Inbound 101: How to use inbound marketing to grow your brand

Kevin Mullins

For business growth, companies have a variety of techniques and methodologies available to convert potential customers. From traditional sales and marketing strategies like cold-calling, trade shows, and door-to-door demos to more contemporary outbound strategies like mass-mailers, flyers, billboards, radio spots, and the Yellow Pages. The combination of possibilities is endless. 

Unlike traditional outbound sales and marketing, inbound marketing enables businesses of any size to use the internet to attract their target audience, improve conversion rates, and form relationships built on trust.

This powerful internet marketing strategy involves creating free, high quality content that addresses the needs of your prospective buyers. Then nurtures that relationship through blogs, content creation, search engine optimization, email marketing, and marketing automation tools, like HubSpot.

Have you ever wondered how to use inbound marketing to grow your business? Why should you use inbound marketing as your marketing effort of choice? Digital marketing, especially inbound marketing, just makes better business sense. Inbound marketing generates three times as many leads as outbound marketing, but costs on average 62% less. 

Read on as we take a deep dive into this powerful sales and marketing strategy and examine how to use inbound marketing and content marketing techniques in your business. The same dynamic digital techniques we use to help our client’s businesses grow.

What is inbound marketing?

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Inbound marketing involves attracting and engaging prospective customers by providing useful content to help solve a problem they are facing. This form of internet marketing not only creates awareness of your products and services, but builds trust by positioning your brand as a trusted guide for your customer’s pain point.

Because the content you create speaks directly to the needs of your ideal customer and then guides them to solve the challenges they face, they will already be much better qualified by the time they’re ready to talk to your sales team. Who wouldn’t like better qualified leads?

How inbound marketing works

The top of the inbound marketing funnel is content produced by your business and offered for free. Often referred to as content marketing, this high-quality digital content may come in many forms including blog articles, content downloads, videos, reports, social media posts, email marketing, podcasts, infographics and much more.

You should aim your content creation directly at the problems your buyer persona is facing. Not only can you present the content in different media configurations, it can also come in a range of formats.

Formats that work great for inbound marketing include how-to guides, case studies, white papers, tutorials and top-tip lists, called listicles. Offering a range of content types builds brand awareness and helps address the needs of prospective customers at different interest stages of the buyer’s journey.

Inbound vs Outbound marketing

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One simple way to differentiate inbound vs. outbound marketing is that outbound involves the business of finding customers according to your agenda, then breaking in during their activity. Think of the annoying cold-caller who rings the phone just as you’re sitting down to dinner. (How do they know?!)

Inbound marketing enables and empowers prospective customers to find you according to their agenda and engage when they are ready.

In contrast, inbound marketing enables and empowers prospective customers to find you according to their agenda and engage when they are ready. If your marketing efforts involve many of the traditional marketing channels used to find customers, i.e., television, radio, the Yellow Pages, or cold calling, you’re using outbound marketing.

The challenge inbound marketing solves

Inbound marketing surfaced because the dynamic between advertisers and buyers changed. In the past, advertisers had the benefit of a captive target audience. If consumers wanted to watch prime time T.V., they had few choices but to consume their marketing messages. Drop your TV advertisement in the right prime time slot and you could be certain you would reach your target audience.

Advertisers brought this same attitude with them to the early days of the internet. Flashing banner ads, pop-ups, popovers, timed overlays, auto-play videos, and other irritating advertising techniques were a constant interruption and dominated the early web. This unsolicited content caused routine data overages and made browsing the web infuriating.

Today, technology empowers savvy consumers by giving them far greater control over the content they consume. Customers can now easily skip ads or block them altogether. They can stream content on demand and from multiple sources. Navigate websites with a click of a button. According to Nielsen, customers are spending more time than ever in front of a screen, but today’s consumers have a choice. They no longer have to see a marketing message unless they want to.

Simultaneously, the internet has also made it easier for consumers to research solutions to their needs on their own. Consumers no longer need to visit a shop to talk to a salesperson or industry expert to find the right product. They can investigate, trial, and research solutions in the comfort of their own home or office while blocking the ads of all the advertisers they don’t want to see. In fact, by 2021 Statistica calculates that nearly 3 in 10 internet searchers will be using an ad blocker on their browser.

statistica graph chart of growing usage of ad blockers
Courtesy of Statistica

According to the B2B buyer’s survey report, B2B customers will progress 70% of the way through their buying decision process, before choosing to actively engage with any specific company. As a business relying on marketing to grow your business, this means you have far less visibility of prospective customers than in the past. A business may only recognize a prospective buyer when they let themselves become known. If you’ve pinning future sales on trying to convert prospective customers that late in the buyer’s journey, it may be too late. 

How to use inbound marketing to help solve these challenges

So why is inbound marketing the solution to these problems? First, inbound marketing doesn’t seek to “interrupt” a prospective buyer’s attention. The classic example of interruption is the telemarketer or TV advertisement. People watch their favorite sitcom, and the price they “pay” for that free entertainment, are the advertisements placed during the breaks. This is a poor user experience because nobody wakes up waiting to be on some advertisers target list — we’ve just learned to put up with it.

Inbound marketing a.k.a., content marketing is different. Imagine you’re having issues with your air conditioning unit. It’s a hot day and you’re desperate to find what is causing the problem. The first thing most people do today is search online for help. If you were running a local air conditioning repair business, then you might offer a free guide on your website to diagnose the most common issues. You’ll make sure you write your copywriting and SEO keywords with your buyer persona in mind. You’ll design and develop a website that responds to any screen size so that, no matter which device your visitor is using, they’ll have a pleasant experience. You’ll list your website on Google My Business because you want to make sure local customers can find you. These are all common strategies in inbound marketing. They are also distinctly different from interruptive, outbound marketing.

Prospective customers purposely seek and engage with information that resolves a pain point. They’ll gladly fill out an opt-in form if they feel like the content on the other side is worth trading for their contact information. The more complex a problem is, the more research a prospective buyer will do. And the more content you need to meet the prospect wherever they are in the buying cycle. This makes inbound marketing extremely effective for high ticket, B2B products with a long sales cycle.

Inbound marketing also solves the problem of visibility. To attract your ideal buyer, you don’t even need to know who they are. Like a magnet, creating helpful high quality content attracts your target audience to you. Strategies like responsive web design, compelling landing pages, and marketing automation tools like HubSpot, allow you to communicate a range of ideal solutions with prospective buyers even before they’re fully ready to engage with you. 

business professionals standing in a group and smiling at the camera

Defining your buyer persona

Before you can create content, you need to know who to create that content for. We know this process as defining your buyer persona. The buyer persona is a fictitious representation of your typical customer. Defining your persona starts by describing that ideal buyer in terms of behavior and demographic information. An abbreviated example of a buyer person would be:

  • Buyer’s name: Paula Peoples
  • Job Title: HR Manager
  • Salary: $60,000+ year
  • Location: Major city, North America
  • Education: Bachelor’s degree

Most companies will have over one type of buyer for their product or service. Typically, you will want to define between three to five buyer personas. One common mistake with buyer persona creation is to define, but never fully integrate, them into your marketing strategy. If you know who you’re trying to reach but never use them as a factor in your marketing efforts, what’s the point? 

Your buyer persona development is an ongoing process. The more information you have about your ideal buyer, the easier it will be to change and improve it. Important data points to look for are which channels are most effective in attracting a particular buyer, managing lead generation and touch points, and which content causes them to convert.

Defining the buyer’s journey

The buyer’s journey is a key concept in inbound marketing and something we’ve discussed before. This is because prospective buyers react to different content depending on their position in the sales flywheel. You should be ready to present fresh information and original pieces of content depending on what their needs are at a particular point in time. These stages of the buyer’s journey are:

Awareness

In the awareness stage a customer understands they have a problem i.e. their air conditioning unit is broken, but they don’t know how to solve it. They may not even know the correct words to use when searching for a solution. Web searches during this stage are frequently symptomatic. Types of great content at this stage include educational blog posts, industry analysis, diagnostic guides, and troubleshooting tips.

Consideration

In this stage, the prospective customer has identified the problem they are facing. They may have learned a name for their problem and discovered typical solutions. They are now actively exploring how they can solve their problem by weighing their different options. Content to present at the awareness stage may include tutorials, skyscraper blog posts, technical articles, and how-to videos.

Decision

During the decision stage, the prospect has identified their problem and is actively exploring the various solutions and providers applicable to them. At this point in the buyer’s journey, the prospective buyer must decide the right solution for them. Searches at this stage typically lean heavily towards price evaluations and comparisons. Suitable types of content to present during this stage are client case studies, demos, trials, comparison tables and data sheets.

Delight

The last stage in the buyer’s journey (and often overlooked in successful digital marketing) is delight. Following the customers’ decision to purchase from your business, you can present content which details the outstanding experience you provided. The delight phase is actually very important because, not only is your customer most likely to become a repeat buyer, they will also become an active promoter of your brand. If you gave them great service. Types of content to create that delight include user guides, tutorials, follow-up emails, service how-to’s, and surveys.

Developing an inbound marketing strategy

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The top question we get is “How can marketing fill our sales funnel with highly qualified leads?” Potential leads don’t arrive overnight, but there are specific steps you can take to generate more sales qualified leads and close more deals.

Your inbound marketing strategy should be narrow enough to address your buyer personas uniquely, but wide enough to balance your marketing efforts and content creation for your broader target audience.

Your inbound marketing strategy should be narrow enough to address your buyer personas uniquely, but wide enough to balance your marketing efforts and content creation for your broader target audience. The best content and inbound marketing strategies are composed of five key elements:

Goal Setting

Any digital marketing strategy should begin with clarifying what you want to achieve. A strategy that works, but doesn’t produce a meaningful impact on your business goals, is pointless. These goals need to be measurable so you can track them. An example of a goal might be a certain number of downloads of a particular PDF guide, a net increase in inbound leads through a smart form on your website, or new customers added because of a marketing campaign during the last quarter. You can then set in place a strategy to achieve that goal and measure how effective it is at the end of the quarter.

Content Creation

Inbound marketing is all about creating useful and relevant content. As we mentioned above, content can come in a wide range of formats. It doesn’t have to be in long-form posts like this one. The content you create will depend on how your target audience prefers to consume their content.

Some prospects like to watch a video, others may prefer written content, or like interacting with your brand on social media. Don’t forget, measure the content you produce against which stage of the buyer’s journey your prospective buyer is in.

Search Engine Optimization

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Search engine traffic is a significant part of most digital marketing strategies. You are creating high quality and useful information. The reward for that amazing content is the “free” traffic Google and other search engines provide. SEO traffic is highly targeted, symptomatic, and as a result, converts well. In one study 57% of B2B marketers reported that SEO was their highest converting marketing channel.

To maximize your benefit from these traffic sources, you need to prioritize and optimize your content for both on-page and search engine results page SEO. This means understanding all direct and indirect keywords (e.g., semantic SEO) and formats that correlate with your prospective buyers search terms. Then once identified, adapting your content marketing content to address their search queries.

Amplification

SEO can be a fantastic source of traffic, but it shouldn’t be your sole source of traffic. Content creation takes a significant investment of time and money. It’s important to maximize the exposure each piece of content receives online. This is where amplification comes into play. Some ways of amplifying your content include:

  • Email newsletters
  • Social media marketing
  • Content syndication
  • Guest posting
  • Evergreen posting
  • Content repurposing

Lead management

The last stage in your inbound marketing strategy is lead management. This is the exciting bit, watching your investment in content downloads, landing pages, and smart forms transform highly targeted traffic into organic website leads. There are many ways of converting traffic to leads, but one of the most effective is gating your content (often called an opt-in form) on a conversion-ready landing page.

Gated content could be a custom-created downloadable report, graphic design template, a product trial, or video lesson. To access the content, the prospective buyer needs to first provide their contact information. Then using your marketing automation tool, you can nurture a relationship with the prospective buyer over time, reaching out with automated emails, chats, and providing relevant information that helps them progress along the buyer’s journey.

Wrapping Up

Traditional forms of outbound marketing have grown increasingly futile. Survey after survey shows that customers don’t like them. In fact, your ideal buyers can easily ignore your marketing communication with ad blockers if they choose and are often “invisible” to your sales team. 

Inbound marketing offers a better alternative of attracting the ideal customers you want to speak to directly to you. By helping them solve their problem, you gain the opportunity to develop a relationship built on trust. Not only does that increase the probability of converting them into buyers, but it also means they are more likely to become loyal customers that help to promote your brand.

Are you ready to ditch expensive traditional outbound marketing for a better digital marketing strategy? Want to explore how to use inbound marketing to grow your brand? Let’s talk.

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