April 14, 2016

What Is Inbound Marketing?

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When I first began working with the fine folks at madison/miles media, I had no idea what inbound marketing was. I had previously worked in content marketing and journalism, but the concept of inbound marketing was completely foreign to me.

I quickly learned that inbound marketing is more or less the opposite of traditional outbound marketingIn outbound marketing, a company spends most of their money pushing a product or service onto potential customers (think cold calls and commercials), hoping they'll land business. Inbound marketing involves creating content that will intrigue and engage the prospective customer, and lead him or her come to you. And it seems to work quite well — according to HubSpot, 54 percent more leads are generated by inbound marketing than outbound marketing.

In a nutshell, inbound marketing is a strategy in which you create high-quality, interesting content (in the form of whitepapers, blog posts, eBooks, infographics, podcasts, etc.) to attract prospective customers to your website and convert them into sales leads, customers and, finally, brand ambassadors. HubSpot calls it “the proven methodology for the digital age.”

Here's an example. A company that sells engagement rings might publish a blog post on their website titled “When Is the Right Time to Propose?” in hopes of attracting people who may be considering proposing to their loved one. The company continues to provide engaging, compelling content for those site visitors at every stage of the buyer's journey (awareness, consideration and decision) — from general information about choosing a ring to buying-stage content such as a pricing guide. 

In order to fully understand inbound marketing so I could work with it at our agency every day, I completed HubSpot's Inbound Certification. I also spent a ton of time reading about inbound marketing on blogs and participated in various forums, such as Inbound.org. Here’s the streamlined, simplified version of everything I learned during my inbound marketing deep dive.

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Getting Started

Before even beginning to implement an inbound marketing strategy for your organization, there are a few things you need to do:

1. Create Buyer Personas 

The point of implementing an inbound marketing strategy is to attract potential customers to your website. You should know exactly who you're looking to attract so you can create content catered to them.

In keeping with the above example of wedding rings, you probably don’t want a 75-year-old woman or a 16-year-old boy on your site — you want a 30-year-old man who is considering proposing to his longtime girlfriend.

In order to attract the right visitors to your site, you must first create buyer personas. These are representations (usually 2 or 3) of your ideal customers and can help you better understand them. By gathering data and conducting research about your ideal customers, you can create a handful of fictional personas. You’ll want to include things such as age, gender, salary, life goals, buying patterns and more.

For example, one of the personas for your engagement ring website might be:

Indecisive Ian: This person is a 30-year-old male who feels like he is ready to propose, but isn’t sure. He has been with his girlfriend for two years, has a salary of $75,000 and typically does a lot of research before making a big purchase. He has a vague idea of his girlfriend's taste, but isn't completely sure.

2. Understand the Buyer’s Journey

HubSpot's Buyer's Journey(Source: HubSpot)

Before implementing an inbound marketing strategy, you must also understand the buyer’s journey. HubSpot defines this as “the active research process someone goes through leading up to a purchase.” It comprises three stages: 1. Awareness 2. Consideration and 3. Decision. Deciphering what type of content to post in order to attract customers in each of these stages of the buying process is an integral part of inbound marketing.

For example, a blog post titled “When To Propose” would fall into the Awareness stage, while a blog post titled “Which Ring Should I Buy?” would fall into the Consideration stage.

Now that you understand two of the major building blocks of inbound marketing, you can learn more about the process itself.

The Stages

There are four stages in the inbound marketing methodology: Attract, Convert, Close and Delight.

HubSpot's Inbound Methodology(Source: HubSpot)

attract1. Attract

The bulk of your inbound marketing efforts take place during this stage. You will begin creating content and optimizing your website in order to attract visitors who could one day become customers. In addition to optimizing your website for SEO during this stage, you will also be creating high-quality content in the form of blog posts, infographics, whitepapers, podcasts and more. You want to create content that will draw potential customers to your site and keep them there.

During this stage, you will also be promoting your content on social media. Creating high-quality content is great, but what’s the point if no one sees it? In addition to sharing your content on social media, you will want to follow and interact with industry influencers who could potentially share your content with their large follower base. 

convert2. Convert

At the end of the day, the point of inbound marketing is to attract customers who you can then convert into sales leads. In order to do this, you need to keep people on your website. This is done by adding Calls to Action at the bottom of your blog posts. For example, the engagement ring site might have a blog post titled: “When to Propose” with a CTA at the bottom that says: “Learn more about choosing the perfect engagement ring in this how-to booklet.”

After the site visitor (hopefully) clicks on this CTA, he will be taken to a Landing Page where he can fill out a short form in order to access the booklet. Ta-da! You now have a lead in your system.

close3. Close

Now that you’ve garnered numerous email addresses from the forms on your landing pages, you can convert some of your leads into customers. In the Close stage of the inbound marketing methodology, you will send targeted emails to your prospects in hopes of landing customers. A HubSpot puts it, you will need to master “sending the right email to the right person.”

delight4. Delight

You may think that once you’ve landed customers, your job is done. Not so fast! You should take advantage of your happy, satisfied customers by turning them into promoters of your business and learning what led them to ultimately choose you. 

You can delight your customers by sending out surveys and continually sharing relevant content with them via email and on social media.

Now that I’ve keyed you in to the basics of inbound marketing, hopefully your question has changed from “What is inbound marketing?” to “When can I get started?”

Free Checklist: How to Run an Inbound Marketing Campaign

Jamie Friedlander

Jamie Friedlander is a writer and editor with experience working for magazines, newspapers, websites and custom content publishing companies. She recently received her master’s degree from Northwestern University and relocated from Chicago, her hometown, to Dallas. When she’s not working or traveling, she can usually be found drinking coffee into excess, reading a novel or surfing Etsy late into the night.