Despite happy talk about the economy from politicians, the economy is still struggling. This is particularly true in the case of business investment. In today's Washington Post, Robert Samuelson (my favorite economic writer by far) wrote an article titled, "The investment bust (explained.)" The first paragraph will give you the gist of the article:
"One of the great disappointments of the weak economic recovery has been the sluggish revival of business investment — spending on new buildings, factories, equipment and intellectual property (mainly research and development, and software). For the United States, this spending in 2014 was about 9 percent above its 2007 record high. Sounds good? It isn’t. The average annual gain is a bit more than 1 percent over the past seven years. It is only a small stretch to say that capital has gone on strike."
So what does this have to do with inbound marketing? Quite a bit, actually. Let me explain.
How does inbound marketing work?
I could write a book on this, but neither you nor I have the time for that. Let's go for the short version.
Inbound marketing works when you create compelling content that addresses the questions, needs and pain points of your potential buyers. By promoting good content, you develop an audience that includes a good percentage of your target buyers. These potential buyers find you through social media and through search engine queries.
Potential buyers access premium content offers like eBooks and webinars in exchange for giving you contact information and become leads. You nurture these leads with email marketing, delivering more relevant content that helps them move through their buying process. Qualified leads are passed to the person responsible for sales. The sales professional completes the sales process and closes a good percentage of the opportunities.
Easy peasy, right? What many of the people selling services don't mention to you is that it takes time for inbound marketing to work. It takes time for Google to index the content you create and start serving up your blog posts in search results. It takes time to increase your social media reach to the point where it becomes a true source of business opportunities. It takes a lot of consistent, persistent effort to see a return from your inbound marketing efforts.
My friend Barry Feldman poses the question thusly: "You may have a vision for achieving content marketing success. You may have the tools. You may even have the best teacher or trainer. Do you have the drive?"
The biggest mistake business owners make with inbound marketing.
The biggest mistake business owners make is to expect immediate results with inbound marketing. When they don't see immediate results, they either stop creating content or shoot the messenger, usually a marketing manager or a marketing consultant.
I had a client that set a goal for website traffic that I told him was unattainable (remember SMART goals?) When I asked him why he thought the goal was achievable, he told me that Company X had 10,000 people a month visiting their blog and he didn't see any reason why he couldn't. Company X had been doing inbound marketing for 5+ years; he had been doing inbound marketing for 4 months.
This mindset is prevalent with many business owners. I can understand it. Going back to the Washington Post article, businesses are very cautions when it comes to investment and they expect quick returns on any capital they deploy. But inbound marketing just doesn't work that way (see above.)
My advice to business owners is to not waste your time and money if you're not committed to inbound marketing as a fundamental component of your business model. You can speed up results with tactics like social media advertising and pay-per-click search engine advertising, but you're renting that audience. You own the audience that you create with inbound marketing (e.g. - organic search traffic.) Many businesses have transformed their fortunes with inbound marketing, but I don't know any that have done it overnight.
Here's an analogy for you. I planted three apple trees a couple of years ago. They haven't produced a single apple yet. Nor would I expect them to - the nature of apple trees is that it takes 3-5 years before you see any fruit. So do I curse the apple trees and rip them out of the ground or do I continue to water, spray and feed them so that I will have years of apple production when they mature?
What should you realistically expect from inbound marketing?
Depending on the amount of effort you put into your inbound marketing efforts, you should begin to see real business results within six to twelve months. You could see results faster than that and you can speed things up with paid advertising. But if you need to see results faster than that, you should think about something other than inbound marketing to get those results.
Here's a peak behind the curtains. The graph below shows our company's organic search traffic over the past three years. Here's a quick summary of results. After one year, we had 500 organic visits per month. After two years, we had 1,000 organic visits per month. After three years, we had 2,200 organic visits per month. Basically, we doubled our organic traffic every year.
This was a result of persistent effort. We never missed a week of blogging in three years; most weeks we published two posts, some weeks we just did one. As you can see, the results didn't come in a straight line. We hit peaks and valleys and a plateau or two. But three years later, we're getting a good deal of traffic to our site from inbound marketing and we're getting paying customers from our efforts.
The message to business owners with respect to inbound marketing is commit for the long haul or don't waste your time and money. Beware of anyone who tells you otherwise. In the long run, if you're not doing inbound marketing, I would wager that your competition is. The question is are you in it for the long run or are you looking for a sugar buzz?