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What is Inbound Marketing: an In-Depth Look

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With the arrival of the digital space and the internet, marketing has changed… significantly. It’s no longer just about magazine ads, billboards, and postcards. (Sorry, Don Draper; we’re moving on). Buyers have shifted the way they buy so marketers need to shift the way they market to buyers. That's the goal of inbound marketing. So just what is inbound marketing? 

Inbound marketing isn’t replacing other marketing strategies. It simply works in conjunction with other types of marketing. We’re certainly not recommending you drop all outbound marketing tactics (the magazine ads and television commercials and other marketing tactics that are considered to be an interruptive method of marketing). However, in most cases, in order for your business to be successful you need to adopt inbound marketing; a methodology that, through relevant, educational content and online amplification tactics, brings buyers to you.

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The inbound methodology, coined by HubSpot Co-Founders, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, consists of four stages that make up this marketing and sales process: attract, convert, close, and delight. In this post, we’ll take an in-depth look at the tactics and tools small businesses can use in each stage of the inbound marketing process that will help guide your prospects further along their buying journey.

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Attract

In the Attract stage, marketers focus on driving traffic to their website, but not just any traffic. To attract the right kind of people––those who are most likely to become customers in the future––marketers must offer educational and informative content that resonates with their buyer. In order to provide the right content, marketers must know who their customer is and understand the challenges they face.  

Keep in mind, this stage is very buyer-centric and problem-focused (there’s typically no mention of your product in your content).

Once the content is created, buyers are attracted to the website using tactics like keyword-optimized blog posts and social media publishing.

Keywords

Attract visitors to your site by mimicking the questions they ask, in the manner they ask them. Think like your buyer thinks (buyer personas are important here). Semantics are important. More people are using long tail keywords in their searches online, so consider focusing on those instead of one-word terms (that are much harder to rank for).

Research terms your competitors are using and also research the terms your buyers are using (they’re not always the same)! Some of the tools available to help figure out these keywords are SEM Rush, Google Keywords Tool, and Moz.

Blogs

Answer the questions your buyer might have as they progress through their buying journey and, in the process, establish yourself as a subject matter expert. Talk to your salespeople or service reps to find out the most often-asked questions. These are often great topics to start with that will drive traffic right out of the gate. Consistency is key. Once you start publishing blog posts, don’t stop or you’ll lose your “traffic momentum.”

Need help with topics? Try the HubSpot Blog Ideas Generator. And try the CoSchedule Headline Analyzer to find the optimal blog title.

Social Media

Be where your customers are. You don’t have to be on every social channel out there; it’s better to pick one or two and do them really well. Just make sure the ones you pick are the ones where your customers are (or they won’t find you). There are hundreds of things you can do with social media, but there are four key points we recommend you try to follow when starting out in social media.  

  • Post your own content (be sure to make it useful and include your target keywords in your posts). These shouldn’t be “sales” posts; instead make them something your buyer would find helpful and would lead them back to your website.
  • Respond to comments and conversations taking place online.
  • Create keyword monitoring streams to help keep up with the right conversations.
  • Share other content that your buyers might find useful.

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The Convert phase aims to get a prospect to provide basic personal information (name and email address), usually in exchange for something they perceive to be of value (an e-book, checklist, how-to guide, etc.). To convert traffic into a lead, their information is captured through a form on a landing page on your website.

In this phase, your content should shift focus to solutions to the buyer’s problem, but still doesn’t reference your specific product in too much detail.

Calls to Action

All pages on your website should have a Call to Action (CTA) so the reader knows what they should do next (you’re leading them on a “buyer journey”). A CTA is normally a button or link on your page obvious enough that visitors click on it to take them somewhere else (typically a landing page where they can download content relevant to their problem.

(Example: the blog post they just read was speaking specifically to the reader’s problem - focused on the attract stage. The landing page you drove them to is to download content that speaks specifically to potential solutions to the buyer’s problem - the convert stage).

Some key things to keep in mind for CTAs:

  • Make them attractive. Use (contrasting) colors, images, compelling, and action-oriented words.
  • Placement matters - make sure the button is clearly visible, drawing the reader to take action.
  • Large enough to be clicked on mobile devices.
  • Make sure the prospect understands exactly what they will receive if they click.

Landing Pages

The landing page is the web page visitors go to after clicking the call to action. The purpose of the landing page is to get the visitor to convert into a lead using a specific offer. The offer should be directly related to the content they were just viewing.

  • You should remove all distractions - page navigation, competing offers, etc.
  • Include social sharing buttons so they can share with their friends.
  • Make them visually appealing, yet simple.

Here are a few examples of great landing pages to spur your creativity.

Forms

All landing pages should have a form for capturing a lead’s information. The simpler, the better. Forms are typically connected to some sort of CRM tool (like HubSpot or Mailchimp) so you can continue to nurture the lead with emails, etc. A couple of other things to consider with forms:

  • Forms do best when placed “above the fold” (meaning, you can see the form when you first land on the page on a standard monitor, without having to scroll down to see it).
  • Instill trust by making sure your form is attractive and flows with your brand (so people don’t think they’re moving to a different website to fill out a form). Headlines should be clear and images and colors should all be consistent with your brand and the rest of your website.
  • The length of your form should be consistent with the perceived value of your offer. For instance, if you’re offering a 1-page infographic, someone may not be willing to give you his name, email address, phone number, company name, title and the names of his kids. But, he may be willing to give you his name and email address.

Thank You Pages

What happens after the landing page? Once someone submits the form on your landing page, don’t forget to actually give them what they signed up for (the download, free trial, etc.). They should be redirected to a thank you page that includes the downloadable file and anything else they signed up for.

We always recommend adding additional information the buyer might find useful, like relevant links to your blog or additional downloads to help drive them further along their buyer journey. This also helps keep them engaged on your site and with your brand.

Also don’t forget to follow up with an email that includes a link to the download in case they need it again in the future.  

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Once a lead has been captured, marketing works together with sales to close the lead, turning them into a customer. The content in this step shifts from educational, problem-focused content to more specific, solution-based approaches or methods, and eventually to detailed product comparisons or case studies that present your product as the best solution to the buyer’s problem.

Marketing automation plays a huge role in this stage with connected tools like CRM, lead scoring, email, and automated workflows to create lead nurturing sequences tailored to a buyer’s needs and lifecycle stage. This helps nurture the buyer until they’re ready to make a purchase.

Lead Scoring

Many automation systems include lead scoring capabilities. This helps sales teams identify a “warm” lead (one that is probably closer to a purchase than someone that just visited your website for the first time this morning).

Lead scoring is set up by assigning points using qualifiers like company industry, type, and size or behaviors (how many web pages they visited, emails they opened, etc.) and where they are in the buyer’s journey.

This helps shorten your sales cycle since sales can focus on the leads with the highest scores first, allowing marketing to continue to nurture the leads with lower scores using email workflows.

Email Workflows

Email marketing is still one of the best ways to reach prospects. Marketing automation systems allow marketers to create a series of emails to nurture a lead until they are ready to make a purchase. Add value by using content the buyer will be interested in and make sure your timing and frequency aligns with your industry. It also helps if you give your buyers the ability to adjust their subscription options (let them select to receive an email once per month instead of twice per week, etc.).

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After the sale, your job is not done. Begin building a base of loyal customers who will come back to you time and again and become brand advocates for your business. The most successful businesses are built by loyal customers, so engage your customers using surveys, smart content, and social monitoring.

Smart Content

Some automation platforms can integrate “smart content” with your website. Have you ever been to a form on a website and your information is already filled out? That’s smart content. By not making a visitor fill in their information again and again creates a much better customer experience.  

Smart content is also used to customize pages on your site so that they are highly relevant to the person visiting. For example, pretend your business targets farmers and gardeners. When a gardener visits your website, and you know she’s a gardener based on information she’s already given you, the home page she sees will be very garden-focused instead of seeing farming equipment. It’s much more relevant and appealing to her, making it more likely she’ll stay on your site.

Social Monitoring

Use social media monitoring to continue the conversation with your customers and jump on issues before they turn into full-blown PR nightmares. Handling complaints quickly and calmly can actually turn bad experiences into good ones.

Monitoring conversations online can also present new product or service ideas that help you better serve your customers in the future.

As you can see by the enormity of possibilities with inbound marketing, outbound marketing just can’t accomplish the personal touch buyers need (and certainly not with a small budget). Many businesses find success combining inbound and outbound efforts.

If you’re interested in learning more about inbound marketing and how your small marketing team can start implementing these practices, download our free ebook by clicking the button below. <-- see what we did there?

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