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Other,Trade Shows / 05.31.18 / By Chase Howells

The Inbound Marketing Buffet

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The title of this blog, “Diary of a Young Marketer” may be a misrepresentation. Not because ofmy age, I won’t admit that I’m old in that regard yet, but because of how drastically marketing has changed over the course of the last decade. I received my B.S. in Marketing in 2008 and have spent the majority of my post-college career in a marketing climate still dominated by outbound tactics. Over the last three or four years though, we’ve seen a continual increase in the role of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is putting your brand/message out in front of the consumer and letting them find you. Think SEO, social media, blogs and articles, etc. This of course is the opposite of the outbound world of cold calling, cold emailing, direct mail, and the other tactics where the brand/message is taken directly to the consumer.

This causes an entirely different approach to developing and budgeting for your marketing campaign. Prior to my time at FrontLine Exhibits, I worked for Sysco Foodservice with the primary role of selling food to local restaurants. One challenging, though common, position in the food world is presenting a buffet. The beauty of the buffet is that there is something for everyone, the majority of customers can be reached and satisfied through different the choices offered. But the challenge for the restaurant is having enough variety prepared to draw patrons, while not allowing too much to the detriment of making profit.

In working on inbound strategy I feel like I’m developing a marketing buffet. There is a multitude of options which we can decide to spend in hopes of getting our brand out to enough people. Our marketing buffet could include search engine optimization, pay per click ads, content generation through blogs and articles, social media posts, videos and custom landing pages. All of which require time and financial resources, but any of these could engage our next big client. Of course, some of this will fail as well.

What can we learn from the buffet pros in restaurants about how to build an effective strategy for our inbound offering:


Build around the most reliable

When building a buffet, the restaurants will utilize known favorites to start. The Italian restaurant will have spaghetti, the Indian restaurant Chicken Tikka, or the Southern restaurant fried chicken. They know that many walking through the door will want those items right off the bat.

For inbound, all signs point to a well optimized website as being the most deserving area of spend. One that looks up to date, functions well on mobile, is easily discoverable via search and concisely explains the company’s benefit.

Start with the website and then build around it.


Plan for items to fail

Outside of the signature items discussed above are where the chef gets to put their spin on the buffet. They can push the boundaries of what people may enjoy. They have to be willing take risks knowing it may fail. In theory, that item may contain all of the familiar ingredients of that signature dish, but it’s presentation doesn’t do enough to grab the consumer so they pass along and that item becomes a sunk cost. Possibly, it does and now the restaurant has a unique item from which it has put itself on the map.

There may be no rhyme or reason to this, you have to accept that this is purely taking a chance. For instance, you may invest in someone managing your social media accounts and filling up Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn but receive little-to-no engagement. Or, social media could become a great pipeline of leads.

Take the risk to find out, plan for failure at times and hope to be surprised.


Be Patient

The restaurant industry is very cutthroat. In many cases, a restaurant may make a decision that quickly causes it to close the doors. This caused many restaurant owners I dealt with to focus purely on how to keep costs down and spend as little as possible as opposed to taking risks to try to break out. Or if they do take a risk, not allowing it to play out. Placing an item on the buffet at lunch one time doesn’t allow for enough feedback to say whether or not to do it again. Unfortunately playing it too safe can be equally detrimental. Restaurant patrons with many options will often opt for what’s new and exciting.

Similarly, inbound requires patience by its very nature. For example, SEO cannot change overnight, and likely will take many months to pan out. If you pull the plug too early, you’ve lost all of the money and effort you’ve put into it. The methods vary, so do the appropriate research to create realistic expectations of time and then plan to see that full period of time through at the minimum.


I say all of this to commiserate with my fellow marketers who’ve been around the last decade plus and are working through this shifting climate, trying to navigate inbound marketing. I hope this can be helpful, but let me know your thoughts and how you’re finding success.