(Here is a primer on the single most important marketing tactic available to local businesses today)
The topic of “Inbound marketing” is a big topic right now in the world of Internet Marketing. And for good reason. It’s a powerful strategy that can be a low-cost way to reliably and predictably bring your business new qualified leads and Customers.
When I look at the Customers of ours who are getting consistent results from their online marketing, it’s usually those Customers who are consistently practicing, at least to some degree, Inbound Marketing. With the right planning and putting the right pieces in place, you can build a powerful online lead and sales generating machine. Inbound marketing can be very sophisticated business for large corporations but the typical local small business can benefit greatly by even a simple adoption.
Imagine you want to do some home renovations to your house. Chances are overwhelming that you will turn to the Internet to search for local home renovators and perhaps interior decorators. You’ll read reviews, look at before & after photos and as you get to know who the local players are, start to narrow down your short list of contractors that you will call to quote on your job. Whether it’s finding a contractor, interior decorator, family lawyer, gift basket provider or countless other services and products, these days we turn to the Internet to find them.
Why Inbound Marketing Works: Harness the Natural Buying Process
We know that people are using the Internet to find products and services and right now they’re finding someone…it may as well be your phone that rings! By consciously aligning your online marketing with peoples’ natural buying patterns you can quickly create a fruitful source of qualified Leads and Customers. And, unlike traditional advertising (like a flyer or newspaper ad) what you build online stays there and continues to work for you.
Inbound marketing is a powerful Internet Marketing strategy that uses educational content and calls to action to attract and deliver highly qualified Leads and Customers to you.
My “New & Improved” 7 Step Recipe for Inbound Marketing Success
Inbound marketing really isn’t all that new in the world of the Internet; I’ve been blogging and writing about the foundational concepts for years; I wrote about it in my book Piggybank Websites (out of print) back in 2006 where I laid out “The Secret 7 Step Recipe For Online Success”. Essentially, I was describing what we’re now calling inbound marketing.
It’s been nearly 10 years since I wrote the Piggybank Websites book and while much of it is very much relevant today, I’ve also learned a lot in the last 10 years. Here’s my “new & improved” 7 step recipe for Inbound Marketing Success.
Step 1: Be Prepared
With a simple web browser and a few minutes, today’s Customer is sizing-up your business alongside every single one of your Competitors. They can get a “feel” for you, read reviews, size-up out your products and more. You must be on your competitive game to win in business in the era of the Search Engine.
Perhaps the single biggest mistake I see being repeated time and time again in small business start-ups is the lack of planning–a rush to start their Entrepreneurial Adventure without the provisions of some basic and key business foundations. To borrow the Scouting motto business owners need to “Be Prepared.”
This reminds me of my favourite parables:
Two lumberjacks were challenged to a competition to see who could cut down the most trees in one hour. The first lumberjack immediately got to work sawing down his first tree while the second one sat down. The first lumberjack scoffed at his lazy competitor. However, what he didn’t realize that while sitting down, the second lumberjack was dutifully sharpening his saw. The first lumberjack had already felled three trees by the time the second one started in on his first. However, with the freshly sharpened saw, the second lumberjack soon overtook the first.
As business owners, we need to regularly sharpen our saw, ensuring our business is ready for to compete, adapt to a world that is constantly changing and meet the needs of shifting Customer tastes.
Here are 3 foundational “teeth” to sharpen in your business as you get ready for your Inbound Marketing Adventure:
- Your Customer. Who is your ideal Customer? As cliché as it is to say: “If you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no-one”. I see businesses doing it all the time. Desperate for whatever business they can get, they take on everyone. Ironically, by really zeroing in on your Ideal Customer and building your business around serving that Customer, you’ll be far more effective in the long run. You need to understand who they are (Demographics) and what they want (Psychographics).
- Your Brand. More than just a logo and a web design, your brand is a feeling. What do you want your Ideal Customer to feel when they encounter your brand? The images, writing style, words and even the name of your business should be designed to authentically appeal to your Ideal Customer.
- Your Product. Let’s face it, if you’re delivering an inferior product or service, no amount of marketing flare will help you to succeed in the long term. You need to be genuinely solving problems that your Ideal Customer cares about and will spend money on.
Step 2: Develop Great Content
This is the step I see most businesses struggle with the most…developing great content. There seems to be a pervasive belief that “I can’t write.” Yes, it is work. Yes, it may not come naturally at first. Yes, you can do it!
A simple way to get started writing articles is to think of the questions your Customers ask you most often. After answering the same Customer questions over and over, you probably have a pretty compelling answer with the right facts and anecdotes. Write that down; there’s a blog post! Yes, it can be that simple.
The key to developing great content is not in your writing prowess but in sincerely and authentically answering the questions and problems your Ideal Customer has.
Here are the Top 3 types of content I recommend that you start to develop:
- Product and service write-ups. Take a look at your current website and marketing materials. Have you written about your products and services in “customer-speak”? You want to talk in a language your Customer understands. I often see professionals who are in an industry with jargon that other professionals in that industry use and understand but whose Customers don’t. It’s fine to know and use the technical terms of your industry but when talking to your Customer, you want to make sure you’re meeting them with the words they’re using to find you.
- Blog Posts. Blogging is a critical part of content marketing (and, yes, you can blog!). You should be blogging at least once a month, posting articles that are highly relevant to what your Ideal Customers are looking for. If you’re really serious about being competitive online and driving traffic, then you should be blogging closer to two times a week. Each blog post should be at least 300 words (about a ½ page single spaced); I like to see at least 500 words (this blog post is over 2,000 words!). Your website should be running a popular Content Management System like WordPress that will allow you to easily post your blogs yourself as well as Search Engine Optimize them.
- Special Reports & eBooks. As you will see in Step 5, offering a Special Report or eBook for download is a really effective way to build your mailing list. Special Reports and eBooks typically explore a topic in much more depth and more attention is paid to how the content is laid out and presented. For a great example of an eBook that has served us well for years, check out “17 Questions To Ask Before You Buy A Website“.
Step 3: Drive Traffic
Next to developing great content, the Inbound Marketing step you’ll likely work most at is driving traffic. Once the content is created, it’s time to open your doors and invite all those would-be Customers in. There’s a lot of hype on different ways to generate traffic and a lot of the advice is sketchy and worthless. We don’t want just traffic, we want qualified traffic coming to our sites. Here are 3 tried and true ways that our Clients are using to attract quality traffic to their websites:
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The good news here is that writing great website pages and blog posts is half the battle when it comes to SEO. Your digital marketing firm should be able to get you set-up and trained on how to post and SEO your blog posts and work with you to put together a plan for the more advanced SEO.
- Social Media Marketing. Each time you post a blog, you should be sharing it with the world on your chosen Social Media channels. Using a tool like Hootsuite, you can easily schedule 10 tweets to go out about it over the next couple of weeks and share the update with a link to your blog article on your Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+ Pages.
- Email Newsletter. Sending out your email does more than “preach to the converted”. There will be people on your list who have not yet made a buying decision (and today may just be the day!), current Customers may be ready to buy again and people will share the email with others they think can value from it. Recently, we’ve switched to GetResponse which is proving to be better than MailChimp and BenchMark which we recommended in the past.
Step 4: Build Your List
How many websites do you “browse through” in a day…load, look around and leave? Lots. That’s what we do when we’re “surfing the web”. Well over 90% of the visitors to your website are planning to look and leave. Your job is to interrupt them long enough to get their name and email address!
The way to catch the attention of your website visitors is by having clear and compelling Calls to Action.
We know that most people coming to your site are in an information-gathering mode. They’re educating themselves on possible solutions and service providers, checking out pricing and reading reviews. Knowing that, we can create Opt-in offers that give them special, more detailed or advanced information to help their knowledge quest in exchange for their name and email address being added to your follow-up marketing database.
Step 5: Nurture Your Leads
Now that you’re growing your email list, it’s time to start nurturing that list. At first they came to you; now it’s time to go to them. More than just building “top of mind awareness”, your goal at this stage is to build familiarity and trust. At this step, you want to serve your Leads by sending them useful information and offers that bring them back to your website where they can get your full brand experience once again.
The emphasis here is on “service”. You don’t want to get too pushy; you want to nurture and encourage them. You’re helping them get what they need so when they’re ready to buy, they’ll click on your offer or pick-up the phone and call you.
To help you automate and streamline your lead nurturing, you’ll want to make effective use of these three tools:
- Autoresponders. After someone opts-in to get your Special Report or eBook, you can set up a series of automated emails that will “drip” out to them over the coming weeks. Send them an email right away, another one in a day or two and then perhaps weekly for a few weeks.
- Email Newsletters and Special Offers. I hear a lot of people tell me that email marketing is dead and social media is where it’s at. That simply isn’t true. Our Clients who have a regular email marketing plan will tell you that they get (by far!) more results from email than social media. I think what people are really expressing is that it’s easier to post to social media than it is to lay out and send a newsletter. Sending out an email newsletter might have a few more steps than posting to social media, but it really isn’t that difficult…especially if you’ve been set-up with a template that you can easily reuse for each mailing.
- Social Media Posts. Generally speaking, emails are more effective than social media posts…Emails land in the inbox whereas social media posts may just breeze by someone’s feed. That said, they can still be very powerful. Regularly updating your social media channels with a nice mix of information, success stories, portfolio examples, testimonials and offers will help keep you top of mind. The nice thing about social media is you can update it more frequently than you can send Emails and not annoy your Followers.
Step 6: Analyze
By Step 5, you’ve got a marketing system running. Now, it’s time to optimize that marketing system. You need to monitor your results to see: “What’s working? What’s not? And what needs tweaking?”
Measuring and analyzing can get quite sophisticated with A/B Split Testing, Google Experiments, conversion analytics and the like. Save that for later on when you’re an Inbound Marketing rock-star. For now, you’ve got some basic numbers to monitor that will give you a lot of useful feedback that you can make course corrections with. You want to start with numbers like:
- What kinds of articles are getting the most traffic? The most comments? The most social shares?
- Which social media posts got the most reach? The most comments? The most shares?
- Is the traffic to your website increasing? Are people staying on your site longer? Exploring more pages?
- What’s your open rate on emails? What percentage of people clicked on the links in your Email?
- How many opt-ins are you getting? What is it as a percentage of your website traffic (your conversion rate)?
By getting familiar with these kinds of numbers, you’ll start to get a feel for the types of topics, subject lines, headlines and so forth that your Customers are responding to. One of the most powerful aspects of Inbound Marketing is that it puts you in direct contact with the pulse of your Customer. These insights may well take your business in new and unthought-of directions.
Step 7: Ka-Ching!
Watching your stats is helpful but the ultimate measure of your online success is the number of sales you’re making. As you get more in tune with your Ideal Customer and tailor your Inbound Marketing to them, you will see a corresponding increase in Sales. Let your sales (and not your blind belief) be your compass, telling you if your business is on course or not. As you use the feedback you get from your Inbound Marketing to align every aspect of your business with your Ideal Customer, your reward will be an ever-growing Ka-Ching!
There are many more aspects that we could get into (landing page optimization, Customer personas, buying stages, lead segmentation, etc.) but first things first. A local business that commits to following the plan outlined here will be well rewarded. The key is to get started, as humble a start as that may be. Once started, you can grow and evolve your methods and build a powerful, resilient and predictable source of online Leads and Sales.