Inbound marketing focuses on getting found by customers. This tutorial explains the Inbound Marketing with the best hacks.
Universal Goals: Leads and Loyalty
Inbound marketing gives agencies the ability to boost search engine rankings, generate inbound links, and drive website traffic, which are proven lead generators.
In addition, inbound marketing strengthens your brand and enhances your thought-leadership positioning, which can have a much greater impact on your long-term growth, stability, and success.
The most powerful and profitable inbound marketing campaigns will use content and community to build loyalty, resulting in:
Higher retention rates Less churn in your client portfolio means a more stable and reliable recurring revenue base.
Greater profit margins Long-term client relationships lead to improved efficiency, which translates into higher profits.
Goodwill benefits Strong relationships lead to more opportunities and greater creative freedom.
Origins of the Inbound Marketing GamePlan
I originally developed the Inbound Marketing GamePlan in early 2008 as a service chart used in Thesis Scientist business-development proposals. The goal was to offer prospects an easy-to-understand visual that outlined proposed services for a 12-month campaign, broken out by quarters.
However, over time, we realized the concept was too tactical in nature, and our approach was much too focused on lead generation. It was a step in the right direction, but we needed to evolve our thinking.
In late 2009, we set out to better align our core services with current and future market demand. Based on lessons learned and data gathered supporting dozens of client inbound marketing campaigns, we were able to see trends emerging, both in terms of needs and goals, and the strategies and activities that were most effective in generating leads and building loyalty.
Why a Football Field?
More than anything, we needed a simple visual that represented all facets of an inbound marketing program. There were too many elements for a Venn diagram, and football is the perfect metaphor for an inbound marketing campaign:
The stadium and the field: The stadium is your website and online communities—the places that you will draw audiences to—and the field is your brand, upon which your agency and marketing campaigns are built.
Quarters: The game—technologies, strategies, and innovations—is changing so rapidly that your campaigns should be planned and updated in real time, with in-depth quarterly reviews. Agencies with static strategies struggle to compete with more agile firms.
Personnel: Consider the impact of the draft and free agency on a professional football team. Because so much of inbound marketing is driven by content and relationships, the selection and retention of top personnel—A players—has never been more essential.
Teamwork: Inbound marketing requires a highly coordinated effort and calls on a diverse skill set, including strategy, copywriting, design, data analysis, programming, messaging promotion, and relationship building.
Commitment: Inbound marketing success does not happen overnight. It requires practice and patience. You need to build reach and strong relationships through social networking and by consistently publishing valuable content.
Passion: You have to want it more than the other team. It is that simple. If you do not, it will show in your services and communications.
Goals: The end zone was the most obvious reason for the field. Every organization must generate leads and build loyalty to thrive. So, we started in the left end zone with the GamePlan and then built the objectives and strategies from left to right, driving toward these goals.
Objectives: You must measure progress, and adapt based on performance and market changes.
Strategy: In football, you have offense, defense, and special teams. None of them on their own win the game. The same is true for inbound marketing: Brand, web, search, content, social media, and PR must work in sync to be successful.
The Foundation: Brand and Website
Every Inbound Marketing GamePlan begins with brand and website. These are the two critical building blocks for marketing agencies and their clients.
Brand Marketing: Define and Differentiate
Every agency must define and differentiate itself. Share your story through your website, content, social media activity, and PR, but remember that your brand is defined by experiences and perceptions. Start by answering these questions to define your brand:
Who are we, in 160 characters or less, and without meaningless jargon?
What are the three greatest strengths/weaknesses of our brand?
What are our greatest opportunities for growth?
What keywords would people search to find our agency/services?
Who are our buyer personas?
What makes us different?
How do we express that differentiation in words, images, and actions?
What is our sustainable competitive advantage?
What value—expertise, resources, guidance, and tools—can we bring to our audiences?
What are we doing to innovate and move the industry forward?
What problems and pain points do we solve?
What makes clients buy from us the first time (acquisition)? What keeps them coming back (retention)?
When an agency begins, it inherently takes on the persona of its founder. However, as the agency grows, it becomes essential to take a more strategic approach to how you present your agency online and offline. The key is to give your agency brand personality.
You want clients, prospects, and other audiences to connect with your organization on a more meaningful level. You want to build trust and create positive perceptions about the agency and its people.
Here are some of the ways you can convey the unique attributes of your agency brand:
Be consistent in how you define the agency across social networks, your website, internal documents, and new business proposals. Also, consider how your employees define the agency on their social profiles and when asked in person.
Use your agency Facebook page to share photos and unique content. For example, Thesis Scientist has a public quote board on the discussions tab of our page (Thesis Scientist). This is where we post some of the quirky things our team says, giving us the chance to show a lighter side to which people can relate.
Integrate video of your team into your agency website. Consider whiteboard sessions, interviews, case studies, and weekly podcasts as ways to demonstrate your expertise.
Feature your team's personalities and better engage audiences. Hire professionals with shared values, and give them the freedom to build personal brands that complement and augment the agency brand.
The Power of Personal Brands
As we have discussed, great agencies are built on the strength of great talent. Now, more than ever, the individuals within an agency have the opportunity to build powerful personas that drive agency growth.
Every agency professional has a story. We are all defined by our actions, beliefs, experiences, perceptions, and choices.
We each maintain a unique personal brand that is defined by the sum of peoples experiences with us and perceptions about us. However, we are our own gatekeepers. Thus, our brand varies from person-to-person based on how much of our story we choose to share.
We live in an online world dominated by content and community. And whether we like it or not, social media has made personal branding a 24/7 experience for many of us.
The mass-market adoption of social networking has forever changed the way that our stories are told and shared. We publish pictures, articles, opinions, and updates that each tells a small piece of our story:
What is important to us.
What we value.
Where we are going.
What we are doing.
Who we are with.
What we buy.
What we think.
What we are passionate about.
Though many of us may not realize it, everything we do and say is crafting our personal brands, and either helping or hurting the agency brand.
So, whereas taking the approach of not caring what other people think works for some personalities and career paths, most agency professionals will need to take a more thoughtful approach to their personal brand.
Website Development: Design, Connect, and Grow
Your website is a lead-generation and multimedia content publishing tool. It gives your agency the ability to build a strong brand online, create value, connect with audiences, and generate leads.
When developing or re-designing your website, do not overlook the importance of strong website copywriting that is optimized for search engine rankings and visitors.
Effective copywriting conveys key brand messages, stresses features and benefits, and drives visitors to the desired action, such as a call, contact form, or content download.
Once your website design and copywriting are complete, there are significant opportunities to build a more powerful site through SEO, blogging, social media participation, content marketing, PR, calls to action, and landing pages.
Treat your agency website with the same care and attention that you do your clients’ websites. Continually analyze track, and monitor its success through inbound links, traffic, referrers, and website visits by keywords, among other metrics.
Audiences: Segment and Prioritize
Inbound marketing is primarily talked about for its lead-generating potential, but it can do so much more for your agency. For example, consider its brand loyalty and retention attributes with existing clients.
Or, how about its ability to help recruit and retain employees, connect with mainstream and social media, influence competitors, and engage with peers?
When building your strategy, be sure to think beyond prospects, and design a GamePlan to reach and influence all audiences relevant to your business. Let's take a look at how inbound marketing can influence your agency's key audiences:
Peers: The social web has made it common practice to connect and share with your professional peers like never before. In many cases, your peers, often from competing agencies, are the ones sharing and linking to the content you publish.
Agencies and professionals that focus on collaboration over the competition will have greater opportunities to thrive in the emerging marketing agency ecosystem. Seek opportunities to engage with and support your industry peers through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn.
Competitors: The race for search-engine rankings and influence has made professionals more open, and online tools have given marketers greater access to competitive intelligence. As a result, it is far easier for competitors to research and evaluate one another's strategy, strengths, and weaknesses.
At the same time, savvy agencies can use inbound marketing tools—blogs, videos, social networks—to influence their competitions thoughts and actions. Think of it in terms of marketing warfare. Although it is good to support your peers, remember that your competition is reading and watching. Be strategic in your thoughts and actions.
Vendors: Your vendor network is essential to your organization's success. Build more valuable vendor relationships by engaging them in your inbound marketing campaign. Share guest blog posts, exchange links, and help to promote their capabilities and expertise.
Partners: Business partners share risk, and rely on one another to deliver results and achieve a common goal. Partners are essential to success in the more open and collaborative agency ecosystem.
Inbound marketing has made identifying and evaluating potential partners more efficient. However, remember that the actions of your partners directly affect your brand, so have a system in place to continually evaluate the strength and profitability of each relationship.
Be sure to subscribe to your partners’ blogs and connect with their leaders in social networks. In addition, look for opportunities to create content that features your partners.
Job candidates: Use content publishing and involvement in online communities to tell your brand's story and attract social-media-savvy professionals.
Understand how job candidates communicate online, where they congregate, and what keywords they search, and then use that information to adapt your recruiting strategy.
Also, screen job candidates through their public profiles and online activities before you even grant an interview. Start with name searches on Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter.
Media: Use inbound marketing to connect with reporters online, learn their interests, understand their writing styles, and note their preferred means of communication. PR firms regularly do this to build more effective media relations programs, but every agency should consider ways to proactively build deeper connections with media contacts.
Employees: Every employee maintains a personal brand that can directly affect the strength of your organizations brand.
Use inbound marketing to increase employee retention and loyalty by supporting your employees’ social media activities, and encouraging them to contribute to the development and management of your agency's content and brand online.
Employees, especially younger generations, are active in social media with or without your agency's support. View social media as an opportunity, not an obstacle. Establish social media policies, encourage professional behavior, and embrace their involvement.
Establishing Your Agency Social Media Policy
When defining your agency's social media policy, start by stating the goal of the policy, and how it integrates with human-resources policies that already exist.
Then, lay out 10 to 15 guidelines for employees to follow in their online behavior. A best practice is to keep the tone positive by focusing on what is appropriate rather than what is not. Specific topics to cover may include:
Authentic representation of brand and self: The importance of using real names and the lack of true anonymity on the web.
Disclosure, confidentiality, and privacy issues, such as guidelines for sharing company information with the public; who has the authority to comment on behalf of the company; and when it is necessary to disclose affiliations with the company and/or clients.
The purpose of online communications and how you will bring value to the community.
Usage and productivity during business hours.
Taking ownership of your words and actions, and respecting copyrights.
How to address potential challenges before they occur, such as friending colleagues, clients, superiors, and subordinates.
Also, address plans for monitoring and enforcement, such as who is responsible for monitoring employees’ online behavior and what this entails. Clearly, state the ramifications of misuse and how policies will be upheld.
Prospects: The most obvious and talked about inbound marketing audience, prospects, are actively seeking services and information online. Get found by prospects and keep your pipeline full by regularly publishing relevant content, and actively participating in social media to extend your reach and influence.
Clients: Existing clients are the most profitable and important relationships. Building loyalty among this audience should be a primary goal of every inbound marketing campaign. Loyalty is driven by results, relationships, and communications.
Inbound marketing gives you the power to dramatically increase the strength of all three. Connect with your clients in more personal and meaningful ways through social networks, and publish free content designed to expand their knowledge and strengthen your position as a thought leader and partner.
Objectives: Set Your Success Factors
Lead generation and loyalty building are the two primary goals of every marketing campaign, for both clients and agencies. We have consistently found that campaigns that focus inbound marketing strategies on achieving the GamePlans four core objectives have the greatest potential to generate leads and build loyalty.
Let's take a look at each objective and introduce sample success factors that you may consider benchmarking and measuring to continually evaluate and evolve your campaign.
1. Boost Search Engine Rankings
Search engine results are rapidly evolving to be more personalized based on factors such as geography, browsing history, and social graphs. Although top-10 rankings are still relevant, it is far more important to monitor actual organic (nonpaid) traffic. Focus on:
Although your entire keyword universe may include thousands of phrases, most agencies should concentrate marketing efforts on the 30 to 50 most relevant keyword phrases.
2. Establish and Strengthen Relationships
Relationships can be difficult to measure, but the following metrics can be used to show that you are expanding your reach and building deeper connections online and offline:
Followers, friends, and likes.
Referrals and recommendations.
Do not confuse reach with influence. Building followers and friends are meaningless without engagement and action. Benchmark and measure the metrics that will have the greatest impact on your agency's ability to generate leads and build loyalty.
3. Enhance Positioning as a Thought Leader, Innovator, and Industry Expert
Thought leadership is the result of doing. Get active, and create value through content and social participation. You can gauge your progress and success using the following:
Inbound media inquiries.
Blogging and authentic social media participation are essential to build and enhance thought leadership and position yourself and your agency as innovators and experts.
4. Build Brand Awareness, Comprehension, and Preference
Brand awareness means your audience recognizes the agency name, comprehension indicates that they understand who you are and what you do, and preference shows they would pick or refer your agency over the competition. Your agency needs to achieve all three to succeed. Measure your success with:
Employee and client retention rates.
Inbound job candidates.
Third-party endorsements of your brand are more important than ever. Focus your content marketing and PR strategies on reputation, relationships, and brand building.
Strategies and Tactics: Take an Integrated Approach
Each objective is supported by its corresponding inbound marketing strategy, as shown in the GamePlan. The GamePlan is intended to move from left to right, building strength and momentum as your agency activates each phase.
Once you have defined and differentiated your brand and built a powerful, content-driven website, the next step is to strategize and manage an integrated campaign fueled by the four core inbound marketing strategies of search marketing, social media, content marketing, and PR.
The blog editor ensures that articles are posted on a regular basis, consistent with company messaging and that all authors are pulling their weight with regular contributions.
When budgeting for an agency inbound marketing campaign, the greatest investment is often time, rather than money.
Look beyond traditional wisdom and conventional solutions.
Control the Sales Funnel
Everything is sales.
Effective proposals demonstrate that you clearly understand your prospects needs and goals, and have the knowledge and capabilities to positively impact their business. Here are six core elements of a powerful service proposal:
1. The snapshot: Also known as the executive summary, this is where accounts are won. In one or two pages, tell a powerful story that conveys your understanding of their business, identifies their challenges, defines how your agency is going to solve them and establishes the benchmarks for how you will measure success.
Forget the boring, technical jargon. Create a narrative that engages the prospect and builds their desire to work with you. They should be able to make a buying decision based on their experience with your agency to this point in the lead-nurturing process and the snapshot.
The rest of the proposal exists to provide supporting information and define the scope of the engagement.
2. Discovery: Share what you learned about the prospect through preliminary research. Include data and screenshots that demonstrate your capabilities, and how they apply to the prospect's business. Here are some specifics:
Run an initial keyword analysis to see how their website performs in search engines.
Compare their website to competitor sites using Website Grader.
Evaluate their social media presence, and identify opportunities for enhanced participation and engagement online.
Assess their competitors’ content marketing strategy, and show how your services can make them more competitive.
Identify publicity opportunities by running editorial calendar searches through Cision or other PR-management platforms.
Suggest blog post topics that demonstrate your understanding of their markets and customers.
3. Objectives: Connect your services to measurable and meaningful outcomes. Define preliminary marketing objectives relevant to the prospects campaigns, which will be used to guide campaign strategy and measure performance.
Ideally, you will benchmark all relevant data at the initiation of engagement, and then provide monthly reports throughout the life of the relationship to continually monitor progress and adapt strategy.
This is the section in which you define success factors as well, including metrics such as website traffic, inbound links, organic visits, social media reach, blog subscribers, lead volume, and content downloads.
4. Activity center: Establish the services, pricing, and timelines for the proposed engagement. If you are selling service packages or retainers, this section will be relatively standardized, but be sure to personalize it based on your prospects unique needs.
5. Appendix: Share any additional information that is relevant to the prospect. This may include agency and account team profiles, sample experience, and client testimonials.
6. Terms of agreement: Include the contract to seal the deal. Your prospects are marketing professionals, just like you, so avoid using legal speak, and keep it simple and transparent. Consider elements such as pricing structure, payment terms, reporting standards, expenses, and how add-on services are billed.
Choose the Right Clients
Commit your talent and energy to clients who will value your contributions to their business. Learn to trust your instinct, and watch for red flags, such as unrealistic expectations and a lack of respect for your time and talent during the discovery process.
Model agencies never appear desperate for new business, even if they are. They are willing to walk away from opportunities when their leadership team determines it is not in the best interest of the agency to pursue the engagement. At that same time, they demonstrate patience and a willingness to fight for the right clients.
Conversions and Transitions
The assignment and integration of account teams is key to successful client conversions. It is advised to involve the account team as early in the sales process as possible.
Prospects quickly develop a rapport with strong salespeople, and they can assume that their representative will continue to work with them should they move forward.
If you have the capacity and an account manager ready to go, then simply have that professional participate in discovery and proposal meetings, and build a relationship that makes for a smooth transition.
This is the ideal arrangement, because the account manager/lead consultant, not the salesperson, should be dictating the preliminary strategic recommendations and appropriate service package or retainer that will be featured in the proposal.
In essence, once the lead has been qualified into a prospect, the account team should begin to assume ownership of the opportunity, and the salesperson takes on more of a support and administrative role.
However, this can become a challenge when you have no idea who will be on the account team. Because most top agencies are continually functioning at or near capacity, large opportunities present challenges from the perspective of account management and workflow.
For example, lets say you are a $540,000 agency, and a $5,000/month lead has blossomed into a highly qualified opportunity. If you can close the deal, this client would represent 10 percent of your average total revenue each month, which is fairly significant.
Assuming your agency is already at or above its capacity, you may need to hire in order to deliver on what you are promising in the contract. However, no prospective client wants to hear that they will be the lucky recipient of a rookie account manager or team.
So what do you do?
Adjusting for growth is a great problem to have, but, unfortunately, there is no perfect solution. However, if you have put the proper forecasting and project-management systems in place, you can quickly identify experienced team members who can step in to lead the account, while grooming their successors and transferring management over the coming months.
Remember, your most efficient and profitable growth comes from your existing client base. So commit to clients from day one, and never stop proving to them why they chose you.
Content marketing is the premier lead-generation strategy available to agencies today.
Effective proposals demonstrate that you clearly understand your prospects needs and goals and have the knowledge and capabilities to positively impact their business.
The prospective account manager/lead consultant, not the salesperson, should be dictating the preliminary strategic recommendations and appropriate service package or retainer that will be featured in the proposal.
Push yourself and your agency to create as much value as possible for every client. Become indispensable through your hard work, insight, consultation, services, expertise, friendship, and professionalism.
Treat them as partners, and take a passionate approach to their success.
Hold your team to the highest standards of performance.
Bring innovative ideas to the table.
Publish and share blog posts relevant to your clients’ challenges and opportunities.
Commit your account team to continually advance their knowledge of clients’ businesses and industries.
Take a Personal Approach
Create deeper connections with your client contacts. Do the little things that build relationships, and take the time to show them you care about their successes, both on the individual and organizational levels.
Know what matters to them—family, hobbies, and personal interests— and never lose sight of the fact that they are real people, too.
Recognize milestones in their lives with personal notes and handwritten cards.
Use your agency customer-relationship-management (CRM) system to keep track of calls, communications, meetings, and notes.
Connect through social networks to stay in touch with what is going on in their businesses and their personal lives.
Make every client feel like the most important client. Never appear too busy with other clients to help them.
Keep your leadership team connected. Agency executives should regularly be thinking about and communicating with client contacts, especially if they are not involved in day-to-day account management.
Seek opportunities to make your client contacts look good, and help build their careers.
Send personal communications to clients when you have published or found the content of interest to them.
Listen to Their Problems, and Respond When Appropriate
If clients are unhappy about something, listen to what is bothering them (even if it is not something you caused or have control over). Then, if you can, devise a solution to fix it. Sometimes, just being there to listen is enough to calm frustrations.
Do What You Say You Will Do
Keep your promises. There is nothing worse than thinking someone is going to do something, only to be disappointed. Be someone your client can count on.
Admit When You Are Wrong and Apologize
Face it. Eventually, one person in the relationship is going to make a mistake, no matter how hard you both try not to. If it is you, own up to it. Admit you were wrong, apologize, and make it up to them. Your client will appreciate that you took responsibility for your actions.
Go Out of Your Way to Make Them Happy
Show you care in your everyday actions. Keep the little things in mind with your clients. E-mail them interesting articles, wish them a happy birthday, take them out to lunch, or introduce them to like-minded people. Go above and beyond their expectations for customer service.
Stay on the Edge
Remain at the forefront of innovation and technology, marketing agencies that are immersed in technology are able to continually increase efficiency and productivity, evolve client campaigns, and make strategic connections of seemingly unrelated information.
Share technology news, trends, and innovations through your agency social networks.
Publish content on your website demonstrating how advances in technology are impacting the marketing industry.
Push your account teams to continually integrate new technologies and ideas into client campaigns.
Tell your clients about technologies you think would be valuable to their businesses.
Invest in Talent
The greatest value you can bring to clients is staffing their account teams with A players. These professionals are analytical, confident, creative, detail oriented, highly motivated, and strategic—all traits that consistently translate into success for your clients.
Hire the best.
Provide advanced training and education that accelerates their development.
Build reward programs that recognize team over individual success, and put a premium on retention and growth of accounts.
Develop professionals who are committed to efficiency and productivity.
Extend your reach and influence in the places that matter to your agency and your clients. Be proactive in creating and nurturing connections now for you and your clients. Do not go looking for new contacts when you have something to pitch or sell.
Attend networking events.
Join clubs and associations.
Participate in Twitter chats and online forums.
Share your expertise on Q&A sites, such as Quora, Focus, and LinkedIn Answers.
Diversify Your Relationships
Look for opportunities to expand your connections within client organizations. If you only have a single contact person, and that professional leaves, the account can be at risk. However, if you have built relationships with multiple contacts, then you have a far greater chance of retaining the account.
Understand the organization's dynamics, including key decision makers and how agency partners are evaluated. Be willing to invest nonbillable time attending client events and participating in meetings, if it means you will have opportunities to make valuable connections.
Seek opportunities to work with multiple divisions of larger companies.
The Client in Residence (CIR)
As your agency expands, account teams are pushed to their limits to deliver on expectations and priorities. At the same time, senior leaders, who bring invaluable knowledge and experience to accounts, are pulled away from client services to manage growth.
No matter how talented your account teams are, it becomes easy to lose sight of the big picture. Sometimes agencies can go days or even weeks without taking an objective look at their efforts and considering things from the client's point of view. However, these sorts of insights can be essential to building stronger, more profitable relationships.
One possible solution is to create a client in residence (CIR)—a senior agency leader charged with assessing accounts from the clients perspective.
These client advocates ask the difficult questions, challenge campaign strategies, push for improved results, scrutinize time and billings, assess the account team, and critically evaluate the agency's value and contributions—all so the client does not have to.
The CIR considers factors affecting the client each day—meetings, communications, management, budgets, staffing, expectations, and demands —and looks for ways to make their lives easier.
In small agencies, it may be the CEO or president who functions part-time as the CIR, whereas, in large agencies, it may become a full-time position, overseeing dozens of accounts. Here is a look at possible CIR responsibilities:
Sit in on client calls and internal strategy meetings.
Monitor account activities to gauge efficiency and productivity.
Review monthly client analytics reports to look for gaps in assessments.
Lead internal brainstorming sessions to bring creative and innovative ideas to campaigns.
Teach young professionals the inner workings of client businesses and cultures.
Provide feedback on the style and tone of agency communications.
Challenge account team members’ strategic recommendations and thoughts.
Question invoices and budgets.
Explore opportunities to enhance service levels.
Advocate for client interests and needs.
The Significance of Systems
Prototype hybrid agencies, specifically disruptors, are driven by systems. They are built on adaptable infrastructures that enable them to evolve more quickly than their traditional agency brethren.
The systems create standards and stability while providing autonomy to account teams and managers.
They are designed to increase efficiency and productivity, encourage creativity, accelerate innovation, and push professionals to realize and embrace their potential, all of which produce higher performance levels and more satisfied and loyal clients.
Learn to Love Data
Elite agency professionals, A players, have an insatiable desire for data. They are constantly seeking bits of information—click rates, downloads, referring traffic, leads, conversions, search rankings, sales—from which they can derive knowledge. They take a scientific approach to marketing and develop processes to analyze data for insight that can increase efficiency and maximize ROI for clients.
Integrate Measurement Tools
You have to be a tech geek before you can become a measurement geek. Hybrid agencies are immersed in technology and continually testing and integrating the latest advances in monitoring and measurement. Use change velocity assessments, to keep your firm at the forefront of innovation.
From a measurement perspective, look for solutions that help you discover and interpret the metrics that matter most to your clients.
For example, if your agency is evolving to meet the demand for digital services, you need platforms that can deliver online data, such as search rankings, blog analytics, website traffic sources, inbound links, shares, clicks, social reach, leads, and conversion rates.
Turn your hybrid professionals into analysts. Teach them to make decisions based on logic and reason. Show them how to gain insight from information and how to use that insight to educate clients, build consensus, and drive action.
“You‘ve got to look everywhere and learn everywhere because everything is connected.” Develop professionals who see the big picture and have the ability to make connections that result in actionable intelligence.
Practice on Your Agency
Learn on your time, not your clients. If measurement and data analysis are new to your agency, experiment on yourself first. Like we talked about in the Inbound Marketing GamePlan, start with the basics:
Install website analytics to enable real-time tracking of traffic, referrers, page views, and keywords.
Build unique landing pages that enable you to track views and conversion rates for content downloads, event registrations, contact
requests, and other calls to action.
Track marketing events and milestones, and monitor how they correlate to spikes in website traffic, inbound links, leads, and sales.
Assign a team member to monitor website analytics and social-media activity daily.
Once you have proven that you understand measurement and analysis, then look for opportunities to build it into your services.
Tie to Services
Every campaign should start with performance benchmarks—current lead volume, inbound links, website traffic, content downloads, blog subscribers, social media reach—and clearly defined success factors for how the client will measure your value and their ROI.
Challenge your agency to move beyond the arbitrary measurements of success used by traditional marketing firms, and push the conversation toward more meaningful outcomes that can be tracked in real time and directly connected to sales.
Dig into the Data
Anyone can pull charts and numbers and present the client observations and assumptions. Your agency has to go further. You have to find cause-and-effect relationships, not just correlations. You have to turn noise into insights and find the answers to difficult questions.
Why are e-mail click-through rates so low?
Why has website traffic reached a plateau?
Why are competitors outperforming your client on search engines for priority keywords?
Why are pages per visit dropping on the website?
Why does landing page A have a 20 percent higher conversion rate than landing page B?
What is the best day and time to send an e-mail newsletter?
What impact is blogging having on your clients business?
The answers are in the data. You just have to know where to look and how to make the connections that will produce results for your clients.
Every Agency Pro Should Take Google AdWords Training
Professionals do not become analysts overnight. Agencies have to provide knowledge and training to develop and hone these skills. A great starting point is the Google AdWords Certification Program.
According to Google, “Professionals looking to update and demonstrate search skills to employers can study and certify to become individually qualified in Google AdWords. To gain a qualification, exam takers must pass both the Advertising Fundamentals exam and one advanced-level exam.”
I feel so strongly in its value that we require all Thesis Scientist consultants to take and pass the Fundamentals exam, despite the heavy time commitment involved. The AdWords Learning Center contains 21 lessons for the Advertising Fundamentals exam alone, totaling more than 400 pages of reading.
The exam tests your knowledge of Google AdWords tools, account management, analytics, and ad-optimization techniques. Although it focuses particularly on online advertising, it is an invaluable exercise for all marketing agency professionals. The exam fosters analytical thinking, refines budgeting skills, and expands knowledge of how search engines work.
Encourages Analytical Thinking
Being able to demonstrate your success through tangible factors, such as search engine rankings, website traffic, inbound links, leads, and sales is essential in today's business environment.
The Google AdWords exam forces you to think analytically, translate data into meaningful measurements, and adjust strategies based on results. All these skills are vital for marketing-agency professionals looking to demonstrate their value to clients and to manage successful campaigns.
Refines Budgeting Skills
An organizations ROI using Google AdWords does not necessarily relate to how much the organization spends; it is determined by how well their budget is used through keyword and bid selections, targeting, and optimization. These factors usually need to be tweaked, often based on past performance, in order to get the most benefit for your money.
This same logic can be applied to the financial aspects of managing any type of campaign. Hybrid professionals need to be able to work within a clients budget—choosing those activities that will have the strongest ROI—while simultaneously being able to determine when a larger budget is needed to achieve desired objectives.
They also need to continuously review their current campaigns and budget allocations to determine if their existing financial distribution is optimal or if funds should be reallocated to better-performing activities.
Use Analytics to Adapt
The most advanced hybrid agencies win with speed and agility. They draw on their experience to develop theories and strategies and then use the science of analysis to adapt to changing business environments and evolve client campaigns in real time. They continually experiment, measure, analyze, and adjust.
Once your agency has the right tools and talent in place, concentrate on making analytics a part of your professionals’ daily routines. In order to foster deeper thinking among your team, analytics needs to become second nature, rather than an afterthought. Following are some tips to get started:
Review Google Analytics reports as part of your account teams’ daily campaign management duties.
Communicate insights to clients in real time.
Build data analysis into daily, weekly, and monthly client reports.
Talk about client analytics as part of your agency daily meetings.
Conduct internal analytics training sessions with senior consultants during which they demonstrate to associates how they process and interpret data.
Assign exercises to challenge and develop associates’ analytical skills.
Share insights throughout the day on Yammer or through whatever internal social network your agency uses.
Services, Measurement, and Selective Consumption
As consumers tune out traditional, interruption-based marketing methods and choose when and where to interact with brands, agencies gain the ability to connect actions to outcomes. Let's look at selective consumption at work to better understand its power and the role of real-time analytics.
Assume the client, a B2B software company, wants to generate 100 leads next month. The company has solid brand awareness but struggles to gain market share from the larger, more established competitors. Historically, it has invested heavily in industry publications, spending north of $10,000 per month on advertisements.
Although the ads are creatively strong and are believed to have been influential in building brand awareness, there is no direct way to measure their impact on the client's success. This is what I would call the publish-and-pray approach, also known as outbound or interruption-based marketing. We will consider this option A.
Now your agency comes along with a few new ideas. You recognize that your client's leaders are some of the brightest minds in the industry, but they have been hidden away behind the bland corporate messaging that permeates their website and marketing campaigns. You see an opportunity to differentiate the client by creating value, and parlaying its personal brands into thought-leadership initiatives.
For the same $10,000 per month, you propose option B, which we will call the inbound-marketing approach: Publish a 3,000-word ebook on a custom-built landing page. Announce the ebook on the company blog, and consider doing a few guest blog posts on partner sites to promote it as well.
Although there is no registration (lead form) required, there is a call to action to sign up for a webinar, featuring the clients affable lead engineer. The ebook and webinar are promoted through the client's database of 10,000 contacts, and they are also distributed through a media partners database of 25,000 subscribers.
As a marketer, as much as I like to see nice full-page, full-color print ads, I am going to put my money on option B. Why? Because my experience tells me it has a far better chance of producing 100 leads.
More important, even if it does not, I can measure every single element of the program—downloads, webinar registrations, landing page conversions, e-mail click-through rates, referring sources, blog-page views, new blog subscribers, social sharing, and inbound links.
I will be able to monitor the performance of the campaign in real time and have actionable data to better spend my $10,000 next month.
The takeaway: In order to use analytics and constantly adapt to bring greater value to clients, your services must be measurable.
Real-Time Marketing and Monthly Scorecards
Change velocity and the availability of real-time data have created new demands and opportunities for agencies. Tech-savvy firms with fully integrated digital services and top-grade talent are more nimble in the planning and execution of client campaigns.
They are capable of quickly adapting strategies and tactics based on insights into consumer behavior, and they are obsessed with improving performance and ROI. Analytics is the key to success with this agile approach to marketing.
At Thesis Scientist, we start all long-term client engagements with a customized Inbound Marketing GamePlan. Knowing how quickly things change, our general philosophy is, “less time planning, more time doing.”
The goal of the GamePlan is to set clear benchmarks and objectives, arrive at a consensus for a 12-month approach, and approve services for first-quarter activities. We plan tactically in quarters and adapt daily based on campaign performance, changing market factors, and the clients business goals and priorities.
During the initial GamePlan development process, which usually lasts 30 days, we go through a relatively traditional discovery period. The discovery phase uses internal information and secondary online research to assess the following:
organizational goals, buyer personas, market segments, SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) analysis, competitors, brand positioning, website performance, products/services, pricing, historical marketing strategies, sales systems, marketing software, budgets, and timelines.
This is also the time in which we evaluate existing analytics tools and determine the need for any additional monitoring and measurement support.
Our focus is on having the right solutions in place to gather and interpret data. We build monitoring and reporting into every client daily campaign management, and then we rely on monthly scorecards for a full analysis and action plan. Here is a look at the monthly scorecard structure:
Section 1—Snapshot: The snapshot provides a dashboard overview of campaign performance, including results from all major activities completed during the previous month. The snapshot functions as an executive summary with key findings in the areas of the website, social media, search marketing, content marketing, and PR.
Section 2—Analysis: This is where we dig into the data to look for actionable intelligence. We analyze website grade, site traffic, traffic sources, keyword performance, referring sites, inbound links, lead sources and quality, blog statistics, social-media reach and engagement, and customer conversions.
This area is often customized based on client preferences. For example, marketing directors may use scorecard charts and key findings as part of their monthly executive meetings. In this case, we will tailor the design and content so it can be easily extracted and dropped into their presentations.
Section 3—GamePlan: Using the findings from section 2, we construct an updated GamePlan for the next month. Time and budgets are reallocated based on priority opportunities and evolving business goals.
Monthly scorecards are one way that agencies can use analytics to continually adapt and evolve client campaigns. They encourage transparency, demonstrate a commitment to results-driven services, and help to build confidence, trust, and loyalty.
The Content Spam Epidemic
Despite all its tremendous potential, content marketing has a downside. The reality is that it is not easy to regularly produce interesting, high-quality content (thus the opportunity for marketing agencies to become content creators). However, as with anything in business, there are organizations that look for shortcuts and cheap solutions to compete.
They believe that any content is better than no content. Just as link spam infiltrated the SEO industry in the early days, the flood of content spam— low-quality content produced solely for search-engine rankings and traffic— has begun spewing from media organizations and corporations looking to cash in on the content rush.
The good news is that Google has a very public distaste for poor- quality content. In June 2011, Google released its Panda update 2.2, which, according to SEOmoz, “changed SEO best practices forever.”
This, in turn, directly impacts content marketing. In essence, Google is continuing to evolve its algorithm to put a premium on websites that produce trustworthy, credible, high-quality content.
So, when strategizing drivers for your clients, steer clear of mass-produced, cheap content solutions. Although they may offer short-term benefits, the greater opportunity is constructing an integrated campaign powered by premium content that is worthy of inbound links and social sharing.
The more productive and efficient we are, the more time we have for the things that truly matter.
The most advanced hybrid agencies win with speed and agility. Make analytics a part of your professionals’ daily routines in order to foster deeper thinking among your team.
In order to use analytics and constantly adapt to bring greater value to clients, your services must be measurable. Builders are services designed to set the foundation for future success, whereas drivers are intended to produce short-term results.
Drivers are marketing activities that generate traffic, create inbound links, produce quality leads, make connections, establish relationships, and grow your clients’ businesses.
Every agency in the ecosystem, from disruptors to soloists, has to understand that there are no more silos in marketing. Everything is connected. Success depends on the integration of services and collaboration among firms.
We are so focused on meeting short-term demands for our time and attention that we have lost sight of the higher-priority outputs that will build our careers and businesses and make us better and happier people.
Our minds are wired to work and think sequentially, not simultaneously. In other words, it is biologically impossible for us to give our full attention to more than one task at once.
Activate Builders and Drivers
Builders are services designed to set the foundation for future success, whereas drivers are intended to produce short-term results. Your agency's ability to succeed and bring value to clients requires a balanced and strategic approach to both.
Builders lay the groundwork. They create the necessary base on which you will develop your clients brand, differentiate them from competitors, and expand their reach and influence.
Builders are essential, but often not measurable (at least in the short term), which means many organizations have limited patience and budgets to do them well. As a result, businesses want to rush right into the marketing tactics.
They expect immediate gratification and demand results, such as more facebook page “likes,” increased blog subscribers, media coverage, speaking engagements, and leads.
This is dangerous when engaging in a marketing agency. Agencies can be a tremendous asset, but they can also be an enormous liability if expectations are not aligned from the beginning.
Clients and prospects that do not understand or value the importance of builders will always be trouble. The model agencies get paid to do it right. They refuse to take shortcuts or give in to clients’ desperate desires for quick fixes.
Remember, success is a process. Your clients will get the greatest return from an agency relationship if they have a realistic understanding of their current situation, and focus on builders first. Consider the following questions when assessing the need for builders in your clients’ campaigns:
Market research: Do they understand their market, and how they fit in the competitive landscape?
Brand positioning: Have they defined what makes them different, and are they conveying their unique positioning in their marketing and sales materials?
Website development: Is the website user-friendly with distinct calls to action, strong brand messaging, and lots of amazing content to keep people coming back?
Search engine optimization: Has a keyword analysis been conducted to identify the most relevant words and phrases for the website? Is the website properly optimized for search engines, including page titles, URLs, headings, image ALT text, copywriting, and meta descriptions? Has an inbound link analysis been performed?
Copywriting: Are the organizations copywriting strong, action-oriented and buyer-persona focused? Does the website or marketing collateral need to be refreshed?
Social media: Have they established profiles on all the major networks? Do they have existing reach and influence online? Are they engaging with the community or simply broadcasting content? Do they have a social media policy? Are they providing training and education to employees?
If you are working with larger, more established organizations, chances are their internal marketing teams or other agency partners, have already completed most of the foundational work. However, for many agencies, this is where your services begin.
It is also important to note how dependent the builders are on each other because this demonstrates the ever-growing importance of the collaborative agency ecosystem. For example, consider the case of a website.
The strength and marketing effectiveness of websites is essential to your clients’ success, but websites can no longer be designed in a vacuum by web-development firms. These are not brochure sites anymore. They are or should be dynamic hubs for information and engagement, and the metaphorical front door to brands and businesses.
A powerful website requires professional design, strategic brand messaging, on-page optimization, social media integration, engaging copywriting, landing pages, lead forms, and volumes of original content.
It has to enable real-time updates through an intuitive content management system (CMS), and it needs to connect to a customer relationship management (CRM) system to automate the collection and processing of online data.
Every agency in the ecosystem, from disruptors to soloists, has to understand that there are no more silos in marketing. Everything is connected. Success depends on the integration of services and collaboration among firms.
Brand marketing: Organizations are personified through the personal brands of their employees, creating deeper levels of engagement, trust, and loyalty. Powerful personal branding requires content creation, social media engagement, and adherence to the values and principles of the corporate brand.
Web development: Websites without dynamic, optimized content become static corporate wastelands. Websites have to give visitors the desire to experience and share the site, and reasons to return, over and over again.
Content marketing: Original content—ebook, blog posts, podcasts, case studies, reports, and videos—requires social distribution channels to be discovered and shared. Quality matters far more than quantity, so the copywriting must be exceptional. Corporations must view themselves as brand journalists, no longer relying on mainstream media to control their messages.
Public relations: Next generation PR professionals—not the traditional flacks that have given the industry a bad reputation—build relationships and enhance communications with all core audiences.
They use social media and content to create transparency and trust. They focus on personalized approaches to media and blogger relations in order to generate third-party validation that builds brand awareness and preference.
The Inevitable Convergence
To further validate the inevitable convergence of marketing disciples, let's consider what is happening in the SEO industry.
Search-engine optimization is evolving, in large part due to major algorithm changes from Google and other search engines that value content quality over quantity, greatly consider user experience, and are continually integrating social circles and recommendations into results.
Therefore, effective search-engine optimization (SEO) increasingly requires high-quality original content, social sharing, and engaging site designs that capture and keep visitors.
Every two years, SEOmoz publishes a Search Engine Ranking Factors report in which it surveys the top SEO minds in the industry and asks them to rank the different elements that go into search-ranking algorithms.
Following is a breakdown of the highest-ranking factors for 2011, and the overall importance each has on a sites ability to rank on a search engine result page (SERP), according to the experts. Note that I have consolidated different sections of the report to simplify the concepts.
Inbound Links—42 Percent of SERP Impact
Inbound links are continuously mentioned as a key marketing performance metric throughout this blog. The SEOmoz report highlights their value to search engine rankings and demonstrates the importance of agencies offering services that create inbound links.
The report indicates that the number of unique websites considered important by search engines—that is, have a high PageRank or mozRank— that link to a site or page is the highest-ranking factor when it comes to a websites ability to rank for a search query.
The most effective way to continually generate high-quality inbound links is by publishing and sharing valuable content, including blog posts, videos, ebooks, and original reports. In other words, SEO requires copywriting and social media strategies in order to maximize its value.
Keyword Usage—26 Percent of SERP Impact
Standard SEO on-page elements are still highly relevant to site performance in search engines.
At the domain level, search engines look for keywords in the domain and subdomain of a website, and the order in which the keywords appear. For example, http://www.keywordABC.com will likely rank better than http://www.ABCkeyword.com.
In addition to domain names, agencies have to take a strategic approach to other on-page elements, such as page title, internal-link anchor text, headings, and image ALT text.
The key here is that the more optimized pages a site have, the better its chances of attracting traffic and inbound links for specific keyword phrases. So again, it comes down to creating and optimizing content that people will want to share, and then taking actions to get that content found.
Social Media—7 Percent of SERP Impact
The SEO experts agree that Twitter is the most important social network in regard to its impact on search engine algorithms, specifically the authority of a user tweeting links and the number of tweets to a page.
Other influential social media factors include facebook shares; authority of the user who is sharing the links; votes on and comments about a site on social bookmarking sites, such as Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon; and authority and quantity of links shared on Google Buzz.
Agencies need to take the initiative to get their clients active in social media, monitoring for discussion opportunities, sharing resources, and engaging audiences. Depending on the situation, including their internal resources and willingness to participate, your response may be as a social media advisor or actually managing the accounts on their behalf.
Brand Popularity—7 Percent of SERP Impact
Brand popularity also plays a significant role in search engine rankings. According to the experts, some of the most important factors are search volume for a brand name; quantity of brand mentions on websites and social sites; citations for the domain in Wikipedia; and active accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Other Important Factors to Consider
The SEO experts also called out the importance of unique, fresh content across the entire site, and the visitor bounce rate as tracked by the search engines;
this refers to visitors who go to a site and then use the back button to return to the SERP. The lower the bounce rate, the better, so make the content worth reading and give them reasons to stick around for more.