It’s not always good form to begin an explanation of what something is by describing what it isn’t. However, in the case of inbound marketing, the first thing that must be understood is the fact that inbound marketing is not outbound marketing.
So, let’s define outbound marketing first.
Outbound Marketing (and its Main Detriment) Explained
Most people are familiar with the concept and practices of traditional or outbound marketing. Outbound marketing involves forcing messages upon consumers at times that are not necessarily convenient. Cold calls, email blasts, TV and radio commercials, printed advertisements in newspapers and magazines, posters, flyers, brochures – these all fall under the umbrella of outbound marketing practices.
The problem with outbound marketing is the fact that these tactics are invariably designed to be intrusive. We’re eating our dinner and the phone rings; we’re walking down the street and a garish billboard insists that we acknowledge it; we’re enjoying a TV programme and a commercial break interrupts, etc., etc. In short, outbound marketing fights for attention in a pushy, obtrusive and often sales-led manner.
Inbound Marketing (and its Key Advantage) Explained
Inbound marketing is pretty much the exact opposite of outbound marketing.
Rather than forcing marketing messages upon unwilling individuals, inbound marketing is all about enticing customers to come to you when they are ready and greeting them with the precise – often personalised – information that they are looking for.
A large part of inbound marketing involves producing and strategically deploying well-crafted, engaging and educational content, optimised for the search engines, with the express aim of offering value to buyers. No sales pitch necessary. Blogs, white papers, research reports, eBooks, surveys, social media posts, videos, infographics, case studies – these are just some of the content assets upon which an inbound marketing strategy is built.
(Image source: contentmarketinginstitute.com)
The key advantage of inbound marketing over outbound marketing is that it is non-interruptive.
With inbound marketing, businesses don’t run the risk of irritating would-be customers by intruding into their busy lives. Rather, inbound marketing ensures that the most valuable information is available and discoverable to customers at the very moment when they are ready to engage, be it at the top of the marketing and sales funnel at an awareness stage, or closer to conversion at the bottom of that funnel.
And this is the very reason why inbound marketing has gained in popularity (88% of B2B marketers now use inbound marketing) over recent years.
In the age of digital commerce, buyers have taken much more control over the sales process. No longer do customers – be they private individuals or business buyers – rely on advertisements or salespeople to find out what they need to know about a product or service. Instead, they head online to conduct research on their own behalf.
A strong inbound marketing strategy will ensure that the most valuable information is delivered to that prospect at that very moment, for where they are in their buying journey.
The Inbound Marketing Methodology
Inbound marketing strives to align the content that a business publishes with its customers’ core interests. By doing so, customers are pulled towards a business’s website naturally – no one is there unless they have taken the direct action of clicking a link or conducting an online search. Businesses can then convert, close and delight visitors into customers over a time frame that is comfortable to the buyer.
(Image source: hubspot.com)
The above image highlights the four actions that a business must take to acquire new visitors and subsequently convert them into leads, customers and promoters.
So let’s consider each action.
The first stage is to attract the right strangers to the business’s website. An anomaly we appreciate, but the right stranger is defined by creating targeted personas which we talk about in a moment.
Attraction is achieved through the publication of high-quality, compelling and informative content that answers the initial research questions that targeted personas have. Blogs, social media, video and SEO strategies are amongst the key activities at play during the attraction stage.
The next stage is to convert visitors into qualified leads.
Businesses will use optimised landing pages, forms and strong calls-to-action (CTAs), combined with content assets to nurture the prospect onto the next stage of their buying journey. In return for the value-led asset, the prospect will provide their contact information, even at the most basic level of first name and email address.
A visitor surrendering their contact information in exchange for such content is a strong indicator that they are progressing through their decision-making journey, becoming ready to buy – hence, they are no longer a “visitor”, but an identifiable “qualified lead”.
The next action is to transform leads into paying customers.
Lead nurturing comes into play within this stage of the marketing funnel. CRM tools such as lead scoring and lead intelligence databases are used to target leads with additional, more detailed, data-led content assets that will help them make their final decision to purchase. This is the ideal opportunity to showcase your wares – to highlight what makes your product/ service the right choice for them, over and above your competitors.
It is also the opportunity to affirm your credibility – testimonials, case studies, ratings and reviews all work well in this respect.
Sometimes overlooked, the final part of the inbound marketing methodology is to delight. To take measures to delight your paying customers in order to ensure that they become advocates of your business and make referrals, repeat purchases and/or subscription renewals.
Once a lead becomes a customer, feedback, surveys and incentives, together with an ongoing stream of relevant content helps to ensure that your customers are getting the most out of your business’ services and feel cared for, engaged and appreciated.
Adding value to the customer relationship through regular interactions across email, social media and other channels is imperative in retaining customers over the longer-term.
Developing an Inbound Marketing Strategy
Inbound marketing will be effective for practically all B2B businesses.
If your target customers are multi-visit prospects and you have a longer-than-average sales cycle, it is probable that inbound marketing will work for you. If you want to target your buyers in a more personalised and relevant way, inbound marketing will enable you to make those connections and build relationships. If you want to position your brand as an authoritative presence in your industry, inbound marketing has the capabilities to do just that.
In short, inbound marketing, helps businesses build stronger, lasting relationships with their customers and drive greater revenue – but only if it is built on a strong strategy and executed well.
(Image source: pardot.com)
Putting the Foundations in Place Early
With a strong strategy in place, successful inbound marketing requires your website to be your engine. Your site should be intuitive to use and navigate and of course completely mobile friendly. All of your key content – from your blog to your downloads, to your site pages need to be easily discoverable to all users and of course, for the search engines.
Indeed, SEO (search engine optimisation) is one of your most important allies when it comes to successful inbound marketing.
Knowing what content to publish means knowing who it is you are trying to attract. Developing target personas answers your vital question of “Who is our product/ service designed for?” and your buyer’s, “What’s in it for me?”
Target personas are semi-fictionalised representations of a business’s ideal customer. They embody the target demographic in the first instance, but also the typical attitude or behaviours of someone who is most likely to visit the site and make a purchase.
Actionable Content Strategies
Identifying the specific knowledge needs of your target personas enables your business to deliver the high-value content that will convert visitors into leads and leads into customers. In B2B, this often means delving deeper than a 101-style blog strategy, since your business will need to appeal to those who seek in-depth thought leadership and data-led content assets.
Remember too, that not everyone has the time to wade through a 5,000-word white paper, regardless of the value of the revelations contained within. Infographics, SlideShares, and/or executive briefs may be more appropriate for grabbing the attention of time-poor professionals.
Distribution strategies must also be considered. Social media is a powerful tool for amplifying content within online communities – but first it must be identified exactly which social network will yield the best results.
(Image source: contentmarketinginstitute.com)
Analysing and Optimising
Inbound marketing strategies, by nature, need to be flexible, yet consistent. They mature over time the more the business learns about its visitors, leads and customers.
In order to understand how your audience is responding to your strategies, to nurture and to convert at scale if required, marketing automation software can assist. Automation will help to process the more mundane, administrative tasks, allowing you the time to focus on the creation of optimised, relevant and value-led content.
Undoubtedly, it takes a certain amount of time and a certain number of customer cycles to get your strategy right. But, to commit to inbound marketing is to embark on a process of perpetual learning and experimentation, for here is where the true successes are made.
Indeed, when executed well, businesses can expect both an increase in qualified leads and a significant return on investment.
Post produced in partnership with Julia Payne, founding Director at Incisive Edge.