What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing

I realised that we’ve been using the term ‘Inbound Marketing’ a fair bit lately, and it’s also part of how we describe XEN (ie we help clients with their inbound marketing) – but as far as I can tell we’ve never explained the concept on the site :-|

Thus, the following is a bit of an overview of the term and also an intro to HubSpot (a tool that we use to help clients with implementing their inbound marketing strategy).

Introduction

Inbound marketing has been described by its founder (marketing platform HubSpot) as one of the best ways to turn strangers into customers, and customers into fans and even promoters of a business. The shift from outbound to inbound marketing began in around 2006 and has been increasing in momentum ever since. Its basic tenets include “attract, convert, close the sale, and continue to delight.”

The End of Outbound Marketing

In the pre-internet age, outbound marketing worked well enough. It consisted of tactics like aggressive advertising, cold-calling, telemarketing, trade shows, and direct mail blasts. It relied heavily upon seeking out customers and taking action, often in a direct and aggressive manner.

However, with the advent of the internet and new technologies, the way information is shared has changed dramatically. Search engines have replaced phone books. With new technologies, sales and marketing calls can be easily blocked. In-person sales are less prevalent in this fast-paced digital environment. Both traditional and email messages can be easily discarded.

With the changing times, marketing has evolved as well. More organic and less aggressive approaches work best. SEO, blogging, social media and other internet marketing approaches allow businesses to readily and affordably connect with new clients. The result is higher-quality, better-qualified leads.

Enter Inbound Marketing

Marketing isn’t just about quantity anymore; the quality of the contact is key. Inbound marketing focuses upon connecting with ideal customers right when they’re seeking what a business offers. Some of the top ways to do this include:

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • Pay per click advertising (PPC and SEM)
  • Website lead generation
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Actively nurturing brand new leads/potential customers

Why Inbound Marketing?

In 2014, the Pew Research Center revealed that 87% of Americans are now online. Interconnected World has reported that 61% of Internet users worldwide use the web to research products they plan to purchase. Consider these other impactful statistics from HubSpot:

Blogging. Of companies surveyed who blogged several times per day, 92% reported acquiring customers as a direct result.

Cost per lead savings. The cost per lead using inbound marketing is 61% lower than those generated by outbound marketing.

Online marketing methods. Blogging, social media accounts and coming up high in organic search results (in that order) are the most cost-effective ways to generate inbound leads.

The Internet has also made peoples’ attention spans shorter than ever; they prefer not to be “marketed to,” as with outbound marketing tactics. By contrast, inbound marketing occurs naturally in tandem with what users are already doing online. This organic connection with customers combined with the affordability of inbound marketing has no doubt fueled its popularity.

The “attract, convert, close and delight” approach to inbound marketing advocated by HubSpot can be summed up with the following four steps:

  1. Increasing Your Traffic
  2. Generate New Leads
  3. Convert Leads into Customers
  4. Analyze the Results/Continue to Impress

1. Increasing Your Traffic

The first step of inbound marketing is increasing traffic to the website. The goal is high quality traffic — users who are already interested in what the business offers. As such, users arrive to the site as potential customers. Search engine optimization (SEO), pay per click advertising (PPC), a high-utility blog and social media linking are just some of the ways to accomplish this first step.

2. Generate New Leads

Now, it’s time to distil that traffic into high quality leads. This can be achieved via:

  • Compelling Offers. Discount coupons or access to free content such as e-books, webinars and audios can be incentives for visitors to become more engaged with a business. These items are offered in exchange for the user’s contact information.
  • Forms and Landing Pages. Forms and landing pages make it easier for visitors to take action on the compelling offers listed above.
  • Calls to Action. Forms, landing pages and web pages should feature compelling and attractive calls to action to get users to take that leap into starting a relationship.

3. Convert Leads into Customers

Of course, the aim of all marketing is to increase sales. New leads should be nurtured to increase the odds that they will take the step from lead to client. It’s important to stay attentive with email contacts and social media followers. Replying to comments, offering introductory discounts, and keeping in touch via newsletters, blog posts social media updates are all great ways to do this. Attractive offers, compelling calls to action and persistence can all contribute as well.

4. Analyse the Results/Continue to Impress

The final step of the inbound marketing cycle is measuring results and analysing effectiveness. Website analytics and competitor tracking are two ways to help accomplish this. This feedback and data can assist in fine-tuning an inbound marketing campaign. The goal with this step is to make the most of an online presence, optimising the business website, blog and social media efforts for success. Staying consistent with quality content, continued compelling offers and excellent customer service is also crucial to ongoing results.

The Inbound Marketing Sales Funnel

An inbound marketing campaign is sometimes envisioned as a funnel. At the top of the funnel are inbound traffic goals and methods for increasing traffic. The middle part of the funnel is for pulling in high-quality leads. At the bottom of the funnel are sales goals — that critical point where general traffic is transformed from leads to sales.

Each of these three parts of the sales funnel relates to a different type of customer, and different offers will be relevant to each. Every customer type has different needs and expectations; they are all at different stages of “ripeness,” with the “greenest” leads at the top of the funnel. From the traffic phase to lead generation, nurturing leads and making the sale, a different touch or marketing tactic will be required. Many inbound marketing firms recommend creating three different offers to be run simultaneously — one for each sales funnel phase.

The entire inbound marketing process can be a natural, organic unfolding, if done well. Ultimately, the meeting of clients and businesses is like the start of any new relationship; both parties begin not knowing much about one another, but they may become intrigued and compelled to learn more. From finesse in the early stages to ongoing nurturing to the culmination in sales, repeat business and positive word of mouth, inbound marketing provides a template for success. Cultivating new relationships takes time; building trust cannot be rushed, but when there’s chemistry, it often takes on a life of its own. Inbound marketing, at its best, is the ideal cultivating of the client-business relationship.

Craig Bailey

Craig is the Founder and Technical Director at XEN Systems. He’s been involved in IT, web development and digital marketing for more than 25 years.

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