Inbound marketing is a marketing methodology that attracts your prospects, converts them to leads for your sales department, and continues to delight them once they become customers.
Rather than interrupting our target audience with advertisements, inbound marketing focuses on giving them the answers to the questions they’re looking for as they guide themselves through the marketing and sales funnel (or buyer's journey).
HubSpot co-founders Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah published a book in 2006 introducing the idea of inbound marketing. The book, entitled Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs, includes the following quote, by Guy Kawasaki, on the back cover:
If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing by reading this book.
Inbound vs. outbound marketing
Outbound marketing interrupts our prospects while they're trying to do something else.
Examples of outbound marketing elements include:
banner ads that appear on a landing page or an article you’re reading
pre-roll video ads that play before a sports highlight video, or a how-to video
a flyer on the windshield of your car
almost any advertisement is part of so-called traditional marketing, such as TV ads and radio ads
Rather than interrupt our prospects while they're trying to do something else, inbound marketing, also known as content marketing, attracts them by providing content that helps them accomplish what they're trying to do at the moment.
How Inbound Marketing Works
Inbound methodology has a four-step process:
Attract prospects to your website with high-quality pieces of content that answer their questions.
Convert those new visitors into leads with high-value information and resources in exchange for their permission to market.
The first step in a new inbound marketing strategy or campaign is to attract new visitors to your website. We attract prospects to our websites by building valuable content, commonly in the form of blog posts. This relevant content is written to initially attract prospects primarily via organic traffic via search engines and paid search placements (sometimes called PPC or pay-per-click).
How do inbound marketers make content that will attract prospects?
The first step is to fully understand your ideal client or customer by developing buyer personas or semi-fictional representations of them.
In the inbound marketing world, buyer personas go far beyond a simple "target market" paradigm. They rely on a combination of detailed data that your internal team can provide and implicit data that a sharp inbound marketing team can source using digital tools.
Once the buyer personas are defined, every other part of the process is filtered through and influenced by them. You and your team will create helpful content that appeals to them. Websites and other digital assets are designed to provide them an excellent user experience (which also helps with organic search).
Stage 2: Convert
Once your ideal prospects visit your website, how do we turn them into leads that are ready to talk to a salesperson? In inbound marketer-speak, we would ask, "how do we get our prospects to convert into leads?" We do this through high-value calls to action that offer free products or services that are enticing.
Inbound offers and conversion-oriented design are the central assets we deploy on our clients' websites to generate leads.
An inbound offer is most simply the exchange of high-value information or another valuable resource for the right for you to market and sell to them. The business offers something that helps the prospect achieve their goal, in exchange for their contact information and permission to contact.
Some marketing professionals call them "lead magnets" because they are designed to attract anonymous website visitors with a high-value offer and turn that visitor into a lead.
Some examples of inbound offers are:
Online interactive tools such as assessment tools and budget calculators
The key to a compelling inbound offer is to ensure that the offer's perceived value is equal to or more than the perceived value of what the prospect is giving. Additionally, converting cannot be a hassle. No one likes to fill out a long online form. A short conversion form in tandem with inbound offers is a powerful lead generation tool.
Website design plays a surprisingly significant role in how many prospects convert into leads.
The users on your website should intuitively understand how they can start the process of doing business with you without even reading the words on the page. Conversion-optimized design accomplishes this.
Making it to this stage means you successfully attracted a visitor and turned them into a lead. The next step is to turn them into paying customers.
You can nurture your leads and move them along the buyer's journey using email and CRM-retargeted media that provide value when they leave your website. Some tools and techniques that you might deploy during this stage of the buyer's journey include:
CRM and Marketing Database Systems
Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems can give you the precise information you need to engage effectively with prospects across every channel. These systems help you keep track of contact details and record interactions they have had so that you can deliver the right messaging at their specific stage in the buyer's journey.
How well is your sales team working with your marketing department? Integration with your CRM system can give you the tools to analyze lead quality while determining how effectively your sales team converts leads into customers.
Sending emails with helpful content helps move leads through the buying process. Since not all leads are ready to buy, email can build trust as they progress towards becoming a customer.
Stage 4: Delight
Converting customers into evangelists for your brand is one of the most powerful and cost-effective marketing strategies out there. Social media networks now give people numerous opportunities to voice their opinions — and delighted customers can be more powerful than almost any other advertising method.
The key is to keep them engaged. Some ways to ensure they stay in the loop include:
Use automated email marketing and CRM-retargeting to continually engage with your customers by providing them with useful information. This can help drive upsells and subscription renewals.
Some of the most successful companies are in a constant process of product refinement and optimization. Surveys are an effective way to upgrade customer service and ensure that you are always providing the best products on the market.
Inbound Marketing FAQ
What kinds of businesses can have success with inbound marketing?
Measures the average lifetime value of a new customer or client in hundreds of thousands of dollars or more.
Considers their buying process carefully using research, data, and fact finding.
Possesses aggressive growth goals.
Can maintain and handles dramatic increase in inbound leads.
Delivers more for more customers or clients.
Normally, these kinds of businesses are considered B2B — meaning they sell their services from business to business. This doesn't mean that inbound marketing principles aren't effective for companies that often sell to consumers (B2C), but each situation is different and should be evaluated. We're happy to help you with that evaluation.
Aren’t inbound marketing and SEO the same thing?
No. Search engine optimization (SEO) often plays a big role in the attraction stage of inbound marketing. Google and other search engines are excellent matchmakers between you and your potential customers.
How much time does it take to see results from inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a long-term tool. It takes time to build a unique strategy and execute all of the necessary steps. At first, organic search may not be the strongest channel because it takes time for Google and other search engines to index and begin serving results for organic searches.
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.