A year into our inbound marketing journey, and with some awards under our belts, we share the lessons we’ve learnt on the way.
We’re not perfect. Gosh, it’s a relief to admit that! No, we’re not perfect, but we’ve learned a few things while we’ve been creating inbound marketing strategies for growing businesses. Chances are that you probably know you’re not perfect either. So if you’re looking for ways to improve your marketing strategy, or just make your results a bit better, we hope this will help.
FIRSTLY: WHAT IS INBOUND MARKETING STRATEGY?
Let’s start by saying what Inbound Marketing Strategy is not.
- It’s not fluff
- It’s not a huge accumulation of to-do lists or wishes without any prioritisation
- It’s not just a braindump of information that finds its way into a formal document.
HubSpot defines your digital (i.e. inbound) marketing strategy as “the series of actions that are going to help you achieve your goal(s) using online marketing”.
We want to go further than that. We think that your digital / inbound marketing strategy is:
A measurable, practical way of reaching your goals, based on theory, with a practical outcome. It must be actionable, based on data, and focused on the results you want to achieve.
SO WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED ABOUT INBOUND STRATEGY?
1. Get the right people on board
When we start the inbound marketing strategy process with our clients, it’s immersive. That’s why we know it’s important to get the right people on board and why we always make sure people from sales, marketing and leadership are part of the consulting process. But what we’ve learned along the way is that it’s also sometimes wise to wait for the right person to get on board.
If you’re about to hire an additional resource, rather wait until they’ve joined the company before you kick off the strategy process. You need an internal inbound champion – someone who is completely your partner in this journey. Don’t worry, your inbound marketing strategy will still work if not all team members have participated, but our clients who have seen the best success in the quickest time have their entire marketing, sales and leadership teams involved – no matter how large or small their business is.
2. You can’t ‘sausage-machine’ strategy
There is no such thing as a ‘plug and play’ strategy. Every group of people is different. Their company goals are different. Their personas are different. And the dynamics of the group and the nature of their business is different. Over time, although we’ve learned to create strategies in a more efficient way we know that, while templates are a helpful way to start creating a strategy, following a template on its own will never be enough. The art and science of turning theory into practice is about doing the research beforehand to make sure that the right questions are being asked in order to trigger discussions and change things if they start heading off track. For example: remove buyer personas that aren’t relevant, don’t let one person monopolise the conversation, and remember that two heads are better than one, and four heads are better than two.
3. Creating a new strategy can be scary – but it doesn’t have to be
Change is often scary. There’s the fear that doing things differently may not work – especially if things are going well so far. That’s why at the end of a strategic workshop series we make sure that everyone is clear on the next steps and that everyone is accountable for what needs to happen in order to turn that strategy into reality. Set clear expectations and clear parameters. That’s true for inbound marketing strategy, and for every other successful project.
4. People need a safe space to be honest, and to change
Disagreeing with people is often uncomfortable. That’s why we make sure the sessions where we develop our clients’ inbound marketing strategies are confidential, collaborative, and comfortable. There are no wrong answers, there’s only useful information. Clients talk, but it’s up to us to help sift through that information to come up with insights. The more they share, the better. We’ll also make sure that everyone really gets a chance to participate. Sometimes it means we’ll ask senior leaders not to answer the questions – or not yet. We also do a few surveys during the process which are really important. The anonymity of a survey gives people the security to be more honest, especially if there’s a mix of people participating in the process.
5. Never stop changing
Great inbound marketing requires constant optimisation. This means that someone always needs to be looking at what you’ve done, what’s performing, and what can be tweaked to improve performance. Whether it’s a landing page that can convert better, or an email nurture that isn’t quite getting the right message across, there is always room for improvement. When you get to a point where you’re running things like a sausage machine that’s a problem: you need to change it.
6. Change meaningfully
Bob Buckley says, “Stop doing ‘random acts of marketing and sales’” and we agree. We run pretty cool workshops that help people identify what their inbound marketing strategy should be and, while we love doing them, and people in the workshops get really excited doing them, we can sometimes feel like it’s not new enough. We forget that we’re the only people who have been in this kind of experience multiple times before. So we have to keep telling ourselves: we can change and improve things, and we should, and we will, but we also have to remind ourselves – and you should too – that it’s important to optimise things because the optimisation delivers results, not because we’re/you’re bored.
7. Keep up the momentum
Like riding a bicycle, you have to build up a minimum speed before you can really get things moving. When we first started creating inbound marketing strategy sessions for businesses, we used our 12-step Spitfire Interceptor Strategy to get people on board over a period of months. But we realised that we were pedaling too slowly, and we nearly fell off our bicycles and had to walk the rest of the way home. So we changed things. We still use the same process, but now we combine several steps into more intense sessions that are several hours long and we do the whole process faster. This way people get the bigger picture and we don’t have to ‘catch them up’ between sessions. It also means that our clients get a handle on their strategy sooner and are able to implement it and, therefore, see results sooner too.
8. Measurement is key – but it’s not magic
Sometimes inbound marketing really does seem like magic. And if you don’t understand the ins and outs, it’s okay if you’re skeptical about its power. But it’s not magic: it’s about measurement, content, strategy, optimisation and the integration of various different tools. However, because you can pull out near-real-time information, it is really easy to get meaning out of your data and to turn those meaningful insights into results – but only if you’re tuned in to them and understand what your numbers are really telling you.
9. Strategy is only the beginning
Okay, so once you’ve created a fantastic inbound marketing strategy that you’re really proud of you’re done, right? Wrong. Once the strategy is created, inbound campaign management is usually left to the marketing team. And that’s where sometimes things can get a bit lost. We’ve discovered that it’s absolutely critical to touch base with sales, marketing, and everyone else who was involved in the original process six months later (yes, that soon!) to align what’s happening with their business goals and what they’ve learned in their teams. If it’s not in the form of a meeting with the whole team, it could be a survey – but we’ve discovered that we have to give people feedback, and receive it. There are all sorts of valuable lessons that people across the team have learned, and can share, but if they’re not invited to do so, those learnings can never be turned into actionable insights. Plus, it gives people a chance to see how well inbound marketing is working and impress them. This is over and above the weekly and/or monthly reporting and insights that you share with the team.
10. Strategy is never done
Once the strategy is created and the hard work has started the analysis begins. When you’re constantly gathering data and fine-tuning and updating your campaigns it’s important to schedule regular strategy refreshers. A year is too long in the digital world. We recommend doing it every 6 months. This is the time to re-align all the lifecycle stages, workflows and criteria. And it’s the time when we tell our clients what we’ve been doing behind the scenes, so they can see the amount of data we have gathered over the time, and what we’re doing with it.
We hope this post has made you think about some of these questions, even if you haven’t quite answered them yet… Things like: Do you have ‘fluff’ or real strategy? And if you have real strategy, are you using your current strategy to it’s full potential? And if you are, are you implementing, measuring and optimizing it? Do you know if it’s really working? Do you feel like it’s on track, or do you need help?
Regardless of how you feel about your current strategy, it’s always good to know that there are people out there in the same boat as you. We’re all learning, all the time – but hopefully these tips will mean you can learn a bit faster or, perhaps, even get the help you need to fast-track your processes. We’re happy to help – give us a call ☺
What are your thoughts on lessons you’ve learned about inbound marketing strategy? We’d love to hear from you! Join the discussion we’re having already on LinkedIn.
Featured Image by Alison Leishman (With a solid inbound strategy, you're bound to hit your target)