The Marketing Manager’s Primer on Inbound Marketing

Inbound Marketing Primer

The modern customer is changing, which means that companies have to change their marketing methods to remain relevant. Disruptive, outbound marketing was once the industry standard. It involved broadcasting the company message to people while they went about their daily lives: watching television, listening to the radio, getting the mail, or even phone calls while sitting down to dinner. These methods, however, are becoming increasingly less effective as people demonstrate that they do not want to be interrupted. They want companies to provide them with the information they need to make their own informed decisions about purchases, which is how the concept of inbound marketing has developed.

For businesses new to the idea of inbound marketing, it can be difficult to know where to get started. The idea of writing blog posts, which will just join the millions of webpages in existence, to somehow bring in customers, might seem a bit foreign. By understanding the philosophy behind this new marketing movement and what it has to offer businesses, however, companies of all sizes should feel prepared to get started developing their own inbound marketing strategy.

Understanding the philosophy behind inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is the solution businesses can use to reach the modern consumer. In the past, shopping was a very different experience. In a world without the internet, customers were forced to rely on salespeople and advertisements to let them know about the latest and greatest products and services. If they had questions about one particular option, they had to speak with a sales representative to receive their answers. Sales representatives were essentially the gatekeepers in the market of old. They guarded access to the information and they held the vast majority of the responsibility for bringing in new customers and converting them into paying customers.

That atmosphere has now changed. Thanks to the internet and digital communications, customers are taking control of their purchase decisions. Information about products no longer can be guarded by the sales department. People turn to the internet to learn about products they consider purchasing, to compare different options, and to learn about what new solutions might exist for their problems.

The modern customer tends to be annoyed by sales calls and do-not-call registries have exploded. These customers might love using email, but they completely ignore spam. They use commercial breaks to go and find something to eat. Customers are not interested in just being ‘sold to’. Instead, the customer wants to be educated so they can make their own informed decision about what product or service they are going to buy. Companies should realize that by the time a sales representative actually speaks with a customer, they are generally 60 percent of the way through the sales cycle. The majority of the work involved with attracting customers has shifted from sales to marketing.

To be successful in this modern marketplace, companies must be willing to meet the customers where they are. They must understand that customers are more interested in researching products on their own than receiving sales calls. Inbound marketing describes marketing techniques that involve developing the content that will address the desires of customers. Businesses will seek to provide the valuable information that the customers look for so that the customer comes to trust them as an authority in their industry. When one company continues to offer solutions and valuable information, the customer naturally views this organisation as the one that can provide them with the best product or service. Inbound marketing is all about positioning the company as a leader, so that when the customer is ready to buy, they will naturally turn the business they have come to trust.

Inbound marketing works hand in hand with other online marketing techniques, such as PPC ads, to attract customers to the site. The online marketing strategies bring customers to the site, then the content on the site gives the visitor a reason to keep coming back until they are ready to make a purchase.

Inbound also involves using various forms of search engine optimisation, such as keywords and meta descriptions, that make it easier for both search engines and visitors to understand the page. The easier it is for the search engine spiders to understand the page, the higher the page will rank. Since the search engine’s goal is to produce search results that answer the query of the user, when they can understand the purpose of the site, they are in a better position to accurately display the site to the proper targets. When visitors can better scan the page and grasp the value of the content, they can better engage with the site and this will enhance the critical relationship of trust.

Businesses using inbound marketing also leverage the various social media platforms as means of connecting with potential customers. Customers take to social media to share information, connect with others, and have conversations. Since inbound focuses around positioning the brand before potential customers and being a source of value, social media is just one more way to get the company name out while also demonstrating the desire of the company to help their consumer base.

What inbound marketing can do for businesses

Inbound marketing has the potential to boost the number of leads the company brings in, and therefore improve the bottom line, while spending less money.  Kapost and Eloqua conducted a study that indicated that content marketing has the potential to produce three times the number of leads per dollar compared to traditional marketing. Given this statistics, it is no wonder that nearly half of marketing teams have increased their inbound marketing budgets during 2014 according to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2014.

The number of companies that practice inbound marketing is also growing. Hubspot notes that in 2014, more than 80 percent of companies practiced inbound marketing, even among those with marketing budgets of less than $25,000. At this point, inbound marketing has become so essential for companies looking for success in the digital age that those who do not use these strategies are placing themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

When using inbound marketing, companies can work on developing relationships with individuals, who can then turn into customers. Thanks in large part to social media and other forms of instant communication, customers have come to expect individualised service. They want to feel as though they can connect to the individuals behind the company, and inbound positions the company to do just that. Seventy percent of consumers say that content marketing helps them feel closer to a sponsoring company, and 78 percent believe that companies who take the time to create content are interested in building good relationships. Inbound marketing makes it possible for businesses of all sizes to take advantage of these trends and customer preferences.

Inbound marketing also positions the company to better monitor their brand online and control the reputation of the company. Customers not only use the internet to learn about potential customers, they are also taking to social media and blogs to write about their customer service disagreements, detail their transactions, and review their products. When the company itself is not engaged online, negative reviews can go viral, which can damage business for months or even years to come. Online engagement positions the company to address grievances head-on, as well as thank those who post positive comments and answer questions people might have. This helps to further the company reputation as a source of help and aid.

Companies who do not use inbound marketing are also surrendering their portion of the market share to their competitors. Inbound marketing has become so prevalent that even if one company has not begun to use these techniques, it can still be assumed that the competitors are. Since customers use the internet to find answers to their problems, these companies who develop their inbound strategies will quickly find themselves outpacing those who never bothered to capitalise on the potential for the internet.

How to get started using inbound

Inbound marketing revolves around positioning the company as an industry leader in the eyes of potential customers. Getting started with inbound marketing might seem overwhelming for those who have spent most of their professional careers focused on traditional, outbound marketing. For those just getting started with inbound marketing, there are two main criteria that businesses should be focusing on: content development and distribution. These two components are the force that will drive an inbound marketing campaign.

The content describes the valuable information that will be put together and shared with potential customers. The distribution is the methods that will be used to share the content so that the right parties see it at the right time.

For those new to inbound marketing, there are two main areas of content development. The first is the overall company website. The homepages, services pages, and other company pages should be well developed with engaging content that educates the page visitor about the company and why this company is the best. The business should work on developing a short list of a few keywords that they would like to rank for. These keywords should be based upon the services the company provides along with the language the customers use. The keywords should be used occasionally throughout the content so that it reads naturally. No keyword should ever be forced. Companies who focus on serving a local population should remember to include keywords that describe their service area, such as “chatswood area removals company” to help them attract visitors who have the highest potential of becoming paying customers.

Company pages should also use formatting that makes the site easy for customers to scan. Visitors will be deciding in a fraction of a second if a particular page is visually pleasing. Utilising some white space to avoid overcrowding, using lists and bullet points, and putting bolded text to accent particular phrases are all great ways to improve the layout and appearance of the website. These formatting tips can help customers easily determine if this page provides them with the information they are looking for. People rarely open a new webpage and read it all the way through, instead they will scan it to see if it provides value. Making pages easier to scan will help engage these readers and demonstrate to them why this page is worth their time.

Secondly, on the website should be a blog. Blogs increase the number of indexed pages by over 400 percent, which is wonderful for search engine optimisation. They also help to ensure that the website remains regularly updated and current, which also tells the search engine that this is a worthwhile site. Blogs are key for educating potential customers and positioning the company as a leader in the industry. Companies can fill the blog with valuable information that will attract page visitors and educate those who find the company. They are also fantastic for incorporating keywords naturally, which will give the site a boost with the search engine. The more often a blog is updated, the higher the chances are that the company will find customers through it, so companies should try to update at least once per day. An estimated 82 percent of marketers who blog on a daily basis have reported finding leads through their blog content. According to Hubspot’s State of Inbound, marketers who make blogging a priority were also 13 times more likely to see a positive return on their investment.

The second important aspect of inbound is distribution. Companies should establish profiles on the social media networks. The four major platforms of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Google+ should be a minimum. These platforms are critical for communicating with potential customers. Companies can use they to share helpful information with their followers and occasionally share promotional information as well. They should regularly share their blog posts and articles with customers.

Inbound marketing has the power to take marketing to new heights. By educating and empowering customers, companies can improve their relationships and reputations while also generating profit. These strategies can serve businesses of all sizes and in all industries, making it important for everyone to give inbound marketing a try as the develop their marketing strategy for the upcoming year.

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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