I did a Google search on the term "inbound marketing strategy". If I were expecting some clear advice on what it is and how to use it the results are confusing. Once I scrolled past the ads, there were 6 techniques, 5 elements, 8 fundamentals, 7 essential strategies, then 3 more strategies and on and on in a similar fashion. It's like untangling a pile of jewelry. Some of what's there is valuable and some, not so much.
The definition of inbound marketing is now a variable, what the first step should be is another variable and so is the identity of the problems that might be getting in the way of your attempts at engaging in it.
Finding the starting point seems to be the one most people would identify as the main problem. The "first step" seems to vary depending on who you ask. Just seeing the results of my little experiment shows there isn't much clarity even among the experts out here writing on this topic. It turns out, the first step along with the definition of the term are variables that are dependent on multiple OTHER variables. No wonder this is so confusing!
Time is the Main Culprit
Time is the real stumbling block. It might be hard to see this since, just like everything else involved with inbound marketing, another variable is in how time winds up impacting arriving at and using a sound inbound marketing strategy. Here are the ways time ends up sabotaging your success at inbound marketing:
- Identifying marketing personas - This is a big one. My experience has taught me that the average business owner struggles mightily with being able to identify their marketing personas. It usually ends with something more like a marketing demographic, which isn't the same thing. This is a problem that I've seen before "marketing persona" was a widely used term. In my advertising sales days it was more commonly associated with the "unique selling proposition". I asked businesses what theirs was in trying to craft an advertising plan for them and found most businesses couldn't easily answer that question. Often they were one of several that were offering the same services and products. There was always an avenue but it took time to clearly identify it. What was making these businesses successful were the things they did on instinct, responding to the subtleties of each situation. There were common patterns among the people that made the BEST customers and being able to speak to those patterns, having it as the "voice" of your content within your inbound strategy is a key to success. It gets side passed though because it is a process to identify it, and often a time consuming one.
- Creating assets to use in your inbound marketing efforts. It seems pretty simple to follow the logic of how inbound marketing should work, until you sit down and start trying to "do" it. Then you find out all the things you haven't done yet. The graphics you need, the ideas for blog articles, exactly what the smaller goals are that lead up to your primary goal, web pages so you can provide links to more information from OTHER web pages, social media header and profile images, Google analytics and search console accounts just to name a few. So many little things. This is how I chose my motto and work-life theme song, "One thing leads to another". It eats up precious time to have to stop and consider how you'll supply these things. The first tangle-ups start to appear at this point.
- Having a clear plan in place. Most people think they have a plan when they set out to "do" inbound marketing. Once you start moving through the steps, in whatever order you decided on, you quickly realize you're somewhat lost in all of these little details. Planning for every step involved in setting up all the elements of inbound marketing is another area where inefficiency hides. Not only do you need a very detailed plan, you also need to allow realistic time to create one. Most are in too big a hurry and end up wasting enough time as they hit and work to fix the stumbling blocks, that they could have had a well formulated plan and much less stress in their lives had they just taken the time to do the planning at the outset.
- Creating the "play book" for how your marketing team will manage the repeating processes of inbound. Sounds really simple to say you're going to devote X amount of hours per day to some aspect or other of inbound marketing. If you were to put pen to paper, you'd quickly see there are not enough hours in the day for you to actually carry these things out. Then, this same issue spills over into your marketing teams hands. We've all heard about the efficiency of delegating tasks. Delegating too many things to your team results in the same bottle neck you're experiencing. What you really need are clear "play books" for how each task will be managed, including realistic estimates for how much time it actually takes. Again, planning is usually something that gets left out of consideration. It may take 5 minutes to post something to social media but it can take a lot more than that to find what you're going to post. For it to have quality, even more time and for it to be good enough to dovetail into your marketing goals...well, all we need to say here is "cleverness" doesn't happen in 5 minutes.
Learning and planning are absolutely necessary for inbound marketing to work for any business. All the team members that will be involved need to be operating from the same logic. Often it's just a matter of deciding on that logic and agreeing on it. There are many avenues you can choose from and it usually isn't as simple as finding a "right" one. It's more like having a team of people choosing different destinations and routes to arrive at it. If everyone picks a different destination and route expecting to meet up at the end it isn't going to work. It's much the same with inbound marketing. There are literally thousands of tiny variables in play, including creativity and expecting your whole team to automatically pick what you would pick will eat up time once the problems this creates bubble to the surface. To find success you'll need to take enough time to make a plan, share your plan and learn how it can become a reality before you actually get started.