It’s Always the Season of Giving: 5 Ideas for Inbound Marketing

In case you hadn’t noticed, the holiday season is over. Thankfully, you won’t be subjected to the continual playing of “The Santa Clause” on cable, Starbucks baristas wearing Santa hats or blow-up snowmen in your neighbors’ yards — at least for another 345 days or so.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the holidays. In fact, I spent two full days baking cookies, breads and treats for my family and neighbors — all while Bing Crosby serenaded me in the background. Unfortunately my Newfie ate three of my mini-loaves of lemon bread. That was heartbreak, and a whole other story.

The holidays are a wonderful time to get together with family and friends to celebrate the season. These festive holiday parties also serve as a great reminder of how social media should work.

red heart on the palms of a womanSocial Media is Like a Cocktail Party

Imagine you’re at a holiday party and you notice an important prospect over in the corner, chatting it up with one of your friends. What would you do?

Would you make your way over to that corner as quickly as possible, shouting a marketing plea through your megaphone: “Hey! My firm is fabulous! You should hire us. We’ll act as co-fiduciaries, focusing on your employees retirement readiness and spending time educating your committee on the issues and risks associated with ERISA, the new 408(b)(2) and 404(a)(5) regulations — all within a transparent fee arrangement, of course!”

Or would you continue to enjoy your current conversation, discussing a friend’s new snow tires and listening intently as he describes his son’s brilliant contribution to the school play? Then, after a bit, you might wander over to the prospect’s conversation in the corner. You’d hold back a bit, listening in, and when a break occurred you’d hold out your hand and introduce yourself, falling into the pattern of the chit-chat. At some point you might offer a recommendation on a local restaurant or a CPA. The prospect might even ask you what you do for a living. You’d share a brief tidbit about yourself and immediately move the conversation back to him, looking for ways to help with his business or charitable cause. You work to build a personal connection — one that’s nothing at all like an infomercial.

Social media is no different. It’s like a cocktail party or a Rotary meeting or a chance encounter in a local grocery store. Just because the medium is different doesn’t mean the manner in which we communicate should be too. Social media is about developing an authentic, personal voice. One that is in alignment with who you are offline in your personal and professional life. It’s an extension of your face-to-face interactions.

A Personal Example

Several years ago, a new business person in the Portland area reached out to me on LinkedIn. He sent a very nicely written, personalized invitation request and I accepted. Less than two days later, I received an email from him sharing a great opportunity for a multi-level marketing business. I was amazed. How could he try to sell me something so quickly? He had no idea whether I’m in his target market (or even if my husband may be one of his competitors). I immediately removed him from my network. Who wants to have their inbox flooded with that type of marketing every day?

The Rise of Inbound Marketing

Back in the old days, businesses focused on outbound marketing. This type of marketing included direct mail, cold calling, commercials — all considered as some type interruption in the lives of their target market. As Americans we receive, on average, more than 2,000 outbound marketing interruptions each day. And with each type of interruption, we find creative ways to fight back: We immediately recycle direct mail; we zoom past commercials on our DVR; we opt out of email newsletters and use our spam filters to limit what we see in our inbox each day. And we do our best to ignore loud, rude conversation hogs.

Fast forward to 2013. We can search the Internet for most anything we need or want. With social media, consumers opt-in to various sites and profiles. They select whom to follow, what to like and whom to ignore. Guess what? They skip the interruptions and commercials on these sites as well. Because of this, marketers are now focusing on inbound marketing — a strategy of giving. (Seth Godin calls this “permission” marketing.)

Inbound marketing is based on the concept of earning the attention of your clients or prospects by giving them something of value. Think blogs, podcasts, videos, newsletters, white papers and some webinars. David Meerman Scott, an online marketing specialist, says it best: Marketers must now “earn their way in” rather than “buying, begging or bugging their way in.” (Hey! The NAPA Net Daily is a form of inbound marketing!)

Your ‘Gifts’ for 2013

How can you earn your way in? What type of thought-provoking, interesting or valuable content do you have to share? Here are five inbound marketing ideas for retirement plan advisors:

• A newsletter or blog that provides information on trends in the 401k/403b world — written without a single bit of jargon or ERISA code.
• A white paper describing the difference between education, guidance and advice. You might make this one an infographic. (You can find graphics help at your local community college or university.)
• A Top 10 list of plan considerations for 2013. (You have this expertise in your back pocket; simply package it with “earning” in mind, rather than selling.)
• A hot-off-the-press update around the fiscal cliff negotiations and how they will impact retirement plans. Or a fiduciary checklist, an investment committee agenda, a 2013 reporting calendar.
• A recommended educational calendar for retirement plan participants — divided up by employee life stages? Or ages? Include free posters and ideas to raise awareness. (For example, check out PSCA.org’s website for 401k Day information.)

Once you have your content complete, post it on your website in an easy-to-find location, perhaps in a “Free Resources” section. Then begin your sharing on social media sites. Post it to LinkedIn as an update; post to various groups; Tweet a link. If you have multiple articles or pieces of content, you can use them for three to four different updates — simply feature a different article/list in each update.

Stay away from a link that just says “Hey! Here’s my newsletter.” Try a few sentences as a teaser and then add a link. (Always have the link lead back to your site. It adds juice to your Search Engine Optimization.)

We have so many examples of individuals in the retirement plan arena that share their knowledge and ideas on a regular basis. If you have challenges coming up with your own ideas, become a student of their activities and re-Tweet or share their updates.

According to HubSpot, “inbound marketing is especially effective for small businesses that deal with high dollar values, long research cycles and knowledge-based products.” Sure sounds like the retirement plan world to me.

Here’s to making 2013 a year of giving.
Originally posted on NAPA Net

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