Inbound marketing is a lot like fishing.
It’s all about enticing your audience with useful content. You strategically offer just the right content to convince the audience to choose you on their own free will. Once they do, you have their attention — and, as you continuously offer what they need, you earn their trust.
Hook, line, and sinker.
Inbound marketing definition
Inbound marketing is a strategy that draws customers to products and services through search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, social media marketing, and branding. Its goal is to increase brand awareness, brand preference, meaningful leads, and conversions of prospects to buyers.
Inbound marketing is a hot topic right now for a reason. While relatively new, it is proven to work. Whether you’ve been using it for a long time or you’re curious about implementing it, this article offers everything you need to know about the strategy.
The phrase “inbound marketing” was coined in 2005 by the co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan. It took almost a decade after that first utterance for inbound marketing as a concept to really take off. Now, it is as widespread in the online marketer’s vernacular as SEO.
Inbound marketing is all about increasing brand awareness by creating relationships with consumers. Whether it be through social media, SEO, or content marketing, you’re drawing attention to the brand by providing something helpful to your audience. You’re not being showy in an attempt to be memorable; you’re offering something tangible to interest them in returning to you. You’re letting the customer know you’re there to help by providing the answers they are looking for, and you’re giving him or her the power of choice.
Let’s dive into what this looks like in action.
The goal of inbound marketing is to provide consumers what they need before they know they need it. It’s being an expert that continuously doles out useful advice and starts meaningful conversations, whether that be with downloadable assets to use in the boardroom or interacting with the customer on social media. It’s about attracting your target market by providing content that’s relevant to them and then continuing a relationship by sending personalized content.
In short, inbound marketing is all about becoming the brand your customers trust, so when they are ready to make a purchasing decision, your name is the first that comes to mind. Being a valuable resource for your audience will turn strangers into brand ambassadors, sales qualified leads into conversions, and new customers into loyal, returning customers.
How do you know what your audience is looking for? You don’t need a crystal ball — but you do need data. Marketing automation software enables marketers to capture data, then use that information to provide relevant and personalized content.
Tip: Marketers using HubSpot (the founder of inbound marketing) are syncing their account with G2 to attract, convert, and retain customers throughout the inbound marketing process.
In practice, inbound marketing is a strategic combination of owned and earned media. Owned media is the media channels the business controls. Earned media, on the other hand, cannot be controlled by the business — which makes it harder to obtain, but even more valuable and credible in the eyes of your audience.
How do these two things work together for your inbound marketing strategy? It’s simple: Inbound marketing uses owned media to garner earned media.
For example, as part of the inbound marketing strategy, you’ll need content. You can choose to create this on any of your owned channels. If you write an informative article such as this one on your blog, you could gain earned media by someone linking to it as a reference on their digital news site, or another reader posting about it using a social media campaign hashtag. Another example is online reviews of your product or service — you can create content based on reviews on your website.
Again, you’re offering people valuable information and hoping they take action on their own accord.
The opposite of inbound marketing is aptly named outbound marketing. Understanding both will only help your overall marketing strategy become more well-rounded.
To best explain the differences let’s return to our fishing analogy.
Inbound marketing is all about asking the consumer to choose you over your competitors. It’s being there for them when they want you. In fishing, inbound marketing efforts are the bait flies you attach to the end of the line. You leave it floating in the sea of other brands, knowing that your content is the most useful and most worthwhile, and you wait for your audience to take a bite.
In your bait box, you have:
Then there’s outbound marketing. Outbound is typically paid media, which includes traditional advertising (like television commercials, radio and print ads), pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, cold calling, or paid emails. Imagine a flashy billboard boldly telling you what you need, or an email (that you didn’t sign up for) showcasing a business’ offerings without bothering to be subtle about it. The company has the power here, instead of the customer.
In the world of fishing, it would be like casting a wide net and hoping you yank something in.
Image courtesy of giphy.com
With this strategy, you run the risk of not reaching your target audience or contacting them at the wrong point of their sales journey , but for a few seconds, you have their attention, whether they want to give it or not.
A successful strategy incorporates both inbound and outbound marketing, but in a strategic, thoughtful way. The directness of outbound marketing will bring in results quicker than inbound marketing, but the quality may not be as high.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, takes time to reap returns. So while waiting for the inbound efforts to start bringing in results, companies could employ outbound marketing techniques.
Still not sold on the inbound strategy? Let’s go over the benefits your brand can enjoy by centering your marketing efforts around inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing puts your brand forward as a helpful thought leader, a trusted source of guidance and information. The content you’ve produced is available 24/7, which makes it an easy version of customer support.
As you create excellent content that boosts your SEO, you increase brand awareness across a wider audience. Someone who enjoys your content might share it on their social media accounts, which has several thousand followers, which then puts you in front of even more eyes, and who knows, maybe one of them is looking to buy the product you sell!
To summarize, you’re not only increasing brand awareness, but you’re also building brand preference.
Most of the eyes you catch will not be at the buying stage for your product, but that’s okay. By guiding people to your website, you can collect information to engage them. Then, through continuous engagement, you build that trust as a resource and can provide an offer to sell when the time is right for that individual.
Inbound marketing is about playing the long game, but building this trust with your audience will lead to meaningful engagement, qualified leads, and conversions.
It’s easy to put inbound marketing up on a pedestal because when it works, it works. But there are some things to consider before you dive headfirst into these efforts.
Inbound marketing can be difficult to measure
Certain forms of marketing are stereotypically difficult to measure. Inbound is one of those. If your C-suite loves asking “show me the ROI” aka prove to me your worth, inbound might be a tough sell in the boardroom at first. As I mentioned above, it is a long game.
Inbound marketing takes time to implement
It will require investment — investment in a content marketing team full of content writers, investment in building SEO and relationships. And then it requires hard work and time. Building up that depository of useful content takes time. Doing A/B testing to discover what types of content appeal most to your audience takes time. Having Google acknowledge you as a credible source takes time.
If you don’t have the time to wait, inbound might not be for you. And even if you do have the time, it’s easy to get discouraged, to wonder if the strategy is right, if the content is quality, and if the large team you hired was the correct use of resources.
But the results are worth it…
Don’t let the challenges of inbound marketing stop you from trying. All the hard work will pay off on the morning when you sit down with your morning coffee and open Google analytics and see the results.
Organic traffic. People coming to your site and your content on their own free will.
Once you are over this first steep hill of attracting organic traffic, things get easier. You have access to more data that can help you inform and refine your strategy. You can start tracking what those visitors are doing. How many are downloading the thoughtful assets you created for them? How long do they read your content or watch your videos? Does your social media following increase?
You can even go deeper than that and measure how many people are moving through the funnel. How many are engaging with your emails? How many of those people become leads? How many move from leads to customers? How many renew contracts?
These are the numbers you can submit to the C-suite to prove it’s working and it’s data the marketing team can supply to the sales team. Armed with these insights on who is interested in what content, sales can have more meaningful conversations with potential prospects.
Is it difficult to prove the ROI of inbound marketing? At first, yes. But if you persevere, you’ll have a very happy sales team and C-suite.
Ready to cast a line?
It’s a waiting game, but you know what they say: good things come to those who wait.
Want to know more about ways to identify and understand your audience? Check out how to create illuminating customer profiles.