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Show Me: What Does Good Inbound Marketing Look Like In 2018?

Aidan HornsbyLast Updated: October 24, 2018
Show Me Ryan

Flow helps teams get work done. In our “Show Me” series, we profile the people, companies and teams successfully building and marketing products right now.

Ask someone what good inbound or content marketing looks like these days, and you’re bound to get a wide variety of responses.

Advertisers will tell you that your best shot is still a splashy ad campaign, social marketers will tell you to buy Facebook and Instagram ads, and journalists will probably tell you that nothing beats good old fashioned storytelling.

Talk to anyone below the age of 25, and they’ll tell you to put everything on Snapchat. Talk to a baby boomer and they’ll tell you to set up a booth at a trade show instead.

Talk to G2 Crowd’s CMO Ryan Bonnici, however, and he’ll be quick to remind you that no one group has a monopoly on all the good marketing ideas.

“I’d say baby boomers are probably better at thinking about personas and market segmentation and stuff like that, and Gen Y/millennials are probably better at implementing those things with, say, an email, and knowing actually how to segment the email,” Bonnici told us.

“I think that’s where the biggest gap is really—you’ve got old school marketers that know branding, they know events, they know PR, and you’ve got new school marketers that know demand gen leads, content, inbound.

“I think, ideally, if you can do both, that’s really the secret sauce.”

Formerly of Microsoft and Hubspot, Bonnici has worked on countless publications, special content projects and campaigns, driving hundreds of millions of impressions in the process.

We asked Ryan what he thinks he and G2 are doing right, what he thinks the rest of the industry hasn’t caught onto yet, and what the way forward is for content marketers in 2018.

Lesson #1: Don’t be afraid to travel further up the funnel

G2 Crowd bills itself as a kind of Yelp for business products, allowing users to swap reviews for a variety of business software and services (here, for example, is the G2 Crowd page for CRM software).

Visit G2’s new content portal at learn.g2crowd.com, however, and you’ll see posts covering more than just business software. In fact, G2 publishes content about every business topic imaginable: from trends in cybersecurity and A.I., to getting verified on Twitter, to philanthropy.

Why is a business review site writing blog posts about Twitter election labels, America’s top tech cities and the internet of things? Bonnici says it’s all part of G2’s plan to capture massive amounts of organic search traffic.

“I think what most companies don’t do—and this is why most companies’ content strategy doesn’t work—is they haven’t gone further up into the funnel and thought: ‘What is it that my target buyer searches for before they know they want what I have?’”

Bonnici says this was his first order of business when he arrived at G2 last year: producing content that anticipates and reaches the site’s target audience before they even know what they want.

“We have marketers who come to our site to buy marketing software, sales people that come to buy sales software, accountants that come to buy accounting software,” says Bonnici.

“So we mapped out the funnel and said: okay cool, we’re attracting [say] marketers searching for social media software at the bottom of the funnel. What are they searching for at the top of the funnel?”

The result of that process is learn.g2crowd.com, which Bonnici describes as a “massive learning hub for anyone in business,” and which is already showing massive returns.

“We’ve been growing traffic on the B2C side by 50 percent since the start of the year, which is huge, because [before I joined] last year the growth rate had slowed down a bit.

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Bonnici and his team at G2 aren’t afraid to travel right to the top of the funnel (Source photo: Normann Copenhagen).

Lesson #2: Create content that solves people’s problems

While most of the content on the G2 Crowd Learning Hub is hyper-targeted, there’s one post that will catch anyone’s attention.

Titled ‘The World’s Most Effective B2B Marketing Campaign,’ it recounts the time Bonnici built an email signature generator at Hubspot and published it on the company’s website, generating millions of leads in the process.

“All I did was create an email signature generator, which cost me six grand with a developer in Sydney to build,” recounts Bonnici.

“My boss at the time said it was a stupid idea, because it had nothing to do with marketing, and [HubSpot] sells marketing products.”

Within four months, however, the signature generator was generating 50,000 monthly visitors. Bonnici estimates that in the two years since he published it, his email generator has generated “approximately $64 million in net-new customer revenue” for HubSpot.

“Now it’s 75,000 visitors a month, and it’s all organic. And it drives 51,000 leads a month or something crazy like that—it’s mental.”

Bonnici says the signature generator made him realize that good content marketing didn’t necessarily have to have anything to do with the product a business was selling—it simply had to address a problem his target customers might have.

“What [my boss] didn’t get is that you don’t have to create content about your product or service. You need to create content that solves a problem for a buyer persona.”

Bonnici’s colleagues at HubSpot seem to agree. Since he left the company, they’ve launched an invoice template generator, a business card generator, and numerous other business tools in the hopes of once again striking organic traffic gold.

Lesson #3: Realize that no one cares about what you’re trying to sell them

But what about businesses who don’t have a developer or the resources to build a similar tool? Can they still make content that solves people’s problems?

“We didn’t either! I just used an agency!” pointed out Bonnici, when we asked him.

He thinks the barriers to producing useful content have less to do with resources than the assumptions companies still regularly make about content marketing.

“I really think anyone can do this. It’s weird—I won’t say that it’s that they’re not smart enough to do this. It’s almost like, they’re not dumb enough really. To realize that no one gives a shit about what you’re trying to sell them.”

Getting rid of this notion—that all of the content you publish has to be about your company’s products—is to Bonnici the key to producing content that actually reaches people.

And if the content you produce happens to plug seamlessly into your lead generation operation, even better.

“If you can create value in content that is a conversion point in it’s own right—the email signature is a perfect example of that,” says Bonnici.

“When you fill out your email signature, you’re giving Hubspot your name, your job title, your phone number. The tool is the lead form. So there are no conversion drop offs, or things like that.”

Lesson #4: Stop jealously guarding your IP

Another assumption that Bonnici thinks is holding companies back from making great content is the enduring idea that companies must protect their intellectual property at all costs.

“20 years ago it was all about hiding your IP and not sharing with anyone. So if you said to a lawyer, ‘Hey, you need to put up your contract templates online so that we can collect email addresses.’ They’d be like, ‘You’re mad! That’s my IP!’ They just don’t get it.”

To Bonnici, what many businesses still don’t understand is that sharing IP is less about giving things away for free than it is about getting in the mindset of the buyer.

“You’re giving them a sliver, a taste of it. And that gets them in front of you, and some traction. I think that’s key.”

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(Source photo: Normann Copenhagen)

Lesson #5: Focus on content that you already know people are going to read

Regardless of which target buyer you focus on or what kind of content you choose to produce, Bonnici says that the one factor that differentiates the best content operations from the rest today is execution.

“So many people have blogs, so many people run content marketing teams, but most of them don’t drive a bunch of traffic to their site because they don’t execute properly. They haven’t had enough attention to detail for the whole process.

“They’ve gone and started a blog and hired a journalist. No offence…”

(Flow sent a journalist to interview Bonnici 😉 )

“…but journalists know shit about SEO research from the perspective of keyword validation and demand.”

Bonnici says one task that journalists and other writers often gloss over is figuring out exactly what their target audience is already searching for.

“To put keywords into a blog post—you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to do that. But knowing how to validate if the topic has inherent interest is very different.”

When it comes to validation, Bonnici puts his money where his mouth is.

“My team isn’t allowed to write content unless 50,000 people or more searched for the topic.”

Lesson #6: Stop trying to reinvent the wheel

Another group that Bonnici thinks needs a mindset change to produce successful content these days are creatives.

“This is what I hate about creatives: they have too much ego to copy what works and build on it. They want to create from scratch themselves all the time. It’s a needle in a haystack.”

Tired of sitting down and trying to brainstorm ideas out of thin air for videos and experiential marketing campaigns (here’s the G2 Crowd Learning Hub’s definition of experiential marketing), Bonnici has come up with his own data-driven method of producing successful content: closely studying and copying what works.

“If I’m going to create a video that I want to get viral, I’ll go and watch Dollar Shave Club’s video a thousand times. I’ll watch the Purple Mattress video a thousand times.

“I’ll sit down and I’ll literally write out the script from them, with screenshots and everything. And what you notice is that they all have things in common.”

“The person in the video always looks at the camera—they look at you, instead of talking to someone off the screen. And they always open in the first three seconds with a hook, or a question to get you hooked in. And [there’s always] some weird twist.”

“You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Just work out who does it best and copy them! That’s my biggest tip to my team all the time.”

Lesson #7: Focus on organic traffic

Ask Bonnici what kind of traffic he thinks content marketers should focus on—paid, organic, or some combination—and he’ll be blunt.

“I only really care about organic traffic. Because people can game paid traffic or other traffic sources, so organic’s always going to be the most sustainable one that goes like year long, year on year. Wheres social, referral and all that crap can change.”

“A lot of people say that where content marketers go wrong is that they put all their effort into content creation, and they don’t put enough effort into content promotion. I’d have to agree with that at the high level, but you don’t really need to worry about promotion of content if you’re creating it properly, based on organic.”

What does creating content “properly” mean in this case? Bonnici says publishing daily, getting other sites to link to your content, and building up high domain authority are all crucial to making sure your content gets the right uplift.

“Once you build a good website with high domain authority, your content—Google just trusts it. Creating great content—that is the promotional element in its own right.”

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Lesson #8: Make content so good that people will send you death threats if it ever goes offline

To Bonnici, creating good, valuable content is the final, most crucial step in creating a successful inbound marketing operation. As an example, he points to another successful content experiment he worked on, this time for his website.

“I read that book by Patrick Lencioni about the five dysfunctions of a team, and there’s a little assessment they give you in the book. It asks you 25 questions.

“So I literally just turned that into a form. It’s literally just a form on my website, and you answer some questions, and it shoots you an email afterwards that says, ‘Hey, this is your score.’ And then it says in the email, ‘send this link to your teams, and have them do this, and discuss the results with your team.’”

Despite not having posted to his website in close to three years, Bonnici says that the tool still generates tens of thousands of visits to his website a month.

“I’ll see someone from Microsoft come through, and then I’ll see like 200 people from Microsoft come through because they shared internally, and then someone from Salesforce will do it and then I’ll see more people from Salesforce because they shared it with the team.

“There was even a period where my site went down and I was getting death threats from people that were like, I’ve got like my team offsite in like a week’s time. And your tool’s not working, I need to use it.”

Hold on a second. Death threats??

“Yes, I know. It was hilarious. People were stressing out.”