This is a guest post written by Brian Zimmerman. Brian is managing director of OpenView Venture Partners, an expansion-stage venture capital firm focused on providing technology companies with deep operational support. You can follow Brian on Twitter @BrianZimm1.
When Joe Pulizzi and Newt Barrett published their bestselling book, Get Content, Get Customers in 2008, the authors wrote that the marketing world — and the online universe at large — needed to prepare for a content revolution.
Pulizzi and Barrett argued that content, which you can think of as a component of a well-rounded inbound marketing strategy, would change the way businesses communicate with their buyers, breaking down the barriers put up by years of interruptive marketing. It would drive stronger brand affinity, awareness, and engagement, and provide companies an opportunity to communicate directly with their buyers, rather than talking at them.
Of course, like any revolutionary idea, some marketers laughed off Pulizzi and Barrett’s prediction as a passing fad. Others suggested content would never be the king of marketing.
At OpenView Venture Partners, however, we saw things differently.
When our founder, Scott Maxwell, read Pulizzi and Barrett’s book, he saw an opportunity to deliver on our vision and enhance our brand promise — which was and still is to help expansion-stage senior management teams build great companies by gathering, creating, storing, and disseminating best practices across all functional areas of their businesses.
In 2009, we began executing our own inbound marketing strategy, which initially focused on a three vehicles for creating and disseminating relevant, unique, and value-added content:
- OpenView Labs: This site would be our content hub, aggregating the best ideas and insight from our own team and top industry experts. Today, it hosts everything from videos and podcasts to Q&As, curated content, and guest articles, all of which are focused on issues related to product, customer, and company development at the expansion stage.
- OpenView Blog: Our firm blog is the epicenter of our internal thought leadership, including individual blogs written by more than 25 different OpenView employees on topics ranging from sales and marketing strategy to research and analytics, corporate development, recruitment, product development, and customer service.
- Viewing Value Newsletter: A collection of the best content published on our Labs site and blog that we distribute to more than 11,000 entrepreneurs every week.
Our collective inbound marketing goal was simple: deliver on our brand promise, increase the firm’s brand awareness, and establish OpenView and its people as thought leaders in the very specific — and competitive — expansion-stage software market.
That should be the goal of most growing technology companies. Marketing is no longer about subjectively promoting your message to your target audience. It’s about working closely with buyers to better understand their pain points, developing content and collateral that speaks to those issues. Ultimately, that will create the kind of authentic relationships that yield short- and long-term results.
Now, I know that’s much easier said than done. Modern consumers are savvy, short on time, and generally unwilling to listen unless they see immediate value in what you have to say. Complicating things further is the fact that inbound marketing takes time, resources, patience, and commitment to yield a return on investment. And those aren’t exactly things that startups and expansion-stage companies have in spades.
But if a small venture capital firm can holistically execute a successful inbound marketing strategy with only a handful of employees and a few freelance writers in a world where it’s never been done before, why can’t other companies do it, too?
5 Lessons From Our Inbound Marketing Journey
If you’re trying to get an inbound marketing initiative off the ground, here are five things we learned from our own three-year journey that might help:
1) Be Patient
It took two years for us to really see the fruits of our labor, but the wait was worth it. By setting and sticking to a specific inbound strategy, we were able to grow our newsletter subscribership from zero to 11,000 and increase traffic to our three sites by 600 percent. Inbound marketing takes time to be effective, so don’t bail on it after six months — even if you’re not seeing the results you were hoping for.
2) Be Consistent
Nothing will kill a blogging or content creation initiative faster than an inconsistent publishing schedule. HubSpot's 2012 State of Inbound Marketing research shows that customer acquisition is directly correlated with blogging frequency; 66% of businesses that blog have acquired a customer through their blog. Be sure to update your blog at least once a week (the more the better) and be sure to post or share fresh, timely content regularly.
3) Get Organized
While an editorial calendar is an important tool for mapping out the content you plan to publish, an equally important inbound marketing tool is a content creation calendar. Like an editorial calendar, it helps you keep track of the content you plan to publish. It also provides a more in-depth view of where each piece of content stands, who its stakeholders are, and what the next steps are in its creation and publication. You can create one easily in an Excel spreadsheet and have it feed directly into your editorial calendar.
4) Build the Right Infrastructure
To be truly successful, an inbound marketing effort and content strategy requires buy-in from everyone in your company, along with the right external people, processes, and tools to make it work. At OpenView, our director of content strategy and managing editor lead our initiative, and we also rely on a strong network of freelance writers and graphic designers to help us quickly and efficiently produce high-quality content.
5) Don’t Try to Do Everything at Once
Three years into our inbound marketing initiative, we’re publishing ebooks, case studies, exclusive industry reports, and unique infographics, to go with our aforementioned Labs site, blog, and newsletter. But we didn’t try to do all of those things on day one. Biting off more than you can chew will simply water down your content and prevent you from providing the high-quality, targeted information your customers need. That being said, don’t hesitate to take risks and try new types of content to see what resonates with your audience. If it works well, repeat it. If not, move on to something else.
The bottom line is that marketing today is inbound marketing. It’s no longer a fad or a revolutionary idea. It’s a marketing necessity, especially for growing companies that need to validate themselves or their brand, and educate their audience about who they are, what they do, and how they can help address a specific customer need or pain point. If you’re not producing content that does all of that, you’re letting someone else dictate your brand and its future. In today’s fast moving, web-based world, that’s a recipe for business disaster.