I have regular contact with five or six agency owners ever single week and what I see more often than any other challenge is an agency’s inability to add detailed marketing strategy to their inbound marketing engagements.
Don’t get me wrong, almost every agency is charging for, selling and delivering marketing strategy, but this isn’t the kind of marketing strategy required to move the needle with inbound engagements.
It’s not hard to see where the problem is, after all, most agencies practicing inbound marketing today used to do something else. They used to build websites, or handle public relations, some did pure branding and others focused on search engine optimization.
Each of these individual marketing tactics probably never required a comprehensive marketing strategy as part of their deliverables—but inbound planning makes it mandatory.
What Is Inbound Marketing Strategy?
Perhaps this is a big part of the problem. When I ask agency owners, “Are you doing marketing strategy work?” they all say “Yes, we are doing that kind of work.” But when I press them, ask for samples, or review some of what they think is strategy, you quickly see, it’s often far from true strategy. What I do see a lot is personal work. Personas, while strategic, are only a small piece of the marketing strategy. Don’t’ think that if you’ve done personas you’re doing strategy—you’re not.
Marketing strategy actually includes much more than simple persona definition. More importantly, without the strategy the rest of the inbound engagement becomes much more complicated. Inbound marketing isn’t like the old marketing. It’s so complicated, it has so many moving parts, it requires such a delicate touch that if you don’t have an overarching marketing plan and strategy it becomes almost impossible to do the things you need to do to get clients real results.
I cannot emphasis this enough and the lack of strategy work by inbound agencies is dramatically impacting the results you’re working towards with your clients.
What Are The Non-Negotiables?
Ok, so we agree personas are important but what else is critical in the strategy work. There are a handful but one of the most important is messaging. What are you going to say to your prospects to get them to want to buy from your new client? How are you going to grab their attention? How are you going to emotionally pull them into your client’s business and perhaps the most important—what stories are you going to tell to get them to feel safe hiring your client? If you can’t answer all those questions, you have more messaging work to do as part of your marketing strategy.
HINT: HubSpot and other technology tools can’t help you with this part of the engagement.
Here’s another critical part of the puzzle. What makes your client different from every single one of their competitors, direct or substitute? Again, if you don’t know and if they don’t know, you’re sunk. I don’t care how many blog articles you write, how great your website looks or how amazing your search engine optimization is—if prospects don’t know what makes a business special, they’re never buying.
This differentiation work is some of the hardest work you’ll ever do with a client. You have to challenge them, you have to push them, you have to move them out of their comfort zone and you have to be willing to work with them operationally to make sure they’re able to deliver on your aspirational marketing.
The last non-negotiable in my mind is the tactical plan. It’s difficult to win any war, win any athletic competition, or generate amazing results for a client if you don’t have a detailed tactical plan. While the plan will most likely change at one point, working without a plan is a recipe for disaster. To deliver the plan, you have to think through all the requirements for the outcomes most important to your client and package up all the inbound tactics required to get them to their goals and think through all the interconnections required by inbound marketing. There are so many interconnected tactics that without a plan you’re likely to miss a few of those connections which WILL IMPACT results negatively.
How Does It Impact Inbound Results?
Speaking of results, when I see agencies with floundering programs it’s the plan and strategy that’s missing 99% of the time. First, I see programs that went right into tactics. So they took the client’s poor messaging and missing differentiation and expected inbound marketing to work magic. Again, if you don’t have anything interesting to say—don’t say anything at all. Just adding landing pages to a non-differentiated poorly messaged website is not going to work. Starting a blog for a client whose product or service is substandard isn’t going to produce any leads for that business. The lack of results is dramatic.
Beyond the obvious, I also see content that’s disconnected from search. I see emails that are disconnected from content. I see lead nurturing that doesn’t provide the right content because the questions a client’s prospects are asking haven’t been mapped out correctly. All these little issues add up to big concerns when the inbound program doesn’t deliver. That’s why all these issues need to be discussed and planned for as part of the strategic marketing planning process.
What To Do If You Don’t Know How To Do Strategy?
This is a really good question and you have a few options. First, you could partner with an agency who does comprehensive marketing strategy work and then allow you and you’re team to focus on what you’re solid at, like building the website, getting them found or sending out emails. You are going to want to find an agency who specializes in inbound marketing because if you get a plan that focuses on the four P’s it’s going to be very difficult to translate that for inbound. So you don’t want a traditional marketing strategy doc, you want an inbound marketing strategy plan.
Another option is to learn how to do it yourself. Now this might seem tedious at first, but I think you might be in a better position to figure this out on your own, then relying on some other agency who might not know inbound as well as you do. Create a template, make sure it has all the elements and sections you think it needs to deliver inbound results and start using it. After each client delivery add or adjust based on feedback and experience. Over time this document and process will improve itself and before long you’ll have the process and the deliverables you need to provide clients with an inbound marketing strategy that gets them leads.
Start Today Tip – Take a hard look at your strategy deliverable. Regardless of what your clients are saying you need to consider whether your marketing strategy is complete enough to get your clients great results. If it’s missing any of the non-negotiable we discussed above then you need to add these to your process and your deliverable document. Once you find the holes, fill them with the thinking, content and strategy required to deliver a complete inbound strategy. Don’t worry about doing this all at once, be patient, after a couple of clients you’ll feel better about your strategy work and more importantly, the clients will be getting better results.
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