by Allen Harkleroad
There are lessons to be learned from all around us. Often these lessons translate into unexpected areas of our lives. I’ve been working in marketing for over 12 years and read numerous blogs, get all kinds of newsletters, download whitepapers, you know, all of the things you’re supposed to do to keep up to date on trends and happenings within the industry. Little did I know 6 and a half years ago that my kids would also be teaching me about inbound marketing as well. For the record, I have 4 kids. All boys ranging from 2 to 6 years old. Yes, my house is chaos.
Lesson 1: Know your audience. No, really, get to know what they want and what they’re interested in.
My oldest son loves books. It started when he was just a toddler. When he was about 5 he started getting interested in books that we’re a bit more complex. Dr. Seuss and Good Night Moon just weren’t doing it for him anymore. I was excited about this because I’m a big book lover myself. One of my best memories as a child was sitting with my dad while he read The Hobbit. I decided to do the same for my son. I managed to go out and find the exact same version of The Hobbit that my dad read to me. We started reading it and he was hooked. It took several months to get through, but when we were done he wanted to immediately read it again.
I thought I was on to something, so I went out and found a couple more from my childhood. One of the books is called The Great Brain. This one was a complete failure. I was confused. I had so much success with the first book, why had this one failed so miserably? Then it came to me. I was reading the books I wanted to read, not the books he wanted to read. I didn’t consider his interests. The first one was a success because he loved the pictures in the book and he thinks wizards and fantasy are cool. The second failed because it didn’t contain the things he was interested in.
After this I sat down with my son and we talked about what he liked. Wizards, dragons, super heroes, Minecraft, Legos and oddly, religion. I immediately crossed Minecraft off the list. I wasn’t going down that road. Since he had an interest in religious stuff, I decided to get a kids book of Greek mythology so he could learn about gods and heroes. Success! He loved the stories and the book had great pictures in it which he loved. Our next ventures will be into Norse mythology and Harry Potter.
So, the lesson here was that I didn’t take the time at the beginning to understand who my audience was and what his interests were. Inbound marketing works the same way. Too often we create content that we want to write about. This very likely will not be what our audience will be interested in. We may get lucky sometimes, like with The Hobbit, but that won’t always be the case. To be effective we need to sit down and talk with our audience. A great resource for us can be students at our institutions and the admissions reps they talk to. This will indicate what the interest is. Use this information to create your content and delight your audience.
Lesson 2: Eliminate distractions. If you don’t, bad things can happen.
My middle two sons are identical twins who are now 4 years old. They’ve shared a room since they were babies and have zero desire at this point to be in their own rooms. When they were around 2 they had outgrown their cribs, much to the chagrin of my wife and I. Being an identical twin myself (don’t let anyone tell you it skips a generation!) we went to my mom to get some advice. She suggested getting bunk beds to help save space. So, we went out and bought one. I took an afternoon to disassemble their cribs and put up the bunk bed. The twins were ecstatic about this but that was when the trouble began.
The first night, my wife and I were in the living room when we started hearing noises in the front hallway. We walked in and found it full of stuff; blankets, toys, clothes, books, everything. The twins had gotten out of their beds and started throwing everything in their room over the railing and into the hallway below. This continued for the following nights and even over nap time. We tried putting a baby gate in front of the door but that just made a more exciting game for them to see if they could throw things from their doorway over the gate and over the railing. We had some pretty sleepless nights during this time.
The things in their room were just too tempting and distracting, so we did the only thing we could think of. We moved their dresser and bookshelf into their closet and all of the toys into the kids’ play room. Success! The first night with the nearly empty room the twins stayed in their beds and went right to sleep! With nothing to play with, their only option was to go to bed.
The lesson here: when there are too many distractions, your audience is less likely to do what you want them to do. With websites, lots of images and buttons may look nice, but the audience gets confused on where to go or what to do. This leads to them either leaving or engaging with those things that won’t help them with their journey; they start throwing things down the stairs. You need to look at your site and decide what the journey is that you want your visitors to have. Eliminate the things that won’t lead there. You don’t have to get rid of everything either, but maybe you put some things in the closet for later.
Lesson 3: Consistency is key!
My youngest son is 2 years old and he’s a spoiled brat. You know, the typical youngest child thing. I blame my wife for that. Don’t tell her I said that. We knew he was going to be our last child, so my wife wanted to take full advantage of the baby time she had. That meant he slept in the bassinet in our room for a lot longer than the other kids. Because of this he got a little more late-night attention than the others. Eventually he started to out grow the bassinet, so it was time for him to move to the crib in his room. This did not go well. The little guy was not pleased and would wake up crying frequently.
As almost any parent can tell you, and from what we learned from the other kids, we had to establish a routine to get him used to the new arrangement. My wife and I quickly established a new routine for him and did our best to keep it as consistent as possible. At 7:00 we put on our pajamas, then we brush our teeth, after that we get to read a book. It is then time to go to our room. We turn on our music (a lullaby version of Metallica songs), push the button for our light that put stars on the ceiling, turn off the light, get our teddy bear (named bear-bear by him), lay down in our crib and then get tucked in with our blanket. It took about a week of this routine for him to finally understand this was what we do before we go to bed. We follow that same routine for him to this day and even after transitioning him to a toddler bed, he goes right to sleep.
The lesson here was to establish a routine and stick to it. People crave consistency. The same goes for your social and content calendars. Your audience looks for consistency. It’s important to establish a cadence for when you will post on your social profiles and when you add posts to your blogs. Stay on that schedule to get your audience to come back and engage with you.
In conclusion, we can learn a lot about inbound marketing by looking deeper at the lessons around us in everyday life. Children provide us an example of ourselves at the basest levels. Using this as a template for general online behavior can show us that we need to understand what our audience wants, distractions need to be minimized to get the actions we want and keeping things consistent provides a sense of security.
Allen Harkleroad, Manager of Inbound Marketing