My wife Marilyn has been writing financial marketing material for me for 30-plus years, from back in the day when we had our seminar marketing company. So she knows a fair amount of marketing terminology.

The other day though, she surprised me by saying, “I’m hearing a lot of talk about inbound marketing, and I try to look like I know what people are talking about, but I don’t really get it. I know that it refers to things like email, blogs and social media -- but if it’s all about sending things out, why is it called 'inbound'?”

Marilyn isn’t the only one who feels a bit confused by this term. Here's a basic explainer:

  • Traditional marketing (also called “outbound”) efforts, such as ads and direct mail pieces, are aimed at finding potential clients by simply making a firm's existence  known to as many people as possible.
  • Inbound marketing refers to a concentrated effort to disseminate valuable information to a niche group of prospects, usually by digital means, and by so doing attract them as clients.

Put another way, “inbound” refers to the reaction of the prospect to certain types of marketing. If traditional marketing is about going out and finding potential clients, inbound marketing is about creating ways for potential clients to find you.

But Marilyn had a fair question: Isn't inbound marketing something that advisors are already doing -- giving seminars, holding client appreciation meetings and sending out informative newsletters? The truth is that most advisors are involved in activities that could be called “inbound marketing” and just don’t know it.

Financial professionals have always known that to build trust and credibility, it is important to freely share your expertise with potential clients. Seminars and client meetings were always a good way to do this -- but the way that people take in information has changed so much that today’s advisor needs both an updated medium and an appropriate message. Email campaigns, digital presentations and mobile apps are just a few options.

Here are three thoughts that may help you master the new dimensions of an old skill:

1. Match your content to your target market. The content that you post on your website and that populates your social pages and goes out in emails should be directed to your target market. If you don't understand your target, you've got a problem -- your target market shouldn't just be anyone with money to invest. Choose a niche and build an inbound marketing strategy that addresses that market.

2. Focus on content quality. You will be judged on the quality of your content. Poorly lit videos of you talking in your office, or outdated photos and slide presentations, will suggest that you don’t take your work seriously enough to be trusted. Spend some money on a good website with quality content -- and keep it current with fresh new content. Do the same with all of your digital marketing tools.

3. Play to your strengths. Most financial professionals are in the business because they are good at planning an investment strategy and are good at working with people. So get someone else to design your website, create your videos and even tweet for you, if necessary. (Full disclosure: I run a company that does just that. But you can also dedicate one of your staff members to focus on these efforts.)

Delegate the parts of inbound marketing that you don’t like doing, if you like -- and leave yourself time and energy to do what you do best.

Craig Faulkner is CEO of FMG Suite, offering a complete inbound marketing solution for financial professionals, from websites to email newsletters to a customized mobile app. For more ways to make the most of your marketing efforts, check out his free online video course, The Art of Digital Marketing. You can also follow him @fmgsuite on Twitter.

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