As we wrap up 2014 and most of you close out your first year of running an inbound marketing program, there is a single mistake that you want to avoid at all costs before heading into 2015.
Take it from us. We’ve been planning, implementing and managing inbound programs for businesses of all shapes and sizes, in all major verticals. We know what’s required to drive results.
The one mistake we see time and time again, which causes inbound marketing programs to underperform or flat out fail, is a lack of planning and strategy.
Here are some of the reasons why you can’t execute an inbound effort without a solid marketing strategy and plan.
If you don’t have anything interesting to say, inbound (or outbound) won’t make a difference.
Many, many people make this mistake. They think their marketing is the reason why their business isn’t growing. In reality, it’s the business itself that’s the problem. It doesn’t matter how much you invest or which marketing approach you select. If your business doesn’t stand out, isn’t remarkable or doesn’t delight customers, you’re not going to be successful.
You won’t hear this from most marketing or advertising experts. But, it’s true. This is why your marketing planning and marketing strategy have to shine. If you can’t articulate – in 10 seconds – what makes your business remarkable when compared to your competition, you need to go back to the strategy and planning stage right now. Don’t work on your website, don’t email anyone, don’t create any content and don’t write a blog. Save all that time and money. Make sure your business is remarkable, or it’s going to be invisible.
Inbound needs a consistent message and story woven into all elements.
Inbound is excellent at delivering messages and stories in the way your buyers want that information. Yet, if you don’t have a compelling story, your messages are too complicated or they're not about your prospects, there's NO type of marketing that's going to help your business hit its revenue targets.
Creating compelling messages is a talent. Then, those messages need to be woven into the fabric of your marketing program. This takes time and planning. Your website, each of your emails, your educational content, your webinars, your blog articles, the stories your sales team tells – all of these marketing tactics need to be reworked to reinforce your business' stories and messages.
What if you have multiple target personas? Each persona needs its own messages, content and set of nurturing tactics. This can become very complicated, very fast – if you don’t have a solid plan to create, implement and manage all of the various elements.
Inbound has too many moving parts.
Like it or not, inbound is vastly more complicated than traditional marketing. When you buy a flight of ads or send out 10,000 postcards, those efforts are simple in comparison to what must be accomplished with inbound. The website, landing pages, content pages, educational content, confirmation emails, lead nurturing emails, regular educational emails, blog articles, call-to-action buttons, educational offers for all phases of the sales funnel, analytics, reporting, keyword selection, page optimization, influencer outreach and more – it’s all very complicated. It requires a unique skill set that almost no one possesses right now.
An effort like this needs a plan to keep it all organized and keep everyone on the same page. It requires a strategy to ensure that it’s all been thought out in advance. Then, when it comes to execution or even optimization, everyone knows what to do and why. That’s the only way to get an inbound effort to outperform expectations.
Inbound needs expected outcomes to proactively manage performance.
One of the advantages of inbound is that it’s highly predictable. It’s not hard to create a set of performance expectations based on the activities associated with the program. Blog more, and expect more new visitors. Create more educational content, and expect more leads. With great power, comes great responsibility. These expectations have to be applied based on experience and historical performance.
More important, they have to be managed. When you plan, you create a set of performance expectations. These are the guideposts during the year to see how you’re doing. Are you underperforming or overperforming, and what do you need to adjust? Without these guideposts, the program flounders and no one really knows if it’s working or not.
Inbound performance is improved when optimized.
Speaking of performance, strategy and planning allow you to have a backup plan in your pocket. One key learning we realized early on was that every business and every industry perform slightly differently. While we know what works and what doesn’t, this expertise still has to be applied business by business. When you come to the game with a solid strategy and plan, it’s easy to be ready with a Plan B and Plan C. So when you get that inevitable curve ball, you’re able to react quickly and confidently.
Now, you’re working weekly to optimize performance, so when the month ends, you know you’ve outperformed the previous month. The result is usually month-over-month growth of the key metrics and a high-performing inbound marketing program.
Inbound isn’t easy. But, it gets much easier once you have a marketing strategy and plan in place. Perhaps more important is making sure that the mechanism is in place to make strategy and planning adjustments quarterly. This allows you to take advantage of what you’ve learned and of the changes that are going on in your business or industry.
Start Today Tip – Got a plan? If you do, you’re good to go. Our research has shown, however, that only 20% of businesses actually create an annual marketing strategy and plan. Now is the time to reflect on 2014. Take the next few weeks to create a strategic inbound marketing plan for 2015. Make sure it includes both messaging and differentiation – enough to make you remarkable. Then, work on the tactics you need to generate enough leads to get to your goals. Get help if you don’t think you and your team are able to do this on your own.
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