Inbound marketing has been a huge buzzword over the past several years, and for good reason – it works. In fact, inbound marketing is the crux of our own promotional efforts here at Return On Now. We do little to no outbound marketing or traditional lead gen, and have had no problem growing the business at a healthy pace.
What is Inbound Marketing anyway?
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, it is very simple. Inbound Marketing is everything you do to position yourself so customers can find you. It is NOT about push marketing, interruption marketing, or any of the more traditional tactics where you can force the issue.
Today’s customer is tired of having marketing messaging crammed down their throat. They would rather investigate the options, do their own initial research, get input from friends/colleagues, and contact you when they are ready to discuss your offering in more detail.
The traditional buyer’s journey is quickly approaching irrelevance! Today, you have to speak to all steps of the buyer’s journey holistically, in order to be where the customers need you to be to make a decision about whether to engage with you or not.
How can you do this? Focus on different tactics than you have in the past. As you will see below, we drink the same “Kool-Aid” that we recommend to our customers.
Search Engine Optimization
In its most basic form, Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is focused on identifying where the opportunities lie on the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages). Before you start working on the other items below, you should have a concrete plan for what SEO opportunities you want to focus your time on pursuing.
Although some may find this surprising, content strategy is a huge component of both SEO and inbound marketing. It is not enough to build a list of target keywords and start cranking out content. You need to really think about the topics that are relevant to your business, which target audiences you want to put those topics in front of, and how to take advantage of the various media and formats in which you can build out your content. You also need to map the content across the buyer’s journey for all key target audiences, so you will have tailored information that will resonate with them once they do find you.
As soon as you have your SEO priorities and content strategy in order, you can move to the next piece of the Inbound Marketing puzzle.
Content Marketing defines the process of generating shareable content assets. This is where the SEO and content strategy dovetail into real content items. Even if you are unable to get the first components above buttoned down properly, content marketing is the key to successful inbound marketing. You have to put opinions and commentary out there for people to find. This is how customers will engage with you when you build up your momentum.
Keep in mind that content marketing is not just blogging. It includes the content you post to your standard web pages (services offered, about the company, etc.), as well as any premium content assets you generate (Infographics, videos, tools, etc.). It also includes content and other items you contribute for posting on external websites – this can get you a good link, awareness among a new audience, and some additional run via shares and word of mouth.
While most marketers easily associate blogging with this topic, since that is the easiest tactic to adopt and execute, the people that are standing out above the masses are the ones delving into some of the more labor intensive, but visually appealing content types mentioned above.
No good Inbound Marketing effort can exist without a social media component to promote and amplify the content to your social graph, and their contacts. This is where it gets powerful – via shares, your contacts and social graph are providing positive word of mouth for the materials you generate. The materials and the share can result in amazing conversations, which can lead to a range of positive outcomes.
When you build out content, you need to have a social promotion strategy in mind. Too many bloggers think they can start a blog, put together a few posts, publish the content, and the leads will follow naturally. If only it were that easy!
No, you need to seed the content, promote it, and track who engages with it. Then engage with them directly. If they comment on the blog or wherever the content goes, respond to everyone. Be real!
Benefits of Inbound Marketing
I have already hinted at some of the reasons we focus on inbound marketing above all others, but let me spell them out in a bit more detail below.
Most Cost Effective Marketing Channel
As compared to traditional outbound marketing campaigns, inbound marketing is much, much less expensive. Think about it this way – even if you are advertising, you have to spend time and money creating content for the outbound ad, the landing page, and the asset you are using as a CTA. You have to invest in content creation to support the ad campaign, and then you still have to pay for the placement, impressions, or clicks!
Many of the thought leaders in this field consider Inbound Marketing to be an investment, as opposed to the traditional channels that are expenses. I agree, and that pretty much flips the whole equation on its head.
Builds Authority and Equity In Your Brand
When done right, inbound marketing will raise the visibility of your brand online. It will also build trust in you and the brand, as well as credibility. If you focus on truly helpful content that either solves a problem, entertains, or otherwise incentivizes readers to share it, the positive word of mouth and perception of you will grow over time. The more you get on someone’s radar as helpful/smart/entertaining, the better your authority and brand equity will be.
Scales Far Better Than Pay-To-Play / Advertising
As we mentioned before, you are paying to create content no matter whether you also pay to distribute and promote it as well. With outbound marketing, you only get traffic and views when you pay for it. There’s a one-to-one correlation between money spent and interest / leads generated. This is why advertising is far better for lead gen, as opposed to inbound which is for demand gen (catch them earlier in the buying cycle) as well.
Inbound marketing has the added benefit of snowballing over time. The more quality content you generate, the better your online visibility will be. This is through all channels, but especially SEO and Social Media.
More Respectful To The Customer
This is the biggest issue of all – outbound marketing is interruption marketing. It kicks in the door, rather than ringing the doorbell. Especially in today’s social-driven world, it’s time to accept the fact that your company no longer completely controls its brand. The collective voice of prospects and customers has a heavy influence on whether or not you are seen in the light you desire.
Inbound marketing allows us to market to customers on their terms. It is respectful of their time, attention, and loyalty. In fact, inbound marketing is much more synonymous with influence marketing, where we work to influence how the public sees us. This is in opposition to the old way, where we pay to cram our key messages into the market with brute force and assume it will be accepted as fact.
Just to be thorough, here are some of the more annoying outbound marketing tactics that I strongly advise against:
- Website Popups
- Autoplay Videos
- Spamming Purchased Lists of Prospects
- SMS Marketing
- Cold Calling
The quickest way to lose my attention is to do any of this stuff. And I’m not alone in that opinion, so tread carefully with forcing the issue on your target audiences.
The Internet and Social Media have changed the world, and Inbound Marketing is the best way to take advantage of it. We use it as our primary demand generation channel here at Return On Now, and we advise our clients to do the same. Hopefully these thoughts help you sort out what works best for your business, and you are able to find lucrative ways to take advantage of Inbound Marketing.
What other annoying push marketing tactics are you frustrated with? Please share in the comments below – I’m sure there’s plenty left to add.
Other Interesting Commentary on This Topic
- Inbound Marketing & the Next Phase of Marketing on the Web (Hubspot / Rick Burnes)
- Inbound Marketing versus Outbound Marketing Compared (Converse Digital / Tom Martin)
- Why Inbound Marketing? Statistics on Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing (Jumplead / Brian Honigman)