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It’s likely that you’ve already heard the term “inbound marketing” many times. However, do you really know what it means and how to use it to drive more business your way? If you’re not quite clear about this, don’t panic. We’ll break it all down and tell you what inbound marketing is, why it’s so important and how you can use it to build your brand and generate more leads and sales.
“Inbound” is a term that’s frequently used but not always clearly defined or explained. In a broad sense, an inbound marketing strategy is one that draws customers in using techniques such as creating helpful content for a targeted audience, interacting with customers on social platforms and optimizing websites for search engines. This differs from traditional outbound marketing, which reaches out to customers through methods such as untargeted traditional advertising methods, cold calling and direct mail.
Inbound marketers do niche and keyword research to not only identify their customers, but to also uncover the issues their customers care most about. TV commercials or print ads are typical examples of outbound marketing. With these examples, instead of you finding your target audience, they somehow find their way to you. Think of it as your company standing on a soapbox, waiting for your customers to pass by. While these types of ads are sometimes effective, your options for targeting and your opportunity to measure its effectiveness are limited.
You can track analytics for all of your major inbound goals such as web traffic, conversions, email open rates, social media engagement and more. This is another reason inbound marketing is cost effective, as tracking data lets you fine-tune your efforts and improve your results.
Inbound marketing is often more effective than traditional advertising for building trust and credibility. When you create informative blog posts, social media posts, videos or other content, you display your knowledge and expertise. Over time, this creation of authority can build your brand as a go-to resource in the industry.
Businesses can enjoy solid ROI and an enhanced reputation with inbound marketing. At the same time, inbound isn’t always a stand-alone strategy. There’s still a place for outbound marketing, especially when combined with inbound techniques.
Campaigns that are focused on a targeted audience rather than the masses are typically less expensive. Essentially, you’re not paying to put your ad in front of just anyone — you don’t have to reach everyone, only your selected audience.
Many people quickly grow tired of traditional advertising. Some even use technology such as ad blockers to avoid them. Statista reports that in 2019, roughly 25.8 percent of internet users were blocking advertising on their connected devices, with that figure expected to grow. With inbound marketing, you aim to provide the right information to the right people to feel less like an interruption.
Here are the steps for forming an effective inbound marketing strategy for your business:
It helps to be clear about your objectives for inbound marketing. Justifying your marketing plans and budget is an ongoing process. Once you get the green light to move forward, managers will expect regular reports on your progress. Recommendations of objectives for your inbound marketing plan may include:
Inbound tactics can be extremely effective for building a mailing list of potential clients or for enticing people to reach out regarding your product or service. For example, you can entice people to complete an opt-in form on a webpage using a strong call to action (CTA) by offering a download or a discount. When asking for personal information from potential clients like an email or general contact information, it’s important to create easy-to-use forms and to offer transparency regarding your intended use, i.e. will you be sending them promotional emails or signing them up for a newsletter?
While inbound techniques are more about providing information and cultivating relationships than directly selling, they can motivate customers to visit your sales or product pages. Streamlining your website or creating new landing pages may lead to more users making their way to the “check-out” page on your website. If your metric is set at a certain sales goal, there are several tactics that can lead you there. What is important is the ability to identify the successful tactics and weed out the ineffective ones.
Inbound marketing is especially good for spreading the word and controlling the narrative about your brand. You can do this by creating strong content, generating traffic to your web pages through paid ads and engaging with customers on social media. Growing brand awareness should be a continuous effort, as increased engagement, authenticity and recognition are soon to follow.
For marketing campaigns to proceed smoothly, it has to be clear who will do what. Whether it’s one person or a dedicated team, make sure everyone is clear about his or her tasks.
Knowing your audience is one of the most vital factors in determining your marketing efforts. As we already noted, precise targeting is one of the main advantages of inbound marketing. Yet to do this effectively, you must first have a clear idea of who you’re targeting. There are a few essential points to clarify about your audience.
We’d recommend starting off by creating a buyer persona. A buyer persona is a fictional yet useful representation of your “typical” customer. You want to understand who your customers are, what problems they face and what solutions are most appealing to them. You can gather this information by doing some demographic research. You might find, for example, that a beauty product you are marketing is most likely to appeal to suburban women between the ages of 35-55 who have an annual income of at least $50,000. You can gather more specific information by engaging with your customers and followers on social media, or holding in person peer groups. You might also conduct polls or ask questions on your blog. The bottom line is — talk to your customers to learn as much as you can!
It’s also possible for some businesses to have multiple buyer personas. An airline, for example, is likely to have several types of customers such as business and leisure travelers. They will launch different campaigns for each type of customer.
When researching your audience, you’ll want to learn where they spend their time online. Which social media platforms do they use most frequently? You can take an educated guess about this based on demographic research. While there are some general principles (for example, a majority of Pinterest users are women), you always have to test your results on various platforms. You can also gain this type of information by observing your competition.
Whether you need a budget to hire more help, to purchase services or software or to hire an agency, it’s often necessary to convince managers or your CEO that inbound marketing is a worthwhile investment. Senior management is focused on the bottom line, but you can start by explaining some leading benefits of inbound marketing. Here are some tips to consider:
Align your strategy with the company’s goals. Explain that inbound marketing tactics can help you obtain more leads and customers. Recite accurate numbers that support your claim. For example, DemandMetric reports that content marketing generates three times as many leads as outbound marketing while costing 62% less.
Create forecasts of projected results. For each goal, compile a projection on the results you expect to achieve. You might forecast how many additional website visitors you expect to get through SEO or how many leads you expect to gain with email marketing.
Use case studies. Case studies are one of the best tools to argue your case. Find examples of companies in your industry that have seen impressive results from inbound marketing. It’s also helpful if you can point to companies using the specific strategies you’re pitching. For example, if you want to launch an influencer marketing campaign, look for case studies that back your claims.
Analyze the competition. If you can show that your competitors are getting solid results from inbound marketing, this will be a powerful incentive for senior managers to get on board. No one wants to be left behind.
Now it’s time to delve into some actual tactics you can implement for your inbound marketing campaigns.
Content marketing is a central focus of inbound marketing. It includes or overlaps with every other inbound tactic. “Content” is anything you create to inform or entertain your audience. Originally, this meant written content such as blog posts and articles. It now increasingly includes video, images, infographics and other visual content. It can also include other platforms such as podcasts or webinars. Here are some examples of content you can create to engage your audience:
Your blog is one of the most powerful content marketing tools of all. As DemandMetric reports, businesses that blog get 67% more leads than those that don’t. Blogging really embodies all of the advantages of inbound marketing.
As visual content gets more popular (and the attention of your audience gets much shorter), video is now one of the best ways to engage. Research shows that people retain more information by watching videos than by reading. According to Insivia, people retain 95% of what they watch in a video but only 10% of what they read in text format. Another benefit of videos is that we can post them in so many places. Once you have a video, you can place it on your website, YouTube, Facebook and any other social media sites you use. There are also many types of videos that can be tailored to a variety of purposes. Animation and whiteboard videos can entertainingly explain products and concepts. Videos in which you appear in front of the camera are good for engaging viewers. Live stream videos let viewers participate and talk to you in real time.
Podcasting is a quickly growing phenomenon. In fact, current statistics show that 51% of consumers in the United States who are above the age of 12 listen to podcasts. Podcasting is useful for providing insights and interviewing experts in your industry. Podcasts are published as audio files that can be easily shared on your website and on social media.
SEO and content marketing are closely related. One benefit of posting content is to get it indexed by Google and other search engines. Google has made it harder to rank your site with SEO gimmicks, such as generating lots of backlinks or keyword stuffing (filling content with many keywords). Instead, sites are now rewarded primarily for offering valuable content to searchers. Still, there are some SEO factors worth implementing.
Many aspects of your website affect your ranking such as title tags, user-friendly navigation and page loading speed. If your site runs on WordPress, you can manage many of these elements from your dashboard and by using SEO plugins such as Yoast.
If you have a brick and mortar business or serve people in a specific area, you need to consider ranking locally. Listings in Google My Business and other directories are essential. It’s also helpful to generate local reviews for your business.
While Google will penalize you for generating lots of low-quality backlinks, it’s still beneficial to link naturally. Both internal and external links to authoritative and relevant pages are useful in moderation. Internal linking between your own posts and pages is also good for SEO. Note that many inbound tactics such as creating strong content and engaging with your audience on social media will help you generate links.
Statista reports that 51% of internet traffic in 2020 was mobile. The balance is likely to shift even more toward mobile in the near future. You must ensure your website is mobile-friendly, both for your customers and the search engines. Using responsive design ensures that users on all devices can access your content. You can perform your own tests or use Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test.
Email marketing embodies some of the most notable strengths of inbound marketing. Salesforce estimates that the ROI for email marketing is $38 for every dollar spent. An email list gives you a way to contact subscribers according to your own schedule. Your list is something over which you have complete control, independent of SEO or the algorithms of Google or Facebook. It’s also one of the best ways to develop trust and loyalty. Of course, the best way to use email marketing is with other inbound methods. Your messages can link to your website, offers, social media pages and any relevant content you want people to see.
Social media has become an integral part of inbound marketing. With the popularity of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, people are spending more and more time on social sites. Research social media demographics to find out where your audience is. Pew Research notes that most Americans use Facebook and YouTube, while younger users also favor Snapchat and Instagram. However, you also have to track your results and find out which platforms provide the best results.
There are several ways to use social media to benefit your business.
You can publish (or link) authoritative content to your pages. LinkedIn lets you publish articles that can get indexed by Google. Instagram and Pinterest are great for sharing visual content. YouTube, which is also a social media site, is the premier video sharing site.
Customers increasingly expect businesses to offer support via social media. As Adweek notes, people who receive responses to questions on social media are more likely to make purchases and spend more than they otherwise would. Social media is also useful to answer questions about products that customers have already bought.
Social media gives you a way to connect with customers, show your appreciation for them and to answer their questions. While this can be done via other channels, many people today prefer interacting on Facebook, Twitter and other sites. You can build engagement by posting polls and creating contests; Facebook and Instagram are particularly suited for contests. For example, many companies run contests where subscribers send in photos or videos featuring their products.
Advertising is generally associated with traditional outbound marketing, and in many cases, it indeed falls into this category. TV commercials, radio ads, print ads and direct mail, for example, are all outbound. Online advertising tactics such as banner ads are similarly outbound because they are untargeted. However, there are also advertising platforms that qualify as inbound because of how they target customers based on specific topics and keywords.
Google AdWords, Facebook and other pay-per-click (PPC) platforms target consumers in a manner similar to organic content. People see these ads based on web searches or on social sites based on their demographics and interests. Finally, re-targeted ads are shown to website visitors who have already expressed an interest in a topic or product.
Whether you consider such targeted advertising as inbound or outbound is ultimately a matter of definition. However, the fact remains that targeted paid advertising can help you accelerate your inbound marketing. While tactics such as social media, email and content marketing take time to build up, paid advertising is a way to get traffic quickly.
Social media listening and monitoring help you create a more effective and targeted inbound strategy. These two terms are similar, but not exactly the same. Social monitoring involves watching (or monitoring) social media for mentions of your brand. When you find these, you can respond as needed. Social listening is broader in scope and includes any topic relevant to your business. In this context, “social” goes beyond social media and includes anything on the web (news stories, discussion forums, websites, etc.). Here are some ways that you can use both to enhance your inbound marketing campaigns:
Social monitoring is essential for managing your reputation nowadays. You’ll want to watch comments and reviews for your business so you can respond appropriately. Be sure to monitor any sites where customers are likely to leave reviews such as Yelp, Google, Facebook and Yellow Pages. Don’t overlook industry-specific review sites such as Angie’s List, Glassdoor, Manta and others. Responding to reviews needs to be handled with delicacy. Thank people who praise you. When someone has a complaint or problem, do everything you can to solve it. Avoid getting into debates or arguments as this reflects poorly on you. For complex issues, invite the reviewer to contact you offline.
Social listening is a good way to keep up with your competitors. Follow them on social media, read their blogs and set alerts for brand mentions. You can learn from their mistakes and get inspiration from their victories.
Social listening can help keep you up to the minute on the latest happenings relevant to your industry. If some new technology is about to create a disruption, you want to be among the first to know about it. You can also learn about product and design trends to help you create more popular products in the future.
A sales funnel is a tool that utilizes several types of marketing, including inbound and outbound techniques. It often blends email, social media, content marketing and even advertising. An effective sales funnel guides your customer through the traditional buyer’s journey. This comprises three main stages: awareness, consideration and purchase. Let’s see how your inbound marketing strategy can work for each of these stages:
Your prospect sees a blog post, video, ad or something else you’ve created. This is information related to a certain need, interest or problem he or she is facing. Making targeted prospects aware of your business, product or service is the essence of inbound marketing. Someone enters your sales funnel if they take an action such as filling out an opt-in form, ordering a free sample or contacting you for more information.
During this phase, prospects are considering different options to fill their needs or solve their problems. This is the time to provide them with more in-depth information. Downloadable information products such as e-books or white papers are useful for this purpose, and so are webinars and other online training.
At this point, prospects are ready to buy. Case studies, FAQs and reports that break down the features and benefits of specific options are useful at this point.
In practice, the three stages overlap. You should also realize that the same types of content (e.g. blog posts, videos, reports) can be used at each stage. What differs is the type of information you include. More general information is appropriate at the awareness phase, but you should create more detail as customers progress through the buyer’s journey. This isn’t an exact science, but it is a useful model that helps you supply the right content to prospects at the right time.
If you want your inbound marketing efforts to yield success, you must track your results (after you have already determined your goals, as stated earlier). Analytics are a crucial aspect of content, email and social media marketing. Fortunately, there are many effective tools for tracking your inbound campaigns.
Google Analytics is a powerful free tool that lets you track useful website metrics. Social media sites all have built-in analytics. Facebook Insights lets you track not only your own stats but those of any Facebook page, which is great for monitoring the competition.
Certain metrics look impressive at first glance, but don’t necessarily translate into tangible results. That’s why clicks, impressions and social media likes or shares are sometimes called vanity metrics. This doesn’t mean these numbers have no value. They are easy to track and can help you gauge interest in your content. However, you should recognize the limitations of vanity metrics and understand that your managers are more concerned with sales qualified leads (SQL), cost-per-lead (CPL) and customer acquisition cost (CAC).
Some analytics tools let you “spy” on your competitors. As noted, Facebook Insights lets you do this with Facebook pages. You can also find your competitors’ SEO (e.g. top keywords), website traffic, backlinks and paid campaigns.
Successful Inbound Marketing Strategies need to evolve. Don’t get overly attached to a certain platform or tactic. What works today might not work next month and vice versa. It’s worthwhile to periodically revisit older approaches and test new ones.
Consistency is one of the most important factors for all types of inbound marketing. Stick to your schedule for posting content, sending emails and any other methods you employ. The more consistent you are, the easier it is to build authority and a loyal following.
Inbound techniques work best when combined. Just about every inbound tactic we’ve covered works best as part of a holistic strategy. Strong content helps you rank better in the search engines. More traffic to your blog and social media sites helps you grow your email list.
Remember, inbound marketing takes time and the results are cumulative. As you publish more content, your website will start to rank better. More engagement on social media means more followers and shares. A growing email list helps you generate more leads and sales. One way to jumpstart your results is to combine inbound and outbound techniques. You might, for example, send traffic to your digital properties with offline advertising. Paid digital campaigns can also help you see faster results.
Implementing a successful inbound marketing strategy sounds like a tall order. But don’t worry — you don’t have to tackle it alone. RedShift provides customized inbound marketing services to help you communicate the uniqueness of your brand and find more leads and customers.
You don’t have to tackle inbound alone.
Let our team of experts craft a plan to communicate the uniqueness of your brand.