So you've bought into the promise of inbound marketing and onboarded your first few clients. You've invested dozens of hours into developing comprehensive buyer personas, a solid content game plan to target those personas at the various lifecycle stages, and the various content pieces that go into launching a campaign.
You've tooled your social promotion strategy and have a queue of blog posts ready to deploy according to a tactically aligned editorial calendar. You've modified your clients' websites to account for calls-to-action, and you've built workflows on the backend that are precise and poised to help coax leads through the buying process.
Anticipation & excitement builds. You launch your initial campaign, then spend 6 hours hitting reload on your dashboard expecting to see a steady trickle of contacts begin to populate.
Only there are no contacts. There are no leads.
The campaign launches not with a bang but with a whisper. And now you're some place in between panic and despair, not only because your clients are expecting to see results (after all, they believed in your ability to deliver them), but because you're confident that you did things the right way. But it's just ... not. working.
We know the feeling! You're not alone. And here are a few lessons that we've learned the hard way:
1. Prescribe, don't analyze. The best top-of-funnel pieces are prescriptive, not analytical. Give people something that solves a specific need in real-time, rather than an educational piece that speaks to trends or currents in the market. If you can isolate a specific pain point and provide a pragmatic, utilitarian remedy, the asset will be consumed like hot cakes. Conceptually, it's the difference between goods that satisfy basic human needs versus goods that satisfy a luxury market. In other words, it is easier to sell bread and water to people who are hungry than a red velvet cupcake to people who are not.
2. Customer feedback loop. You can avoid writing a piece that no one downloads by asking your clients' existing customers whether they'd be interested in the topic that you're planning to write about. In other words, a little voice of customer can go a long way.
3. Test content titles and CTA graphics. Ever been fishing? You can sit in a boat for hours dropping your line in the water and not get a nibble while the folks in the boat 100 yards away are pulling up fish by the dozens. The difference is often as simple as the bait you're using. Titles and CTA graphics are the inbound equivalent of bait. If you're confident in the quality of your personas and the assets that would resonate with them, but the assets are not generating any leads, then it might be time to try a different type of bait. Test your titles. Test your CTAs. It could be that you're sitting right on top of a school of slob Bluefin that would practically leap into your boat if you were using the right sort of bait.
4. Set appropriate expectations. This may be the most important lesson of all. Your clients need to understand that inbound marketing is a combination of art and science, and that programs are both evolving and iterative. Establish expectations upfront that successful inbound programs require persistence, patience, trial & error and - in many cases - time. This may be easier said than done when the clients are paying a monthly retainer and expect to generate results in the short term, but setting realistic expectations is imperative to maintaining good will with your client base.
5. Fight for the quick win. While inbound may take patience and persistence, you should focus your early efforts on getting one quick win. A campaign that successfully drives leads through the door will buy you considerable time to find the next winning campaign. Every effort should be made to isolate real persona pain points, identify a legitimate prescriptive content topic, and test titles and CTAs until you find the mix that results in generating contacts. Then you can breathe easy and afford to operate at a more strategic level, as the client will be so excited at the inbound lead volume that they're happy to pay your retainer.
And there we have it. Nothing that is earth-shattering, ground-breaking, or rocket science. In fact, most of it is common sense. However, these five tips would have saved us from some considerable headache when putting together the first set of campaigns for our clients, and they might help you avoid some of our early mistakes.