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What is Inbound Marketing?

Over the past fifteen years marketing has gone through several “flavor of the months.” I’ve personally seen the popularity rise and fall of a half dozen approaches including:

  • Multi-channel marketing
  • Integrated marketing
  • New media marketing
  • Content marketing
  • Search engine marketing
  • Digital marketing

Lately, you might have heard more discussions about a new(ish) “flavor” of marketing…

Inbound Marketing

Despite originating in 2005, inbound marketing is gaining attention the past few years, and despite the buzz, many marketers struggle to articulate what inbound marketing actually is.

In this article, I’ll describe exactly what inbound marketing entails and give you an example of an inbound campaign. You’ll see why inbound marketing isn’t a fad and why you should implement inbound marketing at your company.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a methodology based on the fact that people love to buy and hate to be sold. We’ve grown custom to ignoring disruptive ads and avoiding pushy salespeople. As a result, traditional methods of marketing and sales are no longer effective.

We prefer to research our own solutions. We only have sales conversations after we’re informed. Successful brands are building relationships and providing value early before prospects are ready to buy.

Inbound marketing facilitates early-stage relationship building. With inbound, you connect with your audience early in their buyer’s journey, forming a relationship and nurturing it until they’re ready to buy. Once they’re customers you continue to add value, creating brand advocates.

Here are the broad stages of the inbound marketing process:

Attract, Convert, Close, Deligh - Strangers, visitors, leads, customers, promotors

Next, let’s cover the structure of an inbound campaign, then we can break down the process step-by-step.

The Structure of an Inbound Marketing Campaign

The diagram below outlines a common structure for most inbound marketing campaigns.

The structure is as follows:

Targeted traffic is directed to high-value content that will help your target audience solve their problems.

You then offer additional high-value content in exchange for an email address or contact information, this is called a “lead magnet.”

In capturing the email address you’ve started a relationship. You then nurture the relationship by providing ongoing high-value content, additional resources, advice, and support. This builds trust and reciprocity.

When the prospect is ready to make a purchase decision they already know, like, and trust your brand.

Naturally, they purchase from you over a competitor.

Now let’s discuss each phase of executing an inbound marketing campaign.

Steps in executing an inbound marketing campaign

The critical and often overlooked aspect of inbound marketing is providing value. The process outlined above doesn’t work if you’re not helping people solve problems. You won’t attract any visitors or capture email addresses if your content isn’t valuable.

Creating valuable content requires an intimate understanding of your target audience, which is the first and more important step in the process.

Understanding your target audience

Antiquated marketing focuses on company needs, e.g. more leads, sales, shifting brand perception, etc… Inbound marketing focuses on your target audience’s needs.

You need to understand who you’re targeting, specifically:

  • Where are they in their lives?
  • What problems are they having?
  • What are their life goals?
  • What trigger caused them to act?
  • What’s driving their behavior?
  • What emotions are they feeling?
  • What questions do they have?
  • What’s preventing them from moving forward?

Answers to these questions can be gathered through a variety of qualitative and quantitative methods including interviews, surveys, behavior data, social media research, etc…

These insights are used to create user models, which are a documented understanding of your target audience. Once you understand your audience you can create high-value content for them.

Creating high-value content

By understanding your audience’s problems you can create content to help solve them. You start by creating content that will attract your audience to your digital properties and convert them into Marketing Qualified Leads.

Marketing Qualified Leads (MQLs) are individuals who’ve indicated they are interested in a brand but are not yet ready or qualified for a sales conversation.

Create a list of 20 – 30 content ideas that your audience would find valuable. Then categorize each idea as either a traffic magnet or lead magnet.

Traffic magnets are resources you’re target audience is actively searching for, typically informational articles or tools that answer common high-level questions.

Lead magnets are more in-depth resources that provide more in-depth help. Again, these should be so valuable your audience would actually pay for them.

Creating Traffic Magnets

Your traffic magnet ideas can now be created and distributed on your digital properties. These typically take shape in the form of:

  • Articles
  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Infographics
  • Interactive tools
  • Online courses
  • Podcasts

Then promote your traffic magnets using digital marketing tactics such as:

  • Social media posts
  • Search engine optimization
  • Paid advertising
  • E-mail
  • Content syndication

This amplifies the reach of each magnet, attracting more targeted traffic and increasing exposure to your lead magnets.

Creating Lead Magnets

Up to 80% of your website visitors are not ready for a sales conversation. This means a vast majority of your visitors will leave your site before contacting you. Once they leave, they may never return.

Inbound addresses this marketing challenge by attempting to start a relationship with your visitors earlier in the buyer’s journey. Rather than waiting until they’re ready to make a purchase decision, you offer even more valuable content in exchange for their contact information.

The concept is simple, on your website you have a web form that asks for the visitor’s e-mail and if filled out you’ll give them a valuable resource in return. The resource could be access to an online course, video, a call, quiz, or simple downloads like eBooks, infographics, checklists, etc…

While this may sound simple in theory, the challenge is in the execution. Modern browsers are skeptical, they don’t like giving up their contact information, and you have to sell “free” just as hard as if you were charging.

Your offer must be valuable, so valuable users would pay for it. This is where we often see companies get lackluster results, their content offers are just glorified sales brochures.

Inversely, when you have high-quality resources attracting your target audience and resources so valuable they would pay for it, they’d gladly give up their contact information for it.

Lead Nurturing

With contact information, you can form a relationship which is accomplished by continuing to provide value at regular intervals. Again, your goal is to improve your contact’s life– Help them solve problems, provide them valuable insight, or offer entertainment.

The communication can be manual or automated. Manual communication is personable, but automated communication scales.

Track where your contacts are in their journey with “lead scoring.” Lead scoring is a point system used to measure how close contacts are to a buying decision. The higher the number, the closer they are.

Define specific actions that indicate buying interest and assign a numerical value to them. For example, visiting specific web pages might be 5 points, opting in to additional lead magnets 10 points, opening emails 5 points, etc…

Once the score is high enough the contact becomes a “Sales Qualified Lead” or SQL, indicating they’re ready for a sales conversation. With the right tools (like Hubspot), you can automatically notify your sales team to start a discussion.

Close and Delight

Inbound doesn’t end at the close, as the methodology is focused on providing value and solving problems you can continue to support your target audience by continuing to send valuable resources, make strong recommendations, and deliver content that improves their lives.

This creates brand advocates who will promote you to others and whatnot.

Inbound Marketing is Not Another “Flavor of the Week.”

The way people buy has fundamentally changed for both B2B and B2C businesses. People ignore disruptive advertising, and instead do their own research and start relationships with brands early on in their buying journey. Inbound marketing aligns with this new buying behavior.

Inbound is not a flavor of the week because it’s a methodology rather than a tactic or channel. You can use any effective marketing channels, tactics, and strategies to implement inbound marketing. This is why inbound will not be going away anytime soon.

Now that you understand inbound marketing, you can make a plan to implement the methodology at your company.