“To be successful at inbound marketing, you have to think and act like a publisher.” This quote is essentially unattributable, as just about every inbound marketing expert has said it at one time or another.
Content is the attraction device that brings prospects to your website where they’ll learn more about you, your knowledge and your capabilities; it’s how prospects develop confidence in your ability to solve their problems. Content is everything you publish: web content, blog posts and more advanced content offers like guides, ebooks, worksheets, and videos.
For search engines and for your best prospects, that content has to be published frequently and with the goal of providing insights on topics that are of interest to your prospects.
What Happens to Lead Generation When Publishing Frequency Declines?
Frequency is sort of a relative thing: for some companies blogging twice a week might suffice. In others, daily blogging is a must. It all depends on your product and your prospects, though generally speaking “more is better.” In fact, 82% of marketers who blog daily acquired a customer using their blog, compared to 57% of marketers who blog monthly (HubSpot, State of Inbound).
Here’s an example of what can happen (or, really, what will happen) when you don’t publish regularly and with discipline:
A professional service firm published their first set of downloadable content offers—a tipsheet, a guide and a checklist—about a year ago. The content offers did well; all three had good conversion rates (the percentage of viewers who provided their contact information in exchange for the content) and resulted in highly qualified leads for the sales team to reach out to. After a few months, though, those offers became stale and the number of form submissions fell sharply. Today those same content offers are still on the company’s website, repeatedly being promoted to the same list of contacts…and guess what? The company’s inbound marketing program has failed.
This company’s journey into inbound started off really well. A lot of important work was done on the front end: the company’s customers were interviewed to identify their needs and topics of interest, a positioning was developed, detailed prospect personas created, goals were set, and message strategy and editorial calendar created…all of which are key to inbound success. But the most critical aspect of inbound—content creation—fell by the wayside because there was no real commitment to it. Even blog post frequency dropped off significantly after the first few were published.
Developing A Protocol That Keeps Content & Lead Attraction Fresh
This example should put a little fear into anyone doing or considering inbound marketing. It takes commitment and a dedicated marketing team. Fortunately, there are very straightforward ways to ensure success:
First, develop the editorial calendar. This assumes that you’ve done all the work prior to this point to ensure your editorial is aligned with your prospects’ needs. That work includes the things mentioned above:
- Interview customers to identify their needs and topics of interest. You may think you’ve got a good idea of what customers and prospects want, but asking them the right questions (or, better yet, having a third party like your inbound marketing firm ask them) will reveal things that will surprise you…and may even change the way you do things.
- Determine your best prospects. Your customer pool today is probably a mix of “ideal” customers and some that don’t fit that profile – maybe they spend less than what you’d like, they don’t order as often as others, or they’re focused on price, not on the partnership. Identifying the best will help you develop content that attracts and provides value to that specific group. One quick way to identify your best prospect is to ask yourself, “If I had just $1 to spend on marketing, what group of prospects would I want to spend it on?”
- Create “colorful” prospect personas. You need to paint a rich picture of that best prospect – what their challenges are, who they report to and who they’re able to influence, what their level of knowledge about your product is, what their likely objections are to buying your product (Price? Performance? Variety?), their professional motivations…and much more. Only by knowing as much as you can about your best prospect can you create content that addresses their needs.
- Create a positioning and message strategy. Ries and Trout, in Positioning, The Battle for Your Mind, were the first to tell brands to put a distinct stake in the ground that says, “This is what our product/brand is all about and no one else can claim this.” Think of the Walmart brand: Walmart doesn’t tell consumers they have the widest variety of products, they don’t say they’re in line with the latest trends, and they don’t suggest they’ll help create a certain lifestyle; they’re all about having the lowest price. A positioning will help as you create content, serving as a guide for what you should consistently say about your product, your company and your competitive advantage.
Think Like a Publisher: Execute Your Editorial Calendar
Once that foundational work is done you’re ready to create the editorial calendar. An editorial calendar is a detailed schedule of topics, and all the related promotion that will make prospects aware of your blogs and content. Here’s a basic template to show format and elements:
This template outlines:
- The content offers you’ll be promoting (you should have 3 running at the same time, each aligned with a different stage in your prospects’ buyer journeys – Attraction, Consideration or Decision)
- The blogs you’ll post related to the topics of your content offers (and on which you’ll include a call-to-action for that related content offer)
- The email promotions you’ll send to your contacts promoting blogs and/or content offers
These all need to be determined well in advance (6 months at least) so there’s no last-minute scramble to come up with something to write about. Without a set-in-stone calendar outlining every blog, every email and every social media post, effort will become sloppy and, before you know it, frequency is down, quality is lacking, emails are going out less often…and pretty soon you’re that company we referred to earlier.
An Editorial Calendar Will Keep Things Moving
Managing your content creation and publication takes an actionable editorial calendar, and someone on your team who can get people pumped up, put the smack down when needed, and who has little sympathy for excuses. Without a taskmaster who can keep everyone and all the moving parts in order, your inbound results will be less than stellar.
If the company mentioned above had stuck to their editorial calendar, would their efforts have been successful? Yes, though certainly an inbound approach is dependent on a number of factors, each of which influences success. Every company considering inbound marketing should first understand that it will not work if all the pieces aren’t in place and all the work that needs to happen gets done, and done well. Inbound requires discipline, intelligence, insight and foresight. If your team isn’t ready to take on all the responsibility, talk to an experienced inbound marketing team. They know from experience what it takes to be successful.