What Is Inbound Marketing?

The marketing universe is fluid and dynamic, with new tactics and techniques sprouting up all the time, only to be overtaken by other new ideas in short order. Some of these newcomers don’t have staying power, seeming to appear and disappear simultaneously. Others stick and gain a solid foothold in the marketing realm.

One of the more recent sprouts to have staying power is what’s known as inbound marketing. Older methods are now being called outbound marketing, in order to differentiate between the two.

Today we’d like to dive a little deeper into this relatively new marketing strategy to see what it’s really about, and to see what sets it apart from it’s older cousin. We’ll start with a quick summary, followed by a deeper dive into the three stages of an inbound marketing campaign.

inbound on phone

The fundamental difference between these methods is right there in the name. Inbound is about pulling your audience in with relevant, timely, and engaging content, conversations on social media, and by 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 methods like print advertising, TV ads, billboards, and other (often costly) paid options.

At its core, 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 actually customers and reaching them when they are just searching the internet for a solution to a problem. Because that’s why and 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.

An inbound marketing campaign has three stages: Attract, Engage, Delight. Let’s take a closer look at these stages so you can see how you can start integrating inbound marketing into your business practices.

1. Attract

This is the stage you’re going to 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 interacting with clients and potential clients alike.

The attract stage boils down to a combination of 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. This is a foundational piece of any inbound marketing campaign. In fact, it transcends individual campaigns and forms the base of a solid marketing effort in general. Posts that address the pain points of your customers, the goings on in your industry, and that are 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 your more in-depth blog posts. Then, be sure to mention the person who 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 detailed content like downloadable PDFs, ebooks, or even webinars. When someone signs up for this content, you capture their contact information and start building 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:

2. Engage

The engage 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 really ends. They’ve given you permission to email them occasionally, so use the trust you’ve established to keep them up to date 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’s what makes them actively want to spread your marketing message by word of mouth to their followers and other friends. And it’s what you’ll be relying on as we enter the third and final stage of the inbound marketing journey:

3. Delight

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 converted into 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 journey of inbound marketing. From random stranger on the internet who found your content because it helped them solve their problem, down the funnel to 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!

We've put together a free inbound marketing checklist. Get your copy by clicking below!

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Jesse hails from Seattle, Wa. When he’s not creating great content, or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he’s probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.


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