The inbound methodology is what makes inbound marketing stand out, and our Content Director, Samantha Steele, learnt a few lessons when she changed from a career in journalism to a career in inbound marketing.
When I joined Spitfire Inbound marketing, I was one of four employees and had no marketing experience. I came into the field as a journalist, features writer and online editor with little to no experience of the marketing mindset and even less into creating actionable content and nurturing people down a sales funnel with it.
Look, I know content. I know how to do interviews, how to craft a feature, and how to drive traffic and engagement - that’s why, though I started as a senior Inbound Marketing Strategist, I have in two years been promoted twice - once to Content Strategist and most recently to Content Director. I oversee and run our content department, create content strategies, oversee our team and work with the freelancer database I created.
However, I learnt a lot about how to use content differently in inbound marketing, especially through my changing roles in the company.
Here are the most salient things I learnt in the two years I’ve spent inbound marketing.
1. Actionable content
As an online editor, my goal was sheer numbers. The better our online readership, the higher our Facebook likes, the more active our Instagram account... the more we could charge for advertising space (more eyeballs = higher advertising rates). All of this focus on higher online visibility and community growth also meant that, in the long run, we would sell more magazines, as people grew to know our brand online. However, in inbound marketing, the metrics I used to hold so dear are called vanity metrics. Our goal in inbound marketing is layered: the first, breaking into a new audience, is pretty similar to the media goal of reaching more people. But after that we’re trying to engage and convert passive eyeballs into leads and customers. This was a big lesson for me - content mustn’t just be helpful, it also needs to strategically guide people into subscribing, downloading and eventually buying from us. We do this, again, in multiple ways that intersect to create the ‘perfect storm’ of content: designing a content strategy that leads towards a content offer download, inserting multiple and varied calls to action throughout a blog post, and working with our SEO to make our content findable. This effort is between me, as Content Director, our SEO specialist, and the IMS on each account, all working strategically with those goals in mind.
2. How to work with the number
Optimising your content and conversion strategy means keeping a close eye on the numbers, and also looking out for new trends. There are several key metrics I look at for content - such as conversion rates (how many people took an action on a piece of content) bounce rate and dwell time, amongst others. I’m now starting to include in my metrics things like dark social (watch out for our blog post on this topic, coming out soon) and share rates on social (which indicates overall popularity and usefulness of content), based on trends and new data. Digging into the data, with the help of our Strategic Director and the hands-on expert on each account, the Inbound Marketing Strategist, really helps us as a team to sift out the gold nuggets: what’s working, and what isn’t?
I wouldn’t say I learnt to be curious through the inbound methodology - it is, after all, the distinguishing feature of the journalist as well - but it is certainly an important characteristic of anyone taking the inbound approach. I also learnt to be curious about very different things as a content strategist. Digging, diving, and being nosy into the details is really key to any successful inbound marketer - not just looking at the what, but also the why behind your numbers. What makes one post convert better than another? Why is this campaign doing better than the other? It is never a single metric that’s going to paint this story for you. It’s looking at a variety of factors, and sifting through them to better understand the many factors that influence every person’s actions, and determining what that means for your strategy.
4. Methodical approach
The content strategy approach I designed in collaboration with our Strategic Director, Alison Leishman, is very methodical. Each content strategy ties campaigns, buyer personas, the 80/20 rule (in regards to awareness, consideration and decision stage content), calls to actions, social media amplification and much more, together every quarter for every client. This strategy is then executed by the IMS on the account, in collaboration with the content team and client. The IMS ensures the content is used strategically in the automation strategy with workflows and emails, and that is appropriately amplified on social media, amongst a plethora of other actions that make the content fly and attract the leads and clients that it needs to. Learning to be more methodical in my overall approach was a big learning curve for me personally, and one that has paid off immensely into both my home and work lives. For example, in my personal life, I have now taken up bullet journaling, an analogue journaling and tasking system, to organise my very busy days. Plotting out each week by hand into my schedule - taking the digital and literally planning what I need to achieve each day to reach my overall goals - helps me not only be responsive, but also realistic about my time, and makes sure that I am also doing something each week that contributes to my bigger life and work goals. My husband and I also share a Google calendar (which also helps with the AirBnB we run, as well as social and work commitments) and use a shared shopping list app to limit back-and-forth over who bought the milk, and instead communicate more meaningfully about other important “life admin”. This methodical and structured approach, a key facet to inbound marketing, has made my life feel less chaotic and more in my control.
Overall, there are many things I’ve learnt at Spitfire Inbound - like how to manage a team, the importance of decision stage content, how to work collaboratively with another marketing agency, how to present to clients, and more - but the lessons from following the inbound methodology have taught me many things I wouldn’t have learnt anywhere else.
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Samantha, centre, with some of her colleagues on her wedding day. From left: Maricelle Gouws (IMS and social media expert), Sarah Mills (Senior IMS and Operations Manager), Samantha Steele (Content Director), Alison Leishman (Strategic Director) and Lucille Moreton (former IMS).