Inbound Marketing - The Three Stage Path To SuccessProperly understanding the essential difference between traditional marketing and inbound marketing is only one of the three steps to success.

The second step is understanding the difference between the inbound marketing of yesterday, and the inbound marketing of tomorrow which you need to be embracing today, and the third step is understanding why so much inbound marketing which apparently ticks all the right boxes falls flat on its face in a spectacularly unnoticed demonstration of failure.


Inbound Marketing Success: Step 1

Think of a dark room. A darkened space without any visual clues in terms of depth, height or content. Now imagine you have a pea shooter. Your task is to hit a specified target with your pea shooter. What are your tactics? Quite simply you’ll have very little option but to spend a fortune on peas and spend quite a considerable amount of time missing the target.

You may hit it occasionally, but there will be many more peas on the floor than there will be hitting the target. It’s hardly a worthwhile effort, and definitely not the most economical approach. Of course, if you own a pea factory then you’ll be able to tolerate the loss a little better than if you happen to be a hamster working through your entire day’s food stock.

No, I haven’t lost it. This is simply a simple way of understanding how traditional marketing works. Traditional marketing involves broadcasting your message out in many different ways, perhaps through TV adverts, billboards, flyers, letters or radio adverts. You know that you’ll reach a large number of people, but you also know that the majority of those people won’t be the target market you’re after. They’ll be the peas on the floor.

Obviously for larger businesses and corporations with oodles of spare cash for marketing this sort of advertising is fine, because the large expenditure and the inevitable misses can be absorbed easily enough. But for smaller businesses such expenses can be prohibitive, and the fact that most of the people who see or hear those adverts won’t be interested is not a worthwhile use of resources.

So how does inbound marketing work more effectively? Well, imagine that dark room again, and imagine the targets you’re trying to hit are moths (remember, this is entirely hypothetical – please don’t write in about animal cruelty!) Rather than trying to fire your peas out in the dark in the hope of hitting a moving target that’s invisible, inbound marketing works the other way around.

Inbound marketing is like lighting a candle, and waiting for the targets to come to you. The moths will come like.. well, like moths to a flame. This means fewer resources are necessary, far fewer resources are wasted, and the majority of your effort results in the netting of real targets.

So for less expense and less effort you can achieve a highly efficient marketing strategy which draws your target market to you. For small businesses it’s a significantly better strategy, and there are many ways in which you can make it work. Unfortunately though, appreciating the difference between firing shots off in the dark and lighting a candle to attract your target is only step one, and by itself will achieve very little.

Inbound Marketing Success: Step 2

Two tenets of online marketing include visibility and quality. To attract inbound traffic you clearly need to be visible, but visibility by itself serves no purpose, because whilst people may notice you, they’ll quickly realise there’s actually very little worth noticing.

Quality is what causes your traffic to stick, but again, by itself having high quality content that’s appealing isn’t enough. It’s like having that candle flickering away in the room nicely, and forgetting to lift up the bucket that’s covering it.

Inbound marketing of years ago focussed much more heavily on the visibility factor. This was achieved largely by generating as high a volume of backlinks as possible. The more backlinks the more chances there were of people seeing your brand, and of course the search engines would be fooled into thinking that a ton of websites were voluntarily linking to your website because they thought it was so superb.

These days of course the search engines are a good deal smarter and more savvy. In fact they are now so powerful that they can accurately determine what reaction real visitors would have to a particular website. They can determine relevance and authority, as well as originality and layout. They can identify which sites may have high quality content but have been using low quality tactics to boost visibility.

So step two is to make sure that you give a hefty amount of your time and effort towards developing high quality content, either on your site or off. But you also need to focus on visibility – specifically, quality visibility. Forget the link farms, the paid links and the spammy links generated through automated article marketing.

If you develop high quality, engaging content which offers value to your visitors, and you make sure that you promote this in ways which are sound, effective and above all, not discouraged by the search engines, then you’re on step two of the three step journey to inbound marketing success. So what’s the third step?

Inbound Marketing Success: Step 3

Unfortunately there are plenty of businesses developing high quality content, and which are promoting that content in ethical and effective means, largely through social media platforms, yet which are still seeing little or no success.

In order to understand the reason for this, and at the risk of stretching a metaphor a little further than the advisory label would suggest safe, let’s think about that dark room and the moths again.

So you have a great candle – perhaps a few candles, and you can see the moths arriving. Good, all seems to be going well. But you’re not catching very many of them. The moths are flying madly all around the flames, disappearing then coming back, and you can see the potential for capture is there. But you’re missing something.

Too many businesses either believe in suicidal moths, or fishing lines. Moths rarely fly into the flame itself, and whilst your high quality content may be attracting the traffic, by itself that’s still just a number. It looks pretty but it doesn’t help you stick bread on the table.

Similarly, hurling out enthusiastic emails to anyone who has expressed the slightest interest in your content, products or services is a little like sitting in that room with a fishing rod, hoping to catch one of those moths flapping wildly around your flame. Wrong tool for the job. Inappropriate visitor engagement is one of the biggest ways businesses lose potential leads, despite having done everything well right up to that point.

We’re all familiar with inappropriate engagement. Such as when we go into a shop to kill a few spare minutes and some enthusiastic salesman erupts out of the floor in front of us asking how he can help us. It’s off putting, and likely to cause us to feel a little less relaxed, to leave a little sooner, and to have second thoughts in future about popping in for a casual look round.

Or there’s the time you go into a shop knowing what you want, but completely unable to find anybody to help you. Engagement is about providing customers with what they need when they need it, rather than trying to force a sale out of them the moment they even cast a casual eye over our business front.

I’ve written previously about how to optimise your inbound marketing funnel, and this is crucial, because unless you have a clearly defined strategy for dealing with the inbound traffic generated through your careful adherence to the first two steps above, you’ve wasted your time. Worse than that, you may well have damaged your chances for the future.

For more information about how to properly optimise your inbound marketing strategy and to avoid making the same mistakes so many companies do at this third stage read my blog post “The Importance Of Lead Nurturing In The Inbound Cycle, And The 3 Stage Approach“.


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