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Digital marketing is a vast topic with new trends, research, and tactics emerging all the time. If your nose isn’t constantly to the ground, terms such as ‘inbound marketing’ can be overwhelming to grasp.
But staying on the bleeding edge of marketing isn’t always the best move.
Sometimes, you need to stick to the basics. Master those first and build from there.
You know the old acronym K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple St… Silly). Well, it really works. Bells and whistles are great but a clear and simple value proposition is vital. Why? If you confuse a potential customer, that’s a customer lost.
That’s what inbound marketing is all about. Think of it as Digital Marketing 101.
In this article, I want to share the secrets of inbound marketing, show a few prime examples of it in action, and provide a path to get you started on your inbound journey.
So to kick things off, let’s start by discussing what inbound marketing is–and why you need it.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a form of digital marketing that emphasizes attracting new customers using long-term relationships instead of overt sales attempts.
In the past, technology like TV and radio relied on interruptive advertising to share a brand’s message. Your program would take a break, ads would play, and then afterward your program would return.
Think of interruptive advertising like a YouTube ad: you want to watch your video, but first, you have to watch a 30-second ad.
The problem with this is you can either tune it out or skip it altogether. Ads don’t do much good when they get ignored, which creates a need for a different model.
Let’s be honest–even as marketers–we are all pretty fed up with this model of interrupting advertising.
Inbound marketing turns this model around by focusing on building relationships with helpful content, organic search, and thought leadership over a more extended period of time.
This organic method has gained in popularity and is now the default marketing method for many businesses.
And in the current climate, with drastic changes to privacy policies and how businesses can use data for retargeting or remarketing, strategies such as inbound marketing should flourish.
While TV and radio ads will always exist, they have serious competition these days. Each year, these mediums become more obsolete as others take center stage–namely digital and social media channels.
But, now that you know why inbound marketing exists and how disruptive it is to classic, interruptive marketing models, let’s talk a little more about the inbound marketing process.
How To Employ Inbound Marketing
As you attempt to win a customer on the Internet, the best way to envision the process is using the sales funnel model.
When a potential customer sees an ad or blog post (here’s where to aim for the ideal blog post length) you created, it’s the equivalent of them entering the top of your funnel.
This means they’re aware of your brand, and can now be enticed to move further:
As your relationship progresses, you’ll eventually get some of the initial visitors to become customers.
The purpose of your inbound marketing (a term coined by HubSpot) is to get as many people as possible from the top of the funnel to the bottom.
To accomplish that, one of the crucial elements is called The Inbound Methodology. This is a four-step process that will help you take a complete stranger and make them an advocate for your business. Content marketing falls under the umbrella of inbound marketing and shares many of the same characteristics and goals.
The steps, for inbound and content marketing, are:
And here’s how they all flow together to create customers out of strangers:
Let’s break down each of these and more about how the process works.
In this phase, businesses use content like blogs, videos, and social media to help people find their business. You can also use paid click ads and long-term SEO to help you get traffic from search engines as well.
A website is only as good as the quality of traffic it attracts, so this is a vital first step.
Once a visitor comes to your site, you need to have a course of action for them if you want them to become a customer.
So in this second section, your aim is to win them over. You need to bridge the gap between them being complete strangers to satisfied customers.
To do that, you’ll use tools like landing pages, forms, and CTAs (calls-to-action) to try to prompt your visitors to give you their contact information.
Typically, you’ll offer some type of promotion or an exclusive piece of content to help convince them to share this information–which they may be reticent to do nowadays with everyone and their mother asking for these details.
More than ever before, you need to earn that vote of approval!
Once you have your lead’s contact information, the next step of inbound marketing is to fully win them as a customer. To do this, you’ll send them more direct promotional material via their contact information.
This step also involves setting up workflows that provide engaging content and a compelling reason for your lead to buy.
You have to be filling a need or providing some value, and this step is where you can often do that the best.
It’s tempting to think that once you win a customer, the process is over.
But this all-important stage takes that one step further, as depicted by Hubspot’s Flywheel.
Using the relationship you built in the rest of the inbound process, you now have the opportunity to turn your one-time customer into a lifelong brand advocate.
Remember, there’s no better customer than a repeat customer!
By continuing to engage with helpful content, promotions, and other events, you can win a customer’s loyalty and have a customer for life. Hopefully, this also leads to them becoming outspoken supporters and promoters.
If you follow the inbound methodology step-by-step, you’ll be following a proven process that can win customers and help you grow your business.
But at this point, you’re probably asking if this process really works.
Does Inbound Really Work?
As you’re considering the inbound method, one of the essential questions you need to answer is:
“Is it worth it?”
Most of the time, the answer is a resounding “yes.”
I say most of the time for a reason though. Not every brand will have a place for inbound, but we’ll get to that in a moment. For now, let’s consider that many positives.
First of all, when you compare inbound marketing to other types of marketing, it has one of the highest conversion rates out there.
That means inbound marketing historically has a high chance of turning potential customers into customers. 3.82% may not sound like much, but in reality, it’s a lofty conversion rate to shoot for.
But besides that, every year HubSpot publishes a research survey called the State of Inbound.
In the most recent edition, they shared a litany of statistics that make a rock-solid case for inbound marketing.
Notice that the top marketing channels among marketing professionals are nearly all some form of inbound marketing–no PPC or TV advertising in sight.
What’s more, of the top trends and what marketers perceive to be the most valuable strategy moving forward, influencer marketing leads the pack. This relatively new model of marketing certainly falls under the purview of inbound marketing and is followed by other models that also fall under the umbrella of inbound.
Another highlight from a previous State of Inbound report also demonstrates just how comprehensive inbound marketing is nowadays.
When you consider the wide range of priorities and digital marketing assets available with inbound, it’s easy to see how flexible this method is to just about any brand.
You can create webinars, videos, interactive web pages, blog posts, social media posts and polls, and a whole host of other assets to help you win customers.
This flexibility is perhaps one of the greatest strengths of inbound marketing.
In one case, using inbound marketing gave a brand a 68% boost in traffic and 550 new leads in just two weeks.
That’s an impressive return in a period of time that barely scratches the surface of what inbound marketing can do.
So inbound is a flexible and powerful option for online brands. But what does it look like in practice?
Examples of How to Apply Inbound Marketing
Now that you know what inbound marketing is and how effective it can be, let’s look at some examples of inbound marketing in action.
First up is from an affiliate marketing website called Wirecutter.
They write and share content about different consumer technologies, and earn a commission from any business they refer to the featured brands.
One of the most effective ways they do this is with their daily email newsletter.
To get your email address, they use a simple button that appears in the footer of this page. Not intrusive whatsoever and because the content is valuable to the reader, there is a high chance of capturing a user’s information.
If you decide to give them your email, you’ll get this friendly acceptance message:
What’s nice is that you don’t get a redundant email that displays the same message. You get the newsletter when it is scheduled to go out and it doesn’t clutter up your inbox.
While you may not need anything they offer on a given day, chances are one day you will. If you stay subscribed long enough, you’ll eventually find a product recommendation that you can’t pass up.
By following a link in their email, you’ll be taken immediately to the Amazon product page for it. Here, you can finish your purchase and move on with your day.
But this is an excellent example of how you can use the inbound methodology and email workflows to turn visitors into customers.
So long as you get their email address, you have a chance to convert them in the long run.
Another example comes from a brand called Better Mortgage, only this time it’s using paid ads and retargeting.
A few weeks back, I stumbled onto their website while Googling a question about mortgages.
I read their content, left satisfied, but then later noticed this ad on my Facebook feed:
Since I was intrigued, I decided to click and see where they sent me.
I arrived at this simple, educational landing page that guides me depending where I am in their sales funnel, which tries to get me to engage further and potentially use their product:
While I didn’t go any further, this is a stellar example of how you can use ads with inbound marketing to boost engagement on your site.
By targeting individuals who have shown an interest in your niche or product, you can push them to a landing page, gather their contact information, and then try to sell later on.
Both of these examples are great representations of how inbound marketing works in the long term to help you win leads, engage with them, and turn them into customers.
Now that you know the basics and have an idea of what this looks like in practice, let’s talk about some ways you can get started.
How to Get Started With Inbound Marketing
First off, if you’re considering inbound marketing, you need to audit your current assets to get a better idea of where your brand is.
This audit will tell you if you have any tools, resources, or other materials that can be used to aid your marketing.
Even if you’re starting from scratch, you can still start with a competitive analysis to discover what you need to beat.
No matter where you are or what you’re trying to accomplish, using the insights from your audit will help give direction to your inbound marketing strategy.
It will also enable you to start setting goals for your marketing strategy. The only way to truly know what you’ve accomplished is to measure it against something, and at first, that will have to be the goals you set.
With inbound marketing, it’s recommended to start with SMART goals. This method helps you create thoughtful goals that are meaningful to your specific brand.
Without proper goals, you may end up aiming for the wrong things and end up losing money. This step is vital, and you shouldn’t ignore it.
Build Your Buyer Persona
You can also use the information you gather from your audit to build something called a buyer persona.
A buyer persona is a template that provides an in-depth overview of who your audience is, what they want, and how you can engage with them.
The idea is to create as many personas as needed to have a comprehensive view of your audience. You’ll want to make sure it’s as detailed as possible, like this:
Once all of this is in place, you can start implementing a content marketing strategy that allows you to engage with your personas and start meeting your goals.
Good content is an essential part of growth, so don’t neglect it.
Generally speaking, content marketing usually takes the form of blog posts, videos, or social media.
But there are dozens of types of content that you can choose from, so try to find and use the format that suits your audience the best:
When you’ve completed this step, you’re ready to dig into some of the more technical aspects of inbound marketing.
While it’s easy to imagine that your content will work if it aligns with your goals, that’s not always the case.
Inbound Marketing and Analytics
You need to evaluate its effectiveness with tools like Google Analytics, and then build tests that can help you find ways to improve.
With inbound marketing, one of the most popular ways to do this is with A/B testing.
This method requires you to create two versions of the same asset with one minor change. You run both varieties and see which performs the best over a period of time.
Using this method, you can slowly improve the effectiveness of your inbound marketing in a process called conversion rate optimization.
And now that you’re up and running, it’s also a good idea to take some time and learn the basics of SEO.
This can help you get more traffic from search engines like Google or Bing, which means more potential customers.
And of course, remember the human aspect of inbound marketing. You don’t want to start creating uninspired, dull marketing assets that aren’t engaging, so keep these tips in mind:
With all this in mind, you’re ready to take on your own inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing has changed the way we reach out to potential customers and win them over to our brands. Interruptive ads are still around but on the way out–and they may not be the best option.
On the other hand, inbound is a proven method that has solid conversion rates, tons of flexibility, and a proven track record. It’s an excellent option for many businesses.
Using the attract, convert, close, and delight steps, you can turn complete strangers into advocates for your business.
Start with an audit of your marketing assets, set goals that you can reach, and build personas to direct your marketing efforts at all times.
Then, build content that will engage your audience, test its effectiveness, and build your SEO over time.
Even if you’re not an immediate success, inbound can help you grow if you invest in it. It may be difficult at times, but it’s almost certainly worth it.