Inbound Marketing: what it is, how it works and why it’s good for your business
The term ‘Inbound Marketing’ is part of the common marketers’ language and is gaining traction among non-marketers due to its potential. But what does it mean exactly? How does it differ from a traditional marketing approach? What are the most used tools and channels? And, above all, what benefits can it bring to a business?
We will answer these and other questions and try to give a comprehensive overview of inbound marketing, highlighting the main advantages of this approach.
- What is Inbound Marketing: definition and meaning
- Inbound Vs Outbound Marketing
- The four phases of the inbound methodology
- Buyer Persona, what they are and how to build them
- Customer Journey: the evolution from the Funnel to the Flywheel
- Inbound Marketing: tools, channels and platforms
- Inbound and Conversion Marketing
- Why use Marketing Automation in an Inbound Marketing strategy
Let’s get started.
What is Inbound Marketing: definition and meaning
To understand what Inbound Marketing is, it is important to start with the fact that consumer behaviour has changed radically since a few years ago.
The change is truly there for all to see. Before buying, we inform ourselves online, compare products and services, read reviews, etc. We are no longer at the mercy of sellers. Thanks to the Internet, we have valuable information at our disposal to assess for ourselves what is best for us. Suffice it to say that 80% of today’s purchasing decisions originate and develop online: an important number that can no longer be ignored.
What is perhaps not yet apparent to everyone is that this behavioural revolution is (or at least should be) having a major impact on the way companies engage with actual and potential customers.
This is where Inbound comes in, a marketing methodology that is also ideal for B2B markets.
This approach to marketing is different from the traditional one, which is based on the production and promotion of valuable content to attract those who are really interested in our products or services.
It can be referred to as a ‘revolution’ because it is no longer the product that is at the centre of communication. In Inbound Marketing, the focus shifts from the product and the company to the customer. To their needs, their requirements, their daily problems and challenges. Understanding the customer is the first step to establishing a long-lasting relationship of trust.
Inbound Vs Outbound Marketing
As we have said, the purchasing behaviour of the contemporary consumer has changed. And the ways in which companies interact with their customers and what the public expects from a business have also changed.
People no longer want to be interrupted by unsolicited advertising messages. They don’t want adverts and phone calls with unwanted and often annoying communications getting in the way of what they are doing. They want to be able to search independently for the information they need in order to make an informed choice. They want to ‘consume’ useful, informative and interesting content that clarifies their ideas and helps them make the right decision.
Traditional (outbound) marketing tactics do not work as well as they used to. Cold calls, TV spots, door-to-door, banners and buying pages in the press can, in certain cases and for certain companies, still be useful, but they aren’t as impactful as they used to be. Inbound Marketing is a set of strategies, methodology and tools whose primary objective is to create content designed specifically for your target audience (Buyer Persona) to attract only people interested in what you do. It is no longer a question of “casting a net” and relying on the law of large numbers. We want to attract qualified contacts and build a long-term relationship with them.
Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing
As mentioned above, Inbound Marketing is a comprehensive and integrated methodology,developed to help companies adapt to the way people buy products and services; it is a heterogeneous discipline within which content marketing is a major component.
What is content marketing? As defined by the Content Marketing Institute it is a content-driven discipline that focuses on creating relevant and coherent valuable content, designed to be distributed and to attract the attention of a clearly targeted audience, with the ultimate goal of driving profit-generating customer activity.
It is clear that content marketing plays a major role in an inbound strategy, which in turn is more structured and complete thanks to the coexistence of further elements such as website design, email marketing and event marketing.
Do you want to stay up to date on the evolution of inbound and content marketing to know how your users’ interests and ways of using online content are changing?
The four phases of the inbound methodology
The inbound methodology is divided into four steps, which correspond to different stages in the process of bringing potential customers closer to the brand.
We are not interested in everyone visiting our site. We want those who are most likely to convert first into leads and then into customers And how do we attract people who are really interested? Producing relevant content to show them at the right time.
Inbound marketing is about showing the right content to the right people at the right time. This means that the point in time at which the potential customer is on their Buyer’s Journey must also be taken into account. Are you still getting a general idea of possible solutions to your problem? Or are you already in the process of comparing competing products/services? Content and context are equally important and both serve to attract the ‘right’ people.
Developing Buyer Personas are key to being able to create the content that our audience is looking for online. Studying a multi-channel distribution of that content (through blogs, social media, email marketing, etc.) will be the next step to bring traffic to the site and acquire new customers.
After attracting people potentially interested in our offer, we need to convert them, i.e. from anonymous visitors into leads and from leads into paying customers.
Users have come to our site looking for answers to their questions and we have to make sure that we provide them. We need to produce relevant and useful content to meet their needs, offering it for free in exchange for an email address that allows us to cultivate the relationship in the future.
Most people are not ready to buy now. They need more insight and information and, above all, they need to trust the company they are going to buy from. That is why we need to create customised content to build and nurture relationships based on mutual trust.
Lead generation is not enough. Contacts in the database must be nurtured and guided towards the sale. Email, Workflow, CRM and Lead Scoring are the tools to get the deal closed. Depending on the needs, a lead nurturing strategy should be set up to provide the audience with all the information they need to make a purchasing decision.
4. Delight (loyalty)
The relationship with the customer does not end with the purchase. Relationships need to be cultivated afterwards by involving existing customers in our communication strategy. Just like the best love stories, customer relationships need attention, consistency and constancy over time. If we keep the relationship alive, customers will become promoters and brand ambassadors, telling their friends and family about us and recommending our products. After all, one should not forget that a satisfied customer is the best form of (free) advertising one can have.
Buyer Persona, what they are and how to build them
The immediate access that users have today to information channels makes it essential to understand how purchasing managers make their decisions: selecting the roles of the professional figures involved in the choice and identifying what really influences it are essential steps to be able to produce interesting content for each protagonist in the negotiation.
An in-depth study of buyers’ attitudes allows us to understand which product characteristics lead to a positive perception of the product, which elements make the product preferable for solving a business problem, the importance of the people involved in each phase of a negotiation, the channels of access to information and the barriers that prevent a buyer from choosing a particular product.
In order to gain these insights it is necessary to do extensive research, gathering information that will feed into the construction of Buyer Personas, fictitious but highly accurate representations of the ideal customer. Buyer Personas help to conceptualise the ideal consumer you are trying to attract, to whom you want to sell your product or service.
Defining a Buyer Persona helps you understand:
- which factors determine the search for a specific product or service
- what the buyer expects to achieve in solving a specific need
- what limits or conditions the buyer in their purchase decision
- the actual role of the buyer in the final decision and who can influence it
- the characteristics that the buyer assesses when comparing products or services
Correctly building Buyers allows you to guide strategic marketing and sales choices for each stage of the buying process and significantly improve business results.
The depth of this initial analysis, which must involve all business sectors that interact with buyers, can significantly affect the growth of your business and cannot, or rather should not, be overlooked in the slightest.
Customer Journey: the evolution from the Funnel to the Flywheel
Anyone interested in inbound processes will certainly have come across HubSpot’s concept of “Funnel Marketing”: a graphical representation of the path a user takes from the moment they feel a need, “Top of the Funnel”, to when they search for a solution to their needs, “Middle of the Funnel”, to the final purchase decision, “Bottom of the Funnel”.
For years, the Funnel has been an important symbol in Inbound Marketing. Then it evolved, acquiring the forms and logic of the Flywheel, which, driven by the momentum of loyal customers, in turn generates new users interested in a company.
In the Flywheel, new customer acquisition schemes and processes never stop: the first phase is undertaken by new ‘unknown’ users who approach the company thanks to previous customers who recommend the brand to other possible customers.
Compared to the Funnel, the Flywheel features a more dynamic structure, a circular gear in which the customer is the kingpin and the three flywheels around it are Marketing, Sales and Service. An evolution, therefore, that has further reinforced the dynamics and logic of the Inbound method.
One of the cornerstones of inbound dynamics is the Customer Journey (or Buyer Journey), a process which we have already discussed and which every target user undertakes when approaching a brand to seek answers to their needs.
The three buyer’s stages of the buying journey coincide with the phases of Awareness (when the person has realised that they have a potential problem), Consideration (when they have clearly identified their problem and begin to weigh up possible solutions) and Decision (when they have identified their strategy to solve the problem, defined a method and an approach).
Inbound Marketing: tools, channels and platforms
Inbound Marketing, in all its four phases, uses different tools to implement effective campaigns. Depending on your needs and business objectives, you will need to devise an ad hoc strategy that includes the best channels to interact with your target audience.
A well-defined strategy is essential to avoid random marketing initiatives (which in most cases turn out to be an investment with no return for companies). A scrupulous approach focusing on lead generation, marketing and sales can increase turnover through marketing, sales and customer service initiatives, but it requires a number of steps to optimise the strategy.
The possible combinations of channels and actions are endless, but there are some must-haves that a good inbound marketing strategy cannot ignore. In the following paragraphs, we will analyse some of them:
- SEO and online positioning
- Pillar Page
- Corporate blog
- Social media channels
SEO and online positioning
The first key step in establishing a relationship with online users is to intercept their search traffic across SERPs and social media, during the customer journey phases.
Optimising content for search engines is crucial.
Using the right keywords and speaking the language of the Buyer Persona is very important to make sure you are found by your target audience.
Good SEO content is able to respond to the needs of the user and help them to overcome obstacles in their choice.
Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) is not about volume but about quality, relevance and structure. This means that even small and medium-sized enterprises can use some simple SEO techniques to gain the visibility they need to be found on the web. Because of its characteristics and strategic importance, SEO is a key element in any inbound marketing strategy.
One of the best strategies you can use to optimise your search engine rankings, for example, is to focus on a niche market (i.e. targeting your content at specific keywords). In fact, while many companies are tempted to work on different contexts and on the diversification of search topics, it is preferable (in cases of reduced budget or having to face a large company with an excellent positioning) to identify a specific niche on which to act with a very restricted keyword research: this is a choice that will bring better results in less time and, from an Inbound Marketing perspective, will allow you to intercept the web searches made by your Buyer Persona.
Furthermore, being able to handle SEO analysis tools accurately gives your marketing an additional lever to study and understand what buyers are looking for in order to become customers. On-site SEO and content optimisation allows Google to index the website and generate qualified traffic to the pages. Developing content that is optimised for search engines, but above all of value to the target audience, will allow your brand to position itself and create awareness, which in the long term will result in a progressive reduction in advertising costs.
The analysis of topic clusters and the development of dedicated Pillar Pages are among the most interesting inbound SEO techniques to improve your online ranking.
Clusters are content networks designed to make the site more usable and clearer for users, and at the same time necessary to improve the ranking of content on search engines, thanks to the use of links.
Each cluster consists of central content, a Pillar Page (just like the one you are reading now), which deals with the topic in great depth, and a series of articles and downloadable premium content that expand on the macro-topic of the Pillar with more in-depth content.
All content belonging to a topic cluster is linked to the Pillar Page via a network of links, which is necessary to create an authoritative network that is also easily recognisable by Google crawlers, whose task it is to assess the quality of online contents. This technique therefore allows you to do keyword optimisation, improving the ranking of the main keywords in the cluster.
Blog: how to cultivate your Brand Awareness
SEO techniques applied to content are called SEO Copywriting and are an effective way to capture the interest of the Buyer Persona and generate new leads.
Blogging is undoubtedly one of the best ways to attract qualified traffic to your site. Using the same long-tail keywords in your content as the Buyer Persona used during the Customer Journey is a tactic that maximises the traffic generated to your website.
For brand awareness, corporate blogs are an extremely effective tool in an inbound marketing strategy. They allow you to create informative and educational content for your target audience; more than 50% of internet users say they read blog articles at least once a month and this figure continues to grow. This is a significant figure that indicates that customers are continuously looking for relevant and easy-to-use content.
So if your goal is to engage your consumers and convince them to read what you have to tell them, you will need to make sure that your blog content provides an immediately perceivable value and concrete utility.
Although different in nature to traditional marketing messages, business blogging can still affect your company’s sales through conversions.
The most effective way to drive conversions through blog articles is through a deep understanding of your audience: this also helps you write to build Brand Awareness and attract new leads from your target audience, through appropriate tone of voice and targeted language, trying to engage consumers throughout the Buyer Journey.
Social Media and Inbound Marketing
Most web users are active on at least one social platform. The idea of ignoring channels such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram is simply unthinkable for any company that wants to significantly improve its visibility.
In fact, social networks are the ideal channels for building brand awareness, consolidating one’s image, attracting people to tell the story of one’s brand and increasing one’s business. It is precisely with this in mind that an inbound marketing strategy can be used to manage and control interactions with the company’s social channels in order to encourage interaction with one’s audience in a more direct and personal way, involving them in more human and less formal conversations. In addition, from an inbound perspective, social networks allow you to spread the content of your blog, bringing additional targeted traffic to your company blog.
The key is to choose the right platforms to use: for instance, LinkedIn can be extremely useful in the B2B field. Before you start sharing content and promoting your company on social media, analyse the best channels for your industry and identify how they are used by your Buyer Personas.
Once you have identified them, you can incorporate them consistently into your Inbound Strategy.
Inbound and Conversion Marketing
Just like content marketing, conversion marketing has its place within a broader inbound strategy. It is a discipline which aims to convert users into loyal customers who repeat their purchase, promoting the brand.
To start a lead generation activity (the first step is to convert visitors into contacts for lead nurturing, which will in turn convert them into customers), the Landing Page is the basic tool you need
Landing pages and CTAs for lead generation
A Landing Page is a tool used to convert website visitors into contacts. This is a web page that, thanks to the presence of a fillable form, allows the brand to get contact information from visitors: they are the point of contact that potential customers have with the brand, because from here, on their own initiative, they can choose to share their personal information.
With the goal of finding new leads for your business in mind, you need to commit time and attention to designing an effective page.
The effectiveness of a landing page lies in its structure, which must be extremely clear, and in the content, which must be created using persuasive communication techniques. The combination of these elements allows the user to read and understand the landing page’s subject in a clear and immediate way, feeling stimulated to take action in filling out the form. A good landing page must feature the following:
- Title: short and concise, aimed at encouraging the user to download the promotional material (which, in an inbound perspective, is offered free of charge in exchange for filling in the form).
- Image:often underestimated, it plays a central role in attracting the reader’s attention (so be careful not to choose ‘filler’ images).
- Form: the contact form is the door through which users pass to the contact stage. This is essential for companies implementing an inbound strategy and must be carefully designed: forms that are too complex or too ‘intrusive’ (i.e. those that ask for too much information at once) risk ‘discouraging’ visitors.
Landing pages are accessed by users after they have clicked on ‘Call-to-Action’ CTAs placed within the site pages (Pillar Page and Blog pages), in advertisements or on social channels.
But landing pages are not the only contact acquisition channels you can use in an inbound strategy. You can conduct lead generation through email marketing, SEO, advertising (Paid per View ads and social campaigns), social selling, webinars, influencer marketing and marketing automation: there are many different channels to choose from, and it’s up to you to find the best ones for your industry.
Why use Marketing Automation in an Inbound Marketing strategy
We have seen that an Inbound Marketing strategy includes many different tools to make the pieces fit together. You can decide to keep everything separate (blog, social, email marketing software, etc.), or you can opt for a complete all-in-one platform that integrates all functions. When talking about the integrated, optimised and automated management of the activities that make up the steps of an Inbound strategy, we use the term Marketing Automation.
Automation is the indispensable support for communication, conversion, profiling and sales operations.
Saving time both in business management and in the relationship with leads is crucial to achieve measurable results and has a positive impact on marketing costs.
If you have an active role in an Inbound Marketing project, you probably know very well that Marketing Automation is changing every working model known to date. Statistics show that over 50% of companies (both large brands and SMEs) are already using Marketing Automation software and that over 58% of B2B companies plan to adopt new automation technologies. This trend responds to the constant need to initiate or improve the quality of email marketing, lead generation and lead nurturing, software integration, CRM and social media tools.
Today’s Marketing Automation Platforms are extremely advanced and allow not only a very high level of integration between strategy processes, but they also give you the ability to constantly monitor the project, thanks to the real-time generation of accurate data.
A Marketing Automation tool allows you, for example, to:
- track visitors browsing your website;
- set up and create templates for emails, landing pages and registration forms;
- record user data collected through forms, segmenting them according to categories and integrating them into a CRM system;
- link contact lists to automated lead nurturing campaigns;
- send automated communications to different user segments, customising them based on their characteristics and behaviours;
- generate Data Analytics;
There are many tools that can be selected for the simplified management of marketing processes and that bring significant savings in terms of time and costs. There is a wide range of Marketing Automation platforms to choose from, and in order to find the one that best suits your company’s needs, you will need to assess its integration possibilities, ease of use and, last but not least, the investment you will have to make.
For example, HubSpot, the leading Inbound Marketing platform, is also ideal for Marketing Automation because it provides everything you need for campaign management in one virtual place. Software such as this not only automates actions that would be unmanageable manually, but also connects all the elements used and provides a 360° overview of the situation.
In this way, you can have everything under control, understand exactly what works and what doesn’t and calculate the ROI of your campaigns precisely. Analysis and monitoring, in fact, represent the other side of Inbound Marketing: not only quality content, but also numbers and data that allow us to correct our strategy in progress and improve our marketing performance.