Inbound marketing definition
The inbound marketing definition is relatively new. It was first used in 2005 by Brian Halligan, the co-founder and current executive chairperson of HubSpot. He used the term to differentiate the methods of an inbound marketing strategy from what had been used previously in traditional marketing.
Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing
So we've defined inbound marketing. But what are the differences between inbound marketing and outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing techniques generally rely on pushing out marketing messages to an audience. This could be traditional forms of advertising like billboards or television commercials, or newer digital formats like website banners, search engine advertisements and social media advertisements.
These forms of advertising rely on interrupting whatever the audience is doing in the hope that they will stop and pay attention to the content. With outbound marketing there is more chance the audience isn't interested in the content as they haven't actively sought it out.
Inbound marketing focuses on giving the audience valuable information at each stage of the buyer's journey. What makes this useful content to the audience is that it's exactly what they're already looking for online.
This makes it more likely that the company can earn their trust and maintain brand awareness when it comes time to purchase. When implemented well, an inbound marketing strategy will increase your company's reputation and revenue.
Types of inbound marketing
There are various options that a business can consider as part of their inbound marketing efforts. They are essentially the types of content and customized experiences used to meet the particular needs of an audience being targeted for promotional purposes on the internet.
To make this clearer, let's look at two categories. First, the different media formats used to create the content. Second, the tools and platforms used to distribute the content and provide the customized experiences.
Different media formats
- Long-form articles (e.g., blogs, ebooks, guides, case studies, research, reports and white papers)
- Short-form text (e.g., website copy, press releases, social media captions, paid advertisements and chatbots)
Tools and platforms
- Company's website (includes landing pages, single-page websites, multi-page websites, content management system (CMS))
- Email (includes single emails, campaigns and newsletters)
- Social media channels (includes both organic posts and paid advertisements)
- Search engines (includes search engine optimization (SEO) for organic reach and paid advertisements)
- Podcast and webinar software
- Automation and customer service software
Why is an inbound marketing strategy important?
Inbound marketing focuses on delivering high-quality content to address the needs of a company's target audience. It identifies the pain points that a potential customer has and how the company can provide solutions for them. This method naturally builds a relationship with people through the various stages of the buyer journey by providing them with what they perceive to be valuable content.
Implementing an inbound marketing strategy increases the chances of attracting the kind of people who really need your company's products and services. Investing in relevant content and ensuring it reaches your target audience results in a better return on investment.
For example, 80% of business decision makers prefer getting their information from articles instead of advertisements (Content Marketing Institute). Furthermore, companies that nurture leads via effective inbound marketing achieve 50% more sales at 33% less cost than those who don't use inbound marketing (Weidert).
An investment for your business
Producing relevant content and getting it in front of where your ideal customers are hanging out online is a smart investment in your resources. A piece of content that you produce can perform on multiple channels for years, building awareness of your company and trust with your prospective and existing customers. This piece of content will ultimately help to increase the number of leads and sales that you make over time.
Hopefully we have demonstrated the importance of inbound marketing to your business. With a relatively small investment, it will help your business grow sustainably for years!
Who should use an inbound marketing strategy?
Simply put, anyone can and should use an inbound marketing strategy as part of their promotional mix. Whether you work at a large enterprise, a small business or even a sole operator, inbound marketing can work for you.
Your competitors may already be using some inbound marketing tactics to grow their businesses. Or you may find a competitive advantage by being the first in your market to implement an inbound marketing strategy. Even if they are using certain tactics, it's likely you'll still be able to find an edge by exploiting gaps or weaknesses in their strategy.
This isn't to say that the same tactics should be automatically implemented across all types of business. A small local business should focus more on local search engine optimisation tactics with a Google Business Profile and geo-targeting on social media. A large multinational organisation should be seeking to establish authority and maintain brand awareness for multiple customer personas with a heavier focus on in-depth articles, case studies and reports.
Wondering what an inbound marketing strategy can do for your business? Book in a free consultation with us now to see how we can help your business grow.
The four stages of the inbound marketing methodology
This methodology grows your business by forming relationships with your target audience by providing them with valuable information and experiences. This should occur at each stage of their buyer journey with you.
The inbound marketing methodology can be separated into four different stages as outlined below. Your inbound marketing efforts should consider how each stage is aligned to your overall strategy.
The attract stage
This initial stage is focused on creating content that your target audience perceive as valuable. This requires content that addresses the problems they're experiencing and the questions they're asking. This may be in the form of blog articles, in-depth guides and data studies that comprehensively cover relevant topics.
It's then a matter of ensuring the right people are aware that this content exists and are coming across it at the right time. The first way to achieve this is to ensure the content and your website are both optimized for search engines to make the content easy to find and matching search intent. This will result in organic visitors to your website that will increase over time when done well.
The second way is to promote your content via other websites (e.g., guest blog posts and citations), your and other people's social media, your existing email lists, and traditional media. Note this may include targeted paid advertising on search or social media to assist with reaching the right audience. You may also employ influencers on social media who share a similar audience with you.
It's important at this stage to focus on being informative, educational and entertaining. Your products and services may be weaved into the content where appropriate, but the main focus at this stage is not selling to your audience. The main aim is to build trust and a relationship with your audience, not to sell to them.
When done right, the right kind of audience will be attracted organically to your company, products and services.
The convert stage
The content and experiences provided must satisfy the needs of the audience you've attracted. They must come away with the answers to their questions and the belief that you have the solutions to their problems. When this occurs, they will turn from prospects into leads for your company.
It's important at this stage to ensure your website or other online channels are optimized for your leads to engage with you. This could include the ability to download the information that attracted them to you, being directed to an easy-to-use contact form, or the ability to book an information session with your sales team online.
The close stage
Now that leads have been created based on their engagement with you, it's time to turn them into paying customers. This stage requires the use of different marketing tactics such as automation, email campaigns, social media marketing and re-targeting with paid advertisements.
The type of content being provided should change at this stage. Depending on the market and what is being sold, case studies, competitor and or product comparisons, research papers, and testimonials can be used to help close out sales.
The trick at this stage is to maintain contact with your leads in a way that keeps you top of mind without coming across as only caring about the sale. Continue to provide valuable content and personalized experiences to demonstrate that you genuinely want to help them and are positioned to do so with your products and services.
The delight stage
Congratulations, you have paying customers! But we're not done yet. It's now time to focus on turning your customers into your fans. The kind of people that are in love with your company and wouldn't hesitate to recommend you to their friends and family.
This requires some time and commitment to deliver, and is often not considered enough. But it's definitely worth it in the long run. Referrals and increasing the size of orders with existing customers should be drivers of your business growth.
You must keep engaging with your existing customers. It starts with ensuring they have the help and support they need when they need it, such as a dedicated knowledge base and effective customer service channels (e.g., phone, email, ticketing system and/or chatbot).
Make them feel part of your community and personalize your offers based on their needs. Email newsletters and genuine engagement on social media are great tools in this stage.
Continue to monitor their satisfaction with you and where you can make improvements. Run customer surveys and analyse customer service requests to identify changes to implement with your processes, products and services.
The inbound marketing flywheel by HubSpot
The four stages outlined above can be visualized in a linear manner. It also fits into the concept of a standard marketing funnel where you focus mostly on attracting as many people as possible, and converting those you've attracted into paying customers. Once they become customers, it's often left to a customer service team or account management team to keep them satisfied.
This model doesn't really capture how the actions in each stage affect the overall level of customer satisfaction. Everyone should be focused on what they're doing at each stage to ensure customers are delighted, making it more likely they will increase their spend with you and are happy to refer you to others. This is what really drives business growth.
To help visualize this concept, Hubspot applied the flywheel to the inbound marketing methodology. As seen in their image below, they merged the convert and close stages into the one 'engage' stage.
What is a flywheel?
The flywheel was invented by James Watt as an energy-efficient model to work with the steam engine during the Industrial Revolution. He focused on three components for his flywheel. First, the forces that determine how fast the flywheel spins. Second, the friction that causes the flywheel to slow down. Third, how big the wheel is.
An inbound marketing strategy should consider the forces that can be applied at each stage of the inbound methodology. For example, what content is being created and how many channels are being used to make it available to the target audience? It should also consider any friction that is slowing down the flywheel. For example, what is stopping prospects from contacting you or why are customers not using your product after sign-up?
When considered through this lens, a company can consider actions being taken by all teams that affect the different stages of the inbound marketing strategy being implemented successfully. An holistic approach like this can accelerate business growth with higher revenue from existing customers and more customers being fed into the flywheel from referrals.
The best inbound marketing strategies and tactics to grow your business
So now you know all about the inbound marketing methodology, how do you go about actually implementing it? Fortunately there are many inbound marketing strategy examples to help us. We've listed some of these below, along with common tactics and inbound marketing examples to make it easy for you.
Need help creating an inbound marketing strategy for your business? Book in a free consultation with us now to receive guidance on your strategy.
Define your audience (buyer persona and ideal customer profile (ICP))
The most fundamental inbound marketing strategy is to understand who your ideal audience is. Who wants to (or should want to) buy your products or services? How will you reach them? What messaging will resonate the most with them? Being able to answer these types of questions will make it a lot easier and more effective when implementing the other strategies listed below.
A basic tactic is to create at least one buyer persona. This is essentially a fictional person that represents a member of your ideal audience. It should cover basic demographics (e.g., age, gender, marital status, address), employment details, values, goals, fears, challenges and their communication preferences online.
The image below lists some great starting questions to build your buyer persona.
If you are a B2B business, it's also beneficial to create an ideal customer profile. This focuses not on a fictional individual, but rather a fictional business that would benefit the most from your products or services.
Building an ideal customer profile means understanding attributes such as their industry, company size, number of employees, geographic locations, their online channels, tech stack etc. This profile should represent real businesses who would provide the biggest returns and the least amount of churn for your business.
The image below lists some great starting questions to build your ICP.
Understand your existing content
Before creating any new content, it's important to review the content you already have. This includes all existing content on your website, such as blog articles and downloadable guides. You should then check for content that may have been distributed via other channels, such as email and social media.
It's also beneficial for you to take an inventory of any offline content. The content sitting on people's desks or on their local drives could be highly valuable!
Once you have taken stock of all the existing content, you need to analyse how it fits into each stage of your inbound marketing strategy. Are there some stages that haven't been covered yet or could benefit from more content? Is the content aligned to your business goals and provide value to your ideal customers as part of the buyer's journey? How has each piece of content performed in the past?
You should also review how your content aligns with your SEO strategy. Based on your keyword, topic and social research, you may identify content gaps or content that requires updating on your website. You should check how your off-page metrics have been impacted by the content (e.g., backlinks and social mentions).
Keep in mind that the existing content you discover can be repurposed to fit into your current inbound marketing strategy. Your website blog articles will likely provide useful content to distribute via email and your social media. Is there an opportunity to distribute this content on new channels, such as podcast and video platforms?
Once you've completed your audit, your content creation will be more efficient as you can better plan what new content is required, what content needs updating and what content can be repurposed across your different online channels.
Provide high-quality content that matters to your ideal customers
Each piece of content that you create must serve a purpose for the audience. Does it inform your ideal customers, educate them or entertain them? How does it address their pain points and present your products or services as the solution?
You must consider which stage of the inbound marketing process you are targeting with the content. Although the buyer's journey is rarely followed in a linear path, it's also important that you have content that covers each stage.
To learn more about content marketing, check out this guide.
Weave storytelling into your content
Humans are wired to engage with stories. It's been this way for literally thousands of years. Tapping into this is a smart tactic for your content and inbound marketing strategy.
For example, Groove HQ added story elements to increase their blog engagement by 300%. And they said themselves they're not Shakespeare - it just took adding elements like dialogue, fictional elements, vivid details, known stories and emotional imagery.
Create a website to act as your inbound marketing hub and for blogging
It's possible to run an inbound marketing strategy without a website. For example, you can use social media platforms to create and distribute your content. But you will greatly benefit from having a website that has been created for the purpose of marketing your business.
There are various reasons to have your own website as part of an inbound marketing strategy. Because you have complete control, you can build and maintain your website exactly how you need to for the most effective inbound marketing. It should be used to store all your content assets and is the ideal place for blogging.
To see why we recommend and build Webflow websites for our clients, check out this article.
Use search engine optimization (SEO) on your website and blog
When you do have a website, you must dedicate resources to a strong SEO strategy. SEO involves three main components - on-page, off-page and technical. Each plays an important part in how much website traffic from search engines you can attract.
On-page SEO involves selecting the right keywords and topics to create content that your target audience is searching for online. It also includes how the information the search engines read is formatted in the code of the web pages, such as meta data and HTML tags.
Off-page SEO is focused on building your online authority and gaining links from other online sources to your website. Technical SEO covers the tactics used to ensure your website is running optimally, such as page speed.
For more details on SEO, check out this guide.
Employ conversion rate optimization (CRO) on your website
Once you attract prospective customers to your website, the next stage is to convert them into leads. This is where CRO becomes an important element. By testing changes to your website, such as the copy or the user interface, you can improve the number of visitors who convert to leads and sales.
CRO is a great inbound marketing example. Without it, you could be attracting the ideal customers but struggle to move ahead through the next stages of the inbound marketing cycle.
Exploit the power of social media platforms
There are various social media platforms that can be used to build awareness of your company, distribute your best-performing content and build relationships with your ideal customers.
Platforms for B2B companies
For B2B companies, LinkedIn should be part of your strategy especially when inbound marketing and sales are combined.
Twitter's audience while smaller than other platforms has also had a high proportion of professional workers, particularly in the information economy. Traditionally text-based, it's recently been through some upheaval with a new owner and is attempting to move towards video.
YouTube and other video platforms
If video content is your focus, YouTube is a no-brainer. TikTok has also been rising rapidly on the back of short-form videos and is skewed more towards a younger audience, as is the multimedia messenger Snapchat.
Facebook, Instagram and other Meta platforms
Instagram started out as a photo-sharing app. It has gradually morphed into a multimedia platform with a focus on short-form video in response to Snapchat and then TikTok.
Meta's newest platform is the 'text-based conservation app' Threads. Touted as a 'Twitter killer', it achieved 70 million downloads in under 48 hours. It's been released as an Instagram app which allows existing Instagram users to get set up quickly.
Other platforms worth considering
You may want to consider Pinterest which has a strong female audience and is heavily used for visual research.
With the recent issues with Twitter, there are also several new platforms being released. This includes new de-centralized social media such as Mastodon and Bluesky (co-founded by ex-Twitter founder Jack Dorsey). As mentioned above, Meta has also recently launched a text-based platform styled on Twitter.
How do I know which platforms I should use for my business?
To get started, identify which platform(s) your ideal customer prefers, what type of content you will be creating, and how many platforms you have the resources to focus on. Then post engaging content consistently on the selected platform(s) to attract your ideal audience and convert them into customers.
As an example of the power of social media in this process, 87% of people in a survey said they took action (such as following the brand, visiting their website or making a purchase) after seeing product information on Instagram (Meta).
Don't underestimate the effectiveness or ROI of email marketing
It's arguably still the most effective channel to engage with prospective and existing customers. Despite the growth of social media, messaging apps and chatbots, email is still used by a massive audience. In 2020 there were 4 billion people using email and this is expected to grow to 4.6 billion by 2025 (Statista).
It's also often quoted as the clear winner in terms of return on investment (ROI). The exact ROI will depend on the industry and how the data was obtained, but a quick Google will see amounts referenced between $36 and $46. Because of this, marketers understandably look at email as a great way to distribute content organically.
Building a strong email list is crucial. This can be achieved with smart opt-ins presented on your website and sharing high-performing content via social media platforms. Keeping this audience engaged will help you to convert more of them into paying customers and then into your raving fans after they become your customers.
Use paid advertisements to distribute your content and target your audience better
Paid advertisements can be used a form of inbound marketing. But there are some important differences to how they should be used compared to their use in an outbound marketing campaign.
You should be creating paid advertisements to support the inbound marketing methodology. This means using advertisements in search engines or social media platforms to promote your content. And of course this content has been created to answer your ideal customer's questions and address their pain points. Not to sell your products and services, but to explain how they are the solutions your ideal customer is looking for.
You can also use paid advertisements on search engines as research for your SEO and CRO efforts. You can test the popularity of keywords used in your content and the effectiveness of your website in converting the traffic you receive as a result of the advertisements.
Paid advertisements also give you the advantage of being able to retarget previous visitors to your website. This can help you move them down the different stages of the buyer's journey and personalize the messaging they receive from you.
Use automation to deliver personalized experiences
When your ideal customers have entered a particular stage of the buyer's journey, they will usually respond best when your actions acknowledge they are at that particular stage. A simple example is automatically providing a discount to new visitors to your website. Another example is following up with an automated email when a customer has abandoned their shopping cart.
Segmenting your audience and providing personalized experiences based on their interests is a powerful way to convert them into paying customers. This can be continued once they become your customers.
For example, providing targeted offers based on a customer's location or previous buying habits can help maintain a relationship and reward their loyalty. It's these kinds of actions that can turn them into delighted customers.
Track and analyse inbound marketing results
Each of the strategies outlined above require careful planning and implementation. Once implemented, you need to ensure you can track and analyse the results. This will allow you to update your tactics or strategy as needed.
You will need to obtain key metrics for each strategy you're implementing. Your website will likely require additional tools to understand how many people have visited, how long they spent on each page and the actions they have taken.
In comparison, the social media platforms will show you the reach and interactions received on your posts. If you send emails, being able to see metrics such as open rate, click-through rate (CTR) and unsubscribe rate (for newsletters) is crucial.
If you are interested in growing your business, creating and implementing an inbound marketing strategy will pay huge dividends. It's a proven way to attract your target audience, convert them into paying customers, and ensure they become your biggest advocates.
Depending on your situation, it can take time to start seeing results. But there are different tactics that can be employed to quicken the process when needed.
Ultimately, the investment you make in the inbound marketing methodology will pay for itself many times over.
If you need assistance with implementing an inbound marketing strategy, let's chat.