Why you should be wary of those shiny new marketing toys you might want for Christmas.
It’s that time of year, when us marketers like to pontificate on the future of the industry, and how whatever marketing solutions we happen to offer will be the answer to your marketing problems over the next 12 months.
My bold prediction: fundamentally nothing will change, and neither should it. The basic questions a marketer must answer are enduring –
- Who’s my customer?
- Why do they want my product?
- Why is my product a better choice than the alternatives?
The clearer you are on these fundamental questions, the easier the rest of your marketing becomes.
With the explosion of social media, the rise of video, live streaming, virtual reality, data-driven marketing, personalization, analytics etc - marketing tactics continue to evolve rapidly, and that makes it exciting. But it’s the combination of using these tools with a clear understanding of your fundamentals that delivers sales efficiency.
Instead of looking forward I’d actually like to look back, and provide some insights into how we have responded to change in marketing.
In about 2010 a customer returned from a course at Harvard University raving about this Dharmesh Shah and his theory of ‘inbound marketing’, where companies would focus on attracting prospects IN to their business with useful information, rather than pushing OUT with marketing fluff to find leads. It made a lot of sense to us, and with the goodwill and courage of one of our great Kiwi tech clients, Pivot Software, we embarked on this inbound marketing journey (and the first eBook we developed for Pivot Software is still generating a regular number of leads every month, four years later).
Inbound marketing, and the marketing automation technology that drives it, is now reaching the mainstream. In the Market Measures study, use of marketing automation technology has grown from 3.8% in 2013 to 40% in the 2016 edition. As a resource for those entering into this fun journey with inbound marketing, here’s some insights from our five years.
- Foundations matter
Google changed its search algorithm over 500 times this year. “Gaming” their system is incredibly hard to do - you are better to simply give that up and focus on being really clear about what you are selling to whom, with what value proposition. Google rewards content that is relevant and attractive to people online, so just focus on doing that.
- Automating crap = automated crap
Automation tools means you can schedule all kinds of actions in your marketing. An array of social messages through multiple channels over a long period of time, intricate email workflows and sophisticated lead scoring. Just because you can do it all doesn’t mean you should. You need to think through why you are doing any of this, and how it will deliver a quality lead to your sales team. Working with sales is really important to get your marketing ‘system’ right. If sales think the quality of our leads is crap, they probably are.
- Content drives everything
I love this quote from Joe Chernov at marketing software company HubSpot.
“Good marketing makes the company look smart. Great marketing makes the customer feel smart.”
In the outbound world of marketing it was all about the flashy direct marketing piece or the slick brochure, all about being ‘on brand’ and having high design value. With the inbound approach the focus is much more about producing resources that help the prospective customer to buy something.
It is the difference between a flashy product brochure (makes the company look smart), and a practical return on investment calculator (which helps the customer feel smart about their decision).
- Just start climbing
After a couple of years trying to piece our inbound marketing together with multiple technologies (Hootsuite for social, Mailchimp for email, WordPress for website and landing page, Capsule as a CRM), we decided we needed a more efficient way of doing it. Marketing automation tool HubSpot was the route we chose.
The greatest advice our first HubSpot account manager, a true Irish character called Clodagh, gave us was to simply “get on with it”, albeit in more colourful language. Stop prevaricating about the perfect content piece and perfect process and just do it.
Inbound is about small, fast, iterative campaigns, instead of the long pitched-battles of traditional marketing campaigns. While you have to invest time and effort in building great content, you can keep on running promotional campaigns for good content over and over, refining as you go.
- Look at the swimming pool and not just the lane
I love this concept from marketing expert Andy Lark, most recently Chief Marketing Officer of tech company Xero, that marketers “. . . tend to look at the lane and not the swimming pool,” going on to explain “It’s not about any one tactic; it’s about the overall return on the marginal investment. We (Xero) tend to look at that very aggressively.”
Just because data is so easy to collect doesn’t mean it is all relevant. For example, for a B2B technology company something like website bounce rate or page loading time aren’t likely to be the key metrics. Instead of focusing too much on these smaller “lanes”, for many it’s better to closely monitor the key information – how many people are visiting your website, how many are turning into leads, and how many of those are becoming customers. That’s the swimming pool.
- People buy from people
While it sounds a bit like one of those painful social media memes, it is sometimes easy to forget how important actual human contact is in selling products in this age of online marketing. In theory, your marketing automation will nurture leads through a perfect funnel to convert to a waiting sales force. Reality is often different.
What we’ve learned with customers is that especially early in your marketing automation experience you need to be watching conversion behavior, and injecting sales people into the mix early to engage with people. You can also trial tactics like webinars to offer prospects an opportunity to interact.
Don’t get distracted by the shiny new toys
Marketers could well heed the advice of legendary US baseball legend Casey Stengel, to
“Never make predictions, especially about the future.”
As marketers we love to get carried away with the shiny new toys that will make a difference to attracting new customers. The reality is that the basics of marketing are what really matters, that foundational understanding of what value you are creating for whom. By understanding these really well you can make the most of new approaches and technologies like marketing automation that will continue to emerge.
For some ideas about how to work on your marketing foundations, download our eBook “Burn your Brochures".