Time And Time Again, Marketing Strategy Is Missing From Inbound Marketing Engagements
Over the past few months, we’ve seen a major increase in the number of prospects asking us to review their current inbound marketing efforts. Most of them are with other agencies and coming off their first year, but some are working on their own.
The one common denominator across all these situations is — you guessed it — no marketing strategy. No compelling messages, no stories, no differentiation and no connection of the inbound marketing tactics. The results speak for themselves. If you skip or don’t value the marketing strategy work, you should be prepared to expect less-than-stellar results.
Here are seven reasons why your inbound marketing program is going to underperform if you skip the strategy and planning phase.
1. You Won’t Have Anything Interesting To Say
If your business isn’t remarkable, it’s invisible. It’s really that simple. If your website looks and sounds like your competitors' sites, that’s NOT good. It’s actually awful. In fact, if you don’t have a compelling story, you probably should consider stopping all your marketing until you do have something interesting to say.
The only way to come up with compelling, emotional stories is to understand your prospects' pains, match your solutions with those pains and craft stories that paint a picture of the prospects' world with your help versus without your help. You then need to match those stories to the prospects’ individual buyer journey. Telling the right story at the right time to the right person is the backbone of effective marketing strategy.
2. Your Entire Company Will Be Without The Right Stories To Tell
Speaking of stories, they’re not only for marketing. I recently attended an event where 50 fast-growing companies were introduced, and not one of them had a compelling story to describe their business. What do you say when someone asks you, “What do you do?” We say, “We’re an inbound marketing agency on a mission to generate 1 million leads for our clients and we do that by creating lead generation machines for our clients so they can exceed their revenue projections.”
It sounds different, it’s easy to understand and share, our prospects can see themselves as the hero in the story and we’ve created the future state. You need that for your business so that everyone in the company is telling the same compelling story in the same way. But one story isn't enough. You need an inventory of stories and your people need to know exactly what story to use and when. Again, marketing strategy delivers these stories.
3. Your Tactics Will Be Disconnected
You shouldn’t build a website without search engine optimization in mind. You shouldn’t build a website without conversion strategy in mind, which means you need content to convert visitors, and now you need to connect search with content and web. You shouldn’t create your long-form content (like e-books and whitepapers) without having a short-term content plan for blogging and a micro content plan for social media promotions. Your video marketing has to tie into your content and social promotions plan, and your email marketing needs to promote your content in a directed way.
In short, you can’t have an inbound marketing program if you haven’t connected all the tactical elements across your entire program. Well, I guess you could do inbound without connecting everything, but this would produce sub-optimal results too. Here’s a great example: I know a lot of inbound agencies that create websites don’t write the copy for those websites. In most cases, the clients write their own website copy.
Big mistake. Not that the clients aren’t great writers and they certainly do know their business, but they won’t create compelling copy designed to convert visitors, they won’t write copy designed to get found by the search engines, they won’t write copy that tells compelling and emotional stories, and they won’t write copy that keeps the visitors on their website.
What’s the point of a new fancy website if it doesn’t convert, doesn’t attract new visitors, doesn’t rank and doesn’t become a lead generation machine for your company? Why would you do something like this?
4. You Won’t Be Able To Accurately Predict Performance
One of the promises of inbound marketing is its ability to help you predict lead flow, close rates and new customer growth. But if you don’t set up your program correctly from the beginning you’ll end up with unpredictable lead flow. You’ll have good months and bad months, and you won’t know why.
Up and down months for the key metric of new leads is a symptom of a program that’s not properly integrated and tactics that are not connected. This might also highlight inconsistent deployment of energy on tactics month over month. The key is to optimize all the tactics at your disposal every month in a systematic and efficient way.
This produces repeatable, scalable, predictable lead flow.
5. You Can’t Match Your Inbound Marketing To Your Prospects' Buyer Journey
Lack of planning makes matching your marketing to your prospects' buyer journey much more difficult. For example, you need compelling bottom-of-the-funnel offers. Demos and free trials just don’t cut it. If you’re not thinking strategically, you might miss this and then wonder why you’re not getting more sales-qualified leads at the bottom of the funnel.
If you’re not thinking strategically, you might not look at a full funnel analysis and realize you have prospects stuck and collecting in the middle of your funnel. Instead of working hard to get more prospects in the funnel, you want to work hard to move prospects down and through the funnel with workflows, lead nurturing, email marketing and more compelling offers for those specific types of prospects.
6. You’ll Miss Out On Efficiencies
Inbound marketing is labor intensive. Despite all the attempts to automate menial tasks it still requires writing, analyzing, optimizing, coding and conversations about results. It takes time and it takes a continued effort — day in and day out.
You want to find efficiencies that allow you to do more with less. If you’re not planning out and strategically thinking through your execution you would never know you can curate original blog content from long-form content like e-books and save yourself significant money by using that content twice. This trick also helps you promote those e-books in your blog with CTAs at the bottom of the blog. These offers are in perfect context to what you’re writing about and the entire effort takes about 20 minutes, instead of the two to four hours required to produce, edit, approve, post and optimize a new original blog article.
7. You Won’t See 'The Multiplier Effect'
If you’re managing your own program or you're new to inbound, you might not have seen this yet, but in every inbound marketing program there comes a point in time when the program realizes its own potential and starts to produce exponential growth. We call that "the multiplier effect" because the value from all the properly deployed tactics multiply the results and drive up the numbers more dramatically.
Some engagements hit this toward the end of the second year, others sooner. It all depends on your program, level of investment, company and industry. I’ve even seen clients give up on inbound before they reach the tipping point and I’ve seen some clients drive their program to hit this sooner.
If you think about inbound holistically you should see how this works. In the beginning you have low asset numbers across the board (low visitor numbers, low contact list numbers, low social media numbers, low blog subscriber numbers and shallow funnel metrics). But over time, each of those numbers starts ticking up. Eventually, smaller numbers become larger numbers, and your tactics start to have a major impact across very large numbers of people. This is usually where the multiplier starts kicking in and all the numbers start pushing up more dramatically.
But without strategy, it’s almost impossible to get to this point, and it's more likely you’ll bail out and give up rather than double down and work on the missing elements.
You probably know whether you’re in this boat or not. You know whether you spent time working on marketing strategy before you started working on tactics. But in case you’re not sure, here’s a simple test to see if you have the right inbound marketing strategy.
Go to your website. Look at the home page. Is what you do obvious? Does the page tell a story? Is your prospect the hero of that story? Does your business look like and sound different from all your competitors? Can all this get communicated in less than 10 seconds? If the answer isn’t "yes" to all five questions, you need marketing strategy help.
I look at in-house inbound marketing programs and agency inbound marketing programs at a pace of about one each weekday. That’s about 20 a month, so over the past six months I’ve seen more than 100 inbound marketing programs. Nine out of 10 times, the missing elements are marketing strategy, messaging, stories, differentiation and the integration of inbound marketing tactics. Don’t make the same mistake and waste a year trying to figure out what’s obvious on your website home page.
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