Sunday, 10 April 2016

The 7 Stages of Inbound Marketing

Thanks to our own inbound marketing efforts we get a steady stream of fantastic business opportunities. Many of the enquiries we get are from businesses at an early stage of their journey into inbound marketing; so early they are often unaware of the inbound marketing philosophy. What I mean is they've recognised their websites are not generating leads but that's as far as they've got. I believe there are 7 stages to inbound marketing success and I'll now explore all 7 stages as I see them, based on our experience with many businesses.

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Stage 1 - Realising There's a Problem

Stage 1 is simple but people come at it from different angles. For example, in Aberdeen just now many businesses are struggling because of the oil price downturn. Their networks have dried up, the phones stop ringing and their websites have come under the spotlight. To their horror, they recognise the site they paid £20k for gets virtually no visitors. Somewhat perplexed they carry out some Google searches, find their competitors but not themselves (probably using the wrong phrases) draw a blank and conclude their website is broken.

They then contact the company who built their website and point the finger. This rarely goes well and certainly doesn't help solve the problem. Having got nowhere with their web company they turn to Google looking for answers. Enter Stage 2.

Stage 2 - Research Into A Solution

Somewhere on their road to redemption, they come across the phrase Search Engine Optimisation or SEO. For many it's a eureka moment, they believe they've found the issue. Armed with this information and some understanding of their problem they go looking for a company who can "fix" it for them. Paraphrasing the emails we get from companies at Stage 2, they go something like this.

"The pesky web company who built our website didn't do the SEO properly and our site's broken. We need you to fix it for us and guarantee once you've done it we'll be on page 1 of Google".

Now, we could take their money and "fix" their SEO but we don't. Instead, we engage with them and talk to them about the process of turning their website into a lead generation tool because as a lead generation agency that's what we do. However, our advice isn't always well-received, people usually think there's an easier way to get their website generating business opportunities. Enter Stage 3.

Stage 3 - Denial, There Must Be An Easier Way

Succeeding with inbound marketing requires a big and, importantly, smart effort. An inbound marketing campaign is not a quick fix, it takes months not weeks to start performing and if you're on the brink of going out of business and you've got no money it's not going to solve your problem. Sadly, some of the enquiries we get are from companies in this no budget, and hence no chance, situation.

Inbound marketing is a small wallet big brain exercise as opposed to outbound marketing's big wallet small brain approach. Where a modest TV-based marketing campaign might cost £200k, 12 months of inbound is likely to cost considerably less. However, a successful inbound campaign will require some smart thinking and commitment whereas the TV campaign won't be anything like as taxing.

But I digress. The main problem businesses have to overcome to get past Stage 3 is to recognise that if they want to be found in Google by people searching for what they offer, it's going to take a big effort and time. There are no shortcuts. Enter Stage 4.

Stage 4 - Recognising There Isn't An Easier Way

Recognising that inbound marketing creates a predictable, scalable and repeatable marketing machine is a watershed moment for any business. The realisation that adopting the approach of creating content people need is the start of a new and exciting phase in a company's growth. Coming to terms with the fact that Google is a merit-based search tool that promotes good content, as "voted" for by others, to the top of the rankings represents a turning point. Accepting that simply churning out pages of "buy stuff from us" ain't gonna cut it really is a coming of age.

But take care. Understanding that creating great content is important but it doesn't mean you should dive straight into doing it. You need a strategy. Enter Stage 5.

Stage 5 - Planning & Strategy

Having bought into inbound and deciding to go all in on it, which is the only way, some people are tempted to jump straight into tactics such as blogging, creating e-books etc. Don't. To do inbound well you need a strategy, you need a plan. Start with buyer personas to ensure you really understand your customers, their problems,  the kind of content they look for and where they look for it. This handy guide created by Hubspot is all you need for that.

Then move onto creating a content plan and an associated calendar. This is a great place to start your planning phase before moving onto your campaign roll out. Enter Stage 6.

Stage 6 - Roll It Out & Keep the Faith

Once you start to roll out your strategy you're going to need to keep the faith. This is especially true if the board are breathing down your neck looking for quick results. However, unlike traditional marketing the roll out phrase is only the start. By watching what happens and measuring the results you'll be able to tweak your output, the content you're creating, to make it more effective. Inbound's not a set it and forget it endeavour, if something's not working you can change it or try something else.

Slowly at first but faster as the months pass you'll see your traffic on an upward trend and the same goes for your lead generation. You'll start to see your efforts pay back. Enter Stage 7.

Stage 7 - Your Own Predictable, Scaleable & Repeatable Marketing Machine

I started out by saying we get a steady stream of business opportunities because of our inbound efforts. Content we created 4, 5 or even 6 years ago still brings us leads in 2016 and will continue to do so. We've built and continue to expand our marketing machine. We've built a moat round our business and as time passes it gets deeper and the monsters that lurk in its depths get bigger.

Once you've worked through the 7 stages you'll start building your own moat. You'll start locking your competitors out, you'll start putting your business in front of potential clients far and wide. This stuff really does work, but until you embrace it you're always going to be 6 to 9 months away from enjoying its benefits. So what are you waiting for? Get started today.

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