What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing. The term is everywhere, used by digital marketers around the globe. But what does it mean? How does it work? And why is inbound marketing so valuable?

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

Inbound marketing definition: a strategy that marketers employ to attract leads and capture new business by using content like blogs, white papers, email, social media and SEO.

Rather than pursuing customers with traditional “outbound” marketing tactics, inbound marketing entices customers to approach the brand themselves.

In order to generate new business, a company must:

  • Create brand awareness
  • Drive conversions
  • Close sales
  • Retain existing customers

Traditionally, marketers have sought consumer attention by “disrupting.” The idea is that once a brand has forcefully placed itself in front of a potential customer, she’ll immediately be interested in buying. This strategy is what’s commonly known as outbound marketing. Some examples of outbound marketing include TV advertisements, billboards, telemarketing, radio ads and direct mail.

But is this disruptive form of marketing really the most effective way of creating loyal customers? According to HubSpot’s State of Inbound Report, twice as many marketers (45%) cited inbound marketing as their primary source of lead generation versus outbound (22%). And that’s not all; HubSpot also reported that 46% of marketers said inbound marketing gave a higher ROI, while only 12% reported outbound did.

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: 90% of consumers find custom content useful and 78% believe that organizations providing custom content are interested in building good relationships with them. Conversely, 84% of 25-to-34-year-olds have left a favorite website because of intrusive or irrelevant advertising.

This demonstrates that modern consumers are more likely to respond positively to the inbound approach. If a brand can build a relationship through relevant content, the consumer will most likely be willing to become a customer.

A (Short) History of Inbound Marketing

The term “inbound marketing” was famously coined in 2006 by HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan. But the inbound marketing concept has been around before this celebrated moment, most notably through Seth Godin. Godin wrote about permission marketing in his 1999 book titled, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers Into Friends And Friends Into Customers.

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.” This is the complete opposite of  the “interrupting” style of outbound marketing.

Instead, Godin respects the consumer’s choice and time. Until someone gives permission to market, a company should focus on building trust and rapport through valuable content. A buyer should initiate their journey, not the marketer or salesperson.

When Godin wrote about permission marketing in 1999, he was coasting right at the peak of the dot-com bubble. Of course, the bubble burst in 2002, but the age of the internet had officially dawned. And the internet has irrevocably altered traditional marketing methods.

By the time HubSpot arrived on the scene in 2006, the roots inbound marketing had already taken hold. Below is a timeline of the shift in marketing strategy in recent years.

We are in the new era of personalized relationship marketing. And with tools like social media, SEO and marketing automation, marketers are poised to execute this inbound relationship like never before.

The Method Of Inbound Marketing

There are four steps to the inbound customer’s journey.

Inbound Marketing Diagram

  1. Attraction

    How can you jump-start the inbound cycle if you avoid disruptive outbound methods? The answer is to entice or attract visitors to your site. If consumers are interested, they will come to you. Here’s how:
    • Blogs and Inbound Marketing: Blogging is a highly useful tool when it comes to attracting clients, because it offers up insightful and educational value to its readers. If people engage with your blog content often enough, they’re likely to visit your site. In fact, companies that blog get 55% more website visitors.
    • White Papers, Webinars, eBooks and Inbound Marketing: Providing plenty of high quality content will attract leads, simply because it offers value. This high quality content can take many forms, including free eBooks, webinars, white papers, case studies and more. These can be shared freely or gated with a form fill out.
    • SEO and Inbound Marketing: SEO or “Search Engine Optimization” is a major key to attracting new visitors, and it’s one of the classic methods used by inbound marketers to attract business. 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’ll likely receive. To improve your standing in the SEO ranking, you must strategize their keyword selection, content creation and link building. Check out this Beginner’s Guide to SEO for some helpful tips.
    • Social Media and Inbound Marketing: Social Media is all grown up, maturing quickly in the last ten years. Today, businesses rely on it as a voice for their brand. It also serves as an attractive force for new leads to engage with the company.
  2. Nurturing

    Once you have attracted your prospects, you’ll want to start nurturing them and lead them toward conversion. Here are ways to encourage your prospects down the funnel:
    • Gated Content and Inbound Marketing: Most of your content you’ll want to give away freely, since it’s part of the attraction phase. However when it comes to content that will interest your leads who are further down the pipeline, it’s prudent to ask for their contact information before they access the content as a form of payment. With this information, you’ll be able to more effectively nurture your leads. Here is what you’ll need for gated content:
      1. Landing Pages and Inbound Marketing: The landing page is the setting for your gated content. Here you’ll host a form, a CTA (call-to-action) and a piece of gated content. The landing page is part of the effort to “invite” your prospect into willingly offering their information. That’s why the landing page design, copy and CTA must work together to entice the visitor to give their contact information.
      2. Forms and Inbound Marketing: Forms are the perfect way for your prospects to say “yes” to nurturing. Forms should capture your prospect’s name, email, phone and whatever other information that’s relevant. When a prospect fills out a form on your site, it’s a victory, because she’s giving you permission to engage more closely.
      3. CTA in and Inbound Marketing: CTAs (Calls-to-Action) 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. Oftentimes, it’s wise to place a CTA on a button, so it’s easy to identify. Be clear and concise with words like, “Register Now” or “Get My Report.”
    • Email Drip Campaign and Inbound Marketing: Receiving contact information is the holy grail of lead nurturing. With this, you’re granted permission to send your prospects marketing messages designed to nurture them and encourage meaningful conversation. Tailor your email content around each prospect’s needs. Automated email marketing is typically included within a marketing automation platform and helps streamline the email drip campaign process. Remember, email marketing has a higher conversion rate than social media and SEO combined.
    • Buyer Personas and Inbound Marketing: Everyone is different, and not all your prospects will have the same interests, goals and behaviors. 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 prospects. For example, Cindy CEO might respond to different messaging than Sammy Sales or Mike Marketing Manager.
    • Dynamic Content and Inbound Marketing: Since not every persona is the same, they won’t always respond to the same content. With dynamic content, you can set different copy, images and design to appear according to what resonates better with your prospect. Dynamic or “smart” content, can usually be found in emails, web pages or digital ads. Marketing automation platforms typically include this too.
  3. Conversion

    After enough nurturing, your prospects will be ready to convert to customers. (woohoo!) Here’s what you’ll need to capture that business:
    • CRM and Inbound Marketing: To close that sale, it’s crucial to keep track of all your prospect’s information. CRM is used to manage customer and client data, including interactions with the marketing and sales team. (Pro Tip: It’s very helpful to integrate your CRM with your marketing automation platform. Some marketing automation platforms have a CRM built-in.)
    • Analytics and Reporting and Inbound Marketing: Knowledge is power. Use analytics and reporting to provide insight into which campaigns and sales tactics are effective for conversion. This data will help the team sell smarter. Knowing what works and what doesn’t gives a big advantage for closing sales.
    • Post-demo Drip Campaign and Inbound Marketing: Sometimes buyers don’t immediately convert after seeing a demo of a product 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.
  4. Evangelism

    Once a prospect becomes a customer, you want them to advocate, or evangelize on behalf of your brand. Companies should not lose interest once the sale has been made. Recurring clients bring in lots of revenue. In fact, 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers. Recurring clients are a major asset.

    But what’s interesting about the inbound marketing cycle is that it indeed comes full circle. If your customers begin marketing on your behalf, you have that much more of a brand voice. If your clients are truly delighted, they’ll advocate for you through social media, blogs, word-of-mouth and other means.

    So, what tactics and tools can marketers use to encourage brand evangelism?
    • All of the Above. Once a client’s business is won, a good marketer won’t stop all the strategies of the inbound cycle. Continue to share content. Continue to track your client’s interactions with CRM. Continue to gather helpful data from your reports. If you continue engaging meaningfully with your clients, they’re more likely to try and bring you more business through their evangelism.

The Role of Marketing Automation in Inbound Marketing

It’s obvious by now: To carry out a successful inbound marketing strategy, you’ll need the right tools. And the most essential tool is marketing automation.

HubSpot popularized inbound marketing with the help of a marketing automation platform. Marketing automation is designed to help marketers carry out the process of inbound marketing. But how exactly does marketing automation accomplish this?

Marketing automation is a software-as-a-service platform designed to help marketers drive more qualified leads, convert those leads to sales and optimize marketing spend. That feature set consists of many things that help the inbound effort, like:

  • Blog Building
  • Website Visitor Identification
  • Email Marketing
  • Built-in CRM (or ability to integrate a CRM)
  • Buyer Persona Feature
  • Behavioral Tracking
  • Landing Page Builder
  • Dynamic Content Capability
  • Campaign Reporting/Analytics

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

To illustrate the positive impact marketing automation has had on the market, here are some interesting statistics:

  • 80% of marketing automation users saw their number of leads increase, and 77% saw the number of conversions increase. – VB Insight
  • 78% of successful marketers say marketing automation systems are most responsible for improving revenue contribution. – The Lenskold Group
  • Best-in-Class companies are 67% more likely to use a marketing automation platform. – Aberdeen Group

The takeaway is clear: a marketing automation platform is an absolute necessity for every inbound marketer.

Discover how you can conquer inbound marketing with marketing automation.

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