In the spirit of Memorial Day and all things patriotic, I figured I’d divulge a small bit of information about myself. I’m a soldier in the Army National Guard. I proudly serve my country at the same time as holding a career as a content writer at Stratus Interactive. It’s the best of both worlds for a creative yet intense person like me.
You might be thinking, “that’s nice, but what does that have to do with inbound marketing?” Well, my friend—a lot. In fact, much more than I originally thought (am I weird that I thought about it before?).
You see, Inbound at the highest philosophical level is the right way to do marketing. It's the honest way. It's the way people should be treated, and the way you should act as a business. The Army calls these Army Values. In marketing, we call this Inbound.
So today reader, I am going to tell you exactly what the Army has taught me about inbound marketing, and how you can implement the Army Values into your business strategy. Thankfully for you, no Drill Sergeants or push-ups involved.
What are the Army Values?
One of the first things you memorize upon enlisting in the Army is the Army Values. These are the governing principals throughout the army and the characteristics that all soldiers should exhibit regardless of the situation.
These characteristics are Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage. No matter what you’re doing—training, missions, community service—as a soldier, you adhere to the Army values.
What Does that Have to do with Marketing?
As a business owner or company CEO, you too adhere to the values of your company to grow your business. Maybe they’re your values and principals, or maybe your business has a shared set of values. Whatever the situation, having core values to guide you through your various business strategies will set your business up for success. They’re what dictates what’s important to you and the things you want to focus on.
While there is no acronym for the values and principles of Inbound Marketing, and because I tend to think quite a bit, a little lightbulb went off in my head that the Army values can be applied to the core inbound marketing values.
It should go without saying that there’s loyalty involved when you enlist in the United States Army. Loyalty doesn’t just begin and end at your loyalty to your country. It’s loyalty to the government and Commander in Chief. Loyalty to other soldiers. Loyalty that runs so deep that if you’re interrogated, you give up no information.
One of the most important parts of any inbound marketing strategy is building brand and customer loyalty. In other words, delighting your customers long after they’ve decided to become customers.
Customer retention is worthwhile when you consider just how difficult it is to get customers in the first place. In fact, according to HubSpot, the top 20% of your customer base accounts for 70% of your total sales, and it costs companies six to seven times more to acquire new customers rather than focusing on hanging onto old ones. So, how do you keep your customers coming back for more?
First, know that delighting customers isn’t just left to one department—everyone’s job in your business is to continue to delight customers. Every single interaction a customer has with anyone in your company is a chance to knock their socks off. Meaning, the better their overall experience is, the better chance they have of sticking around.
To do a quick check to see if you and your company are delighting customers, ask yourself these three questions:
- Would your customers recommend you to a friend?
- Would, and do, your customers do business with you over and over?
- Do you have strong satisfaction scores?
If you answered “no” to any of these questions (or even a, “maybe”), it’s time to reevaluate and improve your focus on delighting current customers.
Fulfilling your obligations in the Army is pretty important. No matter what is asked of you as a soldier—whether it’s pulling Fire Guard duty at 01:30 with next to no sleep, or standing at the position of attention at a ceremony for long periods of time in the scorching heat in full uniform—you do without any questions asked.
Your duty as a business owner or marketer is to develop mission and vision statements that speak to your duty as an organization. These statements are essential, as they provide the public with exactly what your duty is to employees, customers, and anyone else that interacts with your business.
A mission statement clarifies the 'what' and 'who' of your company, and a vision statement adds the 'why' and 'how.' Make sure you revisit your mission and vision statements when goals change. Check out these great examples HubSpot used to drive the point home.
You’ve probably heard the adage, “treat others as you’d like to be treated” and nothing can be truer than how you treat your customers. In the Army, regardless of your rank, be it Private or Colonel, respect is shown. And regardless of what you see in the movies, Platoon Trainers, Drill Sergeants and the like do respect soldiers, too.
When we’re participating in “corrective training” (you can probably figure out what that entails) we are made to drink water, even when we don’t want to or even know we need to, so we don’t pass out or become dehydrated.
So, just like Army leadership does, give your customers exactly what they want, even when they don’t know what they want. Sound confusing? Let me explain.
The first step in understanding what your customers want even before they ask is developing buyer personas. Putting in the time to do the research and fully develop personas that speak to who exactly your audience is. Having buyer personas in your back pocket gives you the opportunity to provide solutions to your customers that they actually are looking for.
Soldiers dedicate themselves to their military occupational specialty or MOS. They devote countless hours of training to perfect their craft—from the dining hall chef to the point man in special forces. Not only that but by enlisting in any branch of the military, soldiers are providing a selfless service to their nation and their branch of the military.
Do the same for your customers and give them your selfless service. Take Zappos, for example. Their customer service is second to none. In fact, they are highly regarded as having the best customer service. Be of selfless service to your customers—not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s good business. Make sure all of your customers feel a personalized experience, even if it’s not.
Honor & Integrity
When I was away for Basic Combat Training (BCT), I made a mistake. I thought that someone had accidentally taken my helmet when in fact, it was in my wall locker all along. Before I realized it, Drill Sergeants had every soldier in the company tear apart the barracks to find it. When I saw it in my locker, I could have just said “I still can’t find it,” but because all soldiers show integrity and honor, I went to my Drill Sergeants and told them, and got a bit of an earful and quite a few push-ups, too.
An overwhelmingly large part of inbound marketing and developing your customer base is building trust in and humanizing your brand, or having integrity and doing what’s right. Taking the shortcut or easy way out will only bode an early demise of your brand.
At the core of inbound marketing is understanding a buyer and not talking at them, but being a high-quality resource of content for them at whatever stage of the buyer’s journey they are in.
Most decision makers today don’t trust marketing, and that’s where inbound comes in. Inbound marketing is the answer to a now self-directed marketplace. Consumers have all the information they need to make a decision at their fingertips. With trust at an all time low, marketers can work to open the door to communication and establish relationships between the brand and the buyers.
Develop trust by:
- Providing content that is not only worthwhile but is also credible and backed by honest and trustworthy sources.
- Use social media to communicate openly and honestly with customers and prospects and curate incredible content they’ll want to engage with.
- Listen and respond with action, rather than argument.
Remember, your customers are human, just like you! Think about how you’d want to experience a brand and the importance of developing trust.
If you’ve never thrown a live grenade, I can tell you it takes some personal courage, especially when you’re new to the Army and haven’t held anything more explosive than a sparkler on the 4th of July.
While marketing is a fairly safe career (I doubt you’ll be throwing any grenades), it’s important to take risks and chances on things that can vastly improve your inbound marketing strategy. We’ll call it Creative courage.
Inbound marketing professionals are on a constant quest for best practices, templates, and how-tos, searching for the next best scalable process. Often, these things stifle our creativity and have us resorting to the same old processes time and time again.
To stick out and increase customers, you need to differentiate yourself from other brands that may be similar to yours—but how?
- Find original ways to entertain and delight your audience
- Go deeper on topics. Don’t just scratch the surface—dive in head-first
- Become a storyteller rather than a brand that regurgitates same-old information
- Ditch the stock photography and create your own images
- Talk to the non-marketers in your business. What stories are they telling about your brand?
Taking these chances can pay big dividends and have you sticking out among the competition. Don’t be afraid to take a few simple risks and once you get comfortable, take some more.
The integrity of who we are as marketers, as soldiers, as people, will always be intertwined. Let the army values guide your way, and you will find success. And, as we say in the Army—Hooah!