So much of traditional marketing is based on scarcity - the idea that there are limited amounts of customers and unlimited players competing for their money. It requires extensive outreach to find those customers and convince them to buy goods and services that they may or may need.
Inbound marketing turns that idea on its head by creating a “pull” factor that magnetizes customers in your direction. It’s not based on a “what can I get” mentality, but rather an idea that your products and services can give back through solving problems for your customers. This short guide shows you how it’s done.
Inbound Marketing, Explained
Traditional outbound sales and marketing operated on a principle similar to that used by door-to-door salespeople. The idea is that if you knock on enough doors and give your pitch, someone will buy your product eventually.
Volume is the key to outbound marketing, and it’s mostly bolstered by pushy, aggressive sales tactics. Besides being time-consuming, expensive and inefficient, it puts almost everyone involved in an uncomfortable position where force - rather than attraction - is the motivating factor.
Inbound marketing works in the opposite fashion. It doesn’t go after just any customer - it zeros in on the right customers. Rather than offer random products or services, it promotes value for the people that need it.
Inbound marketing offers something valuable to attract potential customers while creating a nurturing relationship based on trust so that the sale comes easily and naturally when the client is ready to buy. It follows that principle that your product or service is not targeted to everyone - and neither should your marketing be.
Inbound Marketing Use-Case: Blissful Backpacks Inc.
Blissful Backpacks Inc. (a fictional company) specializes in backpacks for people that take long trips across multiple destinations.
The company was started by a vagabond adventurer who went through many backpacks on her travels, yet could never find the right one to suit all her needs.
Blissful Backpacks was then born with a mission to create backpacks that have everything a person could need in terms of storage. They are waterproof, easily fit in the overhead bin on a plane, and have super padded straps for easy carrying. On top of it all, they have a special logo and ribbon so customers can spot them straight away on the carousel at the airport baggage claim area.
The owner of Blissful Backpacks is passionate about what she does. She writes blog articles and posts on social media with helpful tips on traveling. She listens to her customers and continuously upgrades her products according to their suggestions. On top of that, she posts beautiful pictures on her rapidly-growing social media profiles that highlight insights and lessons learned on her travels.
We’ll be using Blissful Backpacks throughout this guide to give context to what you’re about to learn.
3 Levels of an Inbound Marketing Strategy
Inbound marketing strategies work on three levels:
1. Attract your people
The internet is full of attention-grabbing content. Stand out by writing blog posts and creating social media content that appeals to your ideal customers. This helps establish your company as an authority in the industry.
Blissful Backpacks does that with blog posts containing travel tips and social media posts containing travel pictures from company employees and loyal customers.
2. Engage your audience
Ask questions, create challenges and offer quizzes to engage your prospective customers so you can start a conversation. Learn about their pain points and communicate in a way that builds trust. Over time they may start seeing you as an advisor and someone they can buy from with confidence.
Blissful Backpacks starts conversations around travel stories. Among her other adventures, the owner was often caught in the rain, lived in huts in the jungle, and traveled through rough terrain. She has an ample supply of videos and photographs and uses them in her content. Through storytelling with pictures and words, she starts conversations with her audience and is able to identify with their needs and challenges.
3. Delight your new customers
Once your prospects turn into customers the focus shifts into turning them into raving fans of your products. This pays massive dividends over time because they, in effect, become free advertising across all social media channels.
Blissful Backpacks continues to engage customers by featuring them periodically in their social media content. The company also runs an affiliate program and member’s newsletter with special offers for new products.
5 Pillars of an Inbound Marketing Campaign
Now that we know the levels of an inbound marketing campaign, let’s break it down into 5 main pillars. They are:
1. People: Who are you talking to?
Marketing on a general level is ineffective and boring. Zero in on who your customers are by completing basic customer avatar exercises that outline factors like demographics, psychographics, media sources and pain points.
Blissful Backpacks targets women aged 30-60 that travel solo for durations of one month or more and have an income of at least $50,000. They tend to have a university degree (or equivalent experience) and typically work in the technology, marketing or finance sectors.
2. Purpose: What are your goals?
The next step is to clarify the goals of the marketing campaign. Some helpful questions to ask are:
What level are we on? (Attract/Engage/Delight)
What specific results do we want to see?
What are our goals/KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)?
At this stage, it’s important to set specific goals in terms of new social media followers or sales figures. This gives us a sense of direction by defining a target moving forward.
Blissful Backpacks is about to start a campaign to promote their new sling mini-pack for day trips. This places them on the “Attract” level, and they want to see 2000 new followers within the next ten days.
3. Process: How will you achieve your goals?
Inbound marketing has many tools available to attract, engage and delight prospects. Some of them include:
Social media posts
Blissful Backpacks is going to kick off the new marketing campaign with a video of the owner telling a story of how she bought a new sling bag while abroad. After giving away the old (broken) one she realized that she forgot $30 in the inside pocket. This lesson led to the creation of the new bag that has an inside pocket with a contrasting color. At the end of the video will be a call-to-action to enter an email address to get a discount on the new bag.
4. Promotion: How will you get the right people to see your content?
Similar to creating content, there are many tools available to share it. They include:
Social media: Facebook, Youtube, Instagram, LinkedIn, and many more
Paid social media advertisements
Paid advertisements on search engines
To promote the video mentioned in the previous step, Blissful Backpacks will use organic and paid sharing on its social media channels.
5. Optimizing: What can you do better?
Optimizing your strategy is an ongoing process. Refer back to your goals and KPIs on a consistent basis to see what you can improve over time.
Attribution reporting can help bring clarity to the effectiveness of your strategy. Ordinarily, this involves exporting data from any platforms you are using (i.e. Facebook) and using an internal program like a spreadsheet to derive insights from the data.
This process is now a lot easier thanks to reporting tools available at companies like HubSpot that can streamline the process, make it more efficient, and help you derive useful insights to optimize your strategy.
Inbound Marketing Campaign Best Practices
So far we’ve learned about the 3 levels and 5 pillars of a successful inbound marketing campaign. Now let’s put it all together with some best practices to increase the chances of success:
Choose a good platform for your inbound marketing campaign. It will save time and money in the long run. Some popular ones include HubSpot, InfusionSoft & Salesforce.
Set clear, defined goals and track them in the software.
Focus on optimization. SEO is a long-term game. Campaigns can be more effective in the short term if you optimize using split A/B testing and other strategies to build your audience in the short term.
Stay flexible. Your customers are not you, and the results can be surprising. Be prepared to pivot on your strategy and try new tactics to improve your outreach.
Leverage paid advertising. Since organic results take time to build, a paid strategy can pay dividends in the short term that extend into the long term.
Knocking on doors to sell your products and services is a straightforward strategy, but it’s not very effective. Besides being aggressive and unsolicited, it takes effort, time and resources to produce results.
Inbound marketing is a better way to attract customers because it focuses resources on a target audience. Built using techniques and strategies that nurture relationships over time, inbound marketing builds a loyal audience of customers that can also act as promoters in the long run. The digital tools available today make it all possible, enabling you to reach your ideal customers anywhere in the world for successful marketing results.
Ashley Quintana is a co-founder of Bridges. In her role, she develops, leads, and executes digital marketing strategies for the company’s growing client base, including a Fortune 500 subsidiary and an NBA basketball team. Ashley’s work can be found in the Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Science, and she is an OKC.biz 40 Under 40 honoree for her leadership in business and community. She frequently speaks at universities, churches, and conferences on marketing, diversity, and business.