In following pages, I’m going to analyze very different companies that seems to practice inbound marketing. The following businesses, except for Foundery, are well known for their online presence. There would be no point of doing an analyze of a company doing only outbound marketing.
I choose to analyze five companies. It enables to have various situations, and going deep enough to find specificities of each.
The five companies are:
This choice is not random. It was done to cover a wide range of BtoB cases. I choose companies which have major and significant differences that might impact their way of doing marketing and promoting themselves.
The goal of the following observations is to compare the inbound marketing theory (as exposed in the previous chapter), with the real practices of these companies.
Except for Foundery, which I worked for, it is difficult to study every step of the conversion of the leads into customers. However, the attraction of prospect and the first conversion can be evaluated and give a good overview of the global inbound marketing integration.
Foundery is a coworking space located in downtown Toronto, Canada. Its customers are entrepreneurs, startups and independent workers.
It has been created in 2009 by Ashley Proctor and Jake Koseleci. Nowadays it offer three floors of office space: 2 of private office and 1 of coworking that might be occasionally adapted into an event space.
The first coworking space opened in Sans Francisco in 2006 to fit a specific need: provide affordable office space to people working by themselves or in small teams, and who haven’t resources to invest in a workplace. Coworking spaces offer affordable, flexible, and adapted workspace for entrepreneurs, freelances and startups. There is usually no long term contract, and professional equipments are provided. These workspace are also a good alternative to working from home or from a coffee shop. In addition to provide a working environment free of distraction, them give the possibilities to network and share ideas, or skills. With time, the community aspect of coworking space became a first selling arguments, especially in coworking spaces targeting narrow niche market.
A consequences of the worldwide coworking trend is the quick growing number of these spaces. In Toronto, there are eleven coworking spaces within the city. Foundery is the third biggest in term of number of seats, and one of the oldest. In term of price, Foundery is in the average with a full-time membership at CAD 290 (Toronto average: CAD 305). However, we noticed that potential coworkers are most likely to choose the closest coworking space to their home, unless they have specific needs.
The question for coworking spaces is : how to reach their target? Even with a lot of money, there isn’t an obvious way to reach a good amount of them. Of course, we could spent a huge amount to do large advertising in the whole city in order to be seen by everybody, including our targets. Even if the ROI of such operation isn’t measurable, it is quite sure it wouldn’t be very good. Anyway, at Foundery, we can’t afford spending so much money, and we need to have a good ROI. As we couldn’t go out to reach our audience, we tried the other way: let people reach us. As in many SMEs, we do that way because we can’t do another. But usually, as soon as they have enough money they turn back to advertising, cold calling, mailing.
Facts are when people come at Foundery for the first time and just pay for a day, there is more than 80% chance that they will subscribe to a monthly membership. From that reality, the goal was to make them come just once.
The first idea I proposed and that we realized is that to give a maximum of free day pass. Even if we waived money on their first day, and even if 40% never come back, we are still making profits from the other 60% who subscribe to a monthly pass. This idea is easy and not expensive to set up, and can be stopped at any moment in case of a bad ROI (which is very easy to measure). The counter part of a free day pass is the lack of perceived value. Indeed, it is a human behavior to give value to a service, or a product according to its price.
For example, if you buy a newspaper $3, you expect it to find more accurate and relevant information than information in the free newspaper in the subway. But is that really the case? Same for clothes, it is not because you buy your expensive shoes they will last longer, but you think so anyway. At the opposite if you buy cheap shoes, you don’t expect them to last more than few weeks. All luxury brands are based on it, you buy their product at crazy price because of your perceived value of it (technical and/or emotional), even if it doesn’t really worse it.
Back at our free day pass, people who will have it, might not be aware of its real value ($25), and think that it is what we give to everybody. To counter this risk, I proposed to define a precise guideline in order to reach targeted people and to make each of them valuable to us. Firstly, the format of the free day pass has to promote its value. An oral invitation, as done before, can’t obviously reflect that value. We decided to print invitation cards instead. To reflect the privilege given to the owner of the card it had to be classy, and to don’t look like a basic flyer. That means it doesn’t have promotion on it: only address, logo, and a simple call-to-action. The way we give these cards has also to reflect the value and the privilege given. We decided that each invitation had to be given face-to-face, through a human relationship. In other word, they can’t just be stacked at the entrance of the building and free to pick-up. Finally, the question was: to who should we give these invitation cards? It was simple to answer that question. Firstly, we give them to every entrepreneurs, independent workers, artists, or startup owners we can met. We also decided to give some invitation cards to people who are potentially in contact with the previous target: current members at Foundery, people working with them, event organizers.
An important part of inbound marketing is the attraction of stranger with a relevant content. In the case of Foundery, to attract new entrepreneurs, freelances, or startups, we decided to intensify events targeting these people. Moreover people intending to these kind of events are more likely to network and shares ideas with other which is typically the expected people for a coworking space.
For example, I organized an event with a Toronto based startup mentor I met during a networking event where he was the speaker. During this event the speech was about advice for entrepreneurs. He promoted this events in his network, so as we did at Foundery. As Foundery and him have the same target, this kind of events bring potential prospects for both. As the speaker, he had the opportunity to do a lot of networking. On the Foundery side, we also did some networking, but also took few minutes to explain the purpose of the space. Whatsoever, as the inbound way is supposed to be we offered value in exchange of contact information, a bait. We organized a raffle for people attending the event and they might win a free mentoring session with the speaker, or a free monthly pass at Foundery. Then, we decided to pick up winners among the most interesting profiles for both prices.
The promotion of Foundery was also done through its members. The promotion of a company that is especially successful, or very innovative can, indirectly, promote the coworking space where it works from.
For example, the Real Escape Game company was widely promoted through local blogs, and newspapers as they were the first of the kind in Toronto. Their concept: twelve people are locked in a room and have to work together to find clue and solve enigmas to escape within an hour.
Another example is Normative. The company design specific software according to the needs of their clients. The company started its activity at Foundery and now is leaving because they have bigger needs in term of office. This was an occasion for Foundery to show its appropriate work environment for small companies.
Thanks to the history of the building of Foundery, and the renovations done by a famous architect, the Foundery building was selected to be part of a city wide event: Open Doors Toront o. This annual event is a weekend when couple dozens of buildings in Toronto with some architectural interest are open to the public for free. The Foundery building wasn’t probably the most interesting one, but it was still very interesting for us to be part of this event. While doing the tours with people visiting, we explained the concept of coworking space that is mostly unknown. Some of visitors were here for the architectural aspect, but some of them were just from the neighborhood and were just wondering what was going on in there, and didn’t had the opportunity to know. The purpose wasn’t to promote Foundery directly but rather to educate about the coworking concept. It was proven by previous events in the past years, that new members can come because someone who came at Doors Open Toronto spoke to them about the coworking.
As all seats in the coworking space were rented, but never occupied all at the same time, we decided to sell more membership than seats. Moreover, it wasn’t very attractive to new people to see an almost empty space, and it is against the idea of the community we tried to promote. So, we decided to sell 50% more memberships than seats.
No outbound marketing was done to reach this state. However, an outbound and intrusive marketing wouldn’t be viable and relevant to reach our target.
An interesting comparison might be done with my previous internship done in another coworking space in Hong Kong last year. A part of my job was to prospect with outbound methods, and intrusive tactics. Efforts needed for a new lead acquisition were much higher and these efforts were wasted if the conversion into a customer failed. While, with inbound methods all efforts can be leverage with a wide audience, and with good conversion rate. By the way, the most effective ways to gain leads was same methods: articles about the space, regular events, turn customers into ambassadors…
The real advantages of these techniques for Foundery was the leveraging potential of these actions, while efforts and money spent remained low.
Freshbooks is a Toronto based company created in 2003 by Mike Derment. It was first designed to offer invoicing system through an internet website. Through time, it evolves into a cloud accounting software.
With more than 5 millions paying customers from 120 coutries, and as the leader in cloud accounting solution, it is definitely a success.
However, it wasn’t an overnight success, and it has a quite common startup beginning. It took a year to develop the product, then another year to reach 10 customers (and $99 of revenues per month). FreshBooks stayed in Mike’s parents basement for 3 additional years. As show on the Google Trends chart below, FreshBooks really started to grow in 2007.
FreshBooks was focused on providing an easy to use invoicing system for small and medium businesses. In August 2012, FreshBooks change officially its purpose by becoming a cloud accounting solution. It was a natural evolution of the service to fit SMEs’ owner to save time and effort managing their cash flow.
As an internet based solution that target worldwide SMEs’ owner, it rather impossible to launch an effective advertising campaign.
But it is interesting to know how FreshBooks started to promote its solution in the beginning. Instead of targeting all kind of SMEs at once, they focused all their marketing and promotion effort on one specific activity (graphic designers for example). Once they reach a certain ammount of market shares or a saturation of the niche market, they switch to another field of activity close to the previous one (web developers for example). They called their technique « marketing Risk », in reference of the board game in which players have to conquer small piece of lands one-by-one in order to expand their territories worldwide.
By building strong relationships with first customers and being deeply involved in a narrow niche market; FreshBooks benefited from word of mouth. It was and still is a powerful way for them to expand.
As FreshBooks is typically a pure-player, all its activity is internet-based.
Freshbooks website is a really good example of a conversion focused pages. Lot of companies are getting into a content marketing process, but forget the real purpose of it: converting.
By implementing A/B testing extensively, FreshBooks is constantly working on its conversion rate optimization (CRO). For example, the home page on the same day on two different browser wasn’t the same. The presentation is very different, but the goal is still very obvious: « Try it for free ».
Actually their home page is a landing page. Its purpose is to convert right away. It makes sense as people arriving on their home page are interested by the product.
FreshBooks manage a blog, updated regularly, mainly about entrepreneurs and startups’ topics.
It seems like FreshBooks rely mainly on word of mouth to expand their market. Their target is definitely startups and entrepreneurs, which is pretty much logical as they are not tied with other accounting software yet, and as they are more likely to trust a cloud-based service than an older SMEs.
FreshBooks figures are not publicly revealed (such as turnover, or benefits). However, the company has 150 employees today and plan to reach 400 by 2016. In 2012, FreshBooks affirmed they customers invoiced $8 billion with their software within a 12 months period.
Their expansion is directly impacted by their multi-awarded excellent customer-service that leads to trustworthy word of mouth.
FreshBooks doesn’t practice inbound marketing as Hubspot’ founders describe it, but their customers are attracted naturally to their service. So it s not outbound marketing either.
The marketing efforts of FreshBooks are the conversion of people who already heard about them. Their website is focused on this single goal. Their content marketing is not very developed and don’t offer high-value resources in exchange of engagement. There is no specific CTAs related to the content. Finally their single white-paper, « Breaking the Time Barrier », can be downloaded without any kind of engagement from the random visitor.
Their social media strategy don’t seems to be very developed either. Their Facebook page is updated on regular basis but don’t get a lot of engagement. Same observation for their Twitter feed.
The strength of FreshBooks is to delight their actual customers and transform them into ambassadors of the brand that spread the word in their like minded community of small company’ owners.
Created in 1904, A.P. Moller-Maersk Group. is a Danish business conglomerate. It is commonly just called Maersk. It operates in 135 countries, has 117,000 employees worldwide, and has a turnover of USD 59,03 billion in 2012.
Its historical and main activity is container shipping. Since 1996, Maersk is the largest container ship and vessel supply operator in the world. It also has lot of other activities such as port management, inland transportation, oil and gas shipping, drilling activities, oil and gas exploration and production, training, shipyards, and even retail activities. These activities are handle by multiple subsidiaries of the Maersk group.
The Maersk goal is to manage the all supply chain when its comes to containerization.
Its largest subsidiary, in terms of turnover and number of employees, is Maersk Line. Its field of operation is containers shipping. They have a fleet of more than 600 vessels, and have 3.8 million containers.
I will focus my analyze on container shipping activity of Maersk: Maersk Line.
Maersk started a social media strategy in 2011, and reached within a year incredible result in term of engagement. According to some engagement measurement tools, Maersk’s Facebook page has a higher engagement rate than Disney, Ford or Red Bull’s ones. This results match with the 2012′ « Social Media Campaign of the Year » title given by the European Digital Communication Awards.
As inbound marketing can’t be reduced to social media, let’s see if Maersk really do inbound marketing, and how they did their digital strategy.
Moreover, containers shipping is far from an attractive activity, and it is the case of most B2B companies. So this case might reflect the situation of lot of companies which believe digital marketing is not accurate for their market.
Maersk social media activities started in October 2011 with Jonathan Wichmann who was hired especially for this task. The first interesting observation is, even within a global company with a turnover of $ 60 billion , only one person was in charge of the social media strategy and he succeeded. Other observation, all was done internally.
Initials goals of Maersk by going on social media were raising brand awareness, increasing customer loyalty, improving employees engagement, and developing customer insights. It wasn’t a leads generation tactic.
Currently Maersk Line is present on nine social networks, including the most known (Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and YouTube). It is important to remind that every social media publication is a piece of content and that it can be part of wider content marketing strategy.
The communication of Maersk Line on social media is very visual. Most of publications comes with a high quality pictures. It explain also the Maersk’ presence on pictures oriented social networks such as Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest and Tumblr. Mr. Wichmannn explains that he started with a huge unused pictures library within the company files. Now, pictures come from multiple employees worldwide.
He also leverages the history of the company. Every pictures come with a small story, which all together form the past and the culture of Maersk.
They also use social medias as communication tools. Maersk handled very well an event that could turn into a real image crisis for the company (or bad buzz). June 6th 2012, a 12 meters long whale was found dead on the front of a Maersk vessel arriving in a port. Instead of trying to hide the news, finding excuses, or just broadcasting an apologize message on every traditional channels, Maersk Line decided to expose the information on social medias, and what they usually do to avoid these kind of accident. That was a wise move from the communication team that avoid the spread of false information and limited the image of a company which doesn’t care about the environment. A similar communication was done when there was rumors on internet about the sinking of their biggest vessel, Emma Maersk, in the Suez Canal.
At the opposite of some companies, Mr. Wichmann was within the company and had a great liberty of action. The top managers let him do without giving approval (or not) to all messages. This give a good advantages in terms of reactivity, and proximity with the audience. Messages aren’t corporate oriented or just advertising. Maersk actively continue this strategy but have now « glocally » messages. Publications feature multiple local information from different location. The blog Maerskstories.maersk.com is a good example. All these short stories help to showcase the company culture and vision.
Maersk Line goals wasn’t to gain new clients by engaging a social media strategy. However, after almost 4 years, we can’t denied that these activities had a beneficial impact on their business. Indeed, as the brand awareness increased drastically, and their social profiles became a hub of information for people within the industry. It is definitely a success.
Concerning their inbound marketing, they found a way to delivered their company culture, and spread their information on a wide networks. Here are figures: 1,1 millions likes on Facebook, 111000 followers on Twitter, 73000 followers on their LinkedIn page, 26000 followers on Instagram.
Most of these piece of content target mass audience with a brand awareness goal. The content is not very technical and the important visual aspect help a lot to increase engagement from no-specialists.
However, Maersk Line keeps few channels for more industry centric subject. I think of their main blog (maersklinesocial.com), which seems to be very relevant for professionals. These piece of content are widely shared but almost only on LinkedIn.
In addition, Maersk created private groups on LinkedIn to discuss with a limited number and selected people.
Maersk Line doesn’t do inbound marketing. Indeed, they describe their social media activities, their side websites, and blogs as communication and not marketing. As we saw, this is mainly true. They broadcast very accessible messages. Even if these publications aren’t technical or don’t give insight about the shipping industry, it seems that it is still relevant for the audience.
In a late 2012 survey, between 15 and 20 percent of Maersk’ Facebook fans were customers. Furthermore, 68 percent of Maersk Line customers had a better perceptions of the company thanks to social medias.
Maersk Line reached to be the most influential online presence in the containers shipping industry. Their digital strategy is a success according to their goals (brand awareness, customer loyalty, and employees engagement).
Last but not the least observation, this strategy costs only few hundreds of thousands of dollars. To reach the same goals with more traditional ways would have cost millions of dollars.
General Electric is a business conglomerate founded in 1892, and with its headquarter in USA. The corporate has 36 subsidiaries and is present within 142 countries. GE has various activities: energy, transportation, water, oil & gas, healthcare, appliance, entertainment, financial services.
In 2013, GE reached USD 146 billion in turnover, USD 13 billion in net incomes, and employed 305 000 people. The turnover is spread as following: 33,7% from financial services, 33,4% from infrastructure’s equipment, 10% from appliances, 9,9% from healthcare, 8,8% from entertainment, 4,1% from other activities.
Since 2011, General Electric had improved its online presence drastically and implemented a content marketing strategy.
Txchnologist website, for example, is presented as an online technology magazine. In other words, it is a blog: it drives traffic thanks to regular publications. However, there is almost no direct link to GE, nor CTAs that are supposed to catch visitors contact information. But, Txchnologist magazine highly promote the sharing on social medias.
Another example is GE Reports website. On this one, information provided are more GE-centric, but still might interest professional who are involved in high-technologies. Anyway, this website still promote the sharing aspect than a conversion aspect.
These two websites, Txchnologist and GE Reports, are, indeed, Tumblr based. Tumblr is a popular blogging platform, so it means that the goal was to publish content easily and get it shared. If the goal would had been to convert visitors, Tumblr wouldn’t be an appropriate platform.
Their social media presence is also remarkable. Their Facebook page has over 1,2 million likes and is updated regularly with facts about GE. This content is adapted to the non-specialist Facebook audience, such as Maersk do. Information are not technical, and post are always coming with attractive pictures. On their YouTube account they post either technical news and information, or either entertaining content. For example, they did during the spring a serie of videos called #SpringBreakIt in which they put some random objects into a extreme conditions to see how material react. It hasn’t any scientific interest but reach a wide audience.
The content produced by General Electric is not self-centric but embrace a wide range of field of industries where GE is involved. From space exploration to healthcare most recent advancement. It is produced by experts and is at destination of people involve in these cutting edge field. Here, targets of GE’s online content are businesses that are seeking for technical information and news.
On another side, on their social media channels the content is less technical in order to reach a wider audience. The goal here is, at Maersk does, to improve awareness of the public about the brand, its activities, and its philosophy. For this aspect, it is a success: figures of their social media profile show that their content reach a large public.
The goal of GE is to spread high quality content among professional to improve its image of innovative thought-leader in the field of technology.
We can notice the total absence of any CTAs or conversion system. This is against the inbound marketing techniques described by Hubspot founders. However, we can easily guess that GE’s consumers are not going to buy turbines online either.
The online presence of GE is really focused on its image. As few old companies, their image might suffer while the time goes. This strong online presence focused on innovation and forward-thinking in the technology field showcases GE as a leader on its field and innovational-focused.
We can’t say that GE does inbound marketing as it is obvious that marketing operations don’t bring customers directly. Whatsoever, they have an efficient content marketing and handle social media channels very well to enhance brand awareness, and promote brand’ values.
Created in 1984, in Texas by Michael Dell, the famous computer manufacturer now employs more than 100 000 people and has a USD 57 billion turnover (2013).
Nowadays, Dell is the third worldwide computer seller (in term of number of products) behind Lenovo and HP, with 13% of market shares. These figures are gathering B2C and B2B.
For servers, a B2B market, Dell is also the third manufacturer worldwide behind IBM and HP, with around 20% of market shares. In B2B, Dell also offers multiple network, server and storage’ hardware, software, and services.
In 2013 its founder, Michael Dell, with the help of Microsoft, bought out 75% of shares and leave the stock exchange. He explained that share holder were too focused on short term profits and that it was not compatible with a long term strategy.
From the beginning, Dell choose to sell its computer online. The idea was to offer computers at a lower price than the competition thanks to savings due to the absence of retail stores.
Dell, such as FreshBooks, is a pure -player actor: most of his business is done online.
As Dell provide very technical solutions, its targets are IT specialists. Even if they probably don’t have the final word during the purchase process, they need to be highly involved.
Moreover, for these kind of products, technical features and services are very important to make sure that new hardware will run smoothly with the rest of the equipments.
If the prospect’s company is new and purchase IT equipments for the first time, it is also a great opportunity as it will be more likely to purchase side services or extra equipments in the future with higher profitability for Dell.
Dell created a full website that provide news and articles about many subjects related to IT in companies: Tech Page One. This websites don’t just gather news in the IT field, but give also insights of professional from various companies. The content come from various authors with influence or considered as authoritative. Finally, this website isn’t about Dell’s news, products or services at all.
The « about » page sum up the goals accurately:
« For professionals who place a high value on technology that enables their lives, Tech Page One is a rich source for news and analysis on technology, business, and gadget-geek culture, from the Dell Inc. editorial team. »
This description and the reality match with the idea of Mr. Halligan that recommend to be the hub for a targeted community.
Let’s analyze a random page of Tech Page One (example on the right).
CTAs are present on all pages and invite visitors to stay up to date with IT insights by email, register for the DellWorld event, or discover their range of server.
Few comments for their CRO:
– Their CTAs are the same on every pages, that means they are not related to a specific topic and not targeting a defined buyer persona.
– There are three CTAs on every page instead of only one. It attenuates the efficiency of each.
Dell provide a relevant content for IT managers in companies whatever the size. The content is not focused on Dell’ products or services but it is a hub of information and news about computing, networks, data, security, cloud and related subjects.
With some CTAs on the sidebar, the visitor is invited to perform one of the following action:
– Sign up for the annual conference DellWorld, which is mostly for tops IT responsibles worldwide with cutting edge subject and well-known speakers. This CTA is targeting IT managers in large corporate.
– Sign up for the Tech Page One newsletter. Once the email address is submitted a new form quick offers to send a question to Dell. This simple, quick and easy way to stay up to date on IT subjects gives to Dell a database of email address from a targeted audience. This CTA is targeting IT managers in SMEs.
– Finally, the last CTA is just a link to the Dell ecommerce website for businesses. In smallest companies IT guys can build their own solution with standard equipment and don’t need a real discussion with the seller. This CTA is targeting small companies with few needs in IT equipment.
We can say that Dell do inbound marketing as they attract a targeted community with specific content and, then, try to convert them with CTAs.
3.3) Adaptation of the pattern
3.3.1) Global results of cases
3.3.2) Key success factors
3.3.3) Standard Vs Customized solution
3.3.4) Small companies Vs Large corporate
3.4) Consequences in the company
3.4.1) Human resources management
3.4.2) Sales process
3.4.3) Outbound marketing