The popularity and effectiveness of inbound marketing have been steadily rising since it began to penetrate marketing practices in the early 2000s. Since then, it has evolved significantly, in large part due to the proliferation of the internet and the introduction of new marketing channels through which to deliver content to customers and prospects.
But what is inbound marketing and how do you excel at it? Below we’ll dig into the nuances of inbound marketing, discuss different inbound marketing tactics, and cover some inbound marketing best practices that will help you master it.
What is inbound marketing?
In the not-too-distant past, marketing was a very different ballgame than it is today. Before the rise of customer relationship management (CRM) software and the internet, marketing consisted mostly of overtly trying to convince prospects to buy your product. It wasn’t that different than traditional advertising.
That all changed as the internet and social media began to provide marketers with new ways to deliver content to prospects and customers. Marketers’ focus shifted from touting their products’ advantages to providing educational information that helped customers and prospects solve common problems.
So, what is inbound marketing? The best way to explain it is to compare it to outbound marketing, which encompasses most traditional marketing tactics.
Inbound vs. outbound marketing
Outbound marketing: Outbound marketing is also known as interruption marketing because it consists of interrupting consumers’ days with messages that aim to grab their attention. Outbound marketing is typically product-focused and marketer-centric. Some common outbound marketing tactics include:
- Interruptive ads
- Cold calls
- Cold emails to purchased leads (spam)
- Direct mail
- Television commercials
Inbound marketing: Inbound marketing differs from outbound because it doesn’t aggressively aim to interrupt consumers with product pitches. Rather, inbound marketers’ goal is to illustrate to consumers that their brand is reliable and considers consumers’ needs—it’s consumer-focused. The goal is to gain prospects’ interest, so they look to you when they need insights from an authority in their space.
Inbound marketers produce helpful, educational content and put it out there for consumers to find. This is a key part of content marketing, which is the bedrock of inbound marketing. Rather than buying lists of leads and going after them cold, inbound marketers focus on generating a positive brand reputation, so that leads come to them. Content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing and produces three times as many leads.
If your brand positions itself as customer-centric and generates content that helps consumers solve problems, those consumers will look back to your brand when they run across another issue and require insight to resolve it.
Over time, this creates brand recognition and consumer trust. It shows consumers that your goal is to help them rather than to pressure them to purchase. Consumers are increasingly more comfortable with this approach, which is why inbound marketing is so effective.
Ultimately, inbound marketing concentrates on the customer experience and how to improve it. By delivering helpful content, inbound marketers maintain a focus on the customer experience, which builds loyalty, increases customer satisfaction, and sends the message that you are here to help customers succeed.
Common inbound marketing tactics
There are many common inbound marketing tactics that you have surely seen. Here are a few of the most effective inbound marketing tactics:
As mentioned above, content marketing is the bedrock of inbound marketing. Common content marketing tactics include blogging, social media content, eBooks, infographics, videos, case studies, podcasts, white papers, and email newsletters.
In the early days of inbound marketing, the goal of content marketing was to provide helpful content that solidified you as a reliable partner to potential customers.
These days, however, everyone has caught on to the inbound marketing trend, and there is an overabundance of content available from many businesses. This is forcing inbound marketers to take their efforts a step further and position themselves as true thought leaders and storytellers. And that is reflected in the inbound marketing efforts we see today.
Learn more about how to excel at content marketing.
Search engine optimization (SEO)
Once you create valuable content, you need to make it easy for potential customers to find and benefit from it. This is where search engine optimization (SEO) comes into the picture.
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website content so that your pages appear higher in search engine results. Most consumers use Google to search for content. With Google’s constantly shifting algorithm determining which pages appear at the top of search results, nailing down SEO tactics is like aiming at a constantly moving target.
But SEO remains a critical piece in every inbound marketer’s playbook. If you create content but don’t have a way to drive traffic to it, it’s useless. Learn more about SEO strategies that you can easily incorporate into your inbound marketing plan.
Social media marketing
Social media has completely changed how marketers approach their work. With so many people using social media daily, it has become one of the primary channels through which to reach potential customers.
Just as SEO provides a way to get your content in front of consumers, social media provides an easy and unintrusive way to reach your target audience. Indeed, companies report that the top benefits of social media marketing are increased brand exposure (87%), more website traffic (78%), and more leads generated (64%).
If you use social media to increase customer engagement—and you should—you are likely posting to your social sites every day. All you need to do is publish posts alerting your followers about the great content that you have created. If your content is outstanding, people will share it, and your following will grow.
Moreover, if you use a CRM solution that provides social CRM capabilities, you will increase your capacity to engage potential customers through social media. Learn best practices for leveraging social CRM.
Inbound marketing best practices
Depending on your business model and customer base’s unique needs, your approach to inbound marketing will vary. But there are some core best practices that will elevate your efforts. Here are a few to focus on:
Develop highly-engaging content
We covered this above, but it’s so important it deserves restating: compelling, engaging content is the cornerstone of a successful inbound marketing strategy. You can’t just create content and put it out there. You need to understand what your customers and prospects need and address those needs with your content (see “Create buyer personas” below).
Ask yourself what differentiates your content from that of your competitors. Are you regenerating the same content as them, only with a different face? Or are you delivering something unique that no competitor is providing? To stand out today, you need content that delivers unique value.
Create buyer personas
Despite what many marketers may think, it’s difficult to make broad generalizations about what your customers want and need without some research. Creating buyer personas—hypothetical profiles of your ideal buyers—helps you zero in on their needs and deliver inbound content that addresses those needs.
When creating buyer personas, it’s advantageous to send a customer survey that allows you to identify common pain points felt across your customer base. With this insight, you can create buyer personas that are accurate and capture the true needs of your customers.
Some of the more common types of questions you can ask in a survey geared toward generating insight into customer needs and producing accurate buyer personas include:
- Which type of content do you prefer to consume?
- What are the biggest challenges you face in your job?
- What are your goals for growth in the next year?
- What is your position and level of seniority in your company?
- Describe your personal demographics, such as age, where you live, your gender, etc.
- What is your highest level of education and what did you study?
- Which industry do you work in and how many employees does your company have?
- What types of technology do you use to streamline your work?
- Which social networks do you use most?
- Which publications or blogs do you regularly read?
Learn how to create detailed buyer personas that allow you to more effectively address customer needs.
Lead scoring is the practice of awarding leads points for actions they take and demographic data they provide. When someone downloads or views your inbound content, you award them points for displaying an interest to buy. You also award them points for attributes that indicate a propensity to purchase, such as being the CEO (i.e., a top decision maker).
While you sit back and let leads find your content and come to you, you can maintain a view into who the most sales-ready leads are through lead scoring. Many nuances inform your lead scoring strategy—more than we can list in this article. To dig in further, learn more about lead scoring and how to incorporate it into your inbound marketing strategy.
Focus on brand loyalty and customer satisfaction
When creating your inbound marketing content and strategy, it’s important to place yourself in the shoes of your customers. Ask yourself what you would need if you were in their shoes. Then create content that addresses those needs. This will help generate brand loyalty among those that consume that content.
Loyal customers will share your content and recommend your brand to their friends and peers. This amounts to free advertising, and it’s one of the most effective types of advertising. Nielsen reports that 83% of consumers today will trust product or service recommendations from their friends and family more than they trust alternative types of product or service promotion.
Generating satisfied customers produces similar results. Satisfied customers are more loyal to your brand and stick around longer. One of the best ways to satisfy customers is to deliver helpful content that solves their problems. Learn more about maintaining world-class customer satisfaction levels.
Develop engaging landing pages that convert leads
When someone clicks a link to download or view your content, they land on a page that either offers the content for free of requests personal information in exchange for your content. The latter is a great lead generation tactic, but it only works if you approach it thoughtfully.
One thing you can do to encourage leads to provide their personal information is to make your landing pages engaging. If someone lands on your page but can’t understand how to move forward or is confused about what you are offering, they will likely navigate away.
You need to develop engaging landing pages that make it clear what you are offering. In this way, you will generate more leads and convert more of them into customers. Learn more about creating an engaging landing page that converts.
Inbound marketing is here to stay, and it’s permanently changing how marketers approach consumers. Consumers have more power in business relationships today than ever before. It’s easy for them to go to social media and share their frustrations with the world. And with so much competition in most markets, it’s easier than ever for them to leave you for a competitor.
If consumers see your brand as one that primarily focuses on getting their money, they will likely look elsewhere for a brand that is customer-centric.
Inbound marketing bridges that gap and allows modern, digital marketers to show consumers that they care more about the customer experience than anything else. Inbound marketing allows you to build a positive reputation in the market and solidifies you as a customer-centric business.
Follow the tips above, and you can set yourself apart from your competitors by illustrating to potential customers that you are focused on helping them be more successful using your product or service. This will help ensure that the future of your business is bright and will facilitate faster company and revenue growth.
Do you have any additional thoughts or comments about inbound marketing? Share them with us in the comments section below!