Last week marked the first full year of inbound marketing for us at ERA. The past twelve months have been amazing, frustrating, humbling, exciting, daunting, and challenging – almost all at the same time. Personally, it has rejuvenated me as a marketer and I am really excited about what the next twelve months will bring. Let’s take a look at the revelations from our first year of inbound marketing.
1. Don’t Confuse Marketing Automation with Inbound Marketing
When we first implemented Hubspot last June we simply saw it as a replacement for our email engine (with some other cool marketing automation features). Boy were we wrong. Inbound marketing is not marketing automation. It is so much more than that. It is content marketing and technology combined. So don’t just shift your outbound email blasting from one platform to the other like we did. Think of it as a shift to a new marketing methodology. This is a whole new world for marketers and associations as a whole.
2. Build the Inbound Foundation First
At ERA we dove right in and basically winged it from day one. In hindsight this wasn’t the best strategy. You need to build your inbound foundation first. That is, focus on developing personas, buyers journeys, lifecycles, lead scoring, landing pages, etc. and you’ll save time and be more effective in the long run. Over time we educated ourselves about inbound marketing (Hubspot produces an amazing amount of content to help you) and slowly shifted away from outbound marketing. Inbound takes time, though, and you need to be patient. But plan first. Grow second.
3. Create a Content Strategy Based on Personas
Once you’ve developed your personas, your content strategy is much easier to articulate. I can’t underscore enough how important personas are – they are the heart of inbound. At ERA, we started blogging before we developed personas. We had an editorial strategy and a content mission statement (and we’ve had huge success) but our content wasn’t really solving problems for our personas. We’re still working on this. Check out Marketing Mike below.
4. You’ll Need Outside Help
Inbound marketing is brainy, complex and challenging. You may need outside help to develop your inbound foundation. We could have saved a lot of time if we had budgeted for inbound onboarding. There are many inbound agencies that do this work and I highly recommend considering it as part of your transition plan.
5. Conversion is King (Drop the Cookie)
Converting unknown website visitors into known individuals is a big deal with Hubspot. All visitors are strangers until they fill out a form like a blog subscription or an ebook download. So, even if you’ve uploaded your entire database to Hubspot, you still don’t know who is visiting your site. When a visitor fills out a form, however, Hubspot drops a tracking cookie on their PC which allows you to track their activities and learn about their preferences. This also allows you to personalize the individual’s website experience. See the below example from our D2C Show.
So you need to focus on converting as many visitors as possible whether they are members or prospects.
6. It’s not Creepy. It’s Smart.
Using a tool like Hubspot gives you a ton of information about your members and prospects – far more than you had in the past. This allows you to better understand your members’ website experience. For example, with Sidekick (a Hubspot tool) you can see who’s on your website and what they are viewing, all in real time. You can see how they jump from page to page, what emails they open, and what content they download. Some people may say it’s big brother and sorta creepy. I say it’s modern marketing and smart. Why not have more insight into your members so you can deliver them the right content at the right time?
7. Inbound Changes Your Messaging
After 12 months we are less focused on “catchy” and “clever” messaging and more focused on creating relevant content. There is less blathering in our marketing and more WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) messaging. We are more focused on value messaging. We produce more digital assets and less print (actually, almost no print at all). In the end, if you’re creating great content, convincing people in your messaging becomes less important. Actually, it’s no longer necessary.
8. A Big Shift in Budget
This revelation was unexpected. We’ve had a massive shift in our marketing budget. We now spend far more on content development and far less on creative. This makes sense if your messaging changes (see above). For example, we are launching our mid-winter event in a few months without external creative. I’m taking that $15,000 and reallocating it to content that solves problems for our attendees, exhibitors and sponsors.
What do you think? Did I miss anything? Does this make sense?