What is inbound marketing? Get the complete overview here

Inbound marketing focuses on attracting customers via relevant and useful content, and adds value at every step of your customer's buying journey. We go through the concept here:



What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a method that allows companies to systemise their content marketing and translate valuable content into concrete leads. It is a data-driven marketing approach that attracts individuals to your brand and converts them into loyal customers. Inbound marketing does not replace content marketing as a communication tool/ trend/hype; it just systemises your content marketing and translates your valuable content into concrete leads. You could say that content marketing is the tool, and inbound marketing is the strategy and plan of execution.

You might have just got to grips with the latest trend of content marketing; now there is a new buzz word from the other side of the pond. Inbound marketing is all the rage, so you had better hurry up and tell the boss to adapt your content marketing efforts into an inbound marketing strategy. But what exactly is inbound marketing?

What is the difference between inbound and outbound marketing? The customers are educated!

The concept of inbound marketing can be understood as the opposite of - yes - outbound marketing.

These days, the typical consumer – B2B as well as B2C – has taken 50-70% of the buying decision before the initial contact with the company as a result of their own online research. Typically this is not the kind of research that has been forced on them via pop-ups and glossy adverts. On the contrary, potential customers have a high degree of confidence in the knowledge they google themselves, or which colleagues and friends can provide. Consumers have become proactive and know where to look.

Back in the Don Draper era and actually until not that long ago, the recipe for good marketing was: 

  • TV and radio adverts
  • Advertising sent by post
  • Outdoor advertising
  • Banner advertising
  • All kinds of push media

Everybody was trying to outdo each other in the battle for consumer awareness. Consumers were passive, and the selling points were frequency and volume (measured in both scope and decibels!).

In the B2B world, push marketing has of course never been quite as pushy as in the B2C world. Nevertheless, over time, an endless conveyor belt of well-produced advertising has been pushed out via personal contact, at trade shows, via post, LinkedIn, and email.

Attention now has to be earned; not paid for.

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Figure 1: Inbound marketing requires a completely different approach to communication than traditional push marketing. The image is borrowed from Marketo.

Advertising fatigue made room for content marketing

A few years ago, advertising fatigue made way for the concept of content marketing. If you can no longer sell your product by sending out a multi-coloured offer, then you have to use your silver-tongued persuasive abilities to argue the case for your product, and – wearing your content marketing hat - that your business is trustworthy, specialised and aims to help its potential customers make (for them) the best decisions.

You have probably been bombarded with all sorts of stuff about content marketing (also from us at Publico), and been told that you need to guide and inform your potential customers before putting on your sales hat right away. Drawing attention to your business and its messages is a long and hard road.

In comes Inbound

But how do you know if it works? How do you know if your extremely well-written, informative, exhaustive and valuable (and not least time-consuming) guides, white papers, ebooks and articles lead to product sales? Because – yes – isn’t content marketing all about helping your stakeholders, but (pause for dramatic effect) with the purpose of helping them believe in you so they choose your product?

This is where inbound marketing comes in as the lifeline we have all been waiting for. Because yes, as an agency, it is sometimes also difficult for us to convince customers that they only need wait a year before our content marketing efforts (maybe) pay off in the form of new/better/bigger customers.

Inbound Marketing is a strategy and method that helps you to time, distribute, automate, exploit and not least measure your content marketing efforts - and translate all your valuable content into concrete red-hot leads.

The idea of inbound marketing (inspired by HubSpot, the market leaders for inbound systems) can be outlined in four steps that precisely time communication in step with the customer journey.

FireskridtFigure 2: HubSpot’s model for an inbound marketing cycle in four steps.

1. Attract attention

The first step is to make your target audience aware that you exist, and that you are relevant to them. You need to get them onto your site and make them visitors. There are several ways to do this, with Google often the best place to start.

Google rewards good content, so well-produced articles/videos that answer your audience's questions are definitely your best weapons. It is also here that you have the opportunity to position yourself as a thought leader in your industry.

Of course, you need to make it as easy as possible for Google to reward your amazing content, and this is where, of course, search engine optimization of your website is a must.

Events, seminars, trade shows and the like are also included in your inbound toolbox as touch points where you can attract new visitors to your website.

Social media provides great opportunities to reach out to new and well-defined target audiences. Keep in mind that you will not get anywhere on social media without spending money on advertising (Facebook's reach for business pages is around 1.2%). 

2. Convert the unknown to well-known

Once you have succeeded in bringing new visitors to your site, they must be converted into leads. Contact information is the currency of inbound marketing and you now have to offer your visitors something so valuable that they will pay in that currency. Offer your visitors exclusive content that will make them wiser and help them with their challenges. This can be done in the form of ebooks, whitepapers, tips & tricks, how-to guides, online newsletters and email automation flows that focus on a specific area. The point is that this should be so good that they will happily fill out the form that you have set up for access to the content. When your visitors swap their contact information for your contact via customised forms, they have been converted to leads.

3. Warm up your leads

Your previously ice-cold visitors have now turned into leads. The next step is to turn them into paying customers. Fortunately, you already know a great deal about them right now, because the right software has allowed you to track your new leads and follow them every second they stay on your site. From a leads' behaviour on your site, your landing pages, your blog and your emails, you can identify what he or she is in the market for. If you categorize and use data correctly, you can customise and time your sales messages to the individual prospect’s preferences and needs, which will result in more sales. This, for example, can be done via segmented and automated newsletters.

4. Keep your leads on the boil

Strangers have now turned from visitors to leads, and finally to customers. Mission accomplished, and perhaps now you can put your feet up. Well, no – that is the last thing you should do. You need to keep on nurturing the customer relationship with excellent content and service. Your satisfied customers are your best ambassadors, and you have already set the standard for what they can expect from you. If you continue the good content marketing work with your customers, they will surely recommend new leads for your sales funnel.

Good content + systematic approach = growth

This takes us back to the original point – it is all about producing good content that makes your potential customers wiser and happier. If you take a systematic approach and begin to look analytically at your potential customers’ buying journey (from their perspective!), you will soon see a positive ROI and your company grow quickly.

P.S. If you want to get on the inbound wagon, you cannot avoid investing in a system that can collect and track your leads, and let you automate your communications. There are a lot of these types of systems - I've included some of them in the article The B2B business’ toolkit: Systemise your content marketing. HubSpot, as we have mentioned before, is our weapon of choice. You can get started with HubSpot for less than 50 EUR per month. Reach out to Thomas Mandrup (thomas.mandrup@publico.dk) to hear more.