What’s Happening To Inbound Marketing “MPG”?

ethanol-addedInbound marketing has a couple of big problems.  By that I mean many well-intentioned companies especially those that are just starting their own inbound marketing program are facing two considerable issues.

The first is a common one and that is unrealistic expectations like namely the amount of time and resource necessary to sustain and power an inbound program into a true conversion machine. Getting started is hard. Staying with it just like any good habit is even harder and for inbound that means generating good content and lots of it, day in and day out.

Secondly, the “per unit energy” of online content is going down in a manner of speaking. Content is the primary fuel that powers an inbound program and like what happened when our gov’t mandated the addition of ethanol to our gasoline, suddenly it took more fuel to go the same distance; ethanol just doesn’t have the same energy content and punch. So what in the world does this have to do with inbound you ask?

We are experiencing an astronomical, exponential growth in online content which is the digital equivalent to adding ethanol to your gasoline except what your typical car will run on has a limit so ethanol content is capped; online content dilution has no cap, no governor and so it is getting worse as the volume of online content grows. As the amount of online content goes up, the greater the dilution of its power and so it takes more and more content to “go the same distance”  ie., powering a robust, organically driven inbound marketing program.  And the discomforting part about this equation is it will only get worse, not better. That is the trap and the spiral which I started thinking more about after I read Mark Schaefer’s post on “Content Shock”  http://www.businessesgrow.com/2014/01/06/content-shock/

Let’s put this in the context of the marketplace. Of course it’s competitive and not everyone is at the same stage in their marketing efforts. If you were one of the businesses that jumped on inbound early like back in 2009, consider yourself not just visionary but also lucky. That was like buying Apple stock when it was cheap. Just five years ago online content volume was a fraction of what it is today and there were fewer competitors vying for inbound dominance.  If you got started early it’s likely you’re in the lead and may well have locked it in; late starters will have to mount an extraordinary effort to just get in the race much less take away the lead.

So what’s a marketer to do? Bail? Hit the silk? Take the off ramp? No. Inbound is a vital tool and practice for all but the rarest of businesses. Instead, do like a good financial planner and have a balanced portfolio. A healthy mix of elements in a marketing program that integrate the best of both outbound and inbound by weaving them into an effective conversion process is just smart. Yes by all means have a polished brand, perfected positioning and well crafted content that caters to the needs of your audience and then use them wisely.

As an example, instead of just posting up a best practices on say, farm tractor maintenance and hoping a few people will find it on your optimized, dynamic website, promote it with outbound like an email or direct mail with a link that takes them to a landing page with a portion of your post shown. Then for the entire article in PDF, have a conversion form to collect basic info on new prospects or to update/track activity from current customers, which then goes into a CRM or MAS.

Or, perhaps look over the marketing calendar and strategically time the release of new content around any number of traditional marketing elements like a new product intro, trade show, newsletter or branding initiative and coordinate them so they support one another for greater effect (synergy).

The options are nearly endless but you get the idea. Inbound has a role but it’s not a panacea.  In light of the explosion of online content, there’s an ever greater need for it’s role to be carefully balanced with its ability to deliver reasonable “mileage” (MROI) within an integrated marketing approach.  Now more than ever content generation is something that warrants careful monitoring against the cost of other marketing practices and channels including traditional outbound.  I’m starting to think all inbound programs should carry a disclaimer like those on products and ads;

“Inbound is part of a healthy marketing program, it is not intended to replace it.”

Does Your Agency Fail to Scale? Try This Money-Making Business Development Fix

startup-scalingIf my 20+ years in business development and account service at a small creative and marketing services agency have any value,  it’s learning you can make many mistakes and then by the grace of God still enjoy success. These experiences taught me a lot and our agency did some key things really well like producing intelligent, compelling creative B2B content that made money for our clients and I suspect helped more than a few of them get promotions.  And for years our process wouldn’t scale. We were like skilled coachbuilders hammering out custom cars for each and every client. It was almost heresy to suggest a solution that was packaged or off-the-shelf yet the reality was there were situations when this would have worked just fine. So call it tunnel vision or foolish pride but it worked up to a point.

Codify Your Process

Then one day after a prospective new client meeting, something clicked and I realized that our prospects simply weren’t getting “it”, that “it” being how our agency arrived at our spot-on creative and marketing solutions.   Then it hit me; we were making this incredibly important and challenging work look so natural that it appeared easy, like the pro golfer who ‘just hits the little ball in the little hole”.  So I was determined to fix that and the approach I took was codifying the initial engagement process that we had been doing informally, into a formal one that we would offer as a fee-paid service; a discovery, assessment and scope-of-work process or Discovery & Design as I now call it. We had essentially been doing this for years either as a free, abbreviated version for prospects or lumping the more comprehensive one into the creative development cost, an oversight that was screwing us financially as well as undermining the integrity of our process.  By making this critical initial stage one of our paid services, the benefit was almost immediate. Out of the next five prospects who I offered it, four signed on. That’s an 80% close rate! Plus when we quit giving it away, a lot of prospects self-qualified as more Top-Of-Funnel (TOF) who weren’t quite ready to engage which saved precious staff time and dollars.

Lay A Solid Foundation for the Relation and Solution

In this limited engagement, the client and agency were working together and arriving at conclusions together that either supported the assumed issues, or put us on track to the real ones, which created validity and laid a good foundation for a working relationship.  Jointly analyzing the client’s perceived issues also made them easier to understand and so too creation of more accurate and detailed working documents like creative briefs to better guide production activities in the agency and in turn achieve greater efficiency which brings us back to the point of this blog; we could begin to see more clearly recurring opportunities to apply scalable solutions in the form of packaged (along with some select customization) website development especially those using a dynamic CMS platform, microsites for promotions, content strategy and development programs, and so forth. While it seems incredibly obvious, it took one too many unsuccessful prospect meetings to click on that light bulb over my head.  So what is helping your agency to scale its services?

17 Customizable Templates for Creating Shareable Graphics on Social Media


People are 44% more likely to engage with content on social media that contains pictures. But creating visual content takes more time and resources. That’s why HubSpot created these 17 customizable templates for you.

These templates are in PowerPoint, so they’re very easy to edit — no Photoshop skills required!

This PowerPoint template contains three types of templates:

  • Title Slides – free stock images with a text overlay
  • Headline Roundups – meme-setup for sharing multiple stories
  • Snackable Graphics – blank canvas with stylized text

These pre-built templates will let you create social media content that your audience will want to share with their friends.

Download by Clicking Here

 

5 Content Marketing Tips; The Market Loves a Good Story

storytelling

“Stocks are pieces of paper with stories attached to them.” Martin Sosnoff — a jaded, opinionated, Bronx-raised money manager and Forbes columnist — wrote that in 1975. It’s still true today. The market loves a good story. Forbes Magazine, Oct 2013

Most of us accept the importance of the face value of company stocks we see traded every day. CEOs, CFOs, shareholders, they all fret over this to some degree. Have a bad quarter of earnings, the market will hear that story and then there’s not so much love from investors. Have a great quarter, suddenly you’re back in good graces. So what does this have to do with B2B inbound marketing? Everything.

The marketers I work with face a variety of issues ranging from the strategic to the tactical. And where I saw a parallel with the Forbes story is when the question turns to just how good is the company or product story, how well is it being told and most importantly, how well is it being heard. Why? The market loves a good story just like Mr. Sosnoff said except in this case the “investors” of interest are our clients and prospects. Think about that. Are the messages and stories found in the marketing content making them believe that your company, it’s thinking and it’s solutions are a “good buy”?

To find out, start by simply going through your website noting copy and images that are too salesy, inward focused, generic and superlative laden.  Buyers are smart and attention span-challenged. “Brochureware” is so 1990’s and simply not compelling enough to have true prospects coming back and following, the very behavior we need to engage, nurture and convert them into our future customers.  So what are some solutions? While not nearly complete, here’s a short checklist of some basics I put together to get started:

  1. Are we broadcasting their favorite station WIII-FM so is it coming in loud and clear? Tony Mikes at Second Wind Network uses this analogy in his excellent agency workshops. What it means is our audiences don’t have a lot of time to waste and they want to hear “What IIIFor Me” frequently and clearly.
  2. Did we program our content to align with our audience profiles and personas? A good content strategy relies on having well defined customer profiles and personas so we’ll know that the story we’re telling is valuable and relevant to solving their particular problems and not only acknowledge it, but use that as a segue to mention those solutions your company provides. But no sales pitches.
  3. Have we set ourselves apart from our competition? If not then all we may have accomplished is to sell the category, and lost an opportunity to gain mindshare. Perhaps worse is missing the chance to make a deposit in the First National Bank of Thought Leadership that pays dividends in earned trust, the bedrock of every sound relationship.
  4. Would you eat it? A well written story, like a good dish, takes time and talent. Does it read like something that just got slapped together or something you’d send to a colleague or friend and say “this is a great read.” Or to put it another way, is this a recipe we’d serve special guests? Approaching it this way is a form of quality control to never let inferior content slip through. It’s also a great way to build brand equity. Don’t worry either if no writers on staff; hire one or retain a PR firm.
  5. Let’s get visual. Humans are visual learners or else where’s the wisdom in ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’?  Consider a variety of media to use to tell your story especially video; besides the fact it’s more engaging, it can get our points across more quickly and coherently than just text.

Good content about your company or products doesn’t just happen, it takes work. Hopefully these tips will help in that process. I’m sure there are more that I’ve missed. What are they? Please share yours.

 

8 Tips For Finding Your Best Inbound Marketing Agency

panning-for-gold-oliver-jewelleryIt’s hard to believe that it’s been almost six years since I practically stumbled on to inbound marketing. I’d bought Seth Godin’s book “Tribes” and it was setting unread on my desk when the president of our agency came in my office to talk about something else. He spotted the book and asked me about it. When I said I hadn’t started it yet he asked to borrow it so I said “sure”.  Little did I know it would be the beginning of a years-long quest to learn, keep pace and apply the best practices and tools of inbound marketing. Today inbound marketing, content marketing and social media along with marketing technology have whipped our little corner of the business world into a virtual froth. Even the company CEO likely has heard about it.

It stands to reason then that unless your company already has the staff resources to pull  this off properly, it makes good sense (and cents) to find an inbound agency to lend a hand. One of these, Kuno Creative has an excellent, free online guide that gives some excellent advice on how to even get budget for your inbound program. It’s called Inbound Buy-In, Budgets and Best Practices . Another terrific, free guide is The Complete Guide To Hiring An Inbound Agency from MLT Creative, an award-winning B2B inbound agency in Atlanta. I highly recommend both of these guides. In addition I’d like to offer some of my own thoughts on getting started on the right foot:

#1 Try some serious soul searching first

What really needs to happen in your company? Branding? Or alignment of marketing and sales to deliver greater ROI? Improved conversion ratios to drive down cost per lead? Or we don’t really know? The adage that you don’t need a map if anyplace will do comes to mind. If yours is not a marketing driven company then all the more important that you get consensus from stakeholders as to the agreed expectations of this exercise especially those that will be deemed successful outcomes both quantitative and qualitative. I will guarantee that once this is done your research on agencies will be more productive, and the dialogue more meaningful.

#2 It’s Not Sold by the Pound or Found in Any Catalog

Sadly a lot of traditional processes like RFPs are borrowed from the corporate procurement department with few changes except to replace “staplers” with “inbound marketing”. To get ahead in inbound marketing means finding the best possible strategic partners and frankly in my book that takes a different approach based upon a deeper understanding.

#3 Are They Eating Their Own Cooking?

When you do a search with “inbound marketing agency”, “best” or “leading” and key words specific to your company category, note the page rank results because it tells you something about an agency’s SEO capabilities. Run a marketing grader on their website.  Hubspot has a good, free one  http://marketing.grader.com/ Note how their website is laid out; is it attractive, and does it draw your eye easily around the page. What do they blog about? Is it well written or produced and entertaining? Are people reposting to Twitter, LinkedIn, and the like? Do they have social media icons on their pages? Are they using conversion forms? Are they applying best practices to their own website or as I like to say, ‘are they eating their own cooking?’ Any agency worth its salt at inbound will be ranking high doing all of these things so keep this in mind and use it to help shorten your list.

#4 Skip the RFP, try the phone

Honestly I think the traditional default to an RFP has been around so long because its often easier to get answers and ideas out of the agencies than it is out of your company execs, marketing group, and sales group. That said even the busiest agency will often welcome the chance to talk with a prospective client.  In the process you can save a lot of time and energy, quickly learn how to improve your qualification process that you can apply on your next call and begin to get a read on the all important question of ‘chemistry’. In this era of transparency and web-centricity, it’s easy to learn a lot before the first call.  Invest that time and then pick up the phone. Think about it; the smartest agencies generally don’t participate in RFPs. Why? They don’t have to.

#5 Should the agency be asked to “present”?

Time is money and if an agency has clearly invested well in a show-case website, fully-optimized and employing best of breed tools and practices, that grades out at 99+, chock full of great content, portfolio samples, client testimonials and basically everything that supports the fact they’re highly competent, it’s a fairly safe bet that the time and conversation can focus more on your issues than the topic of qualification.  In researching for inbound agencies like so many things, time invested is time well spent.  So consider keeping the dog & pony show brief and see which agency has the chops to ask smart questions and think well on their feet, not reading from a Powerpoint.

#6 Plan the Work and Work the Plan

If you must have multiple agencies compete for your company’s business, establish some ground rules and stick with them, respect deadlines for decisions, and don’t’ allow scope-of-work bait-and-switch or creep. And make certain you are dedicating sufficient resources to making the RFP process thorough and stick to the letter of it. It is after all your reputation and the beginning of a working relationship with one of them.  Always best to get started on the right foot.

#7 You Get Out What You Put In

Almost all RFPs ask the agency to recommend a budget but that should come with some strings attached. Free advice is worth what it cost; nothing. Without giving an agency access to in-depth information like your company’s current marketing plan, research, strategy, audience, tools, analytics, etc., an agency’s estimated cost for developing your comprehensive marketing program is largely unqualified and like a loaded weapon; if it goes off in the wrong direction a lot of folks can get hurt.  Be prepared to share A LOT if you expect accurate, actionable advice in return. While you’re at it don’t forget to do some estimating on the value of your company’s  current and potential market share as the basis for ranging in a realistic, effective marketing budget to maintain or grow the business.  Putting dollars to it helps improve the relevance of any figures discussed so when the impulse is to say an agency’s idea “is too expensive”, you’re also ready to answer the “relative to what?” question.

#8 Doc I’ve Got This Problem, Here’s What You Should Prescribe

I don’t know about you but I pay way too much for good medical care so better to let the physicians do their job.  Likewise alot of company execs and owners are anxious to get their inbound program up and running so in their haste may be ready to give orders about what they “really need”. That’s not unusual but a good agency will ask smart qualifying questions to determine your company’s overall marketing readiness.  Do your prospects and customers like what they see/read the first time they come to the website? What do they say about your product/service/buying experience? Maybe there are some branding and web page layout issues to address too.  Are your marketing and sales teams aligned?  You get the point. You are the expert on your company’s products so just be ready to answer a lot of questions, just as many or more as you may have of the agency. In the process you’ll likely figure out which agency is legit and which one is mailing it in.

There’s a joke about an old miser who prayed every night to win the lottery. Finally one night God answered back , “meet me half way and buy a ticket.” Well, finding a winning inbound agency is kind of like that.  So when the temptation is to crank out an RFP and distribute it to an agency list, you might want to consider instead investing your time using these tips and resources.
Tell us what has worked well for you? Or just as importantly what hasn’t?  

The B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap: Three Causes and How To Fix Them

bridging the gapI think most B2B marketers would agree that beyond the technical and design excellence of a B2B company’s online presence, there must be a content strategy and plan that’s getting supported by content experts and thought leaders who are creating authentic, genuine, and compelling content. But it’s not happening as much as it should and here are just three contributing causes to what I call the B2B Marketing Opportunity Gap

#1 Marketing Technology Runs On High Octane Content
The myriad of marketing tools from apps, to cloud ware to automated lead nurturing that we are seeing is wonderful because they remove much of the drudgery in the workaday world of B2B marketing. But this is where B2B company execs trying to support the transition to inbound marketing often make the mistake of thinking marketing technology alone is the solution. They will find dollars to fund MAS, CRM and CMS technology with all its potential of money savings with the expectation it will deliver greater marketing ROI. But without fresh, original and compelling content to fuel it, this is the equivalent of a high performance engine with a one gallon gas tank. Going nowhere fast.  The reality is B2B companies should continuously budget for ongoing content analysis and development if they want to compete for a lead in the pack.

#2 Fresh, New Rubber or Retreads?
Truckers either buy new tires for their rigs or have the old ones retreaded which is just what it sounds like; sticking new tread around the old tire casing. This solution is relatively cheap but also somewhat unreliable. We’ve all seen and occasionally dodged those strips of rubber tread on the interstate some call “road gators”. Those came off retreaded tires. Alot of B2B marketers are doing the same thing with their marketing content. You know what I’m talking about. Look at the volume of blogs that are a rehashing and repurposing of the same conversation. On the other hand, well done fresh content is like a new tire; it almost never fails and develops a good reputation for performance and reliability. All B2B marketing content should be like that but of course it costs more to produce quality. Too many marketing decisions though are based solely on cost instead of ROI and the result can be disappointing. Study the category leader’s online content, follow the best practitioners like Content Marketing Institute and Copy Bloggers or hire someone like Jay Baer, Mark Schaeffer or John Jantsch to help you set up your program.

#3 B2B Inbound Isn’t A Chicken Rotisserie
Recently I read a post by agency new business expert Michael Gass about how ad agencies are requiring staff to be more digital. The lateness of this is a little shocking considering Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan described the new digital citizen in their book Inbound Marketing,

Cover of "Inbound Marketing: Get Found Us...

Cover via Amazon

back in 2009 but at least ad agencies KNOW they have a content void to fill if they are to have any credibility in the new marketplace. Some of their clients are hearing that too. Both camps face the same challenge; developing a content program, executing on it, monitoring the results and using those results to continuously improve upon the content.  It’s NOT a Ron Popeil Chicken Rotisserie where one can “set it and forget it”. It’s more like a fitness lifestyle that requires discipline; stick with it though and you’ll get long lasting, accumulating benefits.

Where else are you seeing issues that are standing in the way of getting your B2B marketing program ramped up and amp’d up? We’d enjoy hearing about them.

 

 

B2B Content Marketing Wisdom; Four Cues from a Sushi Master

sushi imageThe other night my seventeen year-old son suggested our family watch a movie he found. Of course we all wanted to know the name expecting it to be some block buster, action-flick where likely a lot of stuff “blows up real good”. To our surprise he said, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi”. I had to ask him to repeat it. Really? Even my wife and older son had to know what was so special about this movie. We already knew my young son loves sushi so it made sense but who is this Jiro and why does he dream of sushi?

As their website explains, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi is the story of 85-year-old Jiro Ono, considered by many to be the world’s greatest sushi chef. He is the proprietor of Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant inauspiciously located in a Tokyo subway station. Despite its humble appearances, it is the first restaurant of its kind to be awarded a prestigious three-star Michelin Guide rating, and sushi lovers from around the globe make repeated pilgrimage, calling months in advance and shelling out top dollar for a coveted seat at Jiro’s sushi bar.”

So we watched it. It was remarkable. It was surprising. This man’s story had life lessons drawn from an incredible, decades old pursuit of one thing; preparing the best sushi. It got me thinking about my life and work as a B2B marketer and what perhaps many of us in this business may need to be reminded who are trying to develop a successful content-driven inbound B2B marketing program where a premium is placed on being remarkable and channeling a passion into authentic, valuable content. That’s a tall order. So to help with that here are four pieces of sage advice from our sushi master and his key partners about their pursuit of serving up the very best “content” every day:

1) Jiro Ono: “Once you decide on your occupation… you must immerse yourself in your work. You have to fall in love with your work. Never complain about your job. You must dedicate your life to mastering your skill. That’s the secret of success… and is the key to being regarded honorably.”

Jiro is revered by his sons, staff and others who have trained under him. He leads by example with a fierce determination to be the best. I seriously doubt that Jiro read Stephen Covey’s book “Principle Centered Leadership” about the Power Process but he sure is a great example of it; “the more a leader is honored, respected, and genuinely regarded by others, the more legitimate power he will have with others.” Bingo! Jiro sure proved that judging from the dedication of his staff who he acknowledges make it possible for him to do what he does every day. In turn Jiro has a following from around the world beating a path to his little restaurant in a subway station to experience his craft. Even though we might be much younger, we can all benefit by applying some of Jiro’s simple wisdom and learn to consistently generate compelling content, either tangible or digital, that turns prospects into customers, even evangelists.

2) Yoshikazu Ono: “Always look ahead and above yourself. Always try to improve on yourself. Always strive to elevate your craft. That’s what he taught me.”

One of Jiro’s sons offers how he took inspiration from his father amidst the challenge of living in his shadow. Eventually we even learn it is Yoshikazu who actually prepares and serves the sushi for the Michelin Guide reviewers the night they came in. Years of practice and experience driven by a desire to be the best, to keep learning and to keep improving, do pay off. We know the pace of change in our business demands we stay up on the latest in B2B marketing technology and best practices. It’s the “never stop learning” mantra. So where are the “Jiros” of content and inbound marketing to show us the way? Among my favorites are Mark SchaeferMichael GassJay BaerPaul Roetzer, as well as the teams at CopyBlogger, and the Content Marketing Institute to name a few.  Building a first-class online presence means that everyone who has a stake from entry level to the C-suite, should have a list of thought leaders and blogs they follow regularly to continuously draw inspiration and insight.

3) The Shrimp Dealer: “These days the first thing people want is an easy job. Then, they want lots of free time. And then, they want lots of money. But they aren’t thinking of building their skills. When you work at a place like Jiro’s, you are committing to a trade for life.”

Here was one of Jiro’s suppliers telling it like it is. There are no short cuts to legitimate success. Commit, get the skills, and develop a passion. Inbound marketing is no different for it to be successful. Recently Mark Schaefer blogged “If I give away my content, don’t I give away my business?” This is a lot like “build it and they will come.” For many who are managing and running for-profit businesses it’s difficult to believe success lies in placing such a high value on the interests of others to the extent you are willing to give away your best thinking. This takes guts, vision and commitment. It’s also a huge reason why company leaders must be true believers willing to invest seriously in an inbound program if they expect top ROI from it. When they don’t, I call this condition “the irreconcilable paradox”, meaning they don’t really believe in it, they aren’t digital citizens, and they think because it’s online then it must be nearly free and yet they expect great ROI. Nothing could be further from the truth. There must be real commitment to the operating philosophy of inbound marketing for it to achieve its full potential.

4) Jiro Ono: “I’ve never once hated this job. I fell in love with my work and gave my life to it. Even though I’m eighty five years old, I don’t feel like retiring. That’s how I feel.”

Wow. Imagine if every employee in every company felt that way. The results would be beyond amazing. But the reality is people struggle to get anywhere near this level of satisfaction from their work. In his book Good To Great, Jim Collins talks about “getting the right people on the bus” when he’s referring to the process of building a team to take your company to greatness. Done well it would mean your company has a busload of people like Jiro and his staff who are not only technically skilled at their job, but who also enjoy it!

If you’ve achieved this, then congratulations for that is no small feat. If your entire B2B marketing team has, then you are at or approaching the level of a Jiro Ono and I think we’d all love to hear your story. Who knows, maybe you’ll even have a movie made about you!

So do you have a secret to a successful B2B inbound marketing program? Please share it here.