Before about 1995, business owners used to take out a small ad in the local press. Or put on a strong pair of shoes and knock on lots of doors.
In the digital age, promoting your business is a totally different proposition. These days, it’s all about baiting your traps, then sitting back and waiting for the mouse to bite.
It’s called inbound marketing. But what is it? And how can it help your business? Here’s our take on inbound marketing, complete with examples and strategy.
What is inbound marketing?
First of all, let’s clear up what we mean by outbound marketing. This is the more traditional form of promotion, which has its roots in pre-digital times.
Outbound marketing takes place when your business starts the promotional conversation. That could mean taking an ad out in the newspaper, attending a trade show, running seminars or cold calling.
In outbound vs inbound marketing, inbound is always the winner. Outbound marketing has largely fallen out of favor because it’s expensive and return on investment is lower.
So, inbound marketing — what’s the definition?
In short, inbound marketing draws in customers to your website or blog using content marketing, social media and search engine optimization.
It’s about providing relevant and helpful content that resonates with people and the problems they face. Crucially, you’re giving them the chance to connect with you, rather than forcing your business upon them.
Once they land on your site, you can then continue the conversation with chatbots, email and blog posts. All the while, you’re positioning yourself and your business both as an empathetic listener and industry expert.
There are three stages to your inbound marketing strategy: attract, engage and delight. It’s a process that creates trust, credibility and momentum. More about this later.
What are the inbound marketing channels?
Don’t you just love making cold calls? Or filling your trash can with the brightly colored junk mail that is stuffed into your mailbox every day?
This is why inbound marketing is a winner. Because your customer is actively looking for your product or service, rather than being sold to against their will.
Here are the leading inbound marketing channels.
Blogging is the big one. Write a regular blog and you not only tell Google that your site is alive and kicking, but you also show that you can offer valuable advice.
Blogging is all about setting yourself up as an expert. And when you take blogging to the next level and distribute your posts to your email list, you pop up regularly in prospects’ inboxes.
The next time they need a product or service like yours, who are they going to turn to? You. (Hopefully.)
But smart marketers take the process further, using sales funnels. Simply put, a sales funnel filters a huge number of prospects into a small number of buyers.
It begins by offering a lead magnet. This is a free offer — usually some useful market information you’ve produced yourself — that you send out in return for your visitors’ contact information.
They’re now in the funnel.
You can then hit them with great email content that positions you as an expert. When the email sequence is finished, present your prospects with a juicy deal.
Once they’ve become your customer, get them hooked on another email campaign and provide them with even more industry insight. Add some remarketing into the mix to make sure you don’t lose them along the way.
2. Social media
In days gone by, you couldn’t expect to chat openly with your prospects whenever you felt like it. Thanks to social media, now you can.
Even better, you can use social media as an extension of your brand, adopting the same tone of voice you use for all your other communications. Taco Bell is the obvious example of one company that does this brilliantly.
Search engine optimization (SEO) involves optimizing your website content so that you get displayed prominently on Google and other search engines.
To succeed here, you’ll need to have a good knowledge of your audience, your offering and what people actually search for when they’re looking for your products and services.
When you’ve established all this, you can design your content so that it appears on Google’s first page and you can suck prospects into your sales funnel.
4. Other ideas
Other examples of inbound marketing include:
- White papers — a good lead magnet
- Press releases — send them out through multiple platforms
- Resources section — put it on your site so people can find helpful information
- Podcasts — maximize your subject authority
- Videos — gain a wider following and make your videos part of your funnel.
How to run an inbound marketing campaign
As we’ve seen, there are three elements to an inbound marketing strategy: attract, engage and delight.
You want the right people to reach your website. The ones who are more likely to buy. You can get them there by providing content that resonates with their problems. You also have to do that when they need it.
Make sure you rank well for the things that matter to your target audience. Create great ‘link juice’ by promoting your blogs and videos across social media as part of a funnel.
Finally, always analyze and improve. If all that sounds like hard work, find a good digital agency to help you out.
Stage 2 is engagement. This is where you strengthen your branding and customer relationships by starting meaningful conversations with prospects and customers.
It’s key to talk to your audience through their preferred channels. They might be email, chatbots or apps such as Messenger. You can then capture visitor information using calls to action and lead flows (forms on your website).
When you’ve collected all this data, you can begin to personalize your website using smart content. And push your brand loyalty by aiming your social content and online advertising at specific prospects.
As we’ve all heard many times, it’s five times more expensive to attract a new customer than to retain an existing one. If referrals from existing customers aren’t a major part of your income, you’re missing a trick.
To keep customers sweet, you need to delight them. That means making them feel special. You can do this with tailored newsletters and surveys, plus offers based around what they’ve bought before. Oh, and chat with them on Twitter.
Don’t forget to keep up with their lives on social media. If they just won a big order, make sure you pass on your congratulations. Take an interest in them, and that interest will be repaid.
As the song says, you only get what you give.