Creating a niche is important for any successful business. It’s the element that sets you apart from your competition and, when done right, it can change your industry landscape. This is precisely what leading martech company, Hubspot, did in 2005 when they coined the term inbound marketing.
While it’s become a ubiquitous part of the marketing landscape - currently, 74% of organisations rely on an inbound marketing strategy - it is a relatively new concept. Despite first being used in 2005, it wasn’t until 2012 that inbound marketing really started to grow as a key marketing strategy, and this largely came because of HubSpot’s success in the niche they effectively created themselves.
While most marketers use inbound marketing techniques, it’s important to understand exactly what inbound marketing is and what effect it can have on the success of your business.
What is inbound marketing?
The term inbound marketing describes a customer-centric approach to digital marketing that focuses on creating content that is valuable and relevant to attract and engage the target audience. It includes various elements and tactics including content marketing, SEO, social media, and email marketing to draw potential customers in, rather than pushing products or services onto them with tactics we now define as outbound marketing.
Inbound vs outbound marketing
Outbound marketing relies on pushing promotional messages and content to a broad, largely unsegmented audience often through interruptive and non-permission-based channels. Think of tactics such as cold calling, print advertising, TV and radio commercials, direct mail, and even email spam.
Where outbound is about pushing product messaging anytime, anywhere, inbound marketing is about building trust, establishing authority, and nurturing long-term relationships with customers by providing them with the information and solutions to problems they already have. Creating engaging and helpful content that answers their questions and addresses their needs allows inbound marketers to pull in their audience and convert engagement into valuable leads. It’s essentially push vs pull.
Source: Software Advice
The basics of an inbound marketing strategy
Implementing an inbound marketing strategy means thinking in the long term. Inbound marketing is not a quick win - it takes planning, execution, creativity, skills and passion to do it well.
One of the first things to consider is: how you will get your audience’s attention. What sort of content or offer will bring them to you? Because the whole goal of inbound marketing sit to convince your audience to give you their details - willingly.
But the journey doesn't end with just capturing their data. How do you transform an email address into a paying customer and, ultimately, a devoted brand advocate? The entire process may seem like a puzzle with many pieces but, by breaking it down into manageable stages, you can simplify your actions and navigate the path to success with confidence.
Hubspot breaks down the inbound methodology into three areas:
- Attract - create unique and insightful multi-channel content to draw users to your website.
- Engage - offer solutions and insights that answer their questions, meet their needs, and, in time, convinces them to become a customer.
- Delight - support the customer to allow them to achieve their goals with their newly purchased product.
The above method is known as the flywheel. Previously, marketers relied on the funnel model; customers were moved down the funnel toward the point of purchase, with marketing and sales teams carrying out various tasks in each stage.
The problem with the funnel is that it’s a product-focused approach, and once customers reach the bottom, any momentum from marketing and sales diminishes. When using the funnel, little effort is made to continuously delight the customer post-sale as the model prioritises sales revenue over customer lifetime value.
Additionally, the funnel can lead to friction between departments that hinders hand-offs and nurturing customers. Customer centricity is a core value for inbound marketing, and as such, the funnel model was no longer fit for purpose. The flywheel represents an evolution of and a solution to the funnel problem.
Flywheels exist in a continuous circular motion where customer engagement feeds every part of the process. Each team works simultaneously to nurture leads from strangers to promoters of your product throughout the entire customer journey. The flywheel emphasises building and maintaining relationships with customers rather than merely selling products.
Inbound marketing tactics
So, how do marketers actually implement the flywheel? Several tactics make up the attract, engage, and delight elements of inbound marketing, many of which are constantly evolving and becoming more and more advanced in their ability to personalise experiences based on customer preferences and expectations.
Let’s take a closer look at three of the main tactics that form the foundation of inbound marketing strategies.
Source: Demand Metric
Content marketing is the art of crafting captivating, distinctive content to entice audiences to your website. The type of content that’s included in this strategy is vast - it can be anything from blogs to videos to infographics to podcasts, and more. It's your prerogative as the marketer or brand to determine which content types resonate best with their audience. In fact, research shows that content marketing generates over 3x as many leads as traditional marketing tactics.
Picking the right topics is important to success in content marketing, especially in relation to keywords. Keywords are the foundational words or phrases that describe the topic of a content piece. They play a crucial role in communicating to a search engine the content's subject, enabling the search engine to appropriately assess and rank it. However, while keywords can be related to your product or service, they shouldn’t necessarily be used to sell your product directly. Instead, keyword-specific content should serve as a source of knowledge, offering insights and information to potential customers. The goal is to make your content a source of thought leadership in your industry, so it's imperative to infuse your content with an authentic voice and weave narratives that deeply connect with your audience.
For example, if you sell specialised running shoes, your chosen keyword topic is running. But instead of writing blogs and emails about why yours is the best running shoe, you should write content on the following:
- How to start running
- How to improve your running abilities
- Top 5 running training plans
- What shoes are best suited for running?
- A beginner’s guide to running
One of the main benefits of content marketing is increased organic traffic to your website from search engines. Focusing on keywords with a high search volume but low competition from other content creators will increase the likelihood of your content ranking highly on search engine results pages (SERPs).
Converting that valuable traffic into actual contacts is a key component of content marketing. Gated content is a great way to do this. Think ebooks, whitepapers, guides and even infographics. The important thing here is to provide enough value that your audience will part with their precious data. Once you have their information (keeping in mind things like GDPR) you can nurture contacts who have converted via email marketing, which we will cover a little bit further down.
As your content strategy progresses through the flywheel, the goal is to get your contacts into a position where they are open to purchasing your product or service. But, remember, content marketing is about creating value, not selling.
Source: Impact Plus
SEO stands for search engine optimisation and exists in the background of any content marketing strategy. It’s the process of identifying the right keywords for your website and content so that it ranks highly on search engines. If done correctly, SEO will improve the quality and quantity of traffic to your website.
Search engines, such as Google and Bing, use crawlers that scour the internet for websites and index data about them to serve lists of search results for any given keyword or phrase. Ultimately, crawlers award high rankings to content that is the most relevant, trustworthy, and provides the best user experience. A large part of this is choosing the right keywords, as we described above, but there is more to SEO than keyword research,
Several other factors can impact how successful your site is in impressing the search engine crawlers. We can break this down into:1. On-page factors:
On-page SEO factors are within your control as they incorporate everything from the way your website is structured and the HTML tags used to the content you have created and uploaded. These factors are judged by how successfully they can communicate your website’s purpose to the search engine crawlers. Elements such as page titles, heading tags (H1, H2, H3, etc.), meta descriptions, alt-text for images, mobile-friendliness, keyword density, and so on are all critical factors.
Google in particular, is constantly releasing updates that aim to make search results more relevant to users, but can sometimes cause issues for anyone trying to keep up with important ranking factors. Oftentimes, content creators will see a drop in organic traffic due to the updated changes.
Some important on-page factors to always keep in mind, regardless of updates:
- Page loading speed
- Ease of interaction
- Visual stability of a page from a user’s perspective
- Is the content actually helpful?
2. Off-page factors:
Off-page SEO factors essentially determine your website’s authority and inform the search engine on how trustworthy your content is on a topic. Factors include backlinks, social media (shares & engagement), guest blogging, brand mentions (linked and unlinked), etc.
You can track certain metrics to ascertain how authoritative your website is in terms of off-page SEO. Whilst these metrics are not directly considered by the search engines as a ranking factor, they can be used as a valuable indicator of the strength of your website’s backlink profile. They are:
- Domain Authority (DA)
A term created by SEO experts Moz, DA analyses your entire domain (including any blogs, subdomains and landing pages) to return a number between 0 to 100. This number is based on how many high-quality websites are linking to your content. Domains with higher scores can rank highly in SERPs more easily.
- Page Rating (PA)
Another Moz metric, PA, refers to how a specific page is likely to rank in SERPs. For this metric, as with DA, the quality and quantity of backlinks are important. However, content elements such as keyword density, anchors’ quality, traffic linked to the page, reader's behaviour, etc, also play a part in the rating.
- Domain Authority (DA)
Inbound methodology dictates that marketing should not interrupt a consumer with unwanted contact. This means email marketing tactics of days gone by, like purchasing email lists and cold emailing, are no longer viable and in the case of GDPR legislation, illegal.
GDPR or the General Data Protection Regulation deals with the data of anyone based in the European Union or the UK. It must be followed by any business or organisation targeting anyone living within these areas.
The regulation dictates that processing of personal data for email marketing can only occur if explicit consent has been granted from the data subject or if there is another legal basis for processing, e.g. legitimate interest.
Even within these allowances, marketers must ensure that they facilitate the data subject’s right to object to processing for marketing purposes. And they must ensure that any objection is acknowledged and respected by ceasing data processing for the subject immediately.
Things to remember to stay compliant within inbound email marketing:
- Never pre-check consent boxes
- Include ‘Unsubscribe’ links in all email marketing
- Keep records of who consented, when and how
- Consistently review your consent practice to ensure continued compliance
Proper email consent practice is vital; however, once you gain this go-ahead from your contacts, it’s up to you to delight them to avoid high unsubscribe rates. Market segmentation is your best friend in this instance; personalise your email marketing content to the individual phases of the flywheel. Utilise email marketing automation to create workflows for each stage of your buyer’s journey and map the tone of each workflow to the stage.
Proper email consent practice is vital; however, once you have it, it’s up to you to delight contacts to convert them into customers (and to avoid high unsubscribe rates).
Remember, the purpose of your email marketing is to provide value and create intrigue in a way that will turn a contact into a customer without going for the ‘hard sell.’ As your contact progresses through the flywheel, you can introduce them to content that has more purchase intent.
While content marketing, SEO, and email are crucial, there are many other tactics that you can use to flesh out your inbound marketing strategy, depending on what channel best suits your target audience, including:
- Social Media
- Native Advertising
- Influencer Marketing
- Community Building
- Media & PR
Benefits of inbound marketing
- Low cost, high return
When you compare inbound marketing with outbound marketing, one of the main differences in the budget required to be successful. Studies show that content marketing costs 62% less than traditional marketing. However, long-term success will depend on one's ability to know your audience and create quality content that is valuable and speaks to their needs.
- Builds brand awareness
Inbound is an excellent way to build brand awareness by using insightful and informative content to present your company as a thought leader within its industry. Google processes 8.5 billion searches per day, and some of those are people looking for products or services like yours. By drawing prospects to you with inbound marketing, you can build trust and then, slowly, they can discover how useful your products or services are.
- Aligns sales and marketing departments
One of the most detrimental factors to any business is the existence of data silos. A data silo is where one department has access to data that may be valuable to other departments but that is not being shared. Silos can hinder the marketing-sales process as often, vital data concerning messaging or lifecycle stages are held back, meaning potential customers receive conflicting sales and marketing communications.
Inbound marketing can also align the sales and marketing team by creating shared targets and metrics to aim for and create processes that join up the responsibilities of lead generation and nurturing for cross-departmental liability.
- Utilises first-party data
Google has announced that by 2024 it will ban the tracking of third-party data on its browsers - joining Safari and Firefox which already prohibit third-party cookies. The death of third-party cookies will mark the beginning of the end for many marketing tactics that utilise this type of data. As a result, marketing professionals are being urged to focus more on obtaining first-party data to personalise customer experiences.
First-party data is collected directly from contacts. Customers provide this knowingly by via consent to track when they begin browsing a website. As we have discussed, website visitors may offer up additional data such as their email address or phone number in return for value - this is where content marketing is particularly useful. It encourages the use of gated content to collect relevant first-party data from customers.
Inbound marketing has completely changed the landscape of B2B and B2C marketing strategies alike and with good reason. For B2B, inbound marketing has increased the bottom line, generating 54% more leads than traditional outbound practices. In B2C markets, 23% of their total marketing budget is allocated to inbound content marketing tactics.
Investing in inbound marketing when data transparency and privacy concerns are rising is a good choice. With inbound marketing’s unintrusive approach to content distribution and consent-first style of data collection, you can improve your customers’ experience without losing their trust.
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