When was the last time you enjoyed watching commercials? With the exception of maybe the Super Bowl, most people either mute them, skip them, or pay a premium on streaming platforms so that they don’t have to watch them.
And if you can’t do any of the above, then you know perfectly well they then become the ideal break to go grab a snack or scroll through social media on your phone. Seriously. Nobody cares.
So what are businesses to do? After all, you need brand awareness to be successful. And how else are you going to let the world know about your new goods or services? Thankfully, inbound marketing is here to the rescue.
What Is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a way to attract potential customers in an organic, non-disruptive way. Think about whenever you have an issue you want to address. Maybe you want to find an answer to a question, or you need to purchase athletic equipment, or hire a consultant. What’s the first thing you do?
If you’re like most people (and I don’t mean that as an insult), you likely go to Google and search for whatever it is you think you need. You type in, say, “should I outsource my IT department?”
In the results page, you’ll get several blogs and articles listing signs that it’s time to do so, or telling you about the pros and cons.
Some of these links may be from magazines that are simply looking for additional readership. Others may be from industry publications. And many of them will be from managed service providers (MSPs).
Are they trying to sell you something? Well, not blatantly. They’re providing you with valuable content that can help you make a decision.
What you find may also make you aware of issues you didn’t even know about — such as new cybersecurity threats, or how much easier it would be to have a 24/7 help desk.
Whatever it is that you find, it’s not a pushy message pressuring you to buy something. It’s free, it’s valuable, and it’s helpful. And best of all, you sought it out — on your own time, on your own terms. No eye roll worthy disruptions or irrelevant messaging.
Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing
While inbound marketing is what leads and prospects find when doing an online search, outbound marketing is the annoying, disruptive, uninvited stuff you generally try to avoid — the TV and YouTube commercials, the junk mail that goes straight to the recycling bin (unread), the billboards that end up becoming visual eyesores in otherwise beautiful cities and towns.
Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t any benefits to outbound marketing. If that weren’t the case, it wouldn’t exist anymore. So, what are the pros and cons of one vs. the other? Glad you asked.
The Benefits of Inbound Marketing
As with everything else, there are benefits and drawbacks when it comes to any type of marketing. But as you will see, the advantages of inbound marketing outweigh the negatives.
WIth inbound marketing, there’s no need to interrupt someone’s day with in your face ads. Timing is often what makes or breaks a person’s likelihood to pay attention to you.
Inbound marketing content answers pressing questions, and even branches out to provide context. Prospective customers don’t know what they don’t know, and this type of marketing gives you the opportunity to show them what they’re missing.
It Provides Value.
If you take care to provide relevant, useful content with every blog, content offer, video, infographic, etc…, the reader leaves knowing something they didn’t know before — usually something that will simplify their jobs, help them hit their goals, or simply address their pain points.
It Builds Long-Term Relationships.
Inbound marketing helps establish your business as an industry leader. When you consistently provide valuable content, prospects will keep coming back to you (and share what they’ve learned with friends and colleagues).
This allows businesses to build long-term relationships with their target audience. And as this trust develops, the company will be top of mind when they’re ready to make a purchase.
Inbound marketing can be tailored to your buyer’s needs. As you’ll see below, just because someone is part of your target audience, it doesn’t mean they’re all at the same stage.
Inbound marketing provides value to your prospects at every stage in their buyer’s journey. Someone who’s just becoming aware of a product/service is not the same as someone who’s ready to buy.
With the right inbound marketing tools, you’ll be able to track every webpage visited, time spent on each of them, every email opened, every link clicked on, every form filled out, and every sale that resulted from your efforts.
You can then use this data to design subsequent marketing campaigns.
The Cons of Inbound Marketing
Now that you know why it’s a good idea to do inbound marketing, it’s also important to be aware of the seemingly negative sides of it. This will allow you to adjust your expectations accordingly.
It Takes Time.
When a reader finds a website, they’re not always looking to buy something. They want information. They read it. They go offline.
So you won’t see sales as soon as you hit that publish button. In addition, your content needs time to build enough traction online.
It Requires a Lot of Planning.
For inbound marketing to be successful, you have to have a plan. This means doing significant market research to design a strategy.
And once you get a good idea going, you’ll have to test it out to see if it works. You may have to even do it twice, for some A/B testing.
It Requires Maintenance.
You can create the most mind blowing content, only to have it become outdated or irrelevant a few months or a year or two later.
Therefore, you’ll have to update content regularly as new technologies become available or when there are new developments in your market/industry.
The Benefits of Outbound Marketing
It’s now time for the [short] list of benefits of outbound marketing. But hey, don’t knock it. It’s pretty valuable depending on your business goals.
It Can Increase Brand Awareness.
A person who may not have heard of you before catches your YouTube commercial and their interest may be immediately piqued.
Or if you’re serving an older demographic, you may want to place ads on Facebook or AARP to get the ball rolling. Once they see your content, they may rush to your store or save that knowledge for future reference.
It May Generate Faster Results.
If you have a pizzeria and someone who’s really hungry watches your commercial, boom! Sale. (Or even if they’re not hungry. Images of melted cheese will do that).
The bottom line is that when you do hit that jackpot of placing that commercial/ad in front of the right person, you’ll get *almost* instant gratification.
The Cons of Outbound Marketing
Although by this point in this blog you’re likely already aware of the disadvantages of outbound marketing, they bear repeating. You know, to make sure you make a fully informed decision.
It’s Often Irrelevant.
How many ads and commercials have you seen that have nothing to do with your interests? That’s wasted money right there. With outbound marketing, the advertisement is run whenever the platform runs it, regardless of who’s watching.
Listen, no one’s going to be pleased to hear about your latest promotion when you just interrupted the scene where McDreamy dies. In fact, I’ve personally vowed not to buy anything from a company who totally ruined something I was watching. I can’t be the only one.
It’s Easy to Ignore.
As mentioned in the intro to this blog, outbound marketing is usually the perfect time to mute the TV and go get some Ding Dongs from the pantry. Marketing is expensive. You want to invest that money on something people are more likely to pay attention to it.
It’s Difficult to Gauge Its Success.
Let’s go back to the pizzeria example. Even if you have a really good month, would you be able to know how many people stopped by due to your commercials vs. your billboards vs. the flyers you sent by mail?
Why Does Inbound Marketing Matter?
Inbound marketing matters because if you want your business to be successful long-term, you have to be willing to evolve according to what customers want. And most people like doing things on their own terms.
Prospective buyers of any product or service like to do their own research. They like to compare available alternatives. They like to feel like they’re getting something out of value, instead of buying something because they felt pressured by a salesperson.
In addition, inbound marketing is more likely to be shared. Any time you post a useful blog, video content, or anything else that provides value to your target audience, it’s likely to be shared by them on social media. It’s a more low-key and organic way of increasing brand awareness.
How Does Inbound Marketing Work? 3 Examples
Inbound marketing works by strategically and consistently creating reasons for your target buyers to come to you. Some examples of companies that are doing this right include:
No matter what you search for around the topic of running, a Runner’s World blog is bound to come up. They can be how-to guides, inspirational stories, listicles of great running gear, shoe reviews, and even training tips and music playlists.
And they sell a million things (e.g., apparel, training plans, books, workouts, nutrition); but you never feel like they’re doing so. Their main goal is to provide runners with useful content.
Their meta descriptions are always on point. Succinct and persuasive. They share content on such a regular basis, that no matter what you’re searching for relating to running, they will come up; to the extent that they’ve become the go-to source to runners worldwide.
When you use the Uber app, you get personalized greetings and relevant information about your geographical location — traffic, routes, and ways to save money on your ride sharing experience.
They also have a blog with content about business travel, going out for meals, things to do in your area, and other subjects that are relevant to their services, yet extremely helpful to potential customers.
Go to Google and type in dog food, cat food, bird food, hamster food, or ferret food. Chewy is a top result for all of them.
And when you click on the site, you immediately have filters for breed size, lifestage, flavor, special diet requirements, food form, packaging type, food texture, and price point. Everything you could possibly need to find the perfect food for your pet is right there, right in front of you.
You don’t have to go on a million searches or play around the site to try to understand how it works. Easy, peasy, useful. Do that.
The Stages of Inbound Marketing
The best way to approach inbound marketing is to follow the flywheel model, which perfectly aligns with the inbound methodology. This is a concept created by HubSpot to provide a blueprint for a customer centric experience.
The inbound marketing methodology is composed of three stages:
The Attract Stage
This is how you get someone’s attention. You do this with really good content titles (Avoid clickbait, though. Misleading people will only cause a high bounce rate and make you lose credibility.).
But titles are only the beginning. Good keyword research will improve your chances of popping up whenever prospects search for a term that’s relevant to what you have to offer.
Hook them with a good intro. Tell them an interesting, relatable, applicable story. This is the flirting stage. The "look at what I have to offer" part of the process, if you will.
The Engage Stage
This is when you provide useful content to resolve their pain points. You’re not trying to sell anything. You’re here to say: I know what’s keeping you up at night, and here are several solutions.
This is where you water the plant — or as marketers call it, nurture your leads. By consistently providing useful content, following up with automated marketing to see how else you can provide value, and using personalized content during subsequent interactions, you’re building relationships with your leads.
There are many ways to do this. Answer every question on blog/video comment sections and social media posts.
When applicable, direct them to additional content that answers their queries. Mail them product samples without asking for anything in return. Create how-to guides and webinars. All of these items let them know that you care about actually providing value to them.
The Delight Stage
The delight stage is when you get to hit it out of the ballpark. Don’t just meet customers’ expectations. Exceed them.
Give them a reason to tell everyone and their mother about how great their experience was with you. You then use this momentum to attract even more leads and start the process all over again. The more momentum you gain, the faster it spins. The faster it spins, the more leads you get.
Just as with lead nurturing, there are a lot of ways to delight existing customers. You can keep their birthdays, anniversaries, and any other special occasions in your database and congratulate them and send them something special to celebrate.
Give them free stuff. Organize raffles or contests, add an extra cupcake to their order, send free samples of upcoming products, give out a gift card or a discount to someone who referred you more business.
And here’s a huge one: Make customer support a top priority. Make things as easy as possible for customers (returns, exchanges, subscription modifications, renewals, cancellations, finding answers, booking events, editing reservations). Whatever it is you offer, do the legwork, so your customer doesn’t have to do much more than click here or there.
Types of Inbound Marketing Content
There are different types of inbound marketing content. Which type would work best for you depends on what your target market prefers.
For this, you take into account their demographics, education level, and anything else you may have discovered about them as you developed your buyer persona.
Blogs are a good way to attract traffic to your website. With every new publication, you’re creating a new page that has the opportunity to rank well on Google.
And if you’ve done plenty of online searches (as I’m sure you have), you’ve likely noticed that often, the search results contain many of these nifty marketing materials.
Creating ebooks is an effective way to establish yourself as an industry leader. While it may sound daunting or intimidating to think about writing one, the process itself is simpler than you would originally think.
This is because ebooks tend to be significantly shorter than regular books (mind you, we’re not talking about an e-reader format of a novel here).
If you’ve been in your industry long enough, chances are high you know plenty of information to serve as inspiration. Think about common customer questions, lessons you’ve learned along the way, or any other useful information that would provide value to your prospects.
Videos provide an easy way to consume content. It’s an ideal medium for people who aren’t readers, are tired of reading all day at work, or who want a straight to the point answer to their questions. They’re also excellent ways to showcase how-to content and do product reviews.
You can go the traditional way and get videographer equipment and some editing software, or you can do something that’s quick and easy by recording live social media videos. Which avenue to take depends on your buyer persona and their preferences.
Podcasts are popular because they can be consumed while doing something else — driving, running, working out, cooking, cleaning the house… So if your target audience tends to be from the busy set, this is an ideal way to reach them.
Podcasts also provide a good way to let listeners become aware that you know what you’re talking about. You’re going into in-depth conversations about a topic, you’re answering questions, you’re posing questions for people to think about.
And the more they listen, the more they start to feel like they know you. This is an effective way of building trust in your brand.
A whitepaper is an extensive report where you showcase an issue, in-depth research and analysis, and viable solutions. Their purpose is to educate your audience, so you really want to make sure you’re citing and linking to reputable sources.
This type of content is typically written by someone who has extensive expertise in the subject matter; and they’re an excellent tool to build authority within your industry.
You can also repurpose content from one medium to another. For example, if you have an ebook (or several of them), each chapter can serve as inspiration for a blog post or podcast episode, where you could go more in-depth into the subject.
By the same token, you can take previous blog posts, and create shorter YouTube videos summarizing, enacting, or explaining in more detail what you previously published in text format.
Essential Inbound Marketing Tools
Since inbound marketing has so many components, it can certainly feel overwhelming to create and implement a good strategy. Thankfully, there are many tools that make this process as efficient as possible; and once you get the hang of them, it becomes second nature.
Make sure to look into the following resources:
Content Management Software (CMS)
A content management software is a platform where you can create content, store it as drafts, then manage it — edit, optimize, make it look pretty and match your brand, publish, update, share on social media, customize, etc.
While many of them have a steep learning curve, there are others that require zero technical knowledge. You can use pre-built modules, drag-and-drop capabilities, and image editors to make your content look appealing to your audience. You can also integrate it with other software so that everything works together seamlessly.
Keyword Research Tool
You can write the most wonderful, useful, and valuable content in the history of your industry. But if nobody knows it exists, you won’t reap any benefits from it.
While there are plenty of people who are aware of the need for search engine optimization, few actually know how to put it into practice. There are many factors that come into play, such as making content scannable, linking to reputable sources, and having a good meta description.
The only way to know exactly what is working and turning leads into customers is to track the performance of your efforts. There are many types of information that you could track – including website traffic metrics, webpage activity via heatmaps, the number of visitors coming to your blog posts, content shares on social media, number of repeat visitors, customer lifetime value, etc.
Doing this consistently will help you identify patterns. If what you’re doing is working, keep doing it. If, on the other hand, you notice that prospects tend to leave your website or stop doing business with you after X or Y interaction, you can adjust your strategy accordingly.
Marketing Automation Software
Every time a prospect gives you their email address — whether it’s because they filled out a form on a landing page, subscribed to your blog, or entered it on your site in exchange for a discount coupon — you are building a list that you can later segment and market to.
Once they’re separated based on their stage on their buyer’s journey, marketing automation software will engage with them based on specific user behavior.
Did they leave an item in their online cart? There goes an email reminding them!
Do they have an appointment scheduled with you? They’ll get a text message asking them to confirm or reschedule.
They already purchased something from you? Send them a communication thanking them for their business, asking them to refer a friend, or encouraging them to reach out with any questions.
Doing these tasks in person could easily become a full-time position for a small business, or need an entire department for a larger one. Marketing automation tools take care of it automatically.
Customer Service Software
At some point, once they’ve established that your company is trustworthy, prospects will start contacting you. Maybe it’s for inquiries. Maybe they made a purchase and are now trying to learn how to use whatever they bought. Regardless of their reasons, you want to make sure they’re treated like royalty.
While it’s absolutely crucial to train your team properly on developing soft skills, you’ll also want to arm them with good customer service software. There are many reasons you want to do this.
Repetitive tasks can be automated, ensuring customers get fast service and reps aren’t bogged down by simple matters. Queries where time is of the essence are prioritized, so every resolution can be timely.
You can gather customer information to personalize service. And you can track performance so that your service is always optimized.
These solutions are just the tip of the iceberg. So take some time to research some of the best customer service software for driving retention.
12 Tips for Developing an Inbound Marketing Strategy
Creating effective inbound marketing strategies will vary depending on your business and specific goals. However, there are several common denominators across the board.
1. Do Thorough Market Research.
Developing any marketing strategy without doing market research is like flushing money down the drain. You want to make sure there’s a demand for what you offer, and you want to develop all of your strategies around your ideal customer profile.
This will vary greatly depending on your industry, on whether you’re B2B or B2C, and your business goals. There are plenty of guides and templates you can find online to get you started.
2. Study Your Competitors.
While visiting your competitors’ websites and social media pages is a starting point, it’s a rudimentary tactic. To be effective, you want to invest in competitor analysis tools so that you can get actionable insights.
You’ll be able to see their website functionality, their top products and features, the keywords they’re ranking for, their website’s domain authority, their audience engagement, and any other information that can help you identify what’s working for them — and what are their weaknesses. Then design something better.
3. Develop an Editorial Calendar.
Creating an editorial calendar will provide a roadmap for your content strategy. It will help you publish consistently, since you won’t have to pause your life to figure out what to publish next.
Editorial calendars also make project management more efficient, since by knowing what you’re writing about, you’ll know which tasks should be completed next: this includes who’s doing keyword research, who’s recording/editing videos, who is writing blogs, and who is designing calls to action.
Ed cals also provide you with an opportunity to invite guest bloggers, which is an excellent way to expand your audience.
4. Get the Right Inbound Marketing Tools.
As you can see, developing a good inbound marketing strategy can take a village. A big one (well, sometimes it can be done with a smaller one, but you get the point). So you definitely want to use technology to make things as easy as possible.
By investing in any (or several) of the inbound marketing tools listed above, you’re ensuring that nothing falls through the cracks and that every piece of your strategy moves along like a well-oiled machine.
5. Create Compelling Content.
Remember high school? Maybe even college?
Depending on how studious you were back then, you (or someone in your crew) may have turned in essays and projects just for the sake of turning something in. Pages full of words. It was supposed to be a 10- pager? Alas! You turned in 10 pages!
That’s not going to cut it for inbound marketing. If you want people to keep coming back to you for advice, entertainment, insights, or inspiration, you have to provide content that’s relevant and useful.
Tell stories to keep them interested. Answer questions to provide value. Use a conversational tone so that you’re easy to understand. Be funny (unless it would be inappropriate).
And always, always, always keep it as your number one priority to make it about your prospects. Inbound marketing is not meant to toot your own horn, humble brag, or try to one-up everyone. Your prospects are the hero of the story. If you want to talk about yourself, call your mom.
6. Optimize Your Content for Search Engine Result Pages.
Once you find the Holy Grail of keywords for your topic, use it organically throughout your content. Make sure it sounds conversational. Keyword stuffing sounds robotic, it’s annoying, and Google will likely realize what you’re doing and not rank you as high as you could potentially rank.
You’ll also want to provide a format your readers are interested in. To do this, you have to identify user intent when they search for topics relevant to your business.
Say you’re a running coach. If you Google "how to run faster," you’ll see that most of the listings are blogs. If you search "running shoes to run faster," you’ll get a mix of articles and product pages.
Follow that lead. The format you find most often is the format you want to follow.
Also, look for ways to optimize your content title, subheadings, URL, image alt text, and meta descriptions. All of these factors will help determine where you rank on search engine results.
7. Tailor Content For Each Stage of the Sales Funnel.
Remember the marketing flywheel? Here is where it comes in really handy.
Whenever you’re creating content, you want to keep in mind the attract, engage, and delight stages (or if you want to be more traditional, with marketing language, top, middle, and bottom of the funnel).
You do this by crafting different types of content to be presented to people at the top of the funnel (TOFU), middle of the funnel (MOFU), and bottom of the funnel (BOFU).
The goal of TOFU is to attract and educate prospects. The goal of MOFU is where you court them; do your best to woo them and keep them engaged. Meanwhile, BOFU content is designed to help them get across that finish line and close that sale.
When you’re crafting your editorial calendar, remember to create content for each of these stages. And by using inbound marketing tools such as segmentation software, you’ll be able to greet each prospect/customer with content customized to their needs.
8. Post Consistently.
Out of sight, out of mind. One of the benefits of creating an editorial calendar is that you don’t have to take time out of your busy schedule every time you want to post something to figure out what to post.
Choose a day of the week and time of the day when you’re posting, and stick to it. Whether it’s blogs, videos, or podcasts, you can schedule them in advance, so that once you put everything on that calendar, you can go on about your life and forget about it for the rest of the month.
9. Promote Your Content.
Once you’re done scheduling your content, go to your social media calendar and schedule posts promoting each asset you produced.
Something that will make this infinitely easier is to either get social media management tools or an all-in-one inbound marketing solution like HubSpot, which will let you do everything from a single platform.
You can also promote your content in your marketing emails and newsletters, your website, and social media ads.
10. Acquire More Leads With Free Content Offers.
One of the best ways to build your email marketing list is by giving prospects something in return. It’s not the same thing to say: “Sign up for our newsletter” than to say “Download our free ebook on how to grow your online business.”
By providing value (bonus points if it's free), you’re incentivizing people to stay in contact with you. “Hey, Jane Marketing here just saved me a lot of money by giving me this ebook. Now I don’t have to pay for that course at the local community college!”
By the same token, if you sell products, give discount codes or early access to sales in exchange for their contact information. Get creative. Good market research will help you identify what they’d find most valuable.
11. Track Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Key performance indicators are metrics that show you the performance of whatever it is you’re tracking. It’s a concrete way to measure progress to see whether your campaigns are being effective.
Which KPIs you should be tracking will vary depending on your goals, but generally, you want to know how many website visitors you’re getting, how many are subscribing to your content, opening your marketing emails, sharing content on social media, and conversion rates.
12. Use Analytics to Make Data Driven Decisions.
KPIs are only useful if you take action based on what they reflect. Knowing this information will provide you with the insights you need to develop future inbound marketing campaigns.
And hey, if something’s not doing well, that’s fine. A lot of it is trial and error. Analytics will help you identify what’s not working so that you can try something else.
Start Growing Your Business With Inbound Marketing
All things considered, inbound marketing is a long road to build lasting relationships with leads and customers. And in a world with an overwhelming number of options, if you do it right, it will make you shine among competitors.