Inbound Gardening

Speaking to a client this week, I ran into a hurdle that's apparently a recurring problem for digital marketers. An issue that can simultaneously be the lifeblood of (many) digital agencies and the bane of the clients that enlist their help.

Ongoing work.

From a consultant's perspective, what ongoing work really means is the opportunity to develop a successful case. Working with the same brand every month, week or even day means a growing understanding of what needs doing as well as the impacts of your work.

On the flip side, from a client's perspective "ongoing work" may bring to mind a money-pit situation. They're faced with dolling out marketing budget on a regular basis, but not seeing the immediate results you might expect from a high impact, one-time project; like, for example, launching a redesigned website.

To give some background. At my agency, we frame our work around the Inbound Marketing methodology.1 At its core, "Inbound" is about providing potential customers with something useful. A reason to visit your brand's page, and (hopefully) start something of a relationship with you.

Here's a handy visual care of HubSpot to explain the process:

Inbound Marketing

In marketing speak, it can mean working on anything from optimising landing pages and content creation/strategy, to actively tweaking SEM campaigns and monitoring keyword rank.2

TLDR; the Inbound process needs serious TLC and longterm commitment to reap real rewards.

Why the need to continue working on a project month after month? Can't this be done in a single, one-time project?

The short answer is yes. Agencies could work on aspects of the Inbound strategy in one-time project chunks.3 But the key takeaway is that in the interest of giving you the best results possible, ongoing experimentation and fine-tuning is the way forward.

Too often projects with a limited scope mean that all a consultant can do is give their best guess at what will work. At the end of the day, a consultant giving their best guess is just that, a guess.4

Without watching how the results play out with the brand's unique target audience, you're leaving a lot of "unoptimised" work on the field.

Explaining this to non-marketers can be tricky.

But it makes sense, doesn't it? The more you learn about what works and what doesn't, the more efficient you can be at achieving your goals. Making small improvements step-by-step gives you better results in the long run.

This is where getting on with my analogy might help.

Inbound marketing is like gardening.

Have you ever met a gardener who plants seeds at the start of a season and ignores their crops for the rest of summer? Investing effort to kick things off, but not following through? Probably not. But if you have, they were likely not too happy come harvest time.

This especially rings true if we're talking first time gardeners. Seeing solid results - i.e. some tasty veg - on your first time out takes trial and error and a lot of chat with the local garden centre.

Inbound Gardening

There's no single answer that will fit your specific garden's soil, the local wildlife or watering needs. It takes you being out there, keeping an eye on things. Constantly adjusting, fine tuning, learning.5

This is exactly how I think about digital strategy. Sure, there's plenty of ground work to be done to get started that has a bit more Wow-Factor. But the real fruits come from longterm learning and staying hands on.

  1. One of HubSpot's cofounders, Brian Halligan, coined the term way back in 2005. The company has since grown to become a leader in the field.

  2. If you're looking to go deep on the topic, I highly recommend their Inbound Marketing Certification.

  3. And this is no way meant to take away from the fact that sometimes one-time projects are just what the doctor ordered. In this context I mean that when you are approaching a client with a "holistic" Inbound strategy.

  4. Albeit in most cases a super-educated guess.

  5. If you have 30 minutes to spare, you should really watch this video: The Scientific Method: How to Design & Track Viral Growth Experiments.