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A Crash Course on Inbound Marketing.

When I was a young kid, my dad gave me a Chinese finger trap — If you’ve never seen one before, it’s a short mesh tube about the size of two fingers end to end. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but I quickly learned how it got its name. You put one finger in each end, but the harder you try to pull them back out, the more impossible it becomes.


Inbound marketing works against the same fundamental premise; the idea that the more brute force we apply to reaching our marketing objectives, the more expensive it becomes. In order to break through our audience’s general marketing fatigue we’re left with two options; either pound them into some kind of submission through repetitive advertising, or find a way of getting them to come to us.


Inbound marketing strategy suggests that that by providing value up front and in exchange for our customer’s time we can earn their attention, and leverage it to sell our products and services. With it, our goal is to become a subject matter expert on any number of product or service adjacent topics and become, in affect, a trusted adviser on that theme.


How Inbound Marketing Works

You probably didn’t find this article advertised on a billboard or radio commercial. You probably found it because you wanted to learn more about the subject of inbound marketing.  You performed a search for articles on the subject matter or maybe saw this post in your news feed, you clicked, and here we are.


Inbound Marketing is, by definition, a form of integrated marketing that combines the core disciplines of content marketing, SEO, and to varying extents, Social Media.  In order to launch a successful inbound campaign, you need to understand some main concepts, that includes the role of value, content engines, keyword strategy, and conversion optimization.


The Role of Value

Time is the most valuable asset that any of us have. And by definition, inbound marketing is simply the quid pro quo of exchanging your expertise for your customer’s time. We provide an answer to your question, and in return earn your attention for a short period of time. That means that the first step in any successful inbound marketing program then, is to create a digital space where your customers can find answers to their most frequently asked question about your products or services.


There are a lot of ways to create value, but in his book, “Jab Jab, Right Hook”, Gary Vaynerchuk offers one of the simplest definitions  by saying that valuable content informs, educates, or entertains; it’s that simple.


Content = Value


So, whether you clicked on this blog looking for information on what inbound marketing is, how to do it, or misadventures in it, in order to be successful I should provide you with one, or hopefully all three. If I’ve done my job you’ll get value out of this post. At worst, I’ll have positioned myself in your mind as an expert in these matters and at best, you’ll reach my predetermined objective. For most businesses and organizations, these goals are threefold:


  • Generating an Impression
  • Generating a Micro conversion
  • Generating a Macro Conversion


It’s important to note that value in inbound marketing is, by no means arbitrary. We’ll need to seek out and understand what our customers are looking for and justify our content with hard data. While some pieces of content may generate high traffic, they can yield low conversions. And in some cases it’ll be exactly the opposite. All of this simply speaks to the absolute and vital importance of making sure that you’ve built a solid strategy before proceeding with your program.


Building Your Inbound Marketing Strategy

A Content Plan

As with any other form of marketing, to be successful you have to start by defining your end-points. What are you trying to get your customers to do?  For your business that could include anything, from making a reservation to signing up for a trial of your new software. This is your macro-conversion point; the place where your customer has accomplished your ideal goal.


Remember, it often takes up to six impressions before an audience member will reach your macro-conversion point. Along the way there are a variety of  micro conversions that give us clues about how our inbound content is performing. You’ll want to keep them on your radar: These could range from the amount of time spent on a specific piece of content, to social media pages “liked”.


An inbound content strategy is only as effective as your ability to measure its success. You should have Google Analytics, or otherwise, that help you measure how many times your goal has been achieved and where the people doing the achieving came from.


A Content Strategy

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your inbound marketing program won’t be built on a couple of blog posts. You need a content engine – that is, a section of your website where you can dump all of the content that drives long tail searches.


Frequently this is a blog, but one of the biggest misconceptions about content engines is that they are limited to these blog style posts. Your site may host a “Recent News” page, “Case Studies”, an image gallery, a calculator, or even a podcast. These are all completely successful content engines that can provide value and bring customers back to convert.


What to Consider When Considering Content Strategy 

  1. What is your content’s voice? Much like your brand, your content has a voice. Is it light-hearted and funny, dry and educational, irreverent, shy, snarky? All questions to answer before getting started.
  2. Who is your audience? “Everyone” might seem like the right answer here, but everyone is an unlikely audience. You certainly have a core buyer persona; talk to them. This doesn’t mean you’re ruling out people who don’t fit into it exactly, it just means that your message will carry more weight with your ideal customers.
  3. What value does your content present? Does it make the person better at their job? Will they be a thriftier shopper because of you? Will they raise better children? Know more about a certain part of the world? Gain a different outlook on life? Ask yourself how you want your content to make them feel.


One of the most frequent questions we get about building a content engine is where it should live.  Does My Content engine need to be on my site or can I host on a third party platform like Medium, LinkedIn, or Blogger?


By definition, content doesn’t need to be published on your web site. You are, however,  losing quite a bit of SEO value by publishing it anywhere else. To begin with, a well maintained content engine lets search engines know that your website is active and has an engaged audience; a critical ranking factor. In addition, your own site is the only place where you maintain a hundred percent control of how someone experiences that content, where the ads are, how big the typeface is, et al.


A Content Team

Do you love writing new blogs, taking photos, recording videos? If so, that’s great! We do too.  Building this type of subject matter expertise is why many of us do this. It’s also one of our biggest challenges in relation to inbound marketing. In the wake of everyday life, content tends to fall by the wayside when more immediate challenges creep in.


Pumping out a blog or two every so often is great, but it’s often not consistent or frequent enough to register yourself as a subject matter expert. In order to get the most ROI from your inbound marketing strategy, you’ll need to build a content machine – one that needs your input, but doesn’t depend on you to survive.


Fortunately, you’re not the first organization to face this type of challenge. Let’s take a quick look at the roles in any inbound marketing workflow.


The Strategist – Your strategist will help define your content’s voice, perform keyword research, formulate blog titles, and write a concept brief that explains what message the content should convey. Their basic job is to set your content up for success by ensuring that it answers a question that people are asking.


The Creative – This will be a copywriter, designer, videographer, et al. Their challenge is to help execute the strategist’s concept into a creative vision.


The Editor – Every piece of content you create should have a second (if not third) set of eyes on it. This person should vet for basics, including grammar, but also tone, voice, and subject.


The Publisher – Your publisher will work hand-in-hand with your strategist to help ensure that your content is delivered across the right platforms with the right message to the right audience. This includes getting your content online and distributing it to social, email, etc.


The Analyst – A great analyst has a mastery of platforms like Google Analytics, Wistia and Hot Jar. Your analyst will help you understand what content is performing and why. Remember, we want to understand the nuances between content that pulls traffic vs conversions.


In almost all small businesses, two or more of these roles will be combined and in-sourced to other employees already at the business or organization. As your inbound marketing engine grows however, each position in your workflow will grow with it, eventually becoming a factory floor of sorts.


While many managers choose to stay involved on at least one of the these five levels, most organizations will augment their team with external resources. There are a couple of versions of this:


Outsourcing – Some organizations (particularly those with a strong marketing department), will build strategy in-house and outsource creative (the most time consuming aspect of inbound marketing) to external resources. Keep in mind that even the best creatives will need input from your team on their goals, strategy, and analytics.


Agency Solution – In some cases, organizations will bring in agencies like 1205 that specialize in inbound marketing strategies. The advantage of these agencies is that they generally have access to a wide variety of highly skilled and experienced strategists, creators, editors, publishers and analysts that your organization wouldn’t normally be able to attract.


Inbound marketing agencies typically present a pretty neatly packaged solution to producing consistent and high-ranking content and the investment is well worth it to have a team of experts at your fingertips.


Success with inbound marketing means more than crafting great content. It starts with a deep understanding of your core audience, careful planning, and the ability to make iterative improvements. In order to scale your program, you’ll need content engines that deliver relevant blogs, vlogs, case studies, calendars, and more – consistently and in a way that drives engagement across platforms.  


Have you had success or challenges with your inbound marketing program? We’d love to hear about it. Leave your thoughts in the comments.