test may be the degree to which older comments have been re-posted or referenced, which hypothetically gives ancient perceptions eternal life unless dealt with by the brand.


3.  What are we going to do about it?

Suppose you’re the CMO of United Airlines and instead of the infamous guy with the broken guitar we have a girl with a busted bassoon.  In this instance, you’d probably know what not to do – i.e. what UAL did before – and respond accordingly.  You’d have a playbook to work from, so that’s pretty straightforward.  What is not straightforward are the myriad of daily challenges you might face that warrant actions with no historic precedent.  Having a process which encourages response to deal with these issues that allows some creativity within the boundaries of the brand, and which when successful form part of the ever-changing playbook, is essential.  This is truly a growth hacker mentality, only done from a ‘growth prevention hacker’ stance!


There’s no doubt that with the ever increasing reliance of customers on digital tools as the awareness, information and screening component of the selling process, the role of the marketer to ensure they get their fair share of searches, social postings, etc. is paramount in 2014.  What remains to be seen is the systematic effectiveness of modern marketers at dealing with not just positive publishing but negative news.  In a sense, this is truly a challenge for the modern CMO:  the ability to listen well.


Leave a Reply