The simplest things in digital are the most powerful.

How to apply the 80/20 rule to your digital marketing in 2016

The marketing managers that we meet are busy, busy people. More often than not, digital is relegated to the bottom of long list of other duties.

In fact lack of time is the number one reason cited by marketing managers for their company’s woeful digital results.

Businesses cannot expect the person responsible for digital marketing to drive serious business growth on just a couple of hours a week, or can they?

Any seriously productive human probably asks themselves this question frequently:

“What does the 80/20 rule look like for my role?”

Well. That very question is the inspiration for this post.

If you are responsible for digital marketing in your business, you should have two primary objectives. These should vastly outweigh the time you spend on the dozens of other activities that often sideline marketing managers in businesses with underperforming digital.

Create content — 80/20 digital activity #1

So you’ve SEOd your site, you’ve tried and abandoned AdWords (like sooo many other businesses), and Facebook ads just aren’t reaching your B2B buyers.

Now let’s just park those tactics at one side, even for just one month. It’s time to do something that has an impact.

If you want to attract the right buyer, you must create the content that they are looking for. Full stop.

There are two types of content you need to provide, these are foundational to inbound marketing.

  1. Blog posts — blog posts are an exceptionally easy type of content to produce. There is no hard and fast structure that you need to meet, they can be as short as 250 words or as long as 25,000 words (essays). A blog post can be as formal or as informal as you like. You can fill it with photos or just keep it simple. Blog content has an incredibly low barrier to entry.
  2. Premium content — a little bit trickier, but extremely powerful is premium content. Premium content is anything that a website visitor has to ‘pay’ for. But they don’t pay with cash, they pay with their email address or a piece of identifying information which allows you to connect with them. The most common example would be a PDF white paper (often a 2,500–5,000 word document which delivers more value for someone interested in your product/service, such as a buyer’s guide. However recently I have seen more and more ‘template’ or ‘cheat sheet’ items, like spreadsheets or email courses (stream of emails that take the reader on an educational journey).

How do I know what content my buyers want?

This is the question!

Knowing what content to produce is one of the biggest challenges facing marketing managers who want to win at digital. Here are three really quick strategies to unearth content ideas:

1. Look around at great content producers

Do not be afraid to look to the work of others to find inspiration. Kevan Lee wrote an excellent piece on the buffer app about content curation, read it and be empowered.

2. Ask your current buyers!

Even today, I emailed one of my current clients (my buyer is the marketing manager in this £15million/year company) to ask her to tell me what kind of thing she looks for online to help her understand digital marketing strategy (I’ve highlighted that last bit just so you see my context)

Alistair is a consultant at Compound, a digital consultancy for B2B businesses.

Request content insights by email

Here’s the exact email template I use to ask my buyers for content insights.

Subject: Quick question …
Hi <Buyer’s name>
This isn’t really <company> related … but I would like to ask you one question, if I may?
I’m mapping out some content to create for our blog for the new year, and my big question is what content are marketing managers in businesses like <company> looking for?
Do you have any insights about the kind of questions you would ask about <service / product area>* that you could share with me?
It would be so helpful if you could help me understand how I can help answer questions and concerns of marketing managers like you, in companies like <company>.
Thanks, Alistair
* Note: I used ‘digital marketing strategy’ here

Interview current buyers

When I was working for an IT company in Geneva, I met with several clients in person with the purpose to unearth content opportunities.

Everyone I spoke with was super helpful and the insights I gained from a handful of interviews helped us create content that landed us even bigger and better inbound opportunities. I also created detailed buyer personas during this exercise. This was super helpful to make sure our content resonated with, and attracted our target buyers.

Note: The interview tactic will only work if your company is doing a good job at 1) delivering results for the client, and 2) keeping a great relationship with your buyers!

3. Speak to your sales team

This is probably the highest payoff tactic to get meaningful insight. Each of your sales guys can give you insights from their conversations with dozens, if not hundreds of your ideal buyers — it’s like 100 client interviews condensed into one conversation. Huge value.

Some marketing managers find it hard to convince sales that producing content online is having as big an impact as them hammering the phones all day. But there is often at least one forward thinker that will understand what you’re doing and want to help.

My approach is always to ask humbly for them to teach you what works and what doesn’t, and tell them that your goal is to make their life easier by ramping up the inbound lead volume (and there’s not a single sales person on earth who doesn’t prefer answering the phone to an interested prospect rather making yet another outbound cold call!)

When on board, these guys will be able to reel off dozens of ideas for you. Here are three content areas to tap them for initially:

  1. Frequently asked questions — they’ll have some FAQs hidden away somewhere. Many might keep their own notebooks (competitive types might not always share their best tactics easily, so push them hard!)
  2. Canned response email templates — most sales teams will have a bunch of ‘if they ask this, send that’ emails.
  3. Common objections — mostly this content is locked up in rehearsed routines and may not be written down anywhere. Get a sales person to recount a recent initial meeting with a prospect, and you’ll get your insights.

Get your hands on all the sales material you can find, and trawl it for the insights you need.

How a quick conversation with sales opened up a huge opportunity for one client

I remember talking to a client’s sales guy who was venting his frustration about prospects who couldn’t see the value in their industrial equipment maintenance service. They were instead opting for cheap alternatives, which we all knew were far less quality offerings.

I asked him to tell me what was different about their offering, he told me that their typical service had 62 individual checks and measures, whereas with the other companies clients would be lucky to get more than 10. I was astounded that this wasn’t mentioned ANYWHERE in their online content.

My suggestion was that they create a time-lapse video of an engineer conducting a service visit, showing the time elapsed at the bottom of the video. Meanwhile showing a typical service visit from a different company, where the engineer left at lunchtime. In a 3 minute max video they would demonstrate a significant value add versus their competitors service.

Measure performance — 80/20 digital activity #2

I find the lack of understanding of digital marketing performance in successful companies scary at times.

Everything that happens online is measurable down to the tiniest details, yet there seems to be a powerlessness that haunts those responsible for digital marketing, they don’t actually know if they’re measuring it right. They don’t know how to analyse the data that they are capturing.

Let’s KISS … Keep It Simple Silly

Forget complex analytics and measurements for now. At the simplest level, there are two ways to gain more leads from digital marketing:

  1. Increase visitors to your site
  2. Convert visitors to leads on your site

No matter how fancy your analysis, that’s what marketing managers need to achieve from digital.

Google Analytics alone is not enough

Google analytics is a good starting point for analytics. I would say it’s enough to give help you see the volume of visitors to your site and the channels where you acquired those visitors (social, referral, search, paid) … the most complex we need to get GA is to go to the campaign level to understand which of our campaigns actually brought the eyeballs to our website and which content helped them convert — hint: Read this basic guide to conversion tracking set

Now park Google Analytics. Let’s move onto two powerful tactics that you can master in minutes using my tool recommendations.

Create landing pages for your premium content

Your premium content should sit behind a landing page where you ask visitors for an email address, and maybe some other ID info. This allows you to follow up with them by email etc to nurture the lead into an opportunity.

Without a doubt, my go to software for landing pages is Instapage. It is an incredible piece of software, and is updated with new features almost weekly.

Most marketing managers have some idea of how web development works, but that little bit of knowledge is sometimes a barrier to getting things done.

They think that each new webpage needs complex code, server updates, and two man-days to erect. Think again.

If you can use Powerpoint or Keynote, you can use Instapage. It’s copy & paste, drag and drop, and plug’n’play all rolled into one simple interface. I have published a new landing page from start to finish in under an hour, and I DO NOT CODE.

Better yet, A/B testing and mobile responsiveness are baked into the core of Instapage, meaning that for each page you publish you’ve got the best chance to convert customers on any device.

Aside from the simplicity to use instapage, I love the integrations. Early in 2016 we can expect to see Instapage integrate with Zapier, which will open up a world of serious opportunity for any marketing manager that sees the power of an integrated digital inventory. Go and witness the power of Instapage here.

Optimise key pages

Next up, you should take a look at your current web presence and ask yourself the question:

“Which 20% of my web pages would the website die without?”

Even websites don’t escape the Pareto principle. There are only really a few key pages on any website.

The rest probably ‘need’ to be there because someone up high thought it was a good idea, or because someone thought that all websites needed those pages.

OK, so you’ve chosen your handful of key pages, now we need to make those pages better (better = more of the thing you want them to do). There’s always room for improvement.

I use HotJar to track exactly how visitors engage with the most important pages on a given website. Just sign up for an account, add your site and paste the short tracking code snippet into the key pages — literally minutes of time. Then the magic just happen!

My clients are blown away by the power of HotJar. It’s like holding a video camera over the shoulder of someone as they navigate your site — you see everything they do, and thus think, so it is phenomonally helpful to help you optimise your content and design for conversions.

My main use of HotJar is to understand what I need to change on a given page to make sure visitors undertake the action I want them to take. However it also does offer a couple of other really useful features:

  • Poll — I make it a habit to setup exit-intent polls on landing pages, so that when someone goes to abandon the page, the poll pops up front and centre and asks them why. For one client, this poll achieved around 7% conversion rate. Not a bad rate of recovery for someone who we would never have known.
  • Conversion funnel visualisation — if there is a specific process that your visitors must go through to achieve a conversion, get that funnel into HotJar and the insights will come rolling your way! Multi-stage funnel visualisation is the most helpful model in CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation) in my opinion.

Example use cases for HotJar. Here’s a quick list of good reasons to use HotJar, it’s not exhaustive.

Homepage — where do visitors instinctively go when they land on my webpage? What do they look at but not click?

Blog post — where to put the main ‘Call to Action’ on the article page. Should it be a text link, image, button graphic or combo?

Contact us page — how do people engage with the form? What size and position of the phone number gets me most calls

Landing page — What are the stumbling blocks preventing this page from converting 2X more visitors to leads?

Product page — what information triggers a conversion event (contact us for our B2B clients or ‘add to cart’ for B2C/eCommerce sites).

80/20 for digital — making it happen

Finally the 80/20 rule should be applied to your calendar. Block out just 1.5 hours per day (that’s 20% of a Mon-Fri, 9–5 week) to make this stuff happen. Have a rigid schedule that alternates content creation and website optimisation. Just like this:

Monday — create content | Tuesday — optimise pages | Wednesday — create content | Thursday — optimise pages | Friday — create content, maybe check Google Analytics.

If you’ve got time left over, then jump into Analytics and check out the key reports.

If you take action and implement the recommendations in this post, you will see an uptick in visitor numbers and conversion rates very quickly. Then your superiors will release you to do more and more of this stuff, because it matters to business success.

80/20 for digital — your thoughts

Agree or disagree with my view? What else do you think is critical to digital success? Let me have it!

Thanks for reading!

Image credit — David Poe on Flickr

About Alistair

Alistair consults with B2B businesses at Compound, an independent digital strategy consultancy. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.