The Ultimate Inbound Marketing Strategy Guide for Marketing Leaders to Future Proof their Campaigns to Drive Increased Results
by Marije Schreur, on Oct 26, 2020 6:05:53 PM
There has never been a more pressing need for businesses to have an Inbound Marketing Strategy to sell online; e-commerce activity has noticeably spiked in 2020 and it looks set to be the preferred option for consumers globally for some time to come, also when it comes to B2B services. As a marketing leader, that means the introduction of an e-commerce function and online checkout (or optimisation of your existing e-commerce capability) has likely dominated conversations with the board in recent months, even when you are a B2B company.
The problem is that online selling is a vast field and it changes and adapts at lightning speed, which can pose a problem for marketers charged with increasing the effectiveness of an online offering in the modern consumer landscape. You may wonder how to adjust the learnings from e-commerce to strategies for your B2B company. If you’ve been told to focus your efforts growing an online presence, you may well feel a little overwhelmed. After all, creating a strategy is no small task and tying it to business goals, getting the right talent, keeping your own skills up-to-date in an area that changes almost daily and facing down all of the challenges inherent with doing business online can be harder still.
We get it.
According to a report from WTO, “The enforcement of social distancing, lockdowns and other measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has led consumers to ramp up online shopping, social media use, internet telephony and teleconferencing, and streaming of videos and films.” What’s more, research conducted by Bazaarvoice confirms that 49% of buyers globally are now turning to online more than they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Depending on the markets you’re targeting, the proportion of people now buying online could be higher still. 62% of US consumers for example are now buying more online, along with 70% of Mexican consumers and 58% of British shoppers.
These are pretty compelling statistics. If you can get your strategy right and increase your online presence, there’s plenty of traffic and buyers out there. And that means there are more leads and more sales out there too. A case in point is the Spanish fast-fashion chain Zara. Despite having to close all of its physical stores, it reports that its online sales grew by an astonishing 95% in April. This kind of success is possible and can be replicated; with the right strategy.
Of course, it doesn’t come easy. Online offerings are plentiful and the customer is king. Your online presence really needs to stand out to be in with a fighting chance. You also need to ensure that you offer a seamless, enjoyable customer experience; so your website, your social media, your app, everything has to be cohesive and designed with the savvy online customer in mind. You need to have a robust data protection process and, even when all that is taken care of, you need to figure out a way to get to the top of the search engine results pages and stay there – so SEO, digital marketing, social media marketing and content marketing all need to happen, and be done in the right way, too.
You need to do more. Learn more. Find a capable agency. Conduct market research. Deliver a beautiful campaign and juggle budget restrictions. That’s a whole lot of pressure. And that’s where this guide comes in. It’s your blueprint for building a strategy, securing budget approval, setting KPIs, choosing an agency and getting all of the practicalities in place and working together to future proof your inbound marketing and drive increased results for the board. Let’s get to it!
Reporting on Results
Data is the cornerstone of any successful campaign. It drives improved decision making and allows you to demonstrate results, but it also acts as your yardstick, helping you to determine if you’re on the right path, making the right kind of impact or are falling short of your goals.
Data is the only way to definitively measure the outcomes of your marketing and online activity, and pinpoint areas of concern before they become swirling black holes of resource and budget. Yet, according to data from the Digital Marketing Institute, 87% of marketers feel that data is their most under-utilised asset.
The CEO of the Data and Marketing Association, Tom Benton says that data is essential to marketers noting, “Marketing is typically the front line when it comes to using data and, more importantly, generating actionable insight from it.”
The modern consumer generates a lot of data. Whether they’re tapping keywords into Google, navigating through your website, commenting on social media, completing a survey, reading quotations, making purchase decisions or short listing products on a wish list, you likely have more data available to you today than ever before. And that’s a good thing – each piece of data tells you a little more about your customer. Their search habits. Their pain points. Their opinions. Their likes. Even where they spend their time online. And with that you can create more personalised campaigns and ever stronger strategies, all precisely targeted.
Data can also be used to refine your campaigns and strategies, not just by telling you what to do but also, what you need to do better. The Digital Marketing Institute says, “Your data can help you determine the hurdles your potential customers are facing during the sales process. Now, you have to decide how to address those issues. Are customers getting stuck with items in the shopping cart? How can you get them to make the purchase?”
Main Roles in Successful Marketing Teams
With today’s squeezed budgets and increased need to do more with less, it’s often the case that as a marketing leader, you’ll wear many hats. You may find yourself juggling a lot of responsibilities and to-dos and swapping constantly between tasks such as social media, SEO and content creation. What’s worse, your team may not have the right blend of skills to relieve some of the burden and bring your inbound campaigns to life. You aren’t alone in this.
According to the 2020 State of Marketing Report from HubSpot, securing enough budget, training a team and hiring top talent are three of the eight most pressing challenges confronting global marketers today. HubSpot recognises that the shift to inbound has left many organisations struggling to keep up when it comes to the talent sitting in house, with teams now needing all members to have a mix of creative soft skills and technical hard skills.
Data from LinkedIn backs this, noting that a marketing skills gap is “making it difficult to find candidates with the technical, creative, and business proficiencies needed to succeed in digital marketing."
As your marketing campaigns and strategy become more comprehensive, it’s impossible to avoid the fact that new team members will need to be brought in. But, with cost per hire averaging almost €4500, you need to be razor focused on the skill sets recruited.
Broadly speaking, there are four essential job roles and functions you’ll need to fulfil to deliver high performance results:
- A team leader: to oversee the day-to-day activities and performance of the team.
- A brand manager: to maintain the integrity of your brand.
- A customer experience expert: to ensure your audience is at the forefront of your strategy.
- A data analyst: to turn facts and figures into actionable insight.
Budget Approval from the Board
HubSpot notes that, “Securing more budget is a pressing challenge for marketing globally. And often, getting more budget is easier said than done -- especially for smaller organizations that aren't working with sizeable nor flexible marketing spend.”
Inbound marketing is a “long game” says HubSpot, which means that you may not have instant results and impressive ROIs to report to the board to secure additional funds.
Securing budget approval doesn’t have to be a stumbling block however. There are tactics that you can deploy to unlock the required budgets:
Quick-win campaigns: to give the board a taste of what’s to come with inbound. Demonstrating ROI now with a quick win campaign makes approval more likely.
Stress the importance of your team: marketing is vital to the lifeblood of any company and can be described as a “sales enabler”. Your team therefore is critical to making those sales happen with its actions, roles and functions.
Nurture internal buy-in: McKinsey suggests that securing internal buy-in or backing from other c-suite stakeholders, such as the sales leader, can make budget approval more likely by acting as a unifier which makes the bigger picture easier to see.
Use data: Even if you don’t have lots of ROI to report on, the customer data you do hold can be used to demonstrate the validity of your budget requests and underscore a considered, analytical approach to campaign planning.
The Essence of Content
Content is king. But it’s more than that. It’s the vehicle by which you connect with your audience and the driving force behind lead generation, conversion and engagement. It’s also crucial to a strong search engine presence, can help persuade your customer to choose you over a rival, is necessary for social media and establishes authority, cements quality and communicates your overall brand ethos.
That puts a lot of pressure on your content strategy. WordPress statistics reveal that on its system alone, more than 70 million new posts are shared every month. That’s a lot of competition for readers and a whole lot of noise which threatens to drown out your own content campaigns.
So what’s the answer?
You can’t control how much content other brands push out but you can devise a data-driven content strategy, tailored to your buyer persona, their location, language and different phases of the buyer journey.
You can also be strategic about how your content is created by referencing the entire non-linear buyer journey and pulling in insight from across the business.
Understanding Attribution Models
When you’re standing in front of the board, the ability to clearly demonstrate that your marketing expenditure has directly impacted performance, and helped to generate a steady stream of good quality leads, is a must.
Attribution modelling is a way of first identifying and then measuring key metrics to determine which parts of your marketing mix are driving results.
UX Researcher Brittney Sovik defines attribution modelling as, “…a strategy that allows marketers to analyze and assign credit to marketing touchpoints that occur at the specific steps of the customer journey, from searching for a product online to making a purchase, and every action in between. Using attribution models helps marketers better understand which parts of their marketing effort are driving the most leads to that part of the sales funnel.”
Gartner suggests marketers adopt four primary models to measure marketing metrics and results. These methods include combining the impact of all touchpoints that led to a conversion (MMM), tracking each individual touchpoint separately (MTA), focusing on niche areas of impact such as a particular ad type (holdout testing) or using a combination of MMM and MTA (UMA).
While selecting individual metrics can be challenging, identifying metrics which can be tied back to overall business KPIs can make translating impact to board members much easier.
The 3 Content Funnel Stages to Serve the Full Buyer’s Journey
Today’s consumers do more research, and have fingertip access to more information, than ever before. Although some people can and do make impulse buys, the majority of clients progress along certain distinct stages on their path to purchase:
- Awareness: The prospect realises they have a problem which needs to be solved
- Consideration: They research potential solutions to that problem
- Decision: They chose a solution
Of course, not every customer will follow along the same buyer journey. Although they will pass through each stage, your audience will comprise of a range of different types of people (your marketing personas) and each of those profiles will think differently, ask different questions and behave differently.
Your job as a marketer is to attract leads, engage with your prospects and then delight the customer. To do that, you need content. And to do it well, you need to create engaging content that serves the full buyer journey.
Roughly 60% of marketers consider content to be extremely or very important to their overall strategy; and that’s because it helps the customer progress along the path to purchase.
HubSpot’s content manager, Christina Perricone says, “When your business invests in content marketing, you improve your ability to engage your buyer personas, convert more leads, boost brand awareness, and connect with your audience.”
To be effective your content needs to be mapped to each stage of the buyer journey, so that you’re engaging with your audience and providing them with information suitable to their needs.
At the awareness phase for example, your audience has a problem they are looking to solve. Your content should be educational and point them in the direction of a solution. This could take the form of a video, a blog post or even a webinar.
At the consideration stage, the consumer is considering who's offering the best option to solve their problem. Here, content such as case studies and testimonials or product samples would be a good fit.
At the decision making phase, you need content which will help your prospect over the line. A live demo, a coupon code or a consultation could be just the thing.
The Ultimate Persona Framework
An intrinsic part of your role as marketing leader is ensuring that marketing activity drives a steady stream of good quality leads. To ensure a lead is good quality, it should come from a person or organisation considered to be a good fit for your organisation. To attract those prospects your need content which is carefully targeted to that specific type of person. The more aligned your content is to that person’s needs and wants, the better your marketing campaigns will perform.
You may already have segmented your audience and hold a general understanding of their base characteristics, such as their gender, job role, age and location. This information is good to have but, building a fully developed customer persona is even better. Personas are “the best way to bring customer segmentation to life” says Econsultancy, because they give a more detailed view of the customer, “including far more emotive information such as personal motivations, what they value in a brand, what kind of communication they prefer, etc. Brands are then able to take this insight and use it to deliver a much more relevant and less one-dimensional experience.”
A complete buyer persona will include a wealth of information:
- Functional attributes such as age, occupation and status
- Emotive attributes such as challenges and needs
- Decision process attributes to identify how prospects make decisions
- Behavioural attributes such as the channels they favour and how they engage with brands
This framework acts as your blueprint to create content purposefully aligned to the audience with targeted, personalised content which attracts, engages, converts and delights.
Pillars & Clusters Content Strategy
It’s reported (somewhat shockingly) that 70% of marketers prioritise content quantity over quality. Jarringly, just 9% say they are satisfied with their content marketing strategy. These two statistics are not mutually exclusive. As search engines (and consumers) have become more sophisticated, simply pumping out large volumes of poor quality content is no longer effective.
For the majority of marketers (76%), organic traffic is a key metric for success – but Google is known not to like thin, poor quality content. Pushing out blog after blog simply to meet a production quota not only means that your content is unlikely to be highly personalised and tailored to your audience in a way that will attract them into your marketing funnel, it also leaves Google with an abundance of disconnected pages to navigate.
Most search engines, and Google in particular, have invested heavily in machine learning in recent years. They have made great strides in understanding search intent and content relevancy, all in the name of offering the search user the best possible experience.
HubSpot’s director of acquisition, Matthew Howells-Barby says, “Considering the advancements in the ways that both the search engines and searchers are evolving, there needs to be a shift in the way marketers determine their content strategy — especially when focused on driving organic search.”
Pillars and clusters answer the needs of both search engines and consumers, and play a foundational role in building an effective content strategy that increases web visits and generates leads.
Pillar pages are offered as a broad overview of a complex subject while associated clusters delve into greater detail on each element of that topic. This method of structuring content creation helps Google to understand the purpose of your content and also gives your audience all of the information they may require, no matter what stage of the buyer journey they’re presently at.
How to Avoid Rookie Mistakes in Your SEO Strategy
SEO is a hugely complex and constantly evolving field. Get it right, and you can expect a highly visible presence on Google’s search results pages, more quality traffic and more leads. Get it wrong, and it can be hard to know where you’ve veered off path and why your SEO strategy isn’t giving you the organic presence you need.
This issue isn’t confined to marketers. A Search Engine Journal study revealed that SEO practitioners feel the same. When asked what troubled them most about SEO, industry professionals cited the complex nature of SEO and its always-changing nature, with one noting “Google’s technology moves faster than we can keep up with. Many methods that used to work are most likely redundant.”
That’s not to say that you should concede defeat. While Google plays its cards close to its chest and has never divulged exactly what it takes to rank well, more than 22 years of the search engine has given us a very solid knowledge base when it comes to SEO best practices. That means while we may never know the infinite details of its ranking algorithm, there is plenty of SEO insight available.
Fundamental to SEO success is recognising that Google’s overarching aim is to do one thing; better connect search users with the information they are searching for. With that as your guiding compass, it becomes easier to identify rookie mistakes in your SEO strategy. Those mistakes include things such as:
- Incorrect keyword selection
- A lack of structure data
- Too much focus on on-page factors such as content and not enough on external factors such as inbound links
Choosing the Right Agency
With so many moving parts and skill sets needed to truly execute a high performing marketing campaign, it’s almost impossible for all but the largest organisations to handle everything in house. While you may possess some of the tool kit, there could be an omission elsewhere, and that can impact your potential to deliver the results the board expects.
Choosing the right agency to help build and execute your marketing strategy takes away many of those hurdles and gives you access to a pool of time-served professionals with the skills, know-how and tools that you may not have internally. HubSpot estimates that many marketing agencies can generate between 300 - 800 sales opportunities per month for clients, making an agency partner a cost-effective and performance-effective solution.
Selecting the right agency is much like recruiting a new addition to your team. There are certain processes to complete and questions to ask in order to select the most appropriate partner; an agency which compliments your internal skill sets and brings with it the industry and channel-specific knowledge you need to deliver on your targets.
To narrow down your choice and identify the most appropriate agency, you’ll need to:
- Understand the level of support offered for your budget
- Perform a skills gap analysis to pinpoint the type of support you need
- Determine if there is a good cultural fit
- Understand communication systems
- Confirm local knowledge
- Determine the tools and technology on offer
- Ascertain whether the agency is entirely transparent
Email Marketing Strategy: How Many Emails Should You Send?
Email has long been known to be one of the best performing marketing channels when it comes to generating a strong ROI. Econsultancy’s latest Email Marketing Census reveals that email marketing is responsible for 19% of sales, but requires just 13% of budget.
With figures like that on offer, it’s important to ensure all best practise measures are being taken to amplify the positive impact that email can have. Central to that best practise approach is identifying when and how many emails you should send in your inbound marketing campaigns. While there has been plenty of research carried out in this area, which broadly pinpoints optimal days and times for distribution, there is no one-size fits all solution and the best performance will come from your own trial and error. Use general consensus, such as the fact that email open rates will typically peak at 10am, 1pm, and 6pm, to refine your own approach. Your results will be determined by your audience itself and their specific habits, making a measured approach the soundest in the long term.