Like science and medicine, best practices in marketing change over time. In the past, outbound methods such as TV, print and direct mail seemed like an efficient way to reach customers. Your company’s sales team acted as gate-keepers for your product information. Today, customers have more control and expect to find what they’re looking for online. If your business doesn’t have a presence in the places they are looking, you lose.
That’s where inbound marketing comes in. Inbound marketing gives you a powerful way to attract potential customers with relevant and helpful content that answers their questions at the right time in their buyer’s journey. By developing a relationship over time, you can more effectively educate and nurture your prospects until they are ready to make a buying decision. This is especially important in complex industries such as life science, healthcare, medical device and information technology that have long and involved sales cycles.
Above all, inbound marketing uses content to offer value to your prospects rather than just trying to sellto them. By using ebooks, blog posts, white papers, webinars and other forms of content marketing, you can engage your prospects with valuable information that helps them do their jobs better. After converting the leads on your website, you continue to act as an expert and thought leader so your customers will continue to come to you in the future, and may even spread the joy of their experience to others.
Fundamentally, inbound marketing is all about creating a long-term relationship between you and your potential customers. Trust is the ingredient that helps ensure consumer loyalty and create awareness. To gain their trust, you need to provide prospects with valuable content that helps them and answers their questions.
Content is therefore the fire that stokes your inbound marketing engine. When you provide valuable and helpful content to your visitors, they will develop into leads that you can convert to customers through, for example, automated email workflows and personalized offers. But, you don’t want to stop there: Keep your customers happy and they will promote your product.
So it pays to keep your customer’s needs in mind. With a good inbound marketing strategy, you can use valuable content to turn visitors into leads, convert those leads to customers, and eventually help them become ambassadors for your business.
Find out more: Five reasons to start using content marketing now
Traditional forms of marketing (what we can call “outbound” marketing) that worked in the past, such as TV, direct mail and print ads, relied on interrupting your prospects and beating them over the head with sales messages. “Buy me”, “I’m the best”, and “this product is tops.” That sort of disruptive approach doesn’t work today when customers have so many more choices and are just one click away from changing the channel, turning the page or shutting off your ad.
The Internet has changed everything. Consumers today are bombarded with information and have have become better at shutting out such disruptive messages.
Today, the Internet gives customers the power. They don’t rely on your sales team for information, but do online research before making a purchase. They compare options and read what competitors and other customers have to say about you. This leads to an inevitable paradigm shift – where an inbound approach supported by content marketing becomes essential in order to stay relevant in your prospect’s search.
Some of the ideas associated with content marketing have been around for many decades. Seth Godin discussed the idea of Permission Marketing in his 1999 book. But it was the marketing automation software company HubSpot that coined the term “inbound marketing” and put a full methodology behind it.
UP is a platinum certified partner agency with HubSpot. HubSpot offers a full stack of software for marketing, sales, and customer service to help you grow traffic, convert more visitors, and keep your customers happy. Try HubSpot free.
By using content to bring customers to your virtual doorstep (aka website) and then creating logical pathways to align with your buyer’s journey, you can employ an inbound methodology used by hundreds of thousands of companies around the world in many industries with proven results.
The inbound methodology means offering the right content for every stage of the buyer’s journey: attracting the right visitors to your website, converting them into qualified leads, closing more sales, and delighting your customers.
The four main steps are:
Attracting customers is the first step in the inbound marketing methodology. In this step, you create content aimed at answering a specific question your target customer has or addressing a common problem.Creating a clear vision of your ideal persona is an important element in being able to identify and discuss your target customer’s pain points. Your goal is to provide the right content at the right time through search engine optimization and social media marketing. The tools of this step include website articles, blogs, social media posts, videos, and, potentially, paid content promotion (advertising).
Once you have attracted the right visitors to your website, you need to convert them into leads by obtaining their contact information through a form on a landing page. To do that, you must offer something of value to them in exchange for the gift of handing over their contact information. Typically, that means some sort of premium content they can download, view or sign up to receive. It might be a white paper, e-book, webinar, instructional video, guidelines, template, or another useful tool for your industry.
The closing stage is where you transform leads into customers. You can use tools such as marketing automation (lead flows, bots and live chat), lead nurturing (email) and social media monitoring to ensure the right leads in the right stage are closed at the right time.
Inbound marketing revolves around providing outstanding content to both your leads and your customers. This means that even after a lead is closed, you should still engage them with dynamic content, social media, and trigger marketing. The goals of delighting your customers are both to continue helping to solve their issues and also to turn them into promoters of your business.
What is most unique about this methodology is that it puts you in charge of the results. By considering your customer persona, you carefully craft the right content that not only showcases your own company’s expertise, but also builds trust with your customers. You offer them valuable information and resources, rather than just trying to sell to them. You help them get to the stage where they are ready to buy at their own pace.
As we’ve mentioned, the inbound methodology uses some specific tools to help turn website visitors into leads and then customers.
A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on market research and real data about your existing customers. Creating a buyer person helps you do a better job of planning your content and addressing your target market’s key concerns or pain points. When creating a buyer persona, you should consider demographics, behavior patterns, motivations and goals. The more detailed you are, the better.
Mapping your buyer’s journey is a way to plan out the content you need to create at each stage: awareness, consideration, decision. This gives you a broad overall picture of the questions you should answer as your prospects moves down the funnel: the key information your audience wants to know.
Content is, of course, one of the most important elements of inbound marketing. Your content will include everything from blog articles to e-books to videos to infographics. You should plan your content to align with your buyer’s journey, as well as incorporating keyword research into your blog and website content, including pillar pages (long comprehensive website pages like this one designed to help you rank for important topic areas).
Every piece of inbound content should have at least one call to action (a request for your reader to take the next step). Don’t make the mistake of thinking that means saying “contact us” or simply “read more.” A well-considered CTA is specific to your buyer persona and to the stage in the journey. You might also have both “soft” CTAs (which help move the reader down the funnel) and “hard CTAs” which are bolder buttons that make a specific offer.
A key part of inbound marketing is creating a way for people to convert from visitors to leads, and then from leads to prospects. This involves using landing pages with forms. A good landing page focuses the readers’ attention on one thing: completing and submitting the form.
In Inbound marketing we often differentiate between “organic” or “open” content that is visible to everyone visiting your website – and generally meant to be optimized for search engines – versus “gated” or “premium” content that may reside behind a form submission or login. This type of premium content must deliver value for which your readers are willing to trade some information (such as their email address or name).
Lead nurturing is the process of offering graduated pieces of content or information to your visitors as their relationship with you proceeds. Often it involves sending out targeted, specific emails with additional information or content the user would find valuable, or making offers to them in other online pages (such as your website or social media).
A key element of inbound marketing is evaluating how well various elements of your marketing strategy are working, from your website content to CTAs to landing pages to emails. Tracking your conversion rates and measuring changes over time are important to learning what is working and what isn’t so you can continually optimize your efforts.
We’ve been talking a lot about content marketing and you might be wondering, “What is the difference between inbound and content marketing?”
We often run into companies who think that “inbound” and “content marketing” are synonymous. While it’s true that the inbound methodology relies heavily on content marketing, it’s important to realize that content marketing is really a subset of inbound marketing.
Content marketing is the process of creating high-quality, valuable online content that improves your relationship with a targeted audience. This content can take the form of blog articles, white papers, social media posts, infographics, e-books, podcasts, videos, or any other format that you think will be relevant to the people you’re trying to reach.
Inbound marketing, on the other had, is the overall strategy and method of attracting website visitors and nurturing leads through the buyer’s journey.
Content marketing is about producing great content that guides, informs and helps your potential customers as well as existing customers. In short, it is content that gives customers added value and thus creates credibility around your company and your brand. Content marketing doesn't necessarily have tangible, measurable results in mind, the way inbound marketing does.
An inbound marketing strategy helps put a process around your content marketing and translate your efforts into concrete leads. This is because inbound marketing has a greater focus on lead generation and assumes that you are using a marketing automation system to create a process for your marketing efforts.
Learn more about the elements of inbound marketing.
To be effective with inbound marketing, you must create different types of content to help guide people toward a purchase. Your content may address a wide range of pain points and concerns, based on your buyer personas and their stage in the buyer’s journey. This content will “nurture”leads through the sales funnel toward the final decision to buy.
With inbound, content is separated into three categories based on where the person is in the buyer’s journey (and how close they are to making a purchase): Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.
Awareness level content (sometimes called “Top of Funnel” or ToFu content) is meant for the awareness stage of the buyer’s journey, and typically consists of blog articles that readers find through search engines, social media, or email marketing.
When creating content for this stage, you typically focus on a particular question or problem your audience may be facing, and discuss it in the broadest possible terms. You should avoid discussing your product or creating content that sounds like a sales pitch. Your goal here is to get readers to move to the next stage (convert) not try to get a sale right away.
Content in the Consideration stage (or Middle of the Funnel, MoFu) is created for prospects who have already converted (filled out a form on your website) but who aren’t ready to buy yet. The content here can be more technical, and may include in-depth education such as white papers, webinars or guides. You may create a series of automation workflows that help you stay in touch with customers at this stage over a longer period of time.
The Decisions stage (or Bottom of the Funnel, BoFu) is when leads are close to making a decision, but still need more convincing. In some industries thedecision stage can last a while and may need to cover a variety of viewpoints and include a host of decision makers. Therefore, you may want content aimed at a number of different personas. This could mean everything from case studies and spec sheets to demos and free trials. The ultimate goal is to get your prospect to agree to a sales call or meeting.
It’s important to align your content with the stages of the buyer’s journey: awareness, consideration, decision. Awareness level content helps define or frame a problem, Consideration level content discusses approaches to solving a problem, and Decision level content helps the customer make a purchasing selection.
Your website plays an important role in inbound marketing. You not only need to think about the user experience – and how well you have planned your content to support your buyer’s journey – but also how easily your potential customers can find you in search engines. In fact, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is one of the key factors to making Inbound marketing work.
That’s because the premise behind inbound marketing is that people will find the answers to their questions in the content on your website. But in order for that to happen, you need to think about the words and phrases people use when they are searching for information in your space. Here’s a hint: if they don’t know you, they aren’t searching on your company or product names. They are typing in questions about how to solve a problem, or looking for ways to compare solutions. So your content needs to be written with that in mind.
SEO involves taking steps to make your website more appealing to search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo. The more appealing your website, videos, social media channels and other content is to search engines, the higher it will rank. And higher rank means wore traffic to your website, creating a wider funnel.
For that reason, SEO is most important the beginning of the buyer’s journey – during the Awareness stage. Your Awareness level content must be well optimized for search engines because that is how you attract buyers to your website. The later stages of the journey at the middle or bottom of the funnel may focus more on other strategies, such as email or advertising than on SEO.
Measuring the impact of inbound marketing and demonstrating ROI is important, but it can be tricky. That’s why creating SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) and identifying key performance indicators (KPIs) from the beginning are crucial.
Some of the key measurements you want to track are :
In some cases, you might not be able track the number of leads generated as a direct result of your campaign, but you can track how many downloads your content had, the average duration people watched your video for, how many new social media followers you gained.
Sometimes metrics can tell you what can be improved. For example:
Inbound marketing is a forward-thinking way of delivering content and information to your customers and keeping them engaged. “Delighted” in fact, is the word HubSpot uses for it. Delivering content in this way can be especially valuable in complex industries with long sales cycles. Using information rather than sales pitches to stay in contact with prospects until they are ready to buy will take your marketing to a new level.
No matter what industry you are in – by continually delivering information, service and content that keeps your customers informed and meets their needs for the stage of the buyer’s journey – you’ll be ahead of the game.
If after reading this, you think inbound might be right for you, but you’re not sure, consider downloading our guide to inbound marketing.