Discoverability isn’t nearly enough. Discoverability relies on someone actively trying to discover something, which comes only at the end stage of the buying process. You need to catch people much earlier—long before they even know they want what you’re selling.

Enter “inbound marketing.”

I wrote this article about inbound marketing for DBW in February 2015. Read the full article at Digital Book World.

Discoverability, SEO, keywords, rich metadata—get these things correct and success is yours, right?

Wrong, I’m sorry to say. Discoverability isn’t nearly enough. Discoverability relies on someone actively trying to discover something, which comes only at the end stage of the buying process. You need to catch people much earlier—long before they even know they want what you’re selling.

Enter “inbound marketing.” Google it and you’ll be amazed that you’ve never heard of it in publishing circles (though if you have, drop a note in the comments section and tell me where!). It’s been a growing force in the world of marketing ever since marketing software company Hubspot coined the phrase in 2006, when they realized that cold-calling, spam and other “interruptive” marketing tactics just don’t work all that well.

Inbound marketing is a wonderful idea, and, if you’re like me, it’s a concept that’s painless to adopt, because it’s the opposite of the hard sell. It’s about genuinely setting out to help people. It’s about sharing knowledge and ideas—and, ultimately, it gets your product found by people who really want to have what you’re selling.

This is how it works. First, you articulate the goals, challenges, pain points and demographic of your ideal customer. (As more than one writer has pointed out on Digital Book World in recent months, that’s no small task for publishers, but it’s absolutely essential.) Your description of your ideal customer—your “buyer persona”—then forms the center of your business plan.

Next, you write content that’s perfectly matched to that buyer persona. If you’re a cookbook publisher, you might have your top authors blog about food or have them create videos cooking with their kids. You might post excerpts from upcoming cookbook titles or share recipe ingredient sourcing tips on Twitter—whatever your ideal customer most wants. If you do it right, you’ll put your content in the places where your buyer naturally hangs out. It’s like the early stages of dating—a shared glance across the bookshop cafe where you go on the weekend.

When your ideal customer has seen your work, you try to find a way to continue the conversation: to carry on flirting. So you invite her to leave a way to get in touch. Having a newsletter sign-up box or an invitation to read more in exchange for an email address is a good way to do that. In sales-speak, at this point, she becomes a “lead.” She’s hopped into the hopper at the top of your sales pipeline. But don’t act all overbearing at this stage: not cool.

Next comes the leap of faith—the bit where you actually ask her out. Be brave! Don’t be weird! If you’ve got the perfect offer for her, use your customer relationship management (CRM) tools to get in touch. Let her know what you’ve got in the pipeline, and email her any information she needs. Then leave her alone. And hope for that first magical point of contact—the moment she buys something.

Finally, just because you’ve got her doesn’t mean you should lose interest. You have to delight your customer. Use surveys, more tailored content and social media to give her reasons to stay in love with you—and to tell all her friends how great you are.

I’m sorry to say, dear reader, that you’re being inbound-marketed to right now. Except for this sentence, nothing in this post mentions my own software product, Consonance, or my publishing company, Snowbooks. But I’m writing this article so that you’ve heard from me—so that you know the sorts of things that I think.

I’m writing it so that when, in the far-distant future, you decide you need a book about steampunk Martians or an enterprise title management system (or both! It could happen!) and you come across my books or software by searching for “title management software” or “steampunk Martians,” I won’t be a completely unknown quantity to you. I’ll be that nice lady who wrote that blog post about that thing that you read that time. There’ll be a familiarity, a nascent trust—the foundations of a relationship.

In fact, if you do it right, decent inbound marketing can actually nullify your competitors’ discoverability efforts. When your customer is ready to buy, she’ll know who to come to—direct, skipping the search stage entirely.

More likely, she’ll still search—but which of the search results is she more favorably inclined toward right from the get-go? The nice author or publisher whose blog she reads, or the faceless company that comes up on Google? I know, I know, your products are unique. But in a tossup between buying your book about bees and OtherCo’s book about bees, you’ve put yourself in a great position if she’s been enjoying your bee-keeping tips for the last six months.

Inbound marketing is so much better than the two alternatives: shouty “outbound” marketing and no marketing at all. This is something many publishers and authors grasp, but in the race to get the word about all your great content, lapses are easy to make.

So think of the inbound approach as a narrowing of focus in order to produce more reliable results. Want to attract the right visitors to that online shop you’ve gone to the bother of creating? Inbound marketing is the best way to spark up a meaningful, fruitful relationship with customers who love what you’re doing.