What Is Inbound Marketing? Definition & Benefits

Inbound marketing is a marketing strategy that encourages potential customers to make the first move.

Whether you run a large or small business, inbound marketing can save you time and money while showing you a strong return on investment.

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

Outbound and inbound marketing are drastically different, even though they share the goal of increasing conversions and sales. Inbound marketing occurs when you create excellent, eye-catching content to be discovered more naturally; outbound marketing is when you reach out to individuals directly.

For instance, to meet the definition of inbound marketing, you offer unmissable content like blogs, white papers, email, social media, and SEO to attract leads’ attention. Then, the content is spread by word of mouth, social media shares, and ads that don’t disrupt a user’s overall experience.

In traditional outbound marketing, marketers have sought consumer attention by “disrupting.” The brand forcefully places itself in front of potential customers and hopes they’ll be interested in buying. Some examples of outbound marketing include TV advertisements, billboards, telemarketing, radio ads, and direct mail.

History of Inbound Marketing

The term “inbound marketing” was famously coined in 2006 by HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan. But the basic principles of inbound marketing strategy were around for a long time before HubSpot.

In 1999, Seth Godin wrote Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers. Godin encouraged marketers to respect the consumer’s choice and time. A buyer should initiate their journey, not the marketer or salesperson. This is the essence of inbound marketing, though Godin took it a step further using the term “permission marketing.”

Godin defines permission marketing as “the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.” Early on, he recognized that people don’t like having their inboxes flooded with messages they never asked for.

By the time Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah founded HubSpot in 2006, the roots of inbound marketing had already taken hold.

Here’s a timeline of the shift from outbound to inbound marketing:

We are in a new era of ultra-personalized, relationship-focused inbound marketing. And with inbound marketing tools like social media, SEO, and marketing automation, things will only get better.

Inbound Marketing Strategy: How It Works

There are four steps to the inbound customer’s journey: Attract, convert, close, and delight. In the next few sections, we’ll look at what each stage means and how to build an inbound marketing strategy to guide your leads through the cycle.

Inbound marketing cycle chart image

1. Inbound Marketing: Attract

There’s a contradiction at the heart of inbound marketing. How can you let customers come to you if they’ve never heard of you? The answer is to entice or attract visitors to your site. Here’s how:

Create Buyer Personas

Everyone is different, and not all your prospects have the same interests, goals, and behaviors. Therefore, when assessing your target market, it’s helpful to create several different buyer personas, so you can tailor your content to be more relevant to each prospect.

Publish Enticing Videos

According to Hubspot's downloadable Not Another State of Marketing Report 2021, companies use videos as marketing tools above all other types. Blogs, previously the king of content, are now in second, followed by infographics.

Whether you should create short- or long-form videos is about knowing your target audience and your goals. For example, TikTok could be great if you want to bring in Gen Z consumers for a specific product, while longer-form videos may be best if you're trying to provide in-depth education.

People watched 12.2 billion minutes (23,211 years) worth of videos in 2020 alone, and video was found to increase conversion events.

Create Great Blogs and Infographics

When people scroll through social media, they're more likely to stop if they see an eye-catching blog headline or graphic. If they don't stop to look, they won't convert.

Use your blog to serve up insightful and educational content. Use a blog to show your experience, authority, and expert knowledge about your industry. If you already have a blog, go through old posts and update them—this alone can increase visitors by more than half.

Without a blog, you may be missing out on a vast audience altogether: 81% of marketers who blog report a positive ROI on their inbound marketing.

Infographics, which are often part of blog posts, can also draw people in. Make sure they're clear, eye-catching, and follow accessibility standards so everyone can benefit. (As a bonus, accessibility can help with SEO!).

Master Search Engine Optimization

Being visible makes a big difference, so search engine optimization (SEO) is key to attracting new inbound leads.

Good SEO makes your site show up higher on search engine results pages (SERPs). This still counts as an inbound marketing strategy because even though you are "disrupting" the users' search results, you aren't forcing yourself in front of their faces—it's happening naturally.

When someone uses a search engine seeking out the product or service your business provides, the higher up your site on the page, the more visitors you may receive. You can also build authority and reputation by writing high-quality content to appear as a Featured Snippet in Google search results.

Utilize Social Media

Hubspot reports social media is the number one channel used in marketing, just beating out company websites and significantly above email marketing. More companies plan to invest in it going forward, and you don't want to be left behind.
More important than social marketing is social listening, in which you pay attention to what your customers want to know before creating your content.

Research which networks are most valuable for your brand. While Instagram is the number one social media platform for marketers, followed quickly by Facebook, some companies may be better served by other sites. For example, B2B companies can’t neglect LinkedIn, while Instagram is a must for B2C brands.

2. Inbound Marketing: Convert

Once you’ve started to attract prospects, you have to nurture them towards making a purchase. In inbound marketing, this is usually described as “converting” leads.

The first step in nurturing a lead is usually gated content. Up until this point in your inbound marketing strategy, you’ve given everything away for free: Intriguing social media posts, insightful blogs, and search results. Now that you’ve attracted people’s attention, you can ask for something in exchange.

To access your brilliant material, people have to share a few details about their interests, industry, or contact details. Therefore, an effective form is easily one of the most critical inbound marketing tools you have. Your form needs to cover content they not only want but feel they need. The gated content could be e-books, in-depth how-to guides, access to your company’s services, or a coupon code that requires them to accept your newsletter as well.

For inbound marketers, this information is pure gold. So you can continue offering great content – but now it’s gated content.

Here’s what you need to get started with gated content:

Landing Pages and Forms

The landing page is the setting for your gated content. Your readers get there by reading your free content then clicking on a call to action (CTA) button, which takes them to this page.

On your landing page, host a form blocking a piece of gated content. Your users need to fill out the form to access that content.

Forms should capture your prospect’s name, email, phone number, and other relevant information. When a prospect fills out a form on your site, they give you permission to engage more closely.

Calls to Action

CTAs are a crucial part of lead nurturing. Your prospects have already taken their first steps in their buyer journey. They’re interested in your brand.

So be clear and concise about what you’d like them to do. Use phrases like “Register Now” or “Get My Report.”

Many CTAs take the form of a big, obvious button, so they’re easy to identify. Try to restrict yourself to one CTA per landing page so leads don’t stray off track.

Analytics and Reporting

Use analytics and reporting to provide insight into which campaigns and sales tactics are effective for conversion. This data can help the team sell smarter. Knowing what works and what doesn’t gives a big advantage for closing sales.

3. Inbound Marketing: Close

Converting got your foot in the door; it’s time to get you all the way in by turning those converted leads into loyal customers. An inbound marketing strategy recognizes everyone has a unique buyer’s journey.

What does that mean for you?

It means you can’t let things slide after the conversion stage. You need to stay in touch with your prospect and keep learning about them, all through the process of converting them to a sale.

Here are some ways to do that:

Use Customer Relationship Management (CRM)

It’s crucial to keep track of all your prospect’s information. Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms manage customer and client data, including interactions with the marketing and sales team. This information can help you understand your customers better and use that information to tailor your communication to each individual or group.

To make this easier on you, use a marketing automation platform with a built-in CRM service or solid integrations for other CRM systems.

Run an Email Drip Campaign

Once you’ve collected those contact details and permission to email, it’s time to follow up. Tailor your email content around each prospect’s needs using the information they gave you and the data you collected about their steps leading to filling out your inbound marketing form.

Automated email marketing is typically included within a marketing automation platform and helps streamline the email drip campaign.

Post-demo Drip Campaign

Sometimes buyers don’t purchase after seeing a demo or ending a free trial. So it’s prudent to stay relevant and send them post-demo emails to keep your brand top of mind. Try to find out why they didn't purchase and see how you can sway them without coming across as pushy.

4. Inbound Marketing: Delight

So you’ve made a sale, and the inbound marketing cycle is over. Right?


Once a prospect becomes a customer, they are a potential repeat customer and ambassador for your brand.

Once a client’s business is won, a good marketer won’t stop all the strategies of the inbound cycle. If you continue to communicate with your clients and offer them valuable assistance, they’re more likely to tell people how great you are.

The Role of Marketing Automation in Inbound Marketing

To carry out a successful inbound marketing strategy, you need the right tools. And the most essential tool is marketing automation.

Marketing automation was designed specifically to help marketers carry out the process of inbound marketing. It’s a software-as-a-service platform that helps marketers learn more about potential leads, convert those leads to sales, and optimize marketing spend.

The best marketing automation platform includes tools for all the tactics we mentioned above, such as:

  • Email Automation
  • Built-In or Integrated CRM
  • Buyer Persona Feature
  • Blog Builder
  • Lead Scoring
  • Landing Page Builder
  • Dynamic Form Builder
  • Website Visitor Identification
  • Behavior Tracking

These features all exist to execute the inbound marketing cycle, and they are all included within a good marketing automation platform.

The takeaway is clear: A marketing automation platform is a necessity for every inbound marketer. It won’t just save time by helping you schedule emails or file information; it can help you transform your marketing strategy and make sales like never before.

Inbound Marketing Benefits

There is a ton of benefits to inbound marketing. For instance, it costs an average of 61% less than outbound, and 41% of worldwide marketers say their inbound marketing shows noticeable ROI. In addition, those marketers and companies with blogs show even higher ROIs for their inbound efforts.

Additionally, when done well, inbound marketing is ten times more effective for conversion than outbound.

These numbers indicate a growing trend in consumer behavior. The traditional outbound tactics simply don’t generate the revenue they once did. Instead, consumers are more attracted to brands that offer relevant, interesting content.

Consider this: 61% of consumers prefer companies providing customized content, which isn’t possible with outbound marketing. The hard sell doesn’t work anymore.

But if a brand can build a meaningful relationship through relevant content, consumers may be more interested in what they have to say and sell.

Inbound Marketing: A Worthwhile Strategy

Inbound marketing is content marketing with a focus on enticing users, not being in their faces. Personalizing marketing is the only way it works.

Perfecting inbound marketing takes time and effort, but the return on investment is usually worthwhile for everyone, from small businesses to marketing agencies.

However, whether you’re learning about inbound marketing for the first time or you have a small team that may not have the bandwidth to implement it, you may want some additional help from an inbound marketing platform.

That’s where SharpSpring comes in. We offer so much more than inbound marketing—we’re a full-fledged revenue growth platform ready to help your business succeed.

Inbound Marketing FAQs

Many marketers still rely solely on outbound marketing. But, trends show inbound marketing is becoming both more popular and more successful than its historical counterpart. If you’re starting the transition to inbound marketing methods, you may have some questions.

Here are some of the most asked questions about inbound marketing.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a strategy wherein marketers allow customers to find them naturally via social media, SEO, and word of mouth.

What’s the difference between inbound & outbound marketing?

Inbound marketing has the customers come to you, while outbound marketing is about “disrupting” a potential lead’s day without express permission. Outbound marketing could include unsolicited phone calls or emails, billboards, television commercials, and other traditional advertising methods.

What is an example of inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing strategies include anything that makes the customer come to you. Creating blogs, videos, and infographics are among the most important examples of inbound marketing.

How do companies use inbound marketing?

Companies use inbound marketing to gain new leads, increase brand authority, and build relationships with patrons while often saving money on customer acquisition and retention.

Is inbound marketing effective?

Inbound marketing is often very effective. The key is to ensure that someone who understands the attract, convert, close, and delight process runs the campaigns.

What are the benefits of inbound marketing?

Companies using inbound marketing strategies report an improved ROI and higher customer retention and satisfaction.

Schedule a personalized, live demo of SharpSpring today.