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9 Tips to Control Inbound Marketing Chaos

by Stacy Bouchard | Mar 29, 2016 4:00:00 PM

inbound-tornado.jpgIt’s spring in Wisconsin…I think. For those of you who don’t live here or really anywhere in the upper Midwest, it is hard to know if spring has arrived. Two weeks ago, it was 68 degrees. It was calm and warm – a little unseasonable but an indication of spring. Last week, it snowed - a foot - with 50 mph winds. Wind chills were in the low teens. We will continue on this rather chaotic up and down pattern for several weeks. Just when you think it is safe to get the patio furniture out, it will be snowy and windy again and the patio furniture will be in your neighbor’s yard along with your garbage cans.

I’m sure you’re wondering what spring in Wisconsin has to do with anything related to demand generation. Well, as it turns out, spring weather around here (and probably in most places) and inbound marketing have several things in common…especially when you’re first getting started.

There’s a lot going on in the spring weather-wise. The jet stream is trying to figure out what season it is too. That’s why spring is tornado season in much of the country. Cold air, warm air, wind, precipitation (in many forms), thunder, lightning...Mother Nature throws everything at us.

Inbound marketing is similar in many ways. Think about all of the moving parts. Blogging, white papers, checklists, videos, webinars, email marketing, lead nurturing, SEO, buyer personas, social media, and so much more. There’s a lot going on and it needs to be managed all at the same time.

As an inbound approach gets rolling, a marketer’s first inclination is often to try to slow things down and control it. That might be your biggest mistake. Successful inbound marketing requires a certain rhythm and momentum to get to the point where it can produce results that justify the effort.

While the desire to control everything is natural (and even commendable), there’s a lot about getting things going that just isn’t really controllable. Project plans and GANTT charts certainly feel good, but they create a false sense of certainty (you can learn more about why that is by reading the book Scrum by Jeff Sutherland).

While the chaos is more acute in the early implementation of inbound, it never really stops. There are two important reasons why this is:

  • To impact the market, you must move at the speed (or faster) of the market. To paraphrase a famous quote from former GE CEO Jack Welch, if you show me a marketing effort that moves at a slower rate than its market, I’ll show you a marketing effort that isn’t going to work.
  • One of the great attributes of the inbound approach is that it’s designed to be in flux and adjust to changing conditions and learning.

In the beginning of an inbound strategy, there is just so much we don’t know. What topics will resonate, what really makes our buyer personas tick, how will prospects interact with out content and so on. The only way to learn the answers to these questions (and more) is to implement. Publish, track, learn and repeat.

Learning how to manage the moving parts by creating a form of “chaotic control” will help you keep your efforts from being paralyzed by the notion of total control and will allow your efforts to gain the momentum needed to have an impact.

Here are nine ideas to help you create a meaningful approach to controlling the chaos.

1. Be clear on results, but not just long-term...short & micro-term.

Defining and sharing the goals of your inbound effort is critical to success. After all, what gets measured gets done. However, it is important to recognize that baby steps – especially in the early stages of an inbound implementation – are just as important as the quarterly and yearly goals.

Be sure you're setting weekly objectives. Maybe it’s testing a new promotion for blog content, a new style of social media update, or a new CTA design. Inbound works best when it’s the sum of dozens (or hundreds) of small experiments.

2. The goal should be progress not perfection.

Many marketers fall into the perfection trap. We are naturally detail-oriented, planners. We want things to happen exactly on schedule, exactly as we intended. Some even have a “the sky is falling” mentality when one element of the plan is not executed to perfection.

perfection.jpgWhen implementing inbound marketing, it is sometimes impossible to get all of the parts coordinated seamlessly. For example, when releasing a new piece of premium content, the experts say you should write a blog post to introduce it. You should promote it using social media. You should have a call to action on your homepage. You should include it in an email campaign. While all of that is true and
represents the ideal situation, if your premium content is ready to be released and you’ve written the blog post to go with it but you haven’t had time to write and schedule social media just yet, go ahead and publish the blog post. Don’t hold up the release of the premium content because one piece isn’t ready. If you wait until all of the stars are aligned, you may never get anything done.

Creating the premium content and sharing it with your blog subscribers is progress. If the other steps occur over the next few days, the roll out wasn’t perfect but still represents progress.

3. Don't be a content perfectionist...ship it!

We’ve written about the importance of creating great content to stand out in a world of “content is the new spam.” Don’t use that as an excuse not to publish content.

The truth is that you don’t really know what content will resonate…until it does. By no means should you strive to publish content, just to publish content. But don’t let the fact that you don’t think it’s “great” stop you from publishing. Is it better than the last piece of content? Does it represent progress? Are you learning? If the answer is yes, then publish it. If the answer is “no” then fix your process.

Remember, you’re only publishing this digitally. This allows you to make updates without anyone even realizing it. Make sure you weigh the importance of content perfection with progress.

4. Don't focus on the end (revenue) purposes alone. Focus on what gets you there.

At the end of the day, the goal for all marketing approaches is to increase revenue and it isn’t something that happens overnight. As marketers, we know there are a lot of things that happen on the road to increasing revenue.

For example, let’s say you’ve identified the need to grow quality traffic as a means to build the awareness you need to drive lead generation and revenue goals. Start by testing small things. Instead of focusing immediately on leads created, make an objective to increase blog traffic by 30% over the next x period of time (the “x” is clearly dependent on what you’re already doing and how big an improvement you want to make). Once you’ve seen progress there, then make the goal improving the click-through and conversion rates.

5. Test, test, test.

One of the great things about inbound marketing is the ability to test things. Test an email. Test a CTA. Test a new homepage. Test your copywriting. The only way to improve your approach is to be continually testing - even when you think you’re achieving OK results. Those results can almost always get even better.

When you view every action you take as a test (and you should), then the stakes don’t feel so high. You become a bit more comfortable increasing pace, realizing that sometimes unexpected mistakes lead to the greatest outcomes (just look at the history of the Post-It note for more on this).

6. Clarity on your personas is important.buyer-personas-2.png

As with all things inbound marketing, clearly understanding your personas will make a huge impact on your success. If there is one part of the chaos that can bring peace to your approach, it is clearly defined personas. When everything else is flying around, stay grounded with your personas.

Here too, remember that you can’t learn about your personas in a vacuum. You can’t even interview your way to really knowing them. You must watch what they do and measure. And you can’t watch or measure if you don’t have enough happening.

7. Build a flexible editorial calendar.

This is a trap I have fallen into as an inbound marketer. As I mentioned earlier, perfectionism runs strong with many experienced marketers. When I took ownership of the editorial calendar for this blog, I wanted to always be three months out on topics with a very defined process for completing each post. What I’ve learned is that it is a great idea to have a defined calendar but if a topic pops up that is timely or relates to a prospect, you must be flexible. It is ok if that schedule changes – in fact, it makes your calendar better in the end.

8. Be agile.

Many of you may be familiar with the project management approach called Agile. We’re big fans of that here, but this tip doesn’t mean you have to actually adopt the processes – just the philosophy.

Don’t let process get in the way of results. Realize that everything is a test. Strive for the “minimum viable product” and grow from there. Making imperfect progress is better than doing nothing waiting for everything to be right.

Be willing to change…quickly. This is why it’s so important to hit a fast paced rhythm. You must break through the gravitational pull on inertia; especially early in your efforts. Trust me, inertia is a powerful force. It’s always shouting, “be careful…don’t move so fast…it’s not quite ready.”

9. Whatever you do, don’t slow down!

When things feel out of control or chaotic to me, my first inclination is to stop, assess, regroup and create a plan for going forward. With an inbound marketing approach Forget that. This actually has nothing to do specifically with inbound. In marketing, sales, product development, whatever, speed is a crucial component to success. Speed used to be a HUGE competitive advantage – today it’s table stakes. Stopping or even slowing down has a very negative impact on progress and results.

Doug shared a post yesterday that outlines how to build a demand generation process to scale growth and create predictability. Inbound marketing is a crucial component of that process. Whether you’re beginning your efforts, or you’re an experienced “inbounder,” realize that things don’t happen immediately.

If you’ve got a good strategy, you’re tracking the right metrics and you’ve built a process to learn fast, be confident that what you’re doing will produce results. I’ve said it before…inbound marketing is hard work…work that is never done. The key to managing the chaos that surrounds it is to accept it for what it is – chaos.