It seems there’s always one particular thing the marketing world is all abuzz about. About 7 years ago it was inbound marketing. A bit more recently, it’s been all about account-based marketing (ABM). Now, AI and chatbots are entering the conversation a bit more. But that’s one for another time.
Whether you’re a firm follower of the zeitgest or you’re only just catching on, there’s no denying the merits of inbound marketing and ABM as strategies in their own right. But where they really become powerful is when you understand how they can fit together to make a really strong marketing approach that’ll have you batting off leads left, right and centre.
Firstly, in order to understand how these two strategies fit together, it’s first of all important to identify how they differ.
How they’re different
Inbound is about personas. One of the first steps you take in an inbound marketing strategy is to create generalised profiles of your ideal customer. What’s their job title? What their challenges? Their hopes and dreams? You then use this insight to create content that will reach these people and help them to address their challenges and achieve their goals. They “self-select” based on how well your content fits their situation. ABM is about the organisation as a whole. You’re identifying specific accounts (organisations) you think will be a good fit for your product or service. This can be dictated by industry, size, turnover, and a number of other factors – sometimes it’s a bit more arbitrary. However you arrive at your list, it’s about creating content specific to that organisation, their challenges and objectives, and engaging as many people as possible to build a presence within that account. Some very intensive ABM campaigns only target one account. It’s not a numbers game, it’s personal.
Because of how and why you’re trying to target people with each strategy, the way you produce content differs too. Content for inbound marketing is usually driven by a combination of keyword and persona research – you use what you know about your ideal customers to find keywords that they’re likely to search for, and you produce content around that. With ABM, the research phase is likely to be longer, more in-depth, and obviously, more specific to each business.
You’re producing content which speaks specifically to that organisation, so it’s usually highly personalised. With ABM-at-scale, that usually means using some sort of personalisation engine to add things like the company name, industry, size and logo into a page or post. When ABM is focused on one to say five companies, you’ll often start bringing in specifics – recent news stories, snippets from their annual report, and other information you might have about them to really make the content chime with them and help them see your solution and their business aligned.
How they work together
Whether you’re producing content for an inbound or ABM campaign, the idea is still to get your ideal customer to engage with it. Whether that’s a specific persona or an entire organisation, that content should be relevant to them and their challenges. That means that there can be some crossover between the two strategies – ABM content can be repurposed and through an inbound lens and vice versa.
Usually with ABM, you start with reaching out to people in roles most relevant to your product or service, and then expand out into the wider business, reaching more influencers and decision-makers. It is important to remember the distinction between the two though – when you’re executing an ABM campaign, try not to focus on which job titles are engaging with your content. You’re taking a different view here – the more people on the bus, the better. It doesn’t matter if they’re not in a direct position to invest in your services – they’re engaged, and it’ll make it easier to engage the most relevant person once you reach them.
Your campaign is not a vacuum
Just because you’re painstakingly pushing highly personalised ABM content under the nose of certain contacts, doesn’t mean they’re not going to come across any of your other content. Humans are inquisitive beings, and chances are if you’ve started getting highly personalised communications and LinkedIn connection requests from someone at a business, you’re probably going to want to check them out.
For that reason it’s very handy to be able to understand how ABM contacts interact with your other content and move around your site, just like you would with contacts who find you via your inbound campaign. Tools like Albacross can help with that – using IP matching to help to identify people from a particular organisation coming to your site and examine how they move around. It’s common to use these tools in an ABM campaign to understand where to direct personalisation efforts – if an organisation is coming to your site, personalise content for them. If an organisation isn’t, do some targeted paid ads or similar outreach.
You sometimes see this flipped on its head too – an ABM target might present itself when they find your site via inbound. You see an organisation coming to your site and interacting with your content, so you start to build a personalised campaign for them. That’s why it’s useful to think about inbound and ABM as having some crossover, rather than as two distinct campaigns or strategies.
I think the most important takeaway I could offer here is that it’s really useful to think about inbound and ABM as a blended approach – after all, as a business you’re likely to be operating in a number of vertical markets, offering a range of products and services that better suit each approach. But they’ll always be crossover – people find and interact with your content outside of the ways you intend them to – and you should take advantage of this where possible to get the most out of the content and activity you’re executing.
If you’d like some help building either an inbound or ABM strategy, or a blend of both – we have experience running both strategies successfully for a range of businesses, and can help you to build an approach that works for you and gets results. Just get in touch.