What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing. The term is everywhere, used by digital marketers everywhere, every day. But what does it mean? How does it work? And what’s the best way to get started with an inbound marketing strategy?

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

The definition of inbound marketing is a marketing strategy that encourages potential customers to make the first move. Instead of cold-calling or cold-emailing, you start by offering unmissable content that attract leads’ attention. Usually, inbound marketing content involves things like blogs, white papers, email, social media and SEO.

So the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is the focus on the person. Instead of making marketing all about you, it’s about what interests prospective customers. What do they need from you? How can you support them, build a relationship and eventually convert them into advocates for your brand?

In order to generate new business, a company must:

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

In traditional outbound marketing, marketers have sought consumer attention by “disrupting”. The brand forcefully places itself in front of a potential customer and hopes that they’ll be interested in buying. 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. They’re also more critical, holding brands to higher standards of social responsibility, customer service and purpose.

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 prefer the inbound approach. The hard sell doesn’t work anymore. But if a brand can build a meaningful relationship through relevant content, then consumers will be interested in what they have to say… and sell.

A (Short) 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 a book called 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. And it goes back to the fundamental inbound marketing definition: let the customer come to you.

Godin encouraged marketers to respect 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.

Almost two decades later, marketers have learned that the internet is the most powerful tool in existence for sharing content, keeping track of inbound leads and personalizing the messages we send out.

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 inbound to outbound marketing:

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

The Method Of Inbound Marketing

There are four steps to the inbound customer’s journey: attraction, nurturing, conversion and evangelism. In the next few sections, we’ll take a look at what each stage means… and how to build an inbound marketing strategy that will guide your leads through the cycle.

Inbound Marketing Diagram

  1. Inbound Marketing Stage 1: Attraction

    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? How do you jump-start the inbound marketing cycle without using 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. Use your blog to serve up insightful and educational content. 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. Use a blog to show your experience, authority, and expert knowledge about your industry.
    • Search Engine Optimization. Being visible makes a big difference, so SEO is key to attracting new inbound leads. 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. You can also build authority and reputation by writing high-quality content to appear as a Featured Snippet in Google search results. Check out this Beginner’s Guide to SEO for some helpful tips.
    • Social media. Social media has matured quickly in the last ten years. Today, businesses rely on it as a voice for their brand. It’s a multi-purpose tool to build authority, network within your industry, start casual interactions with inbound leads and provide customer support. Research which networks are most valuable for your brand – for example, B2B companies can’t afford to neglect LinkedIn, while Instagram is a must for B2C brands.
  2. Inbound Marketing Stage 2: Nurturing

    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, or “moving them down the funnel.” 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. What can you ask for, exactly? For inbound marketers, information is pure gold. So you can continue offering great content – but now it’s gated content. In order to access your brilliant material, people will have to share a few details about their interests, industry or contact details. Here’s what you’ll need to get started with gated content:
    • Landing Pages. 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. Use the landing page to persuade visitors that they want to share their information with you. You’ll need a killer design, powerful copywriting, and a clear call to action.
    • Dynamic Content. Since not every lead is the same, they won’t always respond to the same content. With dynamic content, you can set up a different copy, images, and design to appear for different people. Dynamic or “smart” content will usually be found in emails, web pages or digital ads. Marketing automation platforms typically include this too.
    • Forms. Forms are the perfect way for your prospects to say “yes” to nurturing. Forms should capture your prospect’s name, email, phone, and any other relevant information. When a prospect fills out a form on your site, it’s a victory, because they’re giving you permission to engage more closely.
    • Buyer Personas. Everyone is different, and not all of 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 prospect. You can even set up forms that ask users to choose which persona fits them or create landing pages that adapt based on who’s viewing them. Try to anticipate your leads’ personas, interests, and buttons to push.
    • 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. Most CTAs take the form of a big, obvious button, so they’re easy to identify. Use phrases like “Register Now” or “Get My Report.” Try to restrict yourself to one CTA per landing page, so leads don’t stray off track.
    • 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. 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.
  3. Inbound Marketing Stage 3: Conversion

    After enough nurturing, your prospects will be ready to convert to customers. But at this point, you need to remember another key difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing treats everybody the same. Everybody sees the same billboard, gets the same cold call, or watches the same TV ad. But an inbound marketing strategy recognizes that everyone has a unique buyer’s journey. What does that mean for you? It means that you can’t just let things slide after the nurturing stage. You’ll need to stay in touch with your prospects… and keep learning about them, all through the process of converting them to a sale.
    • CRM. 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. Use a marketing automation platform with a built-in CRM service, or with solid integrations for other CRM systems. Ideally, your chosen platform will have both.
    • Analytics and Reporting. 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. 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. Inbound Marketing Stage 4: Evangelism

    So you’ve made a sale, and the inbound marketing cycle is over. Right? Wrong! Once a prospect becomes a customer, they are a potential ambassador for your brand. You want them to evangelize on your behalf and come back for more purchases. After all, 65% of a company’s business comes from existing customers, and word-of-mouth marketing is still the most powerful medium ever discovered.

    So, what tactics and tools can marketers use to encourage brand advocacy? Simple: 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. Continue to track your client’s interactions with CRM. Continue to gather helpful data from your reports. 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

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 was designed specifically 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, which helps marketers to learn more about potential leads, convert those leads to sales and optimize marketing spend. The best marketing automation platform will include tools for all the tactics we mentioned above, including but not limited to:

  • 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 good 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. And it won’t just save time by helping you to schedule emails or file information. It will help you transform your marketing strategy from outbound to inbound and make sales like never before.

Discover how you can conquer inbound marketing with marketing automation.

Schedule a personalized, live demo of SharpSpring today.

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