Inbound marketing is best defined as any purposeful effort to help potential customers find your company.
This can be very strategic and forward-thinking, or it can be very close to the point of a potential purchase.
Early, strategic contact can lay the groundwork for future purchases by increasing brand awareness and preference. The added benefits of this kind of marketing are that purchases tend to be repeated, and that the purchaser is more likely to add further value to your marketing through word of mouth.
What’s Different About an Inbound Focus?
Strategies of inbound marketing include a category known as ‘pull marketing,’ which includes content marketing, social media, blogs, events, search engine optimisation (SEO), and other strategies. These are all intended to build greater brand awareness and attract new sales and business. Outbound marketing focuses on going out to the customers, whereas inbound marketing is all about visibility and attracting customers to your business. Inbound marketing should focus on building awareness through both new and tried-and-true methods, but all of this should be aimed at developing relationships and leads through attracting customers.
One theory on why these methods are so powerful is that they don’t come across as a ‘hard sell.’ Instead, customers feel as though the attention is on entertaining them and educating them as to the availability and traits of a product or service, rather than a focus on getting their money. This kind of marketing has inherent value to the customer, even if no purchase is made, and it is, therefore, more welcome and popular than other, harder-sell methods. Customers who make first contact with your company in this way will have stronger feelings of loyalty and positivity than those reached by other traditional marketing methods. A final, but by no means least important factor to consider, is that inbound marketing is mainly driven by organic leads, which means it costs less, if anything at all – it relies on ingenuity and creativity rather than big spending.
Inbound marketing gives customers the genuine feeling of being in control of their engagement with your company. Those who respond to this kind of marketing are usually already interested and engaged in what your business is doing or offering, and this leads to a stronger, more loyal connection and – though this is not highlighted in the marketing – a greater chance of purchase, and repeated purchases, over time.
Inbound marketing builds social media shares, brand awareness, and SEO success. This kind of program draws customers in, lets them engage with your brand, and generates low-cost, qualified leads. This is so valuable in a world in which customers and potential customers are being bombarded with wave after wave of data, every day. IBM stated that we currently create 2.6 quintillion bytes of data per day, and this is only going to grow for the foreseeable future. Powerful, personal-feeling engagement with a company feels great to the customer and is very valuable to the company. Potential buyers have ready access to trusted data on your products or services, including detailed specs, prices, and reviews.
Traditional marketing practices still have their place, but inbound marketing has clearly taken over as the biggest part of the future of effective marketing strategy.
Investing in inbound marketing will increase revenue by increasing brand awareness and preference. There may be a greater delay between first contact and sales, but there will be greater loyalty and an increase in repeated sales and free, word of mouth marketing.
Consider the following problems and solutions:
As many as 93% of buying cycles begin with a simple online search. Increasing brand awareness should therefore start with a strong social media presence, to move your brand up the list of results. Good quality, regularly added content with genuine use of key terms should be high on your priority list.
The best way to do this is to give something to your potential customers. This doesn’t mean promotional items, either, but should include something educational, entertaining, and ideally something that directly pertains to your product or service. Building trust is key, as it is that trust that will bring the customer to your company when it is time to buy. First becoming a familiar brand is the most effective first step toward becoming the preferred brand.
Low Up-Front Marketing Budget
Inbound marketing relies on long-term, creative methods of investing in potential customers – not necessarily large outlays of money. Your offering may be modest at first, but keep building on it, regularly, and it will grow into a key place for your potential customers to find your brand, get educated in your area of business, and to become familiar with who you are and what you do. That familiarity will generate leads and sales.
Putting more into your inbound marketing efforts will definitely mean you get more out of it – but that doesn’t mean you need to sink a ton of resources into it. The key is to develop a strategy that you can build on over time. Outline some key themes, content threads, and methods of distributing your content, so you can get the most from the time and resources you do put into your inbound marketing plan.
Passive Sales Through Branded Merchandise
If your brand or campaign relies on not pushing direct sales, then using branded merchandise can be an excellent inbound marketing strategy. People using your merchandise will naturally attract the attention of others, which can drive brand searches online, or simply start a conversation about where they purchased that product.
The key thing that differentiates inbound marketing from other forms, is that is focusses on drawing in potential customers. You don’t push the company’s product, vying for immediate sales. Rather, you offer the potential customers some value – educational content, entertainment, and so on – in order to build familiarity with, and trust in, your brand. That way, when it comes time to buy, those people become customers. What’s even better, is that trust means that they will return again and again, will spread the news via word of mouth, and will have greater loyalty that a customer whom you’ve reached out to in a more traditional marketing manner.
Inbound = Earned or Owned Placements
Inbound marketing uses two kinds of media to engage its audience: Owned, and earned.
Owned media consist of channels that your business has control over: your website, blogs, social media accounts, YouTube videos, etc.
Earned media consist of third-party coverage, such as newspaper and magazine articles and mentions, digital PR, mentions on forums and third-party review sites. In other words, you don’t directly control these media, but you can take steps to increase your presence there.
Outbound = Paid
Outbound marketing, by way of contrast, is focussed on getting an immediate sale. It is more closely related to paid media packages, traditional advertising, and paid email campaigns.
A focus on inbound marketing can mean a delay in return on the time and money you invest, but that return will be more robust, resulting in repeated sales and a decrease in the need for outbound marketing. In other words, the more you can cause customers to come to you, the less you have to spend on going out to them. Conversion rates are higher, repeat sales more common, and higher loyalty means more tolerance for those instances when things don’t go quite right.
Brand is More Trusted
Trust is the holy grail of the market place these days, and giving out useful information and entertainment, without demanding anything in return, is a great way to build it. Building a sense of reliability and usefulness around your brand will result in future conversions and engagement from those who rely on it, and use it, for non-commercial reasons.
Splits Risk Across Multiple Channels
One important principle of inbound marketing is to avoid over-reliance on any individual channel. Diversify your efforts into more than one form, employing organic search SEO, social media presence, and a variety of platforms.
Mindset of Inbound
Analyse the Data
It can be difficult to measure the results of your inbound marketing efforts, largely because of the delay in ROI, and because of the subtle impact, built upon over time and multiple sales. In order to get an idea of your success rates via different channels, you’ll need to have clear goals from the beginning.
Know the state of your traffic and commerce prior to starting an inbound campaign. Then add content to your site, for example, and track the number of downloads, the average viewing time, gains in social media following, and so on. When your sales begin to creep up, without a clear cause from other marketing strategies or efforts, you will know that it is likely the impact of your inbound strategies beginning to bear fruit.
This last metaphor is key – you must think of your inbound marketing strategy the same way you would think about planting a crop. A lot of work, and even some financial investment, may go into it early on, and you may not see results right away, but when the efforts have matured and you begin to reap the rewards of brand awareness and trust, your outlay will come back to you along with an increase in sales and profits.
Take the time to plan, just as you would when planting a crop. Choose the right timing for your industry. You may need to bring in some specialist, like content creators, designers, developers, SEO and outreach specialists, and so on. Larger inbound campaigns may even need a campaign manager to make sure everything is running in concert and staying efficient.
Content offerings: how-to guides, blogs, case studies, webinars, etc.
User-generated content and social media events, competitions, product information and reviews
Interactive online events and PR opportunities
Intentional creation of quality content for your target audience
Track any performance metrics available to you, and line it up against your efforts, so you can glean as much information as possible regarding what is (and may not be) working for you and your particular company and industry.
Taking over the business co-founded by his father back in 2006, James has been the Managing Director of Steel City Marketing for 15 years and been with the company since 2001. With decades of experience in the promotional products industry, James is passionate about just how effective business gifts are at helping brands stand out and engage with their audience. Overseeing all aspects of the business, James prides himself on our ability to listen to our clients, spark creative branded merchandise ideas, and provide a seamless customer journey. When not working, James can be found either on the squash court or running with his dog Alby in the peaks. Linkedin