If you’ve been in business for longer than a couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard the term “inbound marketing.” You’ve probably also heard that it’s a good (and relatively inexpensive) way to get your brand in front of an audience.
But what IS inbound marketing— and is it truly the right fit for your business? Let’s take a step back and look at the meaning of inbound marketing and how it can benefit you and your brand.
What in the World is Inbound Marketing?
Let’s start from the beginning. While traditional “outbound” marketing has been around for decades in various forms, “inbound” marketing has only been on the scene since 2005, when HubSpot founder and CEO Brian Halligan first coined the phrase. That said, inbound really started to pick up steam in 2012. Today, it’s an increasingly common marketing methodology used by businesses large and small to increase growth.
Inbound methodology consists of four phases: Attract, Convert, Close, and Delight. If you successfully guide a customer through each phase, you’ll turn random website visitors into an engaged audience, if not your strongest promoters. How? Through tailored content created for your carefully-crafted buyer personas. How do you solidify those promoters? Follow with an opportunity for conversion (or lead generation), which can look like subscribing to your email list, requesting more service/product information, or setting up a meeting with your sales team.
When it’s done well, inbound marketing doesn’t really feel like marketing. It’s more like a conversation between you and your audience. You offer up valuable content and seek a variety of ways to build trust with your audience, through channels such as social media, email, and comments on blog posts— your potential customers participate as they wish, gradually becoming invested, qualified leads.
Inbound vs Outbound
A bond is built through inbound marketing is based on trust. Outbound marketing, also known as interruption marketing, does just that— interrupts prospective customers without their permission. It has its place, but it’s becoming less and less effective. In contrast, inbound marketing simply offers up the information their prospective customers seek, making it available through the channels that are most appealing to their ideal audience.
Consider this: you’re experiencing issues with your plumbing, so you Google “how to unclog a drain.” You click on a random link on the search engine results page (SERP), and you’re immediately confronted with a huge pop-up ad. You can’t get it to go away by clicking the X at the corner of the screen, so you eventually close the window altogether. Are you interested in doing business with the company whose ad rudely interrupted your search? Probably not.
What if you were presented with a thoughtful, informative blog post offering you step-by-step instructions, with a subtle plug for a local plumber at the end of the post? If you happened to experience a leak in your shower later that month, you’d probably revisit that page and contact the plumber who had helped you in the past, right?
That’s inbound marketing in a nutshell: businesses earn clients attention in an entirely organic fashion, without rudely interrupting their flow of activity. This form of marketing doesn’t just work for service-based industries; anyone can incorporate inbound strategies into their marketing plan and find success.
What are the Benefits of Inbound Marketing?
Presumably, you’re already doing some form of marketing— and we assume you’re experiencing some growth. As you read about inbound marketing, you might be reminded of the old saying,“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Sure, your marketing efforts might be working, but how much are you spending each month to make that happen? How many of the leads that you’re sending to your sales team are actually ready to buy? Are you finding that the number of first-time visitors to your site significantly outnumber the amount of repeat visitors? Are people staying long enough to actually make a purchase?
Here are just a few of the advantages of inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing costs less than traditional marketing.
Whether you’re using TV or radio ads or you’re printing postcards to be mailed to prospects around your town, you’re probably dropping serious money. If you’re accustomed to setting aside a large part of your budget to pay for outbound marketing tactics, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that inbound marketing will save you a significant amount of money and let you take advantage of the best digital marketing tools.
When you make the switch to inbound marketing, you can utilize the creativity of your marketing team to create interesting, relevant content that’s full of information your audience wants. How do you get that information? From your sales team. Who better to inform you of your audience’s needs than the folks who talk to them every day?
In addition to blog posts and long-form ebooks, your marketing team can craft emails to stay in touch with former customers (email marketing), create podcasts that will build your reputation as the expert in your field, and design landing pages that direct customers to the data they seek. Best of all, you can do all of this for a fraction of the cost of a traditional marketing budget.
Your audience might prefer inbound marketing.
If you’re trying to attract visitors to your site by inundating your audience with ads, you’re probably driving away a very vital segment of your audience. 84% of 25- to 35-year-olds are more likely to abandon a website that has an excessive number of ads— even if it’s a website they had previously classified as a favorite site. If you’re hoping to connect with a youthful audience, traditional outbound advertising isn’t going to cut it.
Perhaps you’ve been sending direct mail to prospective customers for years. You’ve got between 15-20 seconds to capture their attention before they send it sailing into the trash can (and that’s if they even bother to look at it!) With traditional marketing, you’re not making yourself available to your ideal audience; you’re forcing your audience to stop what they’re doing to pay attention to you, which doesn’t necessarily start your relationship out on the right foot.
Even Google prefers inbound marketing. (As do other search engines.)
One of the strongest tools in any inbound marketer’s toolbox is search engine optimization, or SEO. Essentially, SEO increases the quantity of your website traffic— as well as the quality— with organic search engine results. Strategic SEO boosts your website higher on the SERP (search engine results page), ensuring that customers are more likely to click on your link. How do you improve your site’s SEO? According to 72% of marketers, content creation is the most effective SEO booster. Content also happens to be the cornerstone of any effective inbound marketing strategy.
Basically, Google has updated the algorithm that determines how websites are ranked on search pages. Now, Google gives preference to long-form content that provides value to readers. Thin, ad-centered content won’t fare well on a SERP; in fact, it’s highly unlikely that it will crack the first few pages.
Another tactic in the inbound toolbox is PPC, or pay-per-click. PPC means that you pay a small, predetermined fee each time an interested user clicks on your ad. One of the primary advantages of PPC is its placement— at the very top of the SERP. Google’s AdWords is simple to set up and gets results with a limited budget. While you’re paying for the privilege of this prime spot, you’re still reaching your audience through organic search, which places PPC firmly in the realm of inbound.
Inbound marketing works with what you’ve already got.
If you’re like most businesses, you already have a social media presence. You might not be active, but you know that you should probably have a Facebook account at the very least. How can you make your social media work for you? Inbound marketing and social media are the equivalent of peanut butter and jelly— a pairing for the ages.
Say you start to produce high-quality blog posts. How do you get the word out that interested parties can find the information they seek on your blog? Social media. Tweet the link, put it in a Facebook post, or share the post on your business’s LinkedIn page.
Your followers will get instant notification when you put out fresh, quality content, and better yet, you can engage with them to discuss the post in real time.
How do you determine which platforms will most effectively reach your audience? Your buyer personas will be your guide. If you’re trying to reach a youthful audience, you might consider branching out into Instagram or even Snapchat. Looking to talk to middle-aged people? Facebook still reigns supreme. Twitter is the platform of choice for Millennials. Your social media marketing strategy should be based on your audience— it’s vital to meet them where they are if you want to capture their attention.
The Bottom Line: Inbound Marketing is Effective.
Better yet, it’s effective for less money. Creating an inbound marketing strategy enables you to take advantage of prospective customers who are already interested in what you’ve got to sell, regardless of what it might be.
If you’re ready to take steps to incorporate inbound tactics into your marketing strategy, we’d love to help. At Lone Fir Creative, we’re fully committed to helping you see more growth than ever through tried-and-true inbound marketing practices. If you’re ready to chat, you can grab time on my calendar here.
Have questions about how to implement inbound marketing into your business or improve your current inbound marketing campaigns? Schedule a no commitment strategy call with one of our strategists, we're happy to help!