What is Inbound Marketing?

  Inbound Marketing
Ashlee Rolkowski
Ashlee Rolkowski

02.18.2021 | 8 min read

The evolution online marketing has made the quest to attract eyeballs (let alone, the right eyeballs) much more difficult than it used to be. With so much noise in too many channels, people are actively trying to reduce the amount of advertising messages in their life. While traditional marketing still has its place, inbound marketing has changed the way potential customers view and interact with brands.

People are looking for answers to their questions, for ways to make their lives better, and for inspiration. Rather than spraying interruptive, self-serving marketing messages, marketing experts are repositioning their content so it meets the specific needs and desires of their target market. This type of marketing is called inbound marketing. Inbound marketing attracts prospects, engages them, and delights them. This experience prompts your prospects not only to buy, but also to spread the word to their family, friends, and colleagues.

The inbound way of marketing is organic, self-sustaining, and snowballs over time. It's digital marketing on steroids, and unlike outbound marketing, it doesn’t require interrupting your the lives of your potential customers. By designing content that addresses the needs and desires of prospects, brands can build trust and make prospects more responsive to their business.

Inbound Marketing Strategy Aligns Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service Teams

The inbound methodology aligns marketing and sales teams, so they can work together toward a common goal. The marketing team focuses on attracting high-quality prospects at the point of interest (lead generation), while the sales team converts those qualified leads through engagement, and the customer service team delights buyers as they fulfill the purchase. The end result is new customers who are happy and who want to share their experience with others.

The Inbound Methodology

HubSpot, a sales and marketing software platform, popularized the inbound methodology. The approach organizes your marketing efforts into three stages: Attract, Engage, and Delight.

Attract - This is the stage where prospects encounter your content and interact with your company for the first time. The focus at this stage is providing value to the prospect and building trust.

Engage - At this stage, you engage prospects that are interested in becoming customers. The focus here is on making the purchasing process easy by removing as many obstacles in the buyer's journey as possible.

Delight - In this stage, your focus is on generating happiness for customers by making life simpler and continuing to solve their problems. The focus is on making your customers successful so that your company, in turn, can be successful.  

HubSpot likes to illustrate this as a flywheel instead of a traditional funnel. That's because a good inbound marketing strategy is cyclical. Someone is attracted to your brand, then they engage with it and (hopefully) have a delightful experience. So delightful that they start helping attract more customers who also engage with your brand who also become delighted and, well, you get it. 

Attract

Before your prospects consider buying from you, they need to know 1) that you exist (brand awareness) and 2) that you’re the best company to deliver the thing they need. The best way to do that is not to tell them, but to show them, through relevant content that they find valuable. Brands will often lean on blogging to fill this part of the flywheel, but there are several other content marketing methods that work well in the attract stage. 

Know Your Target Audience - Buyer personas used to be the buzz term when it came to defining your target audience. But we've since taken a simplified (and we think more effective approach). We define your target audience using the StoryBrand framework to nail down what your prospect wants, their problem and how the solution you offer is valuable. No matter the method you use, knowing and defining your audience is a crucial first step in developing an inbound marketing plan.

Focused Messaging - You need to be very clear on exactly what your company provides, how you provide it, and who you provide it for. We believe that the most effective way to do that is through a simple messaging framework — which will make your message memorable and engaging to your target audience. If your message is unclear, you’ll lose prospects. Without focused messaging, your prospects will click the back button and search for a more clear answer somewhere else on the web.

Content Strategy and Blogging - Pillar pages, blog posts, eBooks, white papers, and videos are all integral parts of a solid content strategy. It's also really important that your content strategy include SEO optimization so new prospects can find you in their search for clever, informative articles to solve all their problems. This content should capture interest of people who are just beginning to look for a solution to a problem or research something they want. They aren’t ready to buy, but by capturing their interest at this stage, you can nurture them through the research process until they’re ready to buy from you — because you’ve earned their trust through the process.

On-Page SEO - Search engine optimization (SEO) will help ensure your content gets found online. It provides a solid foundation for link-building (off-page SEO) that will happen later. 

Social Publishing - Posting on social media channels will help spread your content to the people you want to see it. By sharing information, articles, graphics, audio clips, and videos that your target audience will like, you’ll prompt people to share your content with their contacts, extending your reach.

Paid Advertising - Search engine marketing (SEM), pay-per-click (PPC), social media advertising, and retargeting all help get momentum going when you don’t have an existing audience that’s following your social channels. Paid advertising can help you generate a following and can also help fill in the engagement gap when you first start an SEO campaign while you’re waiting for your rankings to rise.

Campaign Strategy, Creation, and Management - Effective marketing depends on a well-planned strategy, good execution, and ongoing management. This is where the real work happens. With the right strategy, quality execution, and smart optimization, your inbound marketing program will get results.

Website Design - Web design matters. You need a hub where all your great content will live. You also need a place to share stories of how you’ve helped your customers and the background of your company. A well-designed, well-organized website that’s easy to use will accomplish this for you.

Sales Prospecting Framework - Prospecting is another way to share your content with your target market. Old-school prospecting was about cold outreach and multiple attempts to “follow up” (resulting in annoyed prospects.) This approach has been replaced with outreach to targeted prospects where your sales team shares truly valuable content. This type of prospecting is not only more effective; it’s also more enjoyable for your sales team to do.

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Engage

Now that you have your audience’s attention and you’ve helped them along the research process, it’s time to start thinking about nurturing and converting qualified prospects. Here are the services we offer to help you in this stage.

Content Strategy for the Middle and Bottom of the Funnel - In this stage, your focus should be to help prospects answer the questions they have at this stage in the buying journey. Good content can help prospects finish their research and make a smart decision (whether or not that decision is to buy from you). Remember, quality content generates quality leads. 

The same content types that served served you well in the Attract phase will do well in this phase as well. The trick is that the subject matter should be focused on potential customers who are closer to a buy decision. In addition, case studies can really help beef up the content in this stage and build more credibility for your brand.

Landing Pages - Some of the content you create should be gated so that you can capture prospects’ email addresses for the purpose of nurturing. People are reluctant to give up their email addresses, so you’ll need to make gated information ultra valuable. Consider making a good portion of your content ungated, which will generate enough goodwill so that prospects won’t be as hesitant to share their contact details later. Good landing pages will help motivate prospects to fill out your forms and click the submit button.

Conversion Building - Getting prospects to take action requires knowledge of conversion optimization and human psychology. People’s natural state is inertia, so you need a strategy for moving prospects to take the next step.

Conversion Rate Optimization - If you’re generating some conversions but not enough, you may need need to optimize your conversion paths. This includes everything from changing messaging to moving buttons on your landing pages. There are literally hundreds of points that can be optimized to deliver higher conversion rates.

Email Marketing and Lead Nurturing - After you’ve captured a prospect’s email address, you’ll want to nurture them until they’re ready to buy. Email marketing is an ideal way to continue delivering valuable information that prospects will appreciate. You can also send customers emails to promote products and services you know they would be interested in.

Sales Templates - Your sales team shouldn’t be reinventing the wheel every time they craft an email. Templates not only save time, they also allow you to easily test and optimize the messages you're sending throughout the sales cycle.

Email Sequences - Email sequences automate the follow-up process, making your sales team more efficient. Utilizing marketing automation with thoughtful email sequences can take your engagement to the next level.

CRM Implementation - Without a CRM, your sales team is flying blind. A CRM will capture information about your prospects and track all the nurturing activities that each has experienced. At a glance, you can see which prospects are ready to move to the next stage in the buying process.

Lead Scoring - How do you know when a prospect is ready to be sent a case study or next-stage type of content? Lead scoring. Each prospect receives a score, and your nurturing campaigns can be customized to reach differently-scored prospects in relevant ways.

Sales Skills Training - Your marketing team can be top-notch, but if your sales team isn’t sure how to nurture leads, you could experience a breakdown in the conversion process. Brush up on the basics or dig deep into problem areas.

Sales Pipeline Analytics - Find out where your sales pipeline is breaking down so that you know what to fix.

Sales Reporting - You can’t improve what you don’t measure. Know exactly how you’re doing at each stage in the sales process.

Delight

Delight is about making customers so happy that they tell their family, friends, and colleagues how much they love your company. Here’s how you can create real fans. 

Feedback Surveys - You won’t really know how you’re doing until you ask your customers. Find out how you can improve and generate new ideas from engaged customers.

Onboarding Email Workflows - Help customers get started, thank them for their purchases, and let them know what they can expect next with automated email workflows.

Content - Never stop delivering valuable content! Content in the delight stage takes the form of product tips, helpful information, and knowledge base answers.

Referral Programs - Are you making it easy for customers to send you referrals and share the love? Craft creative referral programs that will prompt customers to spread the word.

Upsell and Cross-Sell Programs - It’s easier and cheaper to sell to a customer than it is to a prospect. Upsell and cross-sell with strategic programs that offer related products and services that your customers will appreciate.

Imagine your marketing, sales, and customer service teams all working together to attract, engage, and delight prospects and customers. Envision having a cohesive, effective marketing, sales, and customer service program that’s optimized for success. If you’re looking for a partner who can help you craft an inbound strategy and implement it, reach out for a free, no pressure Q&A session.

Choosing an Inbound Marketing Agency

The inbound methodology has been around long enough now that you don't have to look far before finding an agency to help you with an inbound marketing campaign. Most digital marketing agencies use some, if not all, the methods we've discussed above to attract and convert new leads for your business. The important thing to remember is that inbound marketing is a philosophy more than anything. Good agencies and marketers will use a variety of methods to achieve your marketing goals and they may leverage the inbound marketing services in different ways. 

Instead of jumping right into paid ads, a good inbound strategy asks who your audience is, what they want and how you can solve their problem. Instead of publishing content that sounds interesting to your staff, the inbound methodology asks "what will be most valuable to my customers?" Good inbound marketing strategies answer the question, "how will your brand make my life better?" 

The right inbound marketing agency for your brand is one that buys into your vision and can help you answer those questions for your customers. 

And, as always, if you think we might get along, feel free to schedule a call with our super friendly team. We'd love to help.