2019 is fast approaching and the current online marketing space is experiencing more of an evolution, than a revolution. The industry moves fast and whilst many approaches from previous years have fallen by the wayside, some of the overarching themes still resonate today. Part of this evolution is the concept of inbound marketing. Pioneered by HubSpot, the whole premise is to attract people to your website, convert them into customers and delight them with excellent service. It sounds simple, but it’s really not.
I’m not going to dig into the nitty gritty of what inbound is, you can do that over on our inbound marketing agency page. Instead, I’m going to discuss what the key components of a successful inbound marketing strategy are in 2o19. This article will talk at a more strategic level – if you’re looking for something more granular check out Sam Butterworth’s post on inbound tactics. Let’s kick off with an old favourite…
Is SEO dead? Give over! Of course not. It’s just changing. On-page, technical SEO and link building are all still alive and well. We’ll dive into these three areas below.
(I know I’m missing content here, but content is so large it needs its own section)
We view on-page as (arguably!) the simpler aspect of on-site work. Typically on-page SEO includes:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Heading tags
All of the above will 100% be part of the mix going forward. But in all likelihood these factors will diminish over time. Will Critchlow, Tom Capper and the guys over at Distilled have been talking about this for a while. There’s an excellent presentation that Tom gave at Searchlove in October 2018 that talks about how, at the competitive end of the SERPs (search engine results pages).
Firstly – if you want to improve the visibility of your site in search, chances are you need links. It’s not the only ranking factor, but it’s still really important.
Secondly – let’s dive right in shall we? It doesn’t matter if you’re a digital PR, content marketer or link builder. You’re all working towards the same goal of securing a link, whether it’s earnt or built. There’s no doubt that earning links is really, really, really hard. You need to create something – a content asset – that deserves to be linked to and then share that story with journalists and webmasters. Keep in mind that when you send that outreach email you’re trying to earn a link, which ultimately means you’re building one.
The good thing is, despite what Google says, there’s nothing wrong with that.
You create a piece of content and share it on social for people to see and hopefully visit your site and consume. Outreach is a very similar thing. It’s equivalent to what offline PR companies have been doing for years. This is why traditional PR also builds links. It’s why those with a PR background are much better at building links – they think coverage/story first, and link later. SEOs think about the link too much.
If link building isn’t part of your strategy for next year, it probably should be. Need some ideas? Check out some of these great resources:
- What is Link Building by Moz
- Link Building for SEO: The Definitive Guide by Backlinko
- Sustainable Link Building: Increasing Your Chances of Getting Links – Whiteboard Friday by Aira co-founder Paddy Moogan
- Protectivity’s Fitness Food Index from our inbound marketing examples article
I have a big problem with social. Not because it called me names or offended me, but I resent how the marketing industry has promoted social media as the holy grail over the last few years. Is it a useful part of your marketing mix? Yes. Is it going to be a ‘free’ source of leads and new customers? Probably not.
Social can be a great brand builder. It’s there to help organisations get their name out there, but without any ad spend (and even with ad spend) it’s really, really difficult to get it to work from a ‘generate revenue directly’ perspective. The reason for this is simple – people don’t go onto social networks to buy products, they go on there to network (B2B), connect with friends (Facebook), check out pictures of their mates/cats (Instagram, Facebook) and keep up to date with industry updates and news (LinkedIn, Twitter).
You don’t log on to a social network to buy things.*
*Unless you’re a savvy marketer hoping to get a discount code in a remarketing audience
However, if you don’t view social as a direct lead/revenue generator, see it as a way of introducing people to your brand and have enough time and resource to dedicate a few hours a week to creative, useful content – including it in your marketing strategy for 2019 is not a bad bet. Just don’t expect it to rank number one in your goal completion channel reports!
OK, strictly speaking this isn’t ‘inbound’ entirely, but most organisations interested in growth should still be doing it. Ads are a great way to get your content and brand in front of people who have possibly never heard of you. It’s also a great way to get back in the eyes of users who have heard of you, who weren’t quite ready to make a purchase, or need a little more encouragement.
The options here are pretty far and wide. Google Ads, Bing, Social, remarketing, custom audiences and more – far too much for this post but whatever you do – don’t hit that boost button. I know it’s tempting, but it’s not much more than a waste of money.
Content is still king. But not just any old content, content that is useful, has a purpose and ideally, is tied to the relevant stages of a buyer’s journey, while being based on crafted buyer personas. I spoke about the importance of this at Digitalzone in Turkey in October 2018 (you can find my slides here).
The thing about content is that it’s still fundamental to every aspect of what marketers do. Are you social posts not engaging? It’s your content. Are you not getting links? It’s your content. Is nobody clicking on your ads? Again, it’s probably your content. The challenge is really creating good content. We can’t talk about how to do that in this post – even one post isn’t enough to cover this subject alone – all you need to know for now is that content isn’t going away in 2019, so make sure you’re investing in it.
5. Lead capture
Despite its detractors, one thing the inbound methodology is really good at is explaining that not everyone who visits your website is ready to buy. Sometimes, they are just looking for information. Often users will have several digital interactions (often in the hundreds!) before they actually make a purchase. This Think with Google article is a great illustration of this point.
It’s important therefore as marketers that we have information and tools available to these potential customers before they are ready to buy. This is where content offers such as ebooks, webinars, guides, downloads, etc should be offered and gated to capture a user’s information, so that you can use that to send them timely and relevant information at a later date to help nurture them into customers. Speaking of lead capture, why not download one of our guides below (we’ll only send you relevant information you ask for, not spam!):
6. Conversational marketing
Sorry – there’s a new buzzword in town. I think marketers are the worst at jargon and creating unnecessary phrases that confuse everyone that isn’t in the industry (err… Google Bombing anyone?). But here’s another – conversational marketing.
What is conversational marketing? Here’s a good definition from Drift:
“…conversational marketing uses targeted, real-time messaging and intelligent chatbots instead of lead capture forms — that way leads never have to wait for follow-ups, and can engage with your business when it’s convenient for them…”
Conversational marketing is therefore another way to capture email addresses with the intent of adding them into your database/CRM system. This should then enable you to retarget or engage with them later. The tools you use to capture leads? Live chat and chatbots. Currently, the latter are reasonably primitive, but will only get more advanced through 2019, so it’s something we’re actively working on to get ahead of the game.
Why is this so important? Check out the open rates and click rates below:
That’s why! Be careful though – we’ve run some tests on Messenger Bots and the results have been mixed. I’d also check out Jon Loomer’s post on why he turned off his Facebook Messenger bot.
7. Email & automation
This may seem as if it goes against what I said above, but email still has its place. Open and click-through-rates are still holding steady, which means email is still a viable marketing tactic in 2019, especially as we still spend more than 5 hours checking email each week and some demographics are even higher than that.
The Smart Insights post above also details how triggered, or automated emails get open rates of over 45% and click-through rates of over 10%. What does this mean? Well it means that the more targeted your campaigns are, the better segmented your lists are, and the more relevant the content is to the user, the better output you are likely to receive!
So make sure you’re using your email list and automation effectively, and try to target your messaging as much as possible to increase those open and click-through rates. OptinMonster have a great article on their site advising a few different techniques to do just that.
One caveat – make sure you’re GDPR compliant and you only send communications to those who you are legally able to. Don’t start send automated marketing communications to people when you’re unable to!
8. Delighting customers
Depending on your role, it’s often not the job of the marketer to delight customers. Some of you will run small businesses and wear many hats (accounts, sales, marketing, service, etc) so this will be part of your role, but typically marketers don’t actually deal directly with customers. They deal with leads or prospects, who become customers. It’s then the job of the service delivery or customer service team to engage and interact with the consumer.
So if we, as marketers don’t interact with customers, why does this belong in a 2019 marketing strategy blog? In my view, it’s relatively simple.
At INBOUND 2018 Brian Halligan, HubSpot CEO, declared the ‘funnel was dead’. This is a pretty bold statement (see what I did there?!). If you have 90 minutes or so(!) it’s worth checking out the keynote on YouTube:
If you don’t have time, I’ll try and summarise. Brian argues that the sales funnel is dead because it’s an inefficient way of viewing the customer journey. Funnels (as in the product itself, not the marketing and sales analogy) were created to channel liquid through a larger area into a smaller area. HubSpot have been using the funnel for years and in September Brian retired the funnel in favour of the flywheel.
I wasn’t sold on this premise (I’m still not), but it’s hard to argue against Brian’s funnel replacement – the flywheel. Flywheels are more efficient, there is less friction because each step is helping move the next step further forward. The model tries to demonstrate that marketing provides leads and prospects to sales. Sales then turns these prospects into customers (sales doesn’t necessarily have to be a team or a person by the way, sales could be the product catalogue and associated experience on your website), and once they are a customer their experience helps promote the business and thus drive further marketing efforts and new leads. You can find an illustration of this below:
I mentioned I’m not sold on dropping the funnel – this is because the flywheel is a very idealistic concept. In a perfect world, all of our leads would transmit into paying customers, who would then turn into promoters and advocates on our businesses. As we all know, this isn’t realistic. I actually see the funnel as part of a separate model, illustrated below:
Our adapted flywheel shows (in my opinion!) a more realistic flow of how marketing, sales and service combine. Marketing attracts users in, helps to convert them into leads, where sales picks up and attempts to close them into customers and your customer service turns some of those customers into promoters who in turn create new leads for your business. Our flywheel-cross-funnel moves slightly away from HubSpot’s more “idealistic” approach and into something that is probably a touch more realistic in the real world.
Whatever your viewpoint on funnels vs flywheels, the premise of what Brian (and Dharmesh, later in the same keynote) was saying is still true. You need to be providing an incredible experience for your customer if you want to grow. Gone are the days of providing a poor customer experience and there being minimal ramifications. The internet is an unforgiving place and it only takes a few minutes for someone to log on, leave a negative review, and that starts to put off potential consumers.
So how does this all fit into a successful inbound marketing strategy? Well there are two main ways.
Marketing is often the first touch point for prospects. It’s marketing’s role in these initial interactions to ensure that expectations are set. For example, there’s not much point in crafting content and messaging that ‘guarantees page one rankings’. This is unrealistic but it’s still a tactic employed by some companies out there, despite having no control over the search engines’ algorithms (hint: if you’ve been promised this, be wary!)
A question I’m often ask in sales presentations to clients is “What will the results be?” I hate the answer (because I use it a lot!), but every time I say “It depends”. The variables and variances are huge so we never offer guarantees. What we do instead, is set targets, goals relating to KPIs (such as traffic, leads or revenue) and then create minimum, medium and stretched versions of these.
This enables us ask clients ‘What does good look like?” Following that, we set expectations right from the very start of our process so at the end of 6, 12 or 18 months we can all look back and assess whether we hit those targets.
Setting expectations is a key component of delighting customers and something integral to not just marketing agencies. Every business needs to ensure they are setting expectations as early as possible.
Integrating marketing, sales and service
Depending on your organisation, you might have several people across each of these departments. The key here is to make sure that they are all as integrated as possible. Ideally, this means having appropriate software or technology that becomes the single source of truth for all interactions with the customer – essentially, a customer relationships management (CRM) system.
There are lots out there catering for all business sizes but if I could give any business three pieces of advice, getting a CRM system is definitely one of them.
CRMs become hugely important as companies scale and grow – particularly across teams. Ideally, your CRM should contain every interaction that person or company has had with you such as:
- Phone calls
- Website views
- Ad clicks
- Live chat
- When they enquired
- When they became a customer
- Information on their background
- Complaints or issues
- Customer support tickets
The CRM system then should enable anyone in the organisation to pick up where somebody else left off. Knowledge transfer within small and large companies is so difficult, and a CRM system helps organisations overcome some of these barriers.
Of course you still need the people in the company to actually use the system by logging these interactions, and the idea that any person can just come in straight away and pick things up is incorrect, there will be some form of self-education on that particular consumer but without some form of CRM, it’s almost impossible to integrate these often fragmented departments.
9. Get buy-in
Developers build. PRs care about coverage. Sales want leads and to hit revenue targets. This is a dramatic oversimplification of their roles (I beg anyone in these respective fields who is reading this to please not take offense, but we all have our own micro-objectives). In the industry we have been talking about not working in silos for years. But we still are. Why? Well, because we don’t get buy-in. There’s a good Whiteboard Friday from Heather Physioc about how to overcome blockers after you make SEO recommendations, but her advice applies to wider digital and inbound strategy too.
This component is crucial. You need buy-in from CMOs, project managers, marketing teams, PR teams, developers, IT – just about everyone. If you’re not getting buy-in and not convincing other teams what you’re doing is going to improve the organisation in some way, you might as well not bother.
Well, after nearly 3,000 words, that’s it! My 9 (OK there might be a few sub-items) key components for a successful inbound marketing strategy in 2019. Have I missed any? Possibly – so feel free to hit me up on Twitter and argue to your heart’s content!