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What is Inbound Marketing? A Guide for Business

by Kierstin Payne on December 5, 2019
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Sitting in the doctor’s office a few days ago, an overly talkative receptionist asked me, “What do you do for a living?”

“Inbound marketing,” I said, not looking up from my People magazine.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “That’s like, what, emails and newsletters, right?”

Maybe I should have set aside my article about baby Archie and the English monarchy, but his answer didn’t surprise me. When you ask someone about inbound marketing, you’ll get a range of responses – blank stares, knowing nods, smiles, and more questions – depending on who you are talking to.

There are many misconceptions when it comes to inbound marketing. In this article, we’ll cut through the noise to find the truth about inbound and look at a few of the ways it can help businesses like yours.

Marketing, the Consumer, and your Business

Marketing is changing.

Businesses used to control the sales and marketing cycle. The marketing department designed a campaign and delivered information through ads and commercials that the target audience consumed. The information stream flowed directly from your business to the consumer.Elevate your Marketing. Resources and Expertise at your Fingertips.

Today, with instant access to almost limitless information, the consumer controls the cycle. Consumers aren’t reviewing your ad to gather information. They aren’t talking to a sales person to find the best product or waiting for your company to get back to them with answers. They go to the internet to do research. They ask friends and family for recommendations. They are looking at reviews.

The consumer has the power, and they know it. The question is, what are you going to do about it? Who is going to tell the story of your business?

That’s where inbound marketing comes in.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing recognizes the world works differently and the consumer has changed. The old ways of attracting and converting prospects don’t work like they used to.

The goal of an inbound marketing strategy is to create valuable content and experiences that provide value to a prospect as they do research. With inbound marketing, your goal is to get ahead of the game by providing the answers the consumer is looking for, by providing the best possible answers to the consumer.

Inbound marketing recognizes that the consumer is going to do their own research, and that the digital age gives a prospect instant access to information. Rather than fight these facts, inbound marketing seeks to help the consumer find the answers they need. Be the business that solves the problem. Earn the trust of the consumer.

Many businesses see significantly better results with an inbound marketing strategy over outbound marketing. By appealing to prospects when they are actively considering solutions, they can position their products and services as the best option. You aren’t fighting to change the opinion or mindset of the target audience, you’re helping them.Talk to the experts today. See what digital marketing can do for you.

The result is a customer-focused buying process that makes your business the first choice of the consumer. It’s better for the customer, and an easier selling process for your business. In the end, you’re not just selling products and services, your business is growing better.

The Difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

In the past, an outbound marketing strategy focused on interrupting the audience, getting in their face with a message. The goal of that interruption is to create a need – pushing the consumer to buy.

The goal of inbound is deliver value (like information and answers) that attracts people, and then engaging and delighting them to keep them coming back. It’s focused on building trust and a relationship. Then, when the audience is ready, it is your product and service they will buy.

An inbound strategy doesn’t end with a purchase. Instead, it focuses on business growth by providing continual value for the customer. It’s solution-focused, not product-focused. You’ll have the opportunity to sell more through that relationship. The customer will tell their friends and family about your company, becoming an advocate to drive even more prospects. It’s a strategy focused on long-term growth, rather than a quick sales.

In the end, customers will better appreciate your company and how you do business, and your company will sell more to a much larger audience. Everyone wins. It’s a better way to conduct business – that’s how your company can grow better.

Why Do Companies Struggle with Inbound Marketing?

As powerful as inbound marketing can be, many businesses find it difficult to get started. Companies approach inbound marketing with flawed expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, they return to old, familiar outbound strategies.

There are several reasons for this struggle:

  • Lack of patience: An inbound strategy can take time to develop and implement, and a company looking for quick wins can be frustrated.
  • Flawed Buyer Persona: You need to know the audience, what questions they are asking and how they will research your product and service. If you have misconceptions about your audience, then your content may not have the impact you need.
  • Lack of Resources: You need to engage and delight your audience, and not every marketing department has the resources and expertise to develop, create and launch the content you need to meet that goal.
  • Lack of Support: Many still have an outdated view of marketing. Without active support of the business, including leadership, the sales team, customer service, and more, your inbound initiative will suffer. Inbound marketing focuses on every phase of the buyer’s journey, so you need the support of everyone who will touch or have an impact on the customer.

Now that you have a better idea of how inbound works, let’s look at how you can make it work for you.

How Does Inbound Marketing Work?

HubSpot, one of the leaders in inbound marketing, uses a flywheel to describe the inbound business/marketing model.

This model puts the customer at the center of the flywheel and the center of your inbound strategy. With the flywheel, the goal is long-term growth, not sales. The flywheel uses the customers you attract, engage and delight as fuel for finding, attracting, engaging and delighting new prospects.

The Phases of Inbound Marketing

It’s a different way of looking at business, directly addressing the frustration and anger many people feel with outbound marketing by focusing on value. It recognizes and supports the behavior of the modern consumer. The goal is to make every interaction between your business and the consumer a win for everyone.

There are three phases in the flywheel model: attract, engage, and delight. These phases feed into each other, building and describing an ongoing relationship with the consumer, rather than an isolated transaction.

Here’s how it works: 

Attract in Inbound Marketing

Your inbound strategy starts with a target audience. Once you’ve identified your target audience, you’ll build a buyer persona. That buyer persona should be the focus of your content creation strategies. 

  • Research: According to the buyer persona, what strategies will your target audience use to conduct research? What digital channels will they use? Where do they go for information? Who do they trust? What information are they looking for? This research should guide your work during the attract phase, including where you post content and what content you are creating.
  • Content Creation: Once you know what questions the target audience has, and what information they are looking for, it’s time to give them the answers. Answer those questions by creating and publishing content on the digital channels they regularly use. Blogs, articles, web pages and micro-sites are potential avenues to provide answers. A long-form guide that provides a solution the target audience is looking for is another option. You want to provide the best possible answers.
  • SEO Strategy: You can have the best content in the world, but it’s not helping you if no one can find it. An SEO strategy can help. What are the phrases your target audience will use as they start doing research? What are the keywords that describe the problem the audience needs to solve? Optimize your content using the keywords to ensure it can be found as they target audience does research.
  • Social Media: Keep in mind, social media is an excellent way to reach your target audience. Many people start their research on social media, so consider social media as one critical channel for your content creation. Focus on the platforms you know the target audience is using. Look at providing product details, customer testimonials, and information on promotions through social media – more answers for the audience.

Engage in Inbound Marketing

Engage focuses on building a relationship with your target audience. The goal isn’t making a quick sale and moving on to the next customer, but laying the foundation of a relationship. You want to show the prospect your business is focused on adding value, becoming the company they were looking for as they began their research.

  • Focus on Solutions: In the past, many businesses would talk about products – how the vacuum they sold was the best vacuum, for example. To build a relationship, focus on the solution you offer rather than a specific product or service. Look at how you can add value for the target audience – by providing the cleanest floors, or eliminating household allergens, and not how much horsepower is under the hood of the vacuum.
  • Buyer’s Journey: The buyer’s journey is an important tool for the inbound marketer. It identifies the stages and progress a buyer will go through before they make a purchase. For each stage in the journey, consider how your business can add value. How can you help the buyer during the journey?
  • Marketing Automation: Many companies will use email workflows and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools to track and manage audience engagement. Gather information through the CRM to personalize the target audience’s experience during the buyer’s journey using marketing automation. The buyer’s journey should guide your automation strategy.

Delight in Inbound Marketing

With Delight, your focus should be on making sure the customer is not just satisfied with your service or product, but happy. They should know you are supporting them – to answer questions and continue adding value long after the purchase. Your goal should be to shift from a simple vendor to become a trusted partner or advisor – that expert the customer can turn to in the future when they need another solution. Every customer interaction is an opportunity to build that relationship.

  • Surveys: A well-timed survey is a great way to continue the conversation and learn what else the customer is looking for. You don’t want to flood the customer with questions and homework, but a well-timed survey can provide critical feedback and let the customer know they are your focus. It can help build that relationship.
  • Social Media: Many customers find it easier to provide feedback and ask questions on social media. You want to be part of that conversation. Respond to questions and provide additional information that helps and supports your customers. Encourage additional feedback. Listen to your customers across digital channels, ready to provide help when they need it.
  • Conversation Tracking: There is nothing more frustrating or annoying to a customer than to feel like they don’t matter, but that often happens when a business doesn’t provide the right context during a conversation. Conversation tracking lets you see the interactions between the business and the customer, to ensure you can provide the right message at just the right time. It shows you value their time and your relationship.
  • Newsletters and Updates: Continue the conversation with the customer with follow-up information that adds additional value beyond the initial sale. A newsletter is a great way to provide that value with articles that interest the customer. Updates on the products or service is another way to continue the conversation. Look at sharing the content in other formats, like video, that are even easier for the prospect to share.

Focusing on building a relationship with prospects is not only a customer-centric way to do business, it’s also good for the long-term growth of the company. By continuing the conversation with the customer, and adding value even after the sale, you can turn that single customer into a brand advocate and promoter, which leads to additional sales and more customers.

Getting Started with Inbound Marketing

The idea of creating content and providing value and delight with every customer interaction can be daunting, even scary.

Getting started isn’t easy. Coming up with the right strategy, even identifying the target audience, can be difficult, and that’s just the beginning of the process. Most businesses aren’t focused on content creation – a critical component in any inbound strategy. A manufacturer isn’t in the business of writing blogs, and a healthcare company may not have the time or capability to create videos.

Many businesses simply don’t have the time, resources, or expertise to successfully launch an inbound marketing strategy. They pour time and resources into the project with minimal gain. Meanwhile, their competition is optimizing, attracting more customers.

This is why many businesses turn to platforms like HubSpot to launch inbound marketing. HubSpot provides the tools and systems the business needs to support inbound activities for marketing, sales, service and more. Once implemented, it supports the customer experience and the business, making it easier to deliver the delight that can turn every customer into an advocate.

These businesses will also utilize outside expertise and resources to support the inbound initiative – resources like GO2. As a HubSpot Gold Partner, GO2 has experiencing leveraging HubSpot for business.  GO2’s 20/20 Marketing Program is designed to provide the additional resources and expertise a company needs for inbound marketing at a much lower cost than hiring new employees or onboarding additional freelance resources.

Marketing execution programs drastically reduce the long-term costs of marketing by filling expertise and resources gaps to increase the effectiveness of the campaign. The company sees a faster return with a more effective and efficient strategy. Rather than trying to make the project work, the company can focus on optimizing and growing the business.

If you’re interested in learning more about inbound marketing, or would like to see how an inbound marketing strategy can help your business, then contact GO2 Partners today and talk to one of our experts.

Topics: SEO and Digital Marketing, Inbound Marketing, Marketing Execution