These 4 Companies Were Using Inbound Marketing Before The Term Existed

Companies using inbound marketing

Are you the president or CEO of your company? Watch this article summary.

The term “inbound marketing” was coined only a little over a decade ago, but the principles behind inbound marketing were being put to use long before that. The companies that shared meaningful information, solved problems, and looked for ways to make life easier for their customers were the ones who already knew a thing or two about building customer loyalty.

Here are four examples of companies that have been using inbound marketing since before it was cool, and what you can learn from them:

1. REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.)

Companies using inbound marketing-REI

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) is a retailer for outdoor gear, and sells everything from clothing to travel accessories to serious camping and climbing gear.

REI has mastered the ability to connect with its customers—people who love the outdoors. So it has created a culture that caters to them. Most REI stores have a wall of photos showing employees out adventuring. The REI website includes photos of real people doing the same (see photo above), and the company hires employees who are knowledgeable about the equipment it sells.

My dad and brother recently decided to try overnight backpacking, so the whole family drove to an REI store to get a feel for the equipment they would need. A young employee spent well over an hour helping them try on backpacks, explained the details of backpacking, and answered all of their questions. We had intended just to browse, but the employee’s willingness to go the extra mile to make sure we were well-informed convinced us to go ahead and make the purchase.

REI offers dozens of classes to the public, many of them free. Classes span the interests of REI’s customers—how to use camp stoves, demonstrations in personal safety, mountain biking, rock climbing, hiking, and more.

Why It Works

Instead of just trying to convince people to buy its products, REI offers instruction on the things its customers care about: outdoor activities. By creating classes around what it sells and helping customers understand the products, REI draws its ideal personas to the store.

Because REI has put so much emphasis on educating people about the recreational equipment it sells, its customers trust the company as an industry expert and feel more inclined to buy from them. Take a look at the hundreds of articles REI has written about climbing, cycling, clothing, family, hiking, paddling, camping, traveling, and snow sports.

Inbound Marketing Takeaway

Figure out what your persona truly cares about and make it your goal to offer them meaningful information. When you go out of your way to answer people’s questions and solve their problems, you’re building loyalty toward your brand that will last.

Side note: Here’s a fascinating article about how REI got started. It’s worth a read!

2. Publix

Companies using inbound marketing-Publix

Publix is #8 on Forbes’ list of America’s largest private companies, and has found a niche in creating a convenient way for people to make gourmet food.

Its website is chock-full of recipes and videos, and notes the items needed for each recipe. With one click, you can add ingredients to your Publix shopping list and place orders online.

In the store, employees cook original recipes developed by its chefs so customers can watch and learn the techniques. Customers can try samples when the cooking is done, and the recipes and ingredients are placed conveniently nearby for anyone interested in purchasing.

Publix also offers event planning and catering for its customers, as well as an entertaining and informative cooking school.

To top it all off, Publix has created an app to keep track of coupons, create shopping lists, renew prescriptions, and find meal inspiration. With all the effort Publix has put into making the shopping and cooking experience convenient for customers, the store’s slogan—“Where shopping is a pleasure”—actually rings true.

Why It Works

Publix does the work for customers by creating meal plans and making ingredients and information readily available. By focusing on convenience, it attracts people who want to be foodies but don’t have enough time to do the preparation and research themselves.

Inbound Marketing Takeaway

Take the time to simplify things for your customer. Instead of making them do the work, go out of your way to clarify and make the process easier for them. Follow Publix’s example, and put the focus on making their experience pleasurable in every way possible. You won’t be disappointed with the results.

3. The Home Depot

Companies using inbound marketing-Home Depot

The Home Depot was founded in 1978 by Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank, with the idea that a warehouse-sized selection of products combined with good customer service and low prices would be a hit.

The Home Depot focuses on empowering people with knowledge. Its strategy is simple but brilliant: If customers are fully informed about a product, service, or project, they’ll be far more likely to participate. That’s why Home Depot offers in-store workshops for things like doing drywall and installing ceiling fans. It also gives customers valuable knowledge through its website, which features helpful how-to articles and lists the tools and products needed for projects. Clear, step-by-step photos make the articles easy to understand and help break down the topics to make them more digestible. A huge selection of videos add to the knowledge base Home Depot has amassed.

Why It Works

The Home Depot makes knowledge readily available to its customers, which encourages them to take action. By fully explaining projects and products on its website and in-store, Home Depot ensures that people have answers to the questions that would keep them from making a purchase. It celebrates the do-it-yourself mindset and encourages customers by showing them project ideas they can implement.

Inbound Marketing Takeaway

Make sure you are answering all of your persona’s questions about your product or service. Provide them with valuable information that’s easy to act on. People will feel more empowered to do business with you if they are informed, and your expertise will help establish your company as an expert in the industry.

4. Trader Joe’s

Companies using inbound marketing-Trader Joes

From the products it sells to the nifty Hawaiian employee t-shirts, Trader Joe’s is going about things in a noticeably different way from its competitors. In his Forbes article, “Why Trader Joe’s Stands Out From All the Rest in the Grocery Business,” Glenn Llopis explains the company’s approach like this:

“Trader Joe’s is a treasure hunt for their consumers and they take pride in keeping the experience fresh and unique.”

Trader Joe’s “Fearless Flyer” is a fantastic example of this. Instead of a dull coupon book, the flyer focuses on quirky and unusual products in season—like jalapeno limeade—and is fun to read thanks to humorous text and appealing artwork.

Trader Joe’s understands that its customers care about culture, high-quality products, and trying new things, and it focuses on being the best in the market at providing these products and experiences.

Why It Works

Trader Joe’s doesn’t imitate its competitors—it looks for ways to stand out. Instead of trying to compete with traditional grocery stores, it has capitalized on what it does best: providing products and viewpoints that can only be found at Trader Joe’s. This distinction is what makes the store so valuable to customers.

Inbound Marketing Takeaway

Instead of competing with other companies in your industry, find something unique to offer your persona. By developing your strengths, you’ll attract the right people who will be enthusiastic about what your company has to offer.

To Wrap It All Up

These companies have been putting inbound marketing strategies to work for years. Here are four key takeaways for anyone hoping to learn from their tactics:

  1. Figure out what your personas truly care about and share information that is meaningful to them.
  2. Go out of your way to make your persona’s experience pleasurable.
  3. Take the time to answer all of your persona’s questions about your product.
  4. Build your brand around your company’s unique offerings. Figure out what makes you valuable, and create a culture that enhances that value.

I’m sure I left out other brilliant companies that have been doing inbound marketing since before the term was coined. If you can think of one, don’t leave me in the dark—let me know! Leave a comment below or tweet @nectafy and keep the conversation going.  

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