Solving the Mystery: What is Inbound Marketing and Why Does It Matter?
You're a marketer or a business owner, and you're trying to boost sales or increase your digital presence, or otherwise grow your business. Maybe you've heard terms like inbound marketing or content marketing, but you're leery of buzzwords, and you don't want to waste your time on a fad. Maybe you've even tried some techniques that go along with the inbound approach, like running a blog or increasing your social media presence.
One of the more recent sprouts to have staying power is what's known as inbound marketing.
Inbound marketing is a marketing methodology that focuses on attracting potential customers or leads through the creation and distribution of valuable and relevant content, rather than interrupting them with unsolicited promotions or advertisements.
The primary goal of inbound marketing is to build trust, credibility, and brand awareness by offering helpful information that solves the target audience's problems, educates them about relevant topics, and addresses their pain points.
Inbound is about pulling your audience in with relevant, timely, and engaging content and conversations on social media and creating customers for life by delighting them with your knowledge and service. This contrasts with outbound, which is about pushing your products and offerings to your customers using print advertising, TV ads, billboards, and other (often costly) paid options.
At its core, an inbound is a human-centered approach to marketing. Inbound takes its time. This is not a method to use if you're out for quick sales or fast turnaround. This technique cultivates relationships with your customers, starting before they're customers and reaching them when they are just searching the internet for a solution to a problem. Because that's why when people are searching on the internet: they have a problem and need a solution.
The goal of inbound marketing is to be there with the answers, positioning yourself and your company as a knowledgeable source of quality information.
Then, when these same people are ready to buy/hire, they already have your name in mind and will seek you out without any direct action on your part.
The inbound marketing methodology looks at three phases arranged in a flywheel: Attract, Engage, and Delight. Let's review see how you can integrate inbound marketing into your business practices:
This is the stage you'll spend the most time on, but don't worry, you'll be working with customers at all stages and at various times. This is simply the stage that includes ongoing efforts like content creation, social media presence, and interactions with clients and potential clients alike.
The attract stage boils down to relevant, engaging content and timeliness. Or, to put it another way, being in the right place at the right time. In this context, that means having your content out there and searchable. As a result, you'll be using your SEO skills in addition to your creativity.
Your primary activity at this stage is content creation. This can take several forms:
Blog posts. Blogging is a foundational piece of any inbound marketing campaign. It transcends individual campaigns and forms the base of a solid marketing effort in general. Posts that address the pain points of your customers and the goings on in your industry that is generally relevant and interesting will serve you well going forward.
Social media presence. By cultivating a following on social media, you have a pool of interested followers to draw on. Share their posts, retweet their funny tweets, and in return, they’ll share, like, and retweet yours. Mine their feeds for additional questions or pain points you can address with more in-depth blog posts. Then, be sure to mention the person you got the idea from when you post so they'll be excited to read and share that content.
Gated content. Once you have a solid following of readers, you can start putting out more explicit content like downloadable PDFs, ebooks, or even webinars. When someone signs up for this content, you capture their contact information and build your email list. Now you're providing even more valuable information to your audience, and they're allowing you to market to them via an email newsletter, special offers, etc.
That last piece, the collection of customers (albeit potential ones, at this point), is crucial to the second stage of an inbound marketing strategy:
The engagement stage begins when you collect that contact information. It then follows your audience through the funnel and into their becoming happy customers. You'll notice we didn't say it ended there. That's because the engagement you start when you collect a new person's contact info never ends. They've given you permission to email them occasionally, so use the trust you've established to keep them updated on your industry, give them special holiday offers, or offer customer referral bonuses, for example.
This stage also encompasses your interactions with social media followers. By being consistent in your content offerings, engaging with followers as your authentic self, and being open and honest in your dealings with the public, you're solidifying your reputation. And in the world of inbound marketing, your reputation is gold. It's what generates the goodwill your customers have toward you. It makes them actively want to spread your marketing message by word of mouth to their followers and friends. And it’s what you'll be relying on as we enter the third and final stage of the inbound marketing journey:
We'll be honest, this is our favorite stage. What's not to love about delighting your customers, right? The delight stage begins once the deal is signed and your follower has become a customer. Your job is now to work tirelessly to keep them happy. Happy with both you and your company and with the service you’re providing.
This means, once again, staying on top of your social media marketing and maintaining your interactions with followers (some of whom are now in this stage of their journey as happy customers). This also means you're providing these folks with the best service/widget you can (this isn't our focus, we're assuming you're already on top in your field, that way, we can focus on our field of inbound marketing).
And there you are; you've taken your customer on a full-circle inbound marketing journey. From random strangers on the internet who found your content because it helped them solve their problem, down the funnel to the happy customer with whom you're still actively engaging on social media. By keeping yourself and your stellar service in front of your audience, you're ensuring they remember you when they need you again and that they're recommending you to all their friends—and that's what inbound marketing is all about!
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