Inbound marketing as a term has been around since 2006. Back then, Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan coined the term, and the marketing automation company went gangbusters pushing the inbound methodology.
Inbound is the process of growing traffic and revenue by creating content that attracts buyers to you. Through insights and ongoing efforts, you nurture prospects through a lifecycle to purchase. While the term inbound marketing is ten years old, the ideas behind it are older. Seth Godin’s 1999 book, Permission Marketing also brings up the idea of marketing that informs prospects, makes friends and turns them into customers.
Today, companies that follow the inbound process have been shown to be 4x more effective in hitting growth and revenue goals. Across industries (B2B & B2C) inbound is embraced.
If you want to grow your organisation this year, put down the cold calling and start thinking about the way your customers are shopping.
Process, not technology
While Hubspot may have coined the term, it’s important to understand the process is technology agnostic. While companies like Hubspot, Marketo and of course Inbound Rocket can bring scale and efficiency by bringing together some of the core tools like landing page generation, email, call to actions, and simplifying the reporting, you can get many of the benefits by following the fundamental principles of inbound and permission marketing. All you need to do is build your marketing stack with a host of other marketing tools for the budget conscious small business.
The modern buyer
A few years back my then fiance and I were thinking about buying a boat.
I wanted to see if it made sense to work with a local credit union on financing terms, so we both started our research and ended up reaching out to two local credit unions.
My spouse found a credit union which provided a wealth of information online, got some preliminary data that led him to a page with a form that he could fill out to get more information. Once the form was submitted the form, we got a call within an hour, received a quote on a rate and had all the information needed from this option with just a few minutes over lunch at work.
My experience included struggling to find information on the website, forms that led nowhere, a call to the call centre only to be told I needed to go into a branch. The branch provided a whole new awful. Three days later which credit union do you think ended up with the loan?
The modern buyer, whether business or consumer, seeks an information rich experience across channels. If you want to grow your business and amp up sales, then you need to adapt. As the Wall Street Journal and Deloitte put it:
“individuals can choose what content they’ll consume, along with when, how, and where they’ll do it.”
Here’s what the inbound process, as Hubspot maps it out, looks like:
Grow relevant traffic to feed your sales funnel
Traffic makes the world go round. To get the new revenue, we need more eyeballs. To get more eyeballs, we need more content. To get content that matters we need to understand who we are reaching and what their pain points are.
Define your audience
Start with personas. Do not undervalue the power of understanding who you want to reach and why. Personas provide far-reaching insights through sales, marketing, support, and product.
Don’t overthink this either. I’ve seen too many businesses get stuck trying to make their personas and then nothing else happens. Peronapp is a great tool to help simplify this process.
Find out what your audience is searching for
Once you know who you want to reach, conduct keyword research around your category. In the era of semantic-based search, let’s look for what questions may be searched that you could create content for.
Tools like AnswerThePublic (free) and Mozah and AhrefsAhrefs (paid) have great research functions to find search queries that are question-based to get you going on what you should be blogging about.
Let’s say you’re a Landscaper. Here’s what one result would look like.
Turn your research into content
Now, we have a bunch of topics for blogs. Take a few of these that could be longer form or resource based, turn them into content offers. A content offer is something people would value. Something they would exchange an email, name, or phone number for to download.
Following our landscaper example, it could be something like “The spring landscape checklist: everything you need to get your lawn ready for spring”.
Now we have blogs to attract organic search and a content offer to provide in exchange for an email to start building a list of contacts of people who are interested in our products or services.
Promote your content
If you build it, they don’t just come. Tools like Coschedule, Hootsuite and Buffer help coordinate the publishing and promotion of your content across channels. Also, if you cite other sources in your content, send the person or organisation a tweet or an email and let them know they were included.
Bonus – give them a pre-made tweet using the ClickToTweet functionality from within Inbound Rocket. Here’s why. Everyone loves getting included in things. You may earn a link back, at the very least you could get a tweet.
It works, see:
Turn your traffic into opportunities
All the content, traffic and promotion in the world won’t matter if you don’t build conversion paths. What’s a conversion path you ask? It’s a means by which to funnel people through to what they need and a way for you to get a little bit of insight about them so you can stay in touch.
Conversion paths usually consist of a call to action (CTA) that gets embedded throughout your site and content. The CTA directs to a landing page. On the landing page, you have a form of some sort to collect a little information in exchange for a trial, a piece of content or another offer.
Tools like Drip, Leadpages, Inbound Rocket, and Canva make the creation of call to actions, landing pages and follow up delivery of offers a breeze.
Close the deal and keep people happy.
Once we get someone interested, we need to provide a way for them to close. It’s like a first date. You don’t ask someone to marry you before dessert. Instead, over time you get to know each other when the time is right, you pop the question. That plays out in two ways in marketing.
Stay top of mind with remarketing
Remarketing ads keep your brand top of mind in the weeks and months following a visit. Targeting people who visit key pages but abandon, like pricing, have items in cart, etc. increase the effect of remarketing. Tools like Adroll make what was once a functioning reserve for big fancy ad agencies accessible.
Nudge through lifecycles with nurturing
While advertising can incent a repeat visit and with a good offer compel a conversion, email nurturing helps move people through lifecycle stages to a close. As we go through the inbound process, we need to document what the buying stages are. Loosely, they usually fall into the following categories: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision. These stages may vary for your specific industry but, most of us, buyers, fall into a lifecycle as follows:
- Stage 1 Awareness: when we’re just starting to educate ourselves about a product, category or problem we might have.
- Stage 2 Consideration: when we clearly have a defined need.
- Stage 3 Decision: when we’re comparing options and are ready to decide.
Nurturing is the process of nudging people from one stage to the next. Email is the most common mechanism for this. So if we acquire a lead at the awareness stage, maybe they downloaded an ebook, we create a series of emails to provide education about the category or topic we are offering products and services in. Then we provide them something for a consideration stage, perhaps a worksheet or checklist to see if they’ve ready to move further in their lifecycle.
Rinse and repeat for the final stage.
In an earlier article, we already looked into expanding the stages a bit and providing the following content/stage breakdown for your nurturing consideration.
If this seems like a lot to bite off, then you might want to consider getting a hand to make it happen. By hiring an inbound marketing consultant, you can spread out the cost of the expertise required to manage all the mechanics of inbound. You also benefit from the experience they have across multiple industries; you don’t have to let resources or lack of knowledge hinder your progress, among other benefits. Not only is inbound an effective mechanism for driving growth, but it also costs less than other tactics. It may seem like a lot to bite off, but over time it will pay dividends. How are you tackling the inbound process in your company?
Ryan Ruud is the founder of Lake One, a marketing and growth firm that helps startups, innovators, social enterprises, and brands find traction and drive demand and grow revenue without forgoing concern for people, environment or the future.