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What Is Inbound Marketing?

What Is Inbound Marketing

This post originally appeared on Single Grain, a growth marketing agency focused on scaling customer acquisition.

You’ve likely heard the term, you may even believe you have a good grasp of the basics. But chances are you’re thinking of inbound and content marketing as the same thing. People often confuse the two, much like Bill Paxton and Bill Pullman.

Inbound is the most popular kid at school these days, captain of the football team and holding the place of honor at the cool table. But for many of us, it’s an enigma. A mystery wrapped in a puzzle.

So what is inbound marketing? Let’s start with what it’s not.

Inbound Marketing = Content Marketing?

Afraid not. Many industry “experts” make this mistake, so don’t feel bad if you fall in that camp. It’s not the same thing. The terms are not interchangeable, despite the fact that many sites do just that.

Inbound marketing is any marketing activity that gets you found, that brings leads and customers to you rather than you heading out into the world to find them. Inbound is frequently done via content marketing, though it’s not the only way (social media participation is another, such as hashtag conversations on Twitter). It may include SEO, social media, videos, e-mail campaigns, podcasts, infographics, blogs, and webinars.

So, content marketing—the creation and distribution or useful content to connect and engage with a specific target audience—is just one inbound marketing tactic…but it’s perhaps the most important one.

(Image source: DigitalRalph)

Put another way, all content marketing is essentially inbound marketing, but all inbound is not content.

“Inbound Marketing is about getting found online, through search engines and on sites like Facebook and YouTube and Twitter…” ~David Meerman Scott

And you want to be found online. Consider these facts:

It all begins with getting found. Just like the Hollywood starlet getting discovered while serving coffee at Starbucks.

Inbound tactics like content and SEO make you visible to a world that is increasingly looking for answers, information, products, and services online. It gets you on their radar without the pushy sales methods that everyone hates so much. This is a very good thing for your bottom line, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It takes time.

“Content marketing is a long-term relationship. It’s not a one night stand.” ~Ross Simmonds

The Content Conundrum

Creating and distributing all that content—blog posts, e-books, slideshows, videos, infographics, podcasts, articles, case studies, white papers, graphics, webinars—can eat a lot of your workday.

But just look at the payoff:

And with billions of people online at any one time (primarily consuming content, hanging out on social media, and conducting searches), that’s a lot of attention and positive feelings coming your way.

So inbound marketing—and by extension, content—takes a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, but the ROI is unparalleled in 2016.

Free Bonus Download: Get a list of 10 inbound marketing statistics you need to know . These numbers will show you the full value of inbound marketing and can’t be found in this post! Click here to download it free.

How to Harness Content in Your Inbound Efforts

Content marketing needs concrete goals, a specific and identified audience, a distribution plan, and analytics to help measure and define success. Tall order? Sure. But well worth it.

“Marketing is telling the world you’re a rock star. Content marketing is showing the world that you are one.” ~Robert Rose

Your efforts need to be guided by your marketing goals, and those might include brand awareness, lead nurturing, conversion/sales, customer service, retention/loyalty, up-selling, or creating passionate subscribers (happy customers make fantastic cheerleaders in cyberspace and beyond).

Create and make available something that someone wants, and they’ll come to you. Right to your digital doorstep. All you have to do is open it and say “hi.” Connection made. Conversation started.

More Useful Stuff:

More Than Just Content: What is Inbound Marketing?

10 Content Marketing Myths that Are Killing Your Conversions

The Inbound vs. Outbound Debate Is Over

With apologies to Don Draper, outbound (or traditional) marketing is going the way of the dodo. It doesn’t speak to the audience, it speaks at the audience, shoving messages under their nose whether they like it or not.

Television and radio ads, billboards, online banners and popups, prints ads, phone calls, flyers, direct (i.e. junk) mail, and so on are all examples of outbound marketing. It’s aggressive in its pitch: Buy our product now! You need this laundry detergent because it will make your life beautiful, fragrant, and 39% better!

These are also known as interruption marketing tactics, because they do just that: they interrupt the audience’s television show or song or their perusal of the latest issue of Cosmo. And people hate being interrupted.

44% of direct mail is never opened, 86% of us skip through commercials (thank you PVRs!), and 84% of 25-34 year olds have bounced from a website because of in-your-face ads.

“We need to stop interrupting what people are interested in and be what people are interested in.” ~Craig Davis

And this is where inbound and content marketing come in and sink the game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer. Inbound marketing pulls the audience in and engages in a two-way conversation. It provides value by giving them something they want, need, love, or are interested in…with no strings attached or expectations.

They come to you. There’s no hard sell. In fact, there’s no sell at all. Inbound is about creating relationships, building awareness, providing a solution to some problem or pain point, and building trust.

Then, when it’s time to buy, you’re first in their mind. So:

“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.” ~Guy Kawasaki

So What’s the Big Deal?

Let’s look at some stats:

And you’ll be in good company. According to Hubspot’s annual State of Inbound report, 3 out of 4 marketers are now prioritizing their inbound efforts, and a whopping 84% of small businesses are primarily using the strategy.

Inbound marketing achieves a higher ROI than outbound methods regardless of a company’s size or marketing budget.

Want to increase your odds even more? Check your metrics at least three times per week, and let them guide your efforts. You’ll be 20% more likely to see a positive return on your investment.

The best marketers monitor:

It’s not just about traffic.

(Source: Compfight)

The CMI and MarketingProfs B2B Content Marketing Report paints an equally impressive picture:

But wait (you might be saying), that’s all great for B2B businesses. But I’m in the B2C arena. Fear not! CMI has you covered, too:

That’s the big deal. The very, very big deal.

Free Bonus Download: Get a list of 10 inbound marketing statistics you need to know .These numbers will show you the full value of inbound marketing and can’t be found in this post! Click here to download it free.

Get Onboard with Inbound

But how do you put it all together? Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. No cookie-cutter template that’ll work for everyone. Inbound marketing may be a fickle toddler, but there are plenty of best practices and insider tips to get you started.

How We Use the Web

Think about your own Internet usage. What do you do online? If you’re like most people (and let’s assume you are), you spend a lot of time conducting search queries. We have the collected knowledge of human civilization at our fingertips and in our pockets. Literally. And that’s pretty amazing.

We can instantly find the answer to virtually any question. Those answers can spin us off in new directions, leading to different questions, and introducing us to new websites, brands, and personalities. It’s a smorgasbord. An all-you-can eat buffet. And it is glorious.

Billions of searches each month means billions of opportunities to connect. 2.3 billion social media users means more opportunity to engage than you can shake a virtual stick at. Americans check their social accounts a remarkable 17 times each day! In short, there’s a huge, captive, and engaged audience out there waiting to meet you.

(Source: Pixabay)

Using inbound tactics—with a healthy dose of content—brings a steady flow of laser-targeted traffic to you. You know they’re interested in whatever you have to offer before you even shake their hand (digitally speaking) because they followed your link, or downloaded your content, or commented on your wall. You have what they want.

Don’t blow it by trying to close the deal on the first date. Get to know them.

Inbound Recipe for the Modern Marketer

So, what do you need to succeed? Inbound is a diverse creature. It’s not just content. The best inbound marketers use a mix of:

The goal with inbound is to get known and spread brand awareness. You want to have your name on the tip of everyone’s tongue and grow your fame and authority.. Be visible. Be approachable. Be helpful. But don’t try to sell too soon. Modern consumers are sick and tired of aggressive sales tactics and most will simply walk away if you do it.

That’s the beauty of inbound…you’re selling without selling. The relationship that you cultivate—either real or perceived—makes the sales part almost automatic. People buy for emotional reasons. They buy from brands and companies they know, trust, and love. And inbound marketing grows all of that for you.

Inbound and the Buyer’s Journey

Let’s stop and consider for a moment the way we shop and buy. Even when you physically head out into the real world, that journey often starts online.

A Nielsen survey commissioned by Google found that over three-quarters of consumers conduct searches on their smartphone while on the go, and over half of them want to make a purchase within the hour.

So start with search. Understand that proximity matters to them…they want their search results to be nearby (use location indicators and keywords). And make purchase immediacy a priority (make it easy for them to buy online, to contact you via e-mail or phone, or find your physical location).

This all falls into the sales funnel, whether it starts online and migrates to the real world, or takes place entirely in cyberspace.

The Inbound Sales Funnel

Your inbound marketing needs to walk them through your funnel, from top to bottom. What you provide and offer at each section will be the difference between a successful sale and waving bye-bye as they claw their way back to the top and out.

(Source: Greenhouse Agency)

The inbound sales funnel is typically divided into three sections, and each one requires its own ingredients:

It’s paramount that you create some way to collect details (e-mail and names) in the middle. That turns a nameless prospect into a warm lead. And that’s a very good thing.

If you remember one thing, remember this:

Overall, you’re trying to increase the volume at the top of your funnel with your SEO efforts, targeted and valuable content (blog posts, infographics, videos), active social media participation, and well-researched PPC campaigns, while increasing conversion at the bottom of your funnel by making your offer too good to refuse, and serving up personalized (get their details!) and actionable next-steps. Close the deal…but only at the bottom.

The Buyer Decision Process

The traditional buyer decision process looks like this:

  1. Problem or need identified
  2. Information and research
  3. Evaluation of available options
  4. Purchase decision
  5. Post-purchase evaluation

This can easily be applied to our inbound funnel:

  1. ToFu – Problem/need identified, and research stage
  2. MoFu – Evaluation of options
  3. BoFu – Purchase decision, and post-purchase evaluation

See? It goes together like Bert and Ernie.

Just remember that your work is NOT done once you get that sale. Follow up afterwards to create loyal, satisfied customers. Bad word-of-mouth can kill you in 2016 because anybody can reach millions of people in a matter of minutes, so go that extra mile.

Free Bonus Download: Get a list of 10 inbound marketing statistics you need to know .These numbers will show you the full value of inbound marketing and can’t be found in this post! Click here to download it free.

Final Thoughts

So, do you have a plan? Like a good reporter, you need to ask the right questions when sketching your inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is not going away anytime soon, and for that we should all be thankful. It relies on brains, not budget. It literally allows the small guys—the mom ‘n’ pop businesses—to compete on a global scale.

Through SEO, social media engagement, PPC, content distribution (especially blog posts, videos, and visuals), and live appearances, you can pull prospects to you.

What’s inbound marketing? The marketing you’ve been waiting for: affordable, uber-effective, and possible for everyone.

If you’re ready to get found, get connected, and get that sale, let the experts at Single Grain handle every step of your online marketing so that you can concentrate on delivering an amazing product or service.