Man’s Best Friend Has A Lot To Teach Us About Inbound Marketing
Let me start by saying I’m not really a “dog person.” I didn’t grow up with a dog, my parents never had a dog and we didn’t get a dog when our kids were young. But a year ago, after much deliberation, we decided to get our first dog. The past 12 months have included several important life lessons, and I can’t help but apply them to the lessons I’ve learned practicing inbound marketing and using inbound to get results for our clients.
Our Goldendoodle, Baxter (pictured here), is coming up on his first birthday. I have to say, he’s a great dog. Yes, I’m biased, but I also hear stories from other dog owners and it appears that Baxter actually is a very good dog. However, I’ll also tell you that we invested time and money in helping him to be a good dog, and I think the same applies to inbound marketing. In fact, I think several lessons apply to inbound marketing as well as caring for your pooch.
Do Your Research
We didn’t jump into dog ownership. We looked at a variety of breeds as well as a variety of adoption options, like breeders, puppy stores, big-box retailers and rescue organizations. We then narrowed down our requirements. We wanted a smart dog, one that didn’t shed, one that wasn’t going to grow to be too big, one that didn’t need constant action and one that wasn’t going to destroy our home. With so many breed options, we were able to find a breed that fit our requirements perfectly. This made our experience much more enjoyable and easier to execute. The same holds true with inbound marketing.
Do your research. Do you need leads? Do you need marketing assets? Do you need more website visitors? Do you need programmatic improvements to turn more leads into new customers? Do you need these improvements this week or can you afford to go more slowly and wait six months for results? How much time do you have to invest in the program? How big of a team will work on this initiative and how critical to the success of the company is adding an inbound effort? Finally, how much money are you prepared to invest in this program? The clearer you are on these answers, the easier it's going to be to find the right solutions.
Just like we had a great dog experience because we picked the right breed, you’ll have a better experience with inbound if you have the right expectations and the right partner going into it.
Keep Your Message Simple
One of the first lessons you learn with your dog is you can’t communicate with him like you do with other people. However, communication is key to having a great dog, so you simplify everything down into one- or two-word phrases and then keep repeating those phrases. When coupled with rewards, your dog learns to sit, stay, get it, drop it and so on. It’s amazing how far those few key command words can go.
Successful communication takes repetition and consistency to make it work. The same is going to be true for your inbound marketing efforts. Most of the businesses we end up working with have overly complex messages. They could be too technical, too academic or too general, but all three of those situations produce the same lackluster results. You have to get your emotionally disruptive message across to your prospects in 10 seconds. You’re going to have to simplify it, cut it down and make sure a fifth grader can explain it.
As an example, we don’t describe our agency as a digital marketing agency (what’s that?) or even as an inbound marketing agency. Instead, we tell people we build Marketing Machines to help our clients generate leads and close more new customers. It’s simple; everyone understands it, and so we can repeat it over and over again.
Make sure your message is equally simple, direct and emotionally disruptive.
Start With A Smaller Set Of Tactics
When you start training your dog, you start with simple tasks like “sit” or“stay.” You’re not going to give him a series of commands and expect him to follow your direction. But over time, you can teach him to fetch a ball, bring it back to you and drop it at your feet, and you can do this by simply using one or two words.
The same is going to ring true for inbound execution. Yes, inbound marketing is extremely complex. You need to execute between 15 and 20 inbound tactics simultaneously each month to drive results. But you don’t need to start with all of them right out of the gate. You can work your way up, mastering a handful of tactics and then adding a few more. Before you know it, you have a full program running, and it’s easier than learning them all at once.
For instance, your website is going to be the center of your inbound universe. You’ll be optimizing it to be found, you’ll be honing your messaging, you’ll want it to deliver an experience that’s focused on providing an amazing buyer journey and you’ll need content to turn visitors into leads. If you simply started with this and nothing else, you’d get an amazing website that produces leads out of the gate. Then, over time, you can add social media, PPC, off-site SEO, email marketing and the other necessary tactics. Instead of being OK at all that stuff, you’d be great at the first set and it will produce much better outcomes.
Focus On A Smaller Prospect Audience
When we first brought Baxter home, he had a very small area in our kitchen to roam around in. This made him feel safer, it helped us keep an eye on him better, it made it easier to train him and he got in a lot less trouble. Over time, as he learned more and as we learned more, we expanded his territory. If he ever got in trouble, we reduced his territory. This has allowed all of us to have clear boundaries and a very comfortable living arrangement.
There’s a lesson to be learned here: You can’t be everything to everyone. As much as you’d like to have 10 target personas in 15 different verticals and offer solutions that appeal to 90% of the market, that’s going to require a very complex and expensive marketing effort. Plus, the more bland, broad and vanilla your message is, the less it’s going to appeal to your best prospects.
Instead, think like we did and start small. Identify the one persona (in one vertical and a very narrow business profile) who will gain the most from your product or service. The narrower the segment, the more personal and specific the messaging will be, and the more success you’ll see. As you penetrate the marketing segments, you can expand into other segments, just like we did when we gave our dog more room. You’ll have a ton of data and experiences from the previous segments that you’ll be able to apply to the new ones, making your marketing more efficient and much more effective.
Be Flexible And Adjust Over Time
In this way, dogs are a lot like children (we have two grown boys). What you think is going to happen very rarely actually happens. You have to be flexible and respond accordingly. Having a Plan B also helps a lot, too. What you think your experience with your dog will be like might not actually become reality. If you thought you were going to let him run around the house, you might come to realize he does better in a gated area. If you thought he was going to sleep in your bed, you might find he’s more comfortable sleeping in his crate. The more flexible you are, the better your experience.
Again, inbound works in much the same way. You might have been expecting 50 leads in the second month. In reality, it’s taking much longer. This is likely a reflection of your company, your industry, your prioritization and your level of investment. Regardless, you have to be able to adjust to the lower numbers and respond accordingly. Perhaps you underestimated the time required or the number of tactics required to get to 50 leads. Either lower your expectations or increase your budget.
Being able to make educated adjustments and reset your expectations is a requirement for both having a dog and running an inbound marketing program.
Get Basic Metrics And Monitor Them
How do you know if your dog is thriving? You track his weight, his eating, his pooping and his blood work. You take him to the vet and he gets a progress report. All of this involves data going in and a measured response coming out. If the dog is doing well, you might not have to change your current actions. If the dog is not doing well, it might require a change in diet or exercise.
Inbound works exactly the same way. You set up key performance metrics like website visitors, conversion rate, leads generated, social reach, blog subscribers, keyword rankings, bounce rate, page click-throughs and more. You measure and monitor these on a regular basis. If they track up and to the right, you continue on your course of action. If you hit a snag and the numbers underperform, you’re going to need a Plan B to respond and get the numbers back up and moving in the right direction.
Data drives action. You need to know what to look at, how and when to look at those numbers, and how to respond if they’re not where you want them to be.
Lean On Experts And Ignore Everyone Else
There are a lot of dog experts; too many, in fact. Anyone who ever had a dog, has a dog or once saw a dog is going to have something to tell you. They all think they’re experts. You’ll also have a set of actual experts, like your vet, your breeder and trusted web resources. You should do your best to ignore the “so-called experts” and focus on the actual experts.
Everyone seems to know something about marketing, whether they’re trained marketing professionals or not. Just because you studied marketing in college, watch TV commercials or read magazines doesn’t make you an expert. Actually, there are so few inbound marketing experts that finding the real pros from the posers is very difficult. Your brother, sister-in-law, uncle and the guy at the club are probably not going to have the expertise to give you great advice.
Instead, find resources that have the pedigree to have done inbound, produced results and executed it enough times that they’re able to give you good guidance. The reality about inbound is it performs different in almost every business situation. So anyone making blanket statements about what’s going to work or not going to work hasn’t had enough experiences to know for sure. Be discerning in your search for experts and when you find one you trust, lean on them heavily.
Stick With It
Getting a new dog was challenging. There were times when we wanted to quit. You’re going to feel the same way with inbound. You might doubt inbound works and, in particular, you might doubt it works for you. You might want to go back to what you used to do.
If you’re thinking inbound isn’t right for you, ask yourself this set of questions: Do you think people are going to start answering their phones again? Are they going to go to more or fewer trade shows this year? Are they going to stop DVRing TV shows and start watching commercials? Are ad blockers going away? Are people going to be looking for the advertisements in magazines, or just paging past them? Is the world moving to a more personal, one-to-one permission-based marketing model or a mass marketing blast-it-out model that interrupts as many people as possible? If you can honestly say you think the latter is true, you should quit.
But if you think inbound is the future of marketing (and there is no doubt in my mind it is), you need to stick with it, figure it out, get good at it and start practicing it at your company — regardless of the cost. Because when it becomes the de facto way to market your business and you’re still not good at it, you’ll find your competitors eating your lunch, and you might just find your company out of business.
Training a dog is hard; it takes patience, perseverance and consistency. You’re probably going to need help. Inbound marketing has all of the same characteristics and all of the same payoffs. When your dog is well behaved and a pleasure to be around, there’s nothing like it. When your business gets 400 inbound leads month over month and 40 of those are sales-ready leads, there’s nothing like it.
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