What Is Inbound Marketing? The Complete Guide

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What if finding new leads was as simple as opening your inbox and answering a few messages every morning? What would your team be able to accomplish if instead of pushing ads and seeking out new customers, you could get your customers to seek you out instead?

Whether you're a B2C brand, a service provider, or a retailer, there's one thing that businesses have in common:

They all want to make lots of money and they need a steady stream of customers to do it.

Inbound marketing makes it possible for companies to generate leads and drive revenue for a fraction of the usual costs. A lot of marketing websites will talk a big game about this advertising approach while giving you a few general platitudes.

Our post is going to be different.

Grab a pen and paper, refill your favorite beverage, and get comfortable. Read on to find out how you can use inbound methods to make more money and land more qualified leads with ease.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Before we start getting into the nitty-gritty aspects of building campaigns, you'll want to have a working definition of inbound marketing.

In basic terms, inbound marketing is a strategy that's primarily characterized by the use of all the usual resources at your company's disposal - web design, SEO, content, and social media. The idea is that you'll use these assets to move people through your sales funnel while making them feel like the purchase was their idea.

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

So if inbound marketing is the professional equivalent of catching flies with honey, what exactly is outbound marketing?

Put simply, outbound marketing is all the advertising methods that you're used to seeing and thinking of as this-company-is-trying-selling-me-something moments.

Those commercials interrupting the game? Outbound marketing.

That pop-up ad that came up when you hit the back button on your browser a few weeks ago? More outbound marketing.

Facebook ads, YouTube ads, and all the ads you've ever seen online and offline? Yep, you guessed it. Still outbound marketing.

As a general rule, outbound marketing involves paying for clicks while interrupting people's browsing experiences. But even so, outbound advertising gives you sophisticated audience targeting tools and quick results.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, involves letting people come to you.

Although some sales and marketing people will insist on one approach or the other, most companies will benefit from using a healthy combination of both inbound and outbound marketing. In other words, inbound marketing can help you craft a holistic advertising approach for your company.

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Why Inbound Marketing is a Must-Have for Your Business

Of course, just because inbound marketing is an increasingly common strategy, that doesn't necessarily mean that it's the right choice for your business. By our count, here are just a few of the reasons why more and more entrepreneurs are making inbound strategies a major part of their marketing efforts:

1. It's Cost-Effective

All things being equal, which would you rather have?

  • Leads that cost less than $5 each
  • Leads that cost over $20 each

For most business owners, cheap high-quality leads are like the Holy Grail of marketing. If you look at the numbers, however, businesses spend as much as 11.8 percent of their revenue on marketing costs as it is. Startups and companies in certain industries may find themselves spending even more.

Inbound marketing makes it possible for businesses to get more bang for their marketing bucks. When the money runs out, outbound methods aren't going to have the same level of effectiveness. However, once you're ranking in Google or gaining traction on social media, inbound marketing is often a fantastic complement to your general marketing strategy.

2. It Allows You to Develop a Customer-Focused Outlook

How many times has a product you use been changed to the point of losing its functionality? We're not naming any companies here, but your answer to that question was probably, "Way too many.".

By the numbers, 56 percent of customers prefer sticking to brands that make an effort to "get them". Despite this powerful statistic, however, it's far too easy for executives to get so caught up in pursuing their internal objectives that the needs and wants of the customers aren't treated like a priority.

Inbound marketing allows you to create a process that starts and ends with the question, "How can we make sure that people are getting what they need from us?". Once you've got the process going, that customer service-oriented philosophy will yield results for you in more ways than one.

3. You Get Compounding Returns

In the financial world, compounding interest is kind of a big deal.


Because anyone can put aside $300. When you come to a place where you're earning interest on your interest, however, that's when that $300-a-month savings account has the potential to become a million-dollar balance.

As odd as it might sound at first glance, inbound marketing is kind of like compound interest. The more blogs you post and videos you release, the more opportunities you create for people to find you.

So, for example, let's say that you've scheduled a modest content calendar pace of two blog posts a month. In addition, each of those posts brings in two high-quality leads per month.

After month one, you've got two blog posts and four leads a month. Give it four more months, however, and now your company blog is generating sixteen leads per month and counting — and once the work is done, you don't have to keep going back to it. Talk about building momentum.

4. Your Leads are Self-Qualifying

One of the biggest obstacles that marketing teams have to deal with is not the process of finding people who could be potential leads in the future — it's convincing those individuals that your product or service is the solution they're looking for. The situation gets even trickier when those people are convinced that they have all the answers already.

Some companies address this by putting their best market researchers and copywriters on the job. Others spend time comparing themselves to the competition.

Here's the difference with inbound marketing tactics:

You don't have to waste time convincing people that they should buy from you.

They've been consuming your content, they've been poking around your website, and they've been nodding along and thinking, "Yep. This is exactly what I've been looking for!". If you've ever seen people claim that converting inbound leads is often easier, this is why.

5. You Can Measure the Results

Many businesses have a lot of habits that don't necessarily produce measurable results.

"We have a blog because it's common to have one in our industry.".

"This web design has been winning all of the awards.".

Although it's not always possible to quantify the value of every task your team takes on, inbound marketing doesn't fall under that category.

You can calculate your conversion rates. You can look at your search terms and your links. Plus, if you really want to get fancy, you can track your page views and compare your results on a month-to-month or year-to-year basis.

Most companies wouldn't sign a major distribution deal or hire a general contractor without putting a service level agreement in place. From hiring your content writers to finding social media marketing specialists, inbound marketing campaigns require serious investment.

If you set up your data gathering and collection processes correctly, you'll know exactly how well your content is performing.

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Your Step-by-Step Guide to Inbound Marketing

Okay. At this point, we've explained what inbound marketing is and why it's worth trying. Now it's time to explain how you can set up and run your own campaigns. Here's a list of key steps that businesses should take to get their campaigns up and running.

1. Identify Your Ideal Customer

In our other article on marketing strategies, we spent a lot of time talking about the importance of identifying your ideal customer. Here's why:

Even if your business already has a few clients, those people aren't necessarily going to be your dream customers. This is your opportunity to sit down and ask yourself the question, "Who needs our products or services?".

If you're having trouble visualizing how this might work, don't worry. We've got your back.

Look at Nike.

Their flagship product is athletic shoes and apparel for sporty people. Because they typically price their shoes at over a hundred dollars, their target demographic includes "People who have a certain level of disposable income.". In addition, with their scientific approach to designing shoes, Nike's shoes also appeal to individuals who care about details like running posture and arch support.

When you put it all together, one of Nike's ideal customer demographics for their running shoes would likely be a fitness-minded individual who is gainfully employed and willing to invest in their health.

Chances are that this person will likely be problem-aware in the sense that they know that their regular work shoes are not getting the job done for them on the trails. However, this individual could also be solution-aware enough to know that they need a well-designed and tested pair of running shoes.

Now all you have to do is complete this exercise with your own company in mind.

Another easy way to identify your ideal demographic is to look at your current pain points when it comes to customers. Are you constantly following up with them for payment? Do they struggle to understand the value of what you're offering?

These are the types of issues that you'll want to be hashing out at this stage.

2. Create a Buyer Persona

If you've done the work of brainstorming your ideal customer demographic, then this part should be pretty easy. This is the step where you take the broad outline of an ideal customer that you've just created and then you start filling in the details.

What issues are going on in your target customer's life that might be prompting them to check out your site? Are they in the market for your product or service or are they waiting for a company like yours to sweep them off of their feet?

A buyer persona makes it easier to put together a solid template that lets you know who your content is for.

At the end of the day, your buyer persona should cover details like:

  • Current pain points
  • Life circumstances
  • Branding preferences
  • General income levels
  • Key demographic information
  • And more

The more detailed you can make your buyer persona, the better. Simply because most businesses are frequented by multiple types of people that they work with, don't be surprised if you're walking out of the room with multiple buyer personas after your brainstorming sessions are done.

3. Map Out Your Customer Journey

Once you have a general sense of who your ideal customers are and you have your buyer persona ready, it's time to start taking a closer look at the process of turning random website visitors into passionate brand advocates.

Most marketing websites will give you a variation of the basic Attract, Convert, Close, Delight framework. Let's take a closer look at all of these in a bit more detail.

1. Attract

At this stage, your future customers are total strangers. They've never heard of your brand, they might not even be aware that they need your product or service, and they definitely couldn't pick your company out of a lineup of competitors.

How do you convince these people to visit your site?

This is that moment of first contact. No matter how people end up on your site, you'll need to do what you can to make a positive first impression.

2. Convert

This one is a bit of a misnomer. For marketing purposes, "convert" doesn't mean convincing people to pull out their credit cards on the spot. It refers to converting people from strangers to actual leads.

Maybe your process will involve running email marketing campaigns. Perhaps you'll be asking people to book appointments with you.

Regardless, this is the phase where people go from "I don't know these guys." to "Let me give this company my contact information.".

3. Close

What do you call a lead that has pulled out their credit card, entered their payment information, and paid you for your products or services? A customer.

At this step, you should be patting yourself on the back. You've still got to make sure that the deliverables are on point. However, there's a reason why marketing teams get excited about this part of the customer journey — this is how your business can keep the lights on.

That being said, the sales cycle typically doesn't end here. You've got to create landing pages, confirmation emails, and follow-up sequences. Assuming everything goes smoothly from this point forward, however, the bulk of the sales work is largely finished at this point.

4. Delight

Have you ever eaten at a restaurant or purchased an item that was sold to you as the greatest thing since sliced bread? Chances are that if the food or the product didn't meet your expectations, the thought of telling everyone you know to try out the goods probably never crossed your mind.

As it turns out, 92 percent of consumers are more likely to trust their friends and family over traditional media sources. If you play your cards right in the post-sale process, you can turn your customers into passionate brand advocates. Once that word-of-mouth train starts running, you'll have even more future buyers coming your way.

The important thing to remember with the buyer journey is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions. You may have to spend a lot of time refining your process, identifying your tools, and learning how to automate. After your inbound marketing campaign starts delivering results, however, you'll be surprised at what you'll be able to accomplish.

4. Choose Your Mediums

Imagine a marketing campaign with an ad that doesn't link to anything. It's hard to picture an inbound marketing campaign succeeding on those terms.

Armed with your freshly minted buyer personas and your fully fleshed-out customer journey, you can finally figure out how you'll run your inbound marketing campaign.

You can use:

  • Blog posts
  • Videos
  • Comparison pages
  • Infographics
  • Social media posts
  • Landing pages

To pull this off, you'll want to think very carefully about your internal resources. Do you have a bunch of amazing writers on your team? Are your content creators insanely skilled at designing content with Canva?

If you're still getting used to inbound marketing and all the moving parts it involves, you'll want to choose options that make sense for where your business is at.

5. Pick Your Traffic Sources

After pinning down your target demographic, creating a buyer persona, sorting out your customer journey, and choosing your promotional mediums, you're ready for the step required to generate leads in real-time. When it comes to advertising, most businesses will have a list of options that includes:

  • SEO
  • Facebook Ads
  • Google AdWords
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest
  • Organic social media
  • Banner and website advertising

Generating traffic with any one of these strategies requires a certain skill, resources, and talent. That's why marketing specialists will often recommend that you establish yourself on one or two platforms to start.

In addition, some other factors that might impact your traffic options include:

1. Your Budget

Whether you're paying per impression or you're paying per click, most paid ad platforms come with a hefty credit card bill. If you're a startup, that's barely scraping by, it might not make sense for you to go all-in on a paid traffic source right away. Fortunately, social media and SEO are free inbound marketing options that businesses can utilize on a shoestring budget.

2. Your Capacity

Running a 24/7 social media account often requires people to operate in shifts. If you're just getting started and your team consists of you and a couple of other people, that type of social media advertising might not be sustainable for your business. Similarly, while writing 100 blog posts can do a lot to get your brand out there, that content volume isn't easy to pull off.

If nothing in your business ever changes, you want to choose an advertising medium that doesn't overwhelm your already full plate.

3. Your Estimated Marketing Timeframe

SEO is a powerful advertising medium that can drive leads to your website for years to come. Despite its positives, however, it can take several months or years to rank for keywords.

PPC, on the other hand, may cost money but there's no arguing with the nearly instant results. Businesses may benefit from SEO, social media, PPC, or all three. The key point of differentiation, however, is the fact that you don't want to be rolling out a long-term SEO strategy when you're desperately in need of customers now.

6. Bringing It All Together

This is where all of the work you've done to build your marketing strategy will pay off. What are some additional ways that you can tip the odds even more in your favor:

1. Sales Process Redesign

Moving people through your sales funnel is like developing any other relationship — you don't want to be the business version of the person who's proposing marriage on the first date. Before you fire up those ads or hit "publish" on those tweets, you'll want to make sure that your sales process is in tip-top condition.

Are you pushing people along? Are there touchpoint opportunities that you're missing?

If your emails are routinely getting stuck in spam folders or your landing pages need more refining, you can do a quick audit to make sure that everything is working as intended.

2. Brand Alignment

Imagine you're scrolling through Facebook. You're in the market for a new couch and you see an ad that makes you stop in your tracks and click through to the company website.

If the ad screams, "Our furniture is classy and affordable!" while the company website sells fried chicken, are you going to stick around? You might if you're browsing while hungry. However, all things being equal, the answer is probably "No.".

With inbound marketing, there's no guarantee that prospects will give you a second chance. That's why it's important to make sure that your ads, your brand, and your storytelling are all congruent.

3. Asset Creation

Remember what we said earlier about the importance of making a strong first impression with prospects?

Because your inbound marketing campaign will see people visiting your site through all sorts of pages, you won't be able to rely on your awesome homepage to do the selling on your behalf. As such, you'll want to create the advertising assets you need before the first ads go live.

The exact approach for your company will differ depending on your overall marketing strategy. No matter what you decide, however, there's one thing that all marketing and design teams typically have in common:

It's always better to give yourself more time to create assets than you think you'll need.

For instance, companies that have at least 30 landing pages are said to generate 7 times as many leads as sites that only feature 10 landing pages. This amount is doable if the campaign is launching in a few months. However, it's a less-than-ideal timeline if you've only got a few days to prepare.

Plus, in addition to the tech and design setup required to create landing pages and blog posts, you may also want to spend some time writing up your legal disclosures and disclaimers as needed. Setting up all of those pages might be a bit of a drag when you're itching to put that inbound marketing campaign out there. However, taking your time with this section can do a lot to reassure your website visitors that you're a professional brand that knows what it's doing.

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Turning Your Inbound Marketing Campaign Into a Lean, Mean, Lead-Generating Machine

Let's assume that you've spent the last few months going through our list of inbound marketing steps before tying the loose ends and rolling out your ads. You're happy with your results so far, but you'd still want to enhance your returns. Are there any hacks you can use?

If any of this sounds familiar, you've come to the right place. Here are some of our hottest tips on getting more from inbound marketing:

1. Refine Your Offer

We've talked elsewhere about the importance of auditing your offer. If you want your inbound marketing campaign to reach another level, you'll want to apply the same rationale to make sure that your leads are being given an offer that they can't refuse.

For instance, if you're an educational software company and you're looking to build a bunch of games that will help kids perform better in school, your main customer demographic will likely be parents of school-aged children. On its own, your educational games could sell like hotcakes. However, there's always the risk that these students might find games like Math Solitaire too boring to play.

Can you make the sale less risky by adding a money-back guarantee?

Or if you're an accounting firm and your target demographic includes small business owners, you might already be offering tax filing, bookkeeping, and financial forecasting services. Even with this full range, however, the pricing and the service listing might not offer enough certainty to your leads.

  • Would packaging your accounting services into a Small Business
  • Accounting Package for $2000 be an option?

In any case, here's the bottom line:

You don't want your leads to read your offer and think, "I could take it or leave it.". You want people to react to your offer like a dog that sees an unattended steak on the coffee table. In short, your stated offer should be so powerful that it's not a question of if your leads are going to become customers — you know that they'll be placing an order as soon as they've checked their bank accounts.

2. Craft a Winning Narrative

No matter which way you slice it, narrative is a powerful thing. It's capable of single-handedly making and breaking people's reputations, it can drive people to root for underdog teams during the Super Bowl, and it can change an individual's perception of an event.

To be clear, that's not just us talking. According to a quote by the Public Relations Society of America, 63 percent of people remembered the stories they had been told in a speech while just 5 percent could recall a statistic. If you go by science, storytelling is an excellent means of sticking out.

On a practical level, there are three narratives that you'll want to be aware of as you think about your inbound marketing:

  • The stories you tell about your brand
  • The stories your customers are telling themselves and each other
  • The stories you're telling your future customers about your product or service

Each one of these elements will need a mini-narrative that's full of tension, drama, and high stakes.

So if you're an electric toothbrush company and you're creating a narrative around your product, you might benefit from following the character, conflict, and customer formula. Here's how a storytelling sequence might work:

Your founder had a history of getting cavities for no reason (character).

She tried special mouthwashes, going to cleanings, and using a Waterpik, but it still wasn't keeping her teeth clean (conflict).

One day, a friend informed her that her dentist had started recommending electric toothbrushes. However, our founder wasn't able to find a toothbrush that was both gentle on the gums and effective at removing grime. So she created her own electric toothbrush (resolution).

If you're tired of your teeth feeling less-than-clean after brushing, this is for you. Whether you're getting ready for a first date, preparing for an interview, or planning to Netflix and Chill without getting popcorn stuck in your teeth, our electric toothbrush is up to the task of keeping your teeth clean at all times (customer).

We believe so strongly in our product that we'll deliver the first toothbrush to your door for free (offer)!

You can break down the conflict into the classic rising action and climax structure. If you're so inclined, you can do what we just did and highlight your offer at the end. In any case, once you familiarize yourself with the formula, your copywriting, your ads, and your website content will almost make you feel like you're filling in the blank.

3. Have an Objective Metric of Success

Earlier we talked about how one of the strongest selling points of inbound marketing is its measurability. Well, that still hasn't changed. If you're struggling to come up with compelling statistics or an overarching data measurement paradigm, you may want to consider looking into OKRs.

The "OKR" in this acronym stands for Objectives and Key Results. What this means is that you'll set a few objectives, or goals, for yourself, and then you'll sit down and figure out the key results.

So, for example, if your company objective is to increase revenues by 5 percent for the quarter, your key results may very well include developing an inbound marketing plan that includes your YouTube channel and your company blog.

Google uses the OKR structure to set internal goals. If you read their recommendations with OKRs, you'll see that they have rules around what makes for a challenging and reasonably ambitious OKR. Companies that want to be specific with their inbound marketing efforts can build accountability and enhance transparency around their campaigns with the help of the OKR system.

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Here's How You Can Keep the Momentum Going

So you've taken our advice and applied it to your inbound marketing strategy. What can you do to maximize your results? From where we're sitting, there are a few key ways that you can continue to optimize your inbound marketing strategy.

1. Expand Your Campaigns

One of the best parts of inbound marketing is the fact that your lead generation abilities aren't limited to how much you can pay. You can always write another blog post or record another video.

If you go back to the buyer persona phase, chances are that you had multiple prospects in mind. The example of the educational game developer, for instance, could be selling to parents, schools, and local tutoring organizations.

Instead of 2. Get More Efficient

Marketing teams in all industries are prone to getting stuck and losing momentum in long-term inbound marketing campaigns. Typically, it's not because their content writers suddenly forgot how to use complete sentences. It's because the team is constantly reinventing the wheel when it comes to their marketing.

Some ways that you can avoid this fate include:

1. Repurpose Your Content

Let's say you've decided to work on customer engagement this quarter and you've got an email and a social media post to compose. On paper, you could write two separate items altogether. Or, you could dust off an old blog post and write a shorter updated version alongside your spruced-up Facebook post graphic.

2. Use Technology

We're going to let you in on an open marketing secret:

A lot of the work that goes into inbound marketing is tedious.

You've got to prune your email list, test conversion rates, and explore your technological options. With so much on your plate, the last thing you need is to be doing everything yourself.

The good news is that you don't have to watch helplessly while the clock keeps ticking. There are tools you can use to automate your content marketing process as possible.

3. Get Creative With Your Funnel

When you've got an inbound marketing campaign that's performing well, it can be tempting to look at the stats and say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it.". Sometimes, however, your funnel is just a few adjustments away from generating higher customer conversion rates.

Do you have a short email course that solves a pressing problem? Are webinars and training sessions an option for people who want to get more value out of their products?

Don't let your campaign get stagnant. If you start with the question, "How can we inject more value into our funnel?", the results of your customer engagement efforts could surprise you.

Should Inbound Marketing Be on Your Company's To-Do List?

Think fast.

Facebook has shut down again, the radio can't book your slot until next month, and you're reacquainting yourself with Google after yet another algorithm change. How do you continue to generate leads and grow your business?

Inbound marketing is a strategy that can yield incredible results in the long run. Whether you're getting on YouTube, pushing blog posts, or giving your website a makeover, this advertising approach can give you sustainable leads even when the rest of the internet has shut down.

Even so, however, there are no guarantees that your business will be able to pull off a profitable inbound marketing campaign on its first try.

Sure, you can take hours out of your busy schedule to choose software solutions and tools. You can also spend a few more months tweaking your internal processes and then causing upheaval when you inevitably find something else.

Or, instead, you can choose an all-in-one system with a solid track record. As a company, we're committed to making collaboration, customer service, and email marketing simple for businesses.

Schedule your demo today.

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