This is a great time to be a small business owner or entrepreneur. Thanks to inbound marketing, there has never been more free, high-quality resources available to learn lots of critical business skills. Of course, there’s no shortage of blogs, e-books, videos, tutorials, white papers or info-graphics when it comes to inbound marketing.
But there are some shortcomings with all of this information. One is that it’s obviously fragmented. You typically get all of this stuff in bite-sized chunks. You have to collect, organize and assimilate it yourself. But the second problem is that there’s a huge chunk missing. Most of the information you find deals with either high-level strategy or low-level tactics. That big hole in the middle is what’s holding so many marketers and business owners back from success.
What’s missing is a plan.
I’m going to start a blog series that will cover the methodology I use for crafting inbound marketing plans for my clients. The plan contains three basic steps; design, build and publish. In this first post, I’ll take a high level look at the process. In subsequent posts in the series, we’ll take a more detailed look at each step.
Designing an Inbound Marketing Plan
When you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That’s standard business coaching philosophy and it’s especially true when it comes to inbound marketing. One reason is that it’s so easy to get caught in the tactical weeds of blogging, Tweeting, link building, etc. I frequently use two quotes from Sun Tzu’s Art of War that apply here.
Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory.
Our design will establish goals, develop strategies and select tactics.
The first step in any design process is internal research. It may sound obvious but it’s important that the marketing plan aligns with business objectives. Being deliberate about this process can help prevent distractions and make sure that the plan is focused on moving the needle. Here’s an example. A business might have lots of leads coming in but still isn’t meeting its revenue goals because they’re not converting. This means that simply cranking up the web traffic may actually make the situation worse. Instead, the plan should probably focus on segmenting and reallocating resources in order to improve the quality of leads being generated.
Once the business objectives are clear, the next step is to determine the marketing outcomes that will support those objectives. This means determining a list of actions you want visitors to take on your website like downloading an ebook or requesting a demo or buying a product. And finally, you need to construct customer personas and determine how to segment your audience to reach those personas.
This is the linchpin of the entire process. The inbound marketing strategy is itself made up of multiple sub-strategies. Together, they will provide you with the roadmap and shopping list you’ll need when it comes to the building and publishing steps. This modular approach is important because the landscape changes so quickly these days. It’s what I call the Social Media Doppler Effect. It means that technology is changing faster than companies are able to adapt.
If you have a modular strategy, it makes that process a little easier. For example, let’s say that Google releases another major algorithm update. With a modular approach, you may only need to adjust your keyword strategy without tearing up the entire plan. So let’s look at the modules.
- Keyword Strategy: What are the keywords you’re going to target and how will you use them?
- Content Strategy: What types of content will you develop and what media forms will they take?
- Website Strategy: How will the website be utilized in order to support the marketing goals?
- Promotion Strategy: How will advertising and social media be used to promote your content?
Building an Inbound Marketing Machine
Infrastructure is a big deal. Having the right tools and software will determine whether and how effectively and how efficiently you will be able to implement the strategies developed. There are some basic categories to consider:
- Content Management System: You simply cannot execute an inbound marketing plan without a web content management system. The environment is too dynamic and requires constant changes and a high level of flexibility. Without a CMS, it will be too slow and too expensive to keep up.
- Email Marketing: Capturing leads and nurturing them requires a decent email marketing tool. A high quality opt-in email marketing list is still one of the most valuable marketing assets any company can have.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM): If you have a high volume of leads and/or a sales team larger than a single person then you’ll probably need to implement a CRM system to make sure leads are followed up and to keep track of your pipeline.
- Marketing Analytics: You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Analytics are critical.
- Storage and Bandwidth: If your content marketing plan calls for streaming lots of audio and/or video, you may need a cloud storage system and content delivery network (CDN).
- Promotional Management: Your social media activities will require some combination of engagement tool(s) and social CRM software.
Publishing Inbound Marketing Content
After the infrastructure is in place, it’s time to start publishing content. This is where the journey really begins! There are a few different categories of content that will support the plan.
- Foundation Content is the stuff that won’t change very often; web pages and collateral, for example.
- Dynamic Content is the nectar that attracts the bees. It’s blog posts, newsletters, webinars, content curation, etc.
- Conversion Content provides the incentive and value to visitors that will get them to convert to leads.
An inbound marketing plan requires three basic steps; design, build and publish. Each of these has its own set of steps and sub-steps and we’ll cover those in future posts in this series.
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