Inbound Marketing Tactics Void Of Strategy Equal Poor Results
We were working with a prospect last week and she mentioned a term that has stuck with me since. Random acts of marketing. It’s how she described how her current inbound marketing agency was delivering for them. Not that they were doing anything wrong, just that she felt like the effort was missing a strategy to focus the efforts.
This is not uncommon. As we get more and more calls from companies working with an inbound marketing agency and disappointed in the results, the idea of random acts of marketing has become the way most inbound agencies operate. In essence, flailing around, trying anything and everything in the hope that they’ll stumble onto or into the right combination.
But you don’t have to be a victim of random acts of marketing. There are steps you can take to protect yourself, your company and your prospects from this victimless crime.
Here’s now to make sure you don’t get stuck with random acts of marketing.
Inbound Marketing Strategy Before Inbound Marketing Tactics
We say it over and over again but people continue to miss this key part of an inbound marketing effort. Marketing strategy is a very specific set of activities that CANNOT be skipped. While you might have spent time detailing your target prospect personas that is not a complete inbound marketing strategy.
In addition to persona development you need compelling emotional messages that directly relate to the pains and challenges facing your prospects. In many industries these messages need to be highly disruptive to move prospects off their status quo and get them thinking about your solutions.
You need differentiation vs. every single competitor including substitute solutions and do nothing options. You need stories that marketing can use the help your prospects understand what you do and how you do it.
You should consider using a defined and well-honed process to help you create your inbound marketing strategy. If you’re working with an agency, one way to be sure you have an agency capable of delivering a marketing strategy is to ask about their marketing strategy development process. What exercises do they take clients through? What workshops? What tools or systems do they have that they use to help companies articulate personas, messaging, differentiation and story creation.
If you miss any of the elements discussed in this section you’ll be subject to underperforming programs, mediocre results and the dreaded—random acts of marketing.
Inbound Marketing Tactic Configuration
Marketing strategy is a non-negotiable, you need it. But the other missing element we see the most is a lack of orchestration between the full portfolio of inbound tactics. Instead, agencies and marketing teams simply jump right into the tactics and start executing. This is the path of least resistance, I get it and it’s almost always requested by clients.
“Put points on the board early.” The rallying cry of people who haven’t done inbound marketing before and it’s a major warning sign during agency selection. Agencies who say they can start doing tactics without any strategy work are telling you what you want to hear and not giving the right advice.
Here’s how you connect all the disparate inbound tactics so they create a connected inbound marketing program. First, you need a detailed review of your full funnel (marketing and sales) before inbound and you need to create the ultimate funnel required to drive your revenue goals. Next you need to configure and select the tactics you need to drive the desired results. This alone is an effort that takes expertise.
You need to connect website strategy, search strategy, conversion strategy, content strategy and nurturing strategies so when you start building these components they fit together like a puzzle. If you don’t take the time to do this, you end up with siloed tactics that don’t work together.
Here is a great example of how, when this works it works beautifully. You can’t start building a website unless you know the search keywords, keyword phrases and contextual questions people are using to find your business. You can’t build a website unless you understand the conversion paths associated with prospects at all stages of the buyer journey. To create these conversion paths, you need a content marketing plan that uses long form, short form, web content and social media conversation starters.
All this connectivity is required to get found and turn those visitors into leads, but we’re not done yet. You have an entire lead nurturing effort that has to utilize the content from your content plan Finally, there are an entire set of additional marketing tactics that act as accelerator tactics to improve results. Content publication, influencer marketing, ongoing website optimization, and social media all contribute exponentially to create an ongoing machine that drives leads and customers.
If your inbound tactics are not orchestrated and connected your program will include more random acts of marketing.
30, 60 or 90-Day Planning Cycles
Twelve-month annual marketing plans> Trash them. Inbound marketing demands a much more agile and flexible approach. Any plan longer than 90 days is a waste of time. After a few months, it’s going to be a dust collector on the book shelf. What you think is going to work today is rarely exactly what you’ll need to produce results and because inbound is a data driven marketing methodology you want to be able to respond to the data and adjust your tactics on the fly.
Instead adopt a 30, 60 or 90-day planning cycle. We like a 30-day cycle because it gives us the chance to plan September in August. You’re going to create a list of activities, tactics or tasks and then collaborate to prioritize those tasks based on what’s going to produce the best results and take the least amount of effort. Once you start going through every month, you’ll get efficient at reviewing and creating your 30-day plan.
If you’re not planning like this, you’re going to be subject to random acts of marketing.
Even if you agree on doing the marketing strategy first and then building all the required assets you’ll still be spending most of the time optimizing the program, so without an optimization methodology you or your inbound marketing agency will be trying to propel your canoe without a paddle.
When you think about everything going on in this highly complex and complicated marketing effort, it’s easy to not know where to start optimizing. Again, a methodology typically presents the best places for optimization and then provides an approach to executing the optimization.
If you’re looking for guidance on this then I’d suggest something similar to what we do. Each month our team is following the same cycle, Analyze, Review, Respond and Action. During the Analyze phase we’re looking at key metrics, some are reviewed daily, others weekly and monthly. There are some that require a longer view so certain metrics get analyzed with a 13 month rolling view.
What happens next is certain metrics present as opportunities for improvement and these get uncovered during the Review phase. Here our team is looking at the opportunities with resources and team members from a variety of departments with a variety of different perspectives. Content, search, conversions and web team members review the performance and come up with a proper Response Plan.
The Response phase includes coming up with a cross functional Response Plan to impact the metrics we’re tracking. We might not be able to execute everything over the next 30 days due to budget and other client priorities but our response plan is discussed with clients and activities within the plan are prioritized with other required work.
Finally, plans are only as good as the paper they’re written on so we also have an Action phase where the plan components and tasks approved get assigned and the team acts. The result of this approach is solid client results and continuous improvement of inbound metrics month over month.
Without a methodology like this you’re going to run into more random acts of marketing as your team bounces around attempting to fix low performing tactics in a more haphazard manner.
Use Of Agile Marketing
There’s one more concept worth talking about and that’s agile marketing. Ask any agency today if they work in an agile way and they’re probably going to say “of course.” They’re answering honestly, to them they think you’re asking about their ability to be agile, to be flexible and to adapt to changing requirements, but that’s not really what you should be asking about.
Practicing agile marketing is not something you “kinda” do. You’ve either adopted the entire methodology or you didn’t. Do your teams work in sprints? How long are the sprints? One week or two weeks are the only acceptable answers. When does your team do sprint planning? When do they hold their retros? How do they manage and plan their product or tactics backlog? As a client, can you participate in those sessions? Who’s the Scrum Master at the agency? These are all questions that agencies practicing agile can easily answer.
The benefit of agile marketing and inbound marketing are monumental. First, you better prioritize what your team is working based on impact to results. Next, you adjust your effort based on data from your program not a list of tactics from a statement of work or internal marketing plan created months ago. Finally, you should see your team focusing on those tactics that are delivering results and leaving some of the tactics behind because they’re not delivering results and what this does for you is produce a highly efficient effort.
In some of our clients’ cases, delivering better results for less investment. But without the agile methodology to provide the structure, again you end up with random acts of marketing and a lot of wasted effort and money.
What we’re talking about here is not easy or cheap. It takes thousands of hours of practical experience to get good at producing results from inbound marketing but when you do, you quickly find a repeatable and scalable process that can be applied to almost any business.
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