Inbound is an alternative approach to marketing which focuses on attracting prospects to your brand holistically before delivering personal, timely and relevant information, whether they're visiting your website for the first time or have already shown interest in, or even purchased your products or services before. This differs from traditional 'outbound' marketing which focuses on interrupting prospective customers through means such as email blasts, telemarketing calls and web page pop-ups.
The ultimate purpose of inbound marketing is to attract new prospects, engage them with insightful content and delight them by delivering expert advice, products and services; all without annoying or interrupting them with traditional marketing methods.
Technology is moving faster than ever before and for many businesses, keeping up has never been more daunting. It would be great to believe that prospective customers will naturally fall upon our website and come knocking down our door to buy our service or product, but the truth is that life in the connected world has never been noisier or more competitive.
Traditional means of “push” marketing are simply not working, and businesses are beginning to see revenue stagnate or even drop as they fail to keep up. Shouting about offers in an impersonal and intrusive way via cold calls, direct mail and other forms of hard selling are wearing thin and customers are no longer responding. Inbound marketing and sales is the way forward. Pulling your customer in through a campaign that offers valuable insight and solutions will not only cultivate results but help gain the trust, loyalty and respect of your audience that leads to the long-term relationship and advocacy your business craves.
- What is Inbound Marketing?
- Why use Inbound Marketing?
- Inbound Marketing Fundamentals
- Creating Engaging Content
- Promoting Content Through Social Media
- Converting Visitors into Leads
- The Power of Lead Nurturing
- Making Inbound Marketing Work for You
Buyer personas are the most important step in creating an inbound marketing campaign, and yet you'd be surprised at how many marketers haven't created buyer personas to focus their campaigns around! Buyer personas (also known as marketing personas) are semi-fictional representations of your perfect customer and are key to ensuring your marketing campaigns are effectively targeted and speak to the right people.
When creating a buyer persona, picture your “perfect” customer or buyer and ask yourself the following questions -
- Who are they?
- What are their interests?
- Where do they work?
- Where do they live?
- What websites do they visit most?
- How long do they spend online, and on what devices?
- What blogs do they read?
- Which email lists are they subscribed to?
- What challenges or 'pain points' do they face?
- How can your products or services help them to overcome their challenges?
If you need some extra guidance creating your buyer personas then this great tool from HubSpot will help you through the process.
Inbound marketing was created in response to a fundamental change in the way people buy. With this in mind researching and understanding the journey your buyers go through, from first discovering your brand to making their first purchase and beyond, should be your first step in creating any successful inbound campaign.
The buyer's journey is made up of three key stages -
- Awareness: The buyer becomes aware that they have a problem
- Consideration: The buyer researches solutions to their problem in an attempt to solve it
- Decision: The buyer evaluates their options and chooses a solution
Having an intimate understanding of the journey your buyers undergo before making a purchase is key to crafting your marketing efforts to best suit them. Why is this so important? Even if you're able to create a perfect marketing email complete with convincing copy and beautiful creatives, it's next to useless if it's telling somebody something they already know. Inbound is all about delivering the right content to the right people at the right time and understanding what content buyers want and need to see at each stage of their journey allows us to do this.
When defining your buyer's journey the best source of information is your existing customers. Interviewing them alongside those members of your team that have frequent contact with them - such as sales and support - will paint the clearest picture of how they found your product and what burning questions they needed answering before making a purchasing decision. Here are some questions to consider asking when defining your buyer's journey.
At this stage your buyers have either identified a problem they're having or an opportunity they want to pursue. They're likely still trying to define their problem or goal and are searching for solutions in broad terms, so consider asking:
- What problems or objectives do your buyers have that your product solves?
- How do your buyers describe their problems or objectives?
- Where are your buyers looking for information to educate themselves on these problems?
- What consequences are there if the buyer doesn't find a solution?
- How high of a priority is this for your buyer?
At this stage of their journey, your buyers have defined their problem or objective and are actively looking for a solution. They're considering different methods of addressing it rather than specific product or brands. For example, a digital marketer knows they need to drive more traffic to their website and are considering whether improving their search engine optimisation (SEO) or utilising paid advertising is the best method. Consider asking questions such as:
- What different solutions are your buyers considering?
- What are the positives and negatives of each solution?
- What factors make your buyers choose one solution over another?
At this stage of their journey your buyers have completed their initial research, decided on the best solution for them and are now considering competing products and services that will deliver the results they require. Using our example from above let's assume this marketer has decided to improve their SEO and is looking to hire an agency, which one will they choose? At this stage consider asking questions such as:
- What criteria are buyers using to evaluate the available solutions?
- What made existing customers choose your product over a competitors?
- What concerns do your buyers have prior to purchasing your product?
- Who needs to be involved in the buying decision? Are the answers to these questions different for each person involved?
Considering every stage of your buyer's journey is key to delivering a robust, engaging inbound marketing campaign that delivers results. It is your job as an inbound marketer to lead buyers seamlessly through their journey, delivering insightful, engaging and most importantly valuable content at each one of these stages. Before creating any piece of content for your inbound marketing efforts consider asking yourself what stage of the buyer's journey it will be consumed at, what burning question it will answer for your buyers. and whether you've already given them this information. After all, the more valuable and informative your content the more your buyers are likely to engage with it.
Despite its increased prominence over the last several years, content marketing is by no means a new thing and has existed in one form or another since 1732. It has however found increased popularity in the last decade, with the rising popularity of the internet allowing consumers a quick and easy way to research products and solutions without ever having to talk to a salesperson. This has led to a world where 'Content is King' and the company that's able to educate and answer their customer's question best is the one that wins their business.
At its most basic level content marketing is the act of creating and sharing content such as blogs, videos and podcasts in order to encourage interest in your products and services rather than directly promote your brand. Instead of shouting your message for as many people as possible to hear, you're aiming to engage and educate your prospective customers and drive awareness of the problems that your product is capable of solving.
The tweet pictured to the right from HubSpot is a great example of content marketing in action. There is no mention of their brand products or services, it simply addresses and informs the reader about a problem they may not have even been aware of (the issue of low mobile form submissions), educates them on how to resolve it with a link to a genuinely insightful blog post, and positions HubSpot as the best solution to do so, all without a hard-sell.
Quite possibly the most important part of any content marketing strategy is your website's blog. It doesn't have to be called 'blog', it could be 'resources', 'insights' or any number of things - but they all play the same role. A well kept blog is one of the most effective ways of regularly publishing interesting and insightful long form content relating to your business or industry. Offering content that's genuinely valuable to your readers helps to build trust, prove your expertise and establish you as a thought leader in your industry.
Creating a successful blog post is no small feat. In fact DigitalMarketer found that on average the ideal length for a blog post is 1,600 words and research done by Brian Dean in 2016 found that the average page ranking at the top on Google contains 1,890 words. On the flip side however, informative, well written blog posts are able to continually bring traffic to your site and generate new leads for years after they're first posted. In fact (so long as you keep it updated where necessary) as a post ages and accrues more social shares and SEO authority, it can become an even more effective source of new leads for your business than when you first posted it. When looking to create a new blog post the most important considerations are -
- The topic of the post - Will this blog address a topic or answer a question you know your buyer personas are asking? If you're unsure consider using tools such as SEMrush, Ubersuggest (shown in the image) or Google's own keyword planner to check how many people are searching for keywords associated with your topic each month. If you're yet to think of a topic these are also great tools for brainstorming ideas. Simply enter a keyword heavily associated with your brand or product and look for any questions people are frequently entering into search engines. Addressing one of those is a sure way to choose a topic you know people are interested in.
- The title of the post - It is often suggested that you should spend the same amount of time writing the title of your post as the copy itself. Personally I think this verges on the extreme but a compelling title is key to driving traffic to your blog post and is well worth putting some time into. On average titles that are around 60 characters long perform best.
- The quality of the content - Regardless of how perfect your title is at driving traffic to your post's page, it's worthless if the content you write isn't interesting, engaging and most importantly valuable to your readers. Remember, this is your opportunity to prove your expertise to everyone reading and position yourself as a thought leader in your industry. You should genuinely look to answer your reader's questions, solve their problems and most importantly ensure you deliver on the title you've chosen. Nobody likes clickbait. If you're struggling to create engaging content for your blog then consider reading our post on 5 easy to use styles of blog post and how to master them.
- The format of your post - Does your post flow from introduction to conclusion? Is there sufficient use of white space, images and bullet points to make your text easy on the eye? These questions should always be considered before publishing a new post. Just because a user clicks through to your blog, it doesn't mean they'll stick around if the format is confusing or intimidating.
Having exceptional content is one thing but how do you actually drive traffic to it? Promoting it via social media and paid advertising is one way, but having a strong search engine optimisation (SEO) strategy that helps your content rank highly on Google and other search engines when people search for relevant keywords is the key to generating new leads from your content years after you've created it. Modern search engines use sophisticated algorithms that look at the content of your site as well as its structure. Pillar pages and topic clusters are a method of structuring your website's content to ensure search engines consider it to be an authority on the topics you're trying to rank for.
A pillar page should act as a central hub of information on a relatively broad topic. They're unique in that they're usually extremely long (over 5,000 words on average) and are regularly updated and expanded to remain relevant and informative to their visitors. It's very rare for a single user to read a pillar page end to end, they're more likely to select their area of interest from a table of contents, however keeping all of this information on a single page cements your authority and knowledge on any given topic for both the user and the search engines. As you build out your pillar page it's important to include links to other relevant areas of your website such as blog posts, services pages or content offers. These other pages on your site are called 'cluster content'. Your cluster content should also link back to your pillar page; this process of interlinking helps Google and other search engines to understand that the pages relate to one another and a user who has visited one may find another useful in the future.
Creating a pillar page can seem like a daunting task, but if you have a well established blog that already covers parts of the topic your pillar page can utilise it to speed up the creation process. Choose existing blog posts that relate to areas you'd like to cover and use the content from each to create the subsections of your pillar page. Although proof reading is necessary to ensure information is still relevant and up-to-date and time should be spent creating a highly engaging introduction, this method can be used to create your pillar pages quickly if you're short on time or resources.
Developing a highly informative pillar page and linking it to related cluster content on your site is one of the most effective SEO strategies today and is capable of growing your authority and search engine rankings.
Having a strong social media strategy is key to the success of any inbound marketing campaign as it offers you a platform to engage with your audience both en masse and in one to one conversations. This gives you the opportunity to be more personable and conversational with your prospects, leads and customers, building lasting relationships and increased trust and advocacy for your brand. An effectively implemented social media strategy can help you to -
- Build brand awareness
- Expand the effectiveness of your other marketing efforts
- Attract new buyers to your brand
- Drive word of mouth through social shares, comments and likes
- Enhance your customer experience by offering service and support through social channels
Social media is also the core driver you should be using to promote and encourage engagement on your blog posts and other pieces of inbound marketing content. Every piece of content you create should be supported by social activity across all of the platforms that are relevant to your business. If you're unsure which platforms are best for you then consider taking a step back and looking once more at your buyer personas. Which platforms are your buyers active on and how can you best reach them? All social media platforms are not created equal, so spend some time determining which ones are the best fit for both your business and the individual offers and pieces of content you're looking to promote.
Creating a social media strategy that delivers reliable, predictable results hinges on being able to create and publish interesting and engaging content that delivers value to your audience. Learning to reliably create content that engages your audience is an art form that takes time to master and is different for every business and their buyer personas. There are however some basic principles that can be applied to any social media strategy to foster increased engagement. Here are some things to consider including and avoiding when creating content for social media -
- Avoid plain text updates where possible
- Avoid trying to sell directly to your audience, they're there to be social, not to be sold to
- Use visual content such as photos, graphics and videos to catch the user's eye
- Use quizzes, surveys and polls to not only build awareness and engagement for your brand but gain additional insights into your audience
- Use appropriate hashtags to reach new audiences (if you're unsure about the best practice for using hashtags, consider reading our blog post on it by clicking here)
- Use real-time marketing to post updates relating to a news story, local or national events
- Consider the time of day you're posting, does it match with when your buyer personas are using a particular platform?
- Ensure your tone is consistent across each platform and reflects your company's brand guidelines, this avoids creating a disconnect between the audience and your business, encouraging more human interactions and engagements
If you're still unsure about creating reliable, captivating social media posts for your brand then click here to read our top 10 tips for writing engaging social media posts.
When creating a social media strategy for your business it's important to remember that creating and posting valuable content for your audience to interact with is only one half of the puzzle; the other half is social listening.
Social listening is the process of monitoring discussions about your brand, products or industry that are happening on social media and engaging with these conversations to shape the direction of the conversation. There are several key benefits to social listening -
- It allows you to identify your biggest fans and influencers that are advocating on your behalf
- It allows you to more easily manage your brand's reputation by identifying PR issues early on
- It allows you to measure the performance of your social media efforts and see what types of content receive the most positive engagement
- It allows you to identify social trends within your industry as early as possible and take advantage of them
- It allows you to keep an eye on your competition, gauge their success and their level of customer loyalty
- It allows you to find new leads by monitoring hashtags and keywords associated with early stages of your buyer's journey
Remember that social listening is not just about monitoring those having conversations about your brand and your other areas of interest, but also engaging with those conversations and putting yourself in a position to drive people towards your products and services. You should ensure on all channels you're clearly pointing your audience towards the best way to have a conversation with you. There's nothing worse than seeming unavailable to a prospect, lead or customer that is trying to get in touch.
A conversion is the moment when a prospect - whether a visitor on your website, subscriber to your mailing list or follower of your social profiles - takes a desired action. They act as checkpoints that lead someone through their buyer's journey and progress them down your marketing funnel. Conversions are flexible and can be triggered by a near infinite range of actions from someone submitting their email address on your website, to following your twitter profile or making an e-commerce purchase. They depend entirely on your business, industry and the desired path you intend your buyers to follow.
For inbound marketers, as a general rule the more conversions taken the better. Therefore it's our job to design conversions paths that encourage users to trigger a conversion and lead them through their buyer's journey using features such as buttons, landing pages, text links and other forms of calls to action.
A conversion path at its most basic level is the process by which an unknown visitor to your website, regardless of the traffic source, converts into a known lead. A well designed conversion path should include -
- An enticing content offer
- A call to action
- A landing page
- A thank you page
These four elements come together when a lead sees a content offer they're interested in such as a free PDF download, and clicks your call to action to access it. From there they're sent to a landing page where they fill in information like their name, email address and company in exchange for your content offer. Once the form is submitted they're sent to a thank you page where they can access the content. Of course setting up conversion paths including these four elements isn't enough alone to start converting visitors into leads, so consider the following suggestions when designing your conversion paths to maximise their efficiency -
- Ensure that your content offer is both appropriate and remarkable. Your content offer, otherwise known as a lead magnet can take many forms such as PDFs, e-books, checklists, swipe files and free product trials - but if it's not both valuable and useful to the buyer persona you're targeting it's unlikely to either generate clicks through to your landing page or motivate users to fill in your form.
- Ensure you're promoting your content offer regularly and in more than one location. If you've spent time designing your conversion path and a remarkable content offer to sit within it, you'll want to take every opportunity to offer it to as many prospects as possible. This means regularly posting about it on social media, linking to it from other relevant areas of your site, and even sending it to your existing email list if your form includes a request for information you don't currently have.
- Ensure you're using an optimised thank you page to make the most out of every visitor. Thank you pages aren't just your opportunity to thank your new lead for downloading your offer but are an excellent opportunity to lead them further along your buyer's journey and down your marketing funnel. Consider including other relevant calls to action such as a request to book a call with your sales team, or encourage them to share your offer on social media.
- Ensure that both your calls to action (CTAs) and landing pages are simple and compelling. Continue reading for more information on optimising your CTAs and landing pages to maximise your conversion rate.
Calls to action (CTA) are a key part of every inbound marketing campaign. They help to guide your audience into taking your desired action by showing them a clear next step that will lead them through their buyer’s journey and move them closer to a purchasing decision. While the most common style of CTA is a simple button on a website, they can take many forms including -
- Drop down banners encouraging users to subscribe to your blog
- Plain text hyperlinks recommending and linking to a downloadable offer
- Hyperlinked buttons in marketing or sales emails
- Slide in lead flows on a blog post promoting a related content offer
- Spoken CTAs during the sponsored segment of a popular podcast
- A call out in a social media post encouraging followers to watch a video
- A simple button with a short call out such as ‘Buy Now’, ‘Download Free’ or ‘Sign Up
- Video CTAs promoting a downloadable how-to guide in instructional YouTube videos
- A social sharing button at the bottom of an insightful blog post
Regardless of the format your call to action takes they should utilise punchy and action oriented copy. Small changes to your call to action such as adjusting the colour or verb in the copy can result in significantly higher click through rates and increased ROI. With this in mind it has become common practice for inbound marketers to conduct extensive testing to optimise their CTAs for their buyer personas. This most frequently takes the form of continuous A/B testing otherwise known as split testing, to ensure they're maximising their ROI from their existing conversion paths and providing a reliable framework for future ones.
Landing pages are the heart of your conversion path and facilitate the conversion action itself. Even if a user has clicked on your CTA there's no guarantee they'll complete the form and submit their information on the landing page. In fact the average landing page conversion rate is only 2.35%, although a well designed landing page can easily increase this to over 30%, making landing page optimisation quite possibly the most important part of the conversion path design process. Landing pages are treated in the same way as CTAs by the majority of inbound marketers who are constantly testing, tweaking and optimising them to bring in more leads and a higher ROI. While this process is iterative and different for every business, there are a few key points to consider when designing a landing page -
- Address your audience's pain points. Those buyer personas you created shouldn't be gathering dust on your desk, use them when designing your landing pages to consider your buyer's pain points and how you can address them. If your landing page offer is timely, relevant and guarantees to address a major headache in their life, they're significantly more likely to submit their details in exchange for your content
- Keep things simple and clean. When stripped back to its basics a landing page has one purpose, to get people to act on your offer by completing the form. With this in mind it's common practice to remove potential distractions from your landing page that may lead your audience down a path you don't want them to take. This usually takes the form of removing navigation features from your header such as links to your blog, pricing page or about us section, alongside other potential distractions in the body and footer of your page. People are easily distracted, especially online, and a strong landing page design looks to combat this as much as possible
- Use captivating copy and visuals. At the end of the day a landing page facilitates an exchange. You're asking for a user's information, which they're unlikely to give away for free, in exchange for your content offer. With this in mind it's essential to make your content offer appear as compelling and valuable as possible, which it should be! The title of an e-book or checklist isn't enough alone to trigger a conversion. Tell the user what it's about, what it will do for them and how it will help them to overcome their pain points
Remember that finalising the design of your landing page and pressing publish isn't the end of the process. A good inbound marketer constantly monitors, tests and refines their landing pages to increase the rate at which they convert, as well as to learn more about their buyers' wants, needs and pain points.
You didn't think your job as an inbound marketer was finished as soon as a prospect converts into a lead on one of your landing pages did you? Lead nurturing is the next step in the inbound marketing process and is your chance to keep at the forefront of your buyer's minds until they're ready to make a purchase. It's estimated that only 3% of your audience are 'ready to buy' at any given time so it's important to continue delivering valuable, insightful content to your leads until they're in a position to speak to sales and make a purchase.
Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with your contacts through every stage of their buyer's journey with the goal of earning their business when they're ready. On average it takes between 6 and 8 touches with any given lead before they're ready to buy. It is the job of your lead nurturing strategy to deliver this content to each one of your leads in a timely, efficient and targeted manner.
While there are may potential mediums for lead nurturing - from social media to instant messaging - email is by far the most commonly used and effective approach. It offers a direct line to your leads and allows you to easily monitor opens, reading time and click through rates to gauge the success of your overall efforts and individual elements. However before diving in and drafting the copy for your emails and content there are some points to consider, the first of which is ensuring your audience is both segmented and well defined.
Remember, inbound marketing is all about delivering the right content to the right person at the right time, every time. This means our lead nurturing efforts should always aim to deliver content that is relevant to its recipient. For most businesses this means segmenting their audience and setting up different lead nurturing campaigns for each. This helps your leads to feel connected with your brand and avoid causing a disconnect by sharing content with them they have no interest in. If for example your business offered professional training services, would you want to send an email promoting a sales course to someone you know works in accounting? If you received an email like this would you feel like a valued customer or simply another entry in that company's CRM? A good place to look when considering how to segment your audience is your buyer personas, this will not only help you to segment your audience but also the content included in your lead nurturing campaign itself.
Now you know who you'll be sending your lead nurturing emails to it's time to set your objectives and goals for both the whole campaign and individual emails. Think about questions such as 'how frequently do I want to send this person emails?' 'What action do I want this person to take as a result?' And 'what content do I have or need to create that will help me to achieve this goal?' This is also the perfect opportunity to consider segmenting your audience further. Test the water with different content topics and see which your leads are most interested in, then feed them more content related to that. Remember, lead nurturing is all about content, not sales pitches. Your job as an inbound marketer is to steer leads in your desired direction, not to spam their inboxes with constant requests for a sales call or a product demo.
Once you've planned who will be receiving your lead nurturing campaign and what emails you'll be sending them, it's time to put pen to paper and finalise your plan. A popular method for this is to create a spreadsheet for each campaign and plan the topic and timings for each email to be sent, as well as to record your results once the campaign is live. This all important step gives you a way to visualise the overall layout of your campaign and spot any gaps in your messaging schedule, as well as a resource to manage the campaigns delivery from the first email sent through to the last click.
Of course lead nurturing isn't just for your prospects and leads; it's a valuable tool for making the most out of existing customers. Nurturing your customers allows you to not only fuel additional purchases or a conversation about increasing their spend with your company, but is also your primary tool for driving customer engagement and avocation. Consider setting up lead nurturing campaigns to -
- On-board new customers and educate them on your product's features
- Re-engage customers who haven't made a purchase for some time
- Request feedback on your products or processes to better understand your buyer personas
- Request referrals, testimonials and reviews to find new leads and increase your social proof
- Up-sell additional products or services as customers become acquainted with the limits of their current purchase
There's no debate about the fact lead nurturing campaigns take a lot of hard work to both design and deliver, especially if you have to remember to send each email manually. Thankfully this is where marketing automation tools come in. Marketing automation is the process of using software to automatically segment your audience, enroll them in your campaigns and send them emails according to your (and even their) timeline. This software is capable of automating many repetitive tasks such as social media posting, sending emails and most importantly for us, delivering lead nurturing campaigns.
While there are many competing solutions on the market such as HubSpot, MailChimp and Zoho Campaigns, the majority offer a free package for lightweight users and all contain the same features at their core -
- The ability to manage and segment you leads
- A 'what you see is what you get' email designer to craft your marketing messages
- Email automation and scheduling capable of sending your emails to individual leads at the time that suits them best
- Monitoring and reporting tools to track the success of overall campaigns and individual email elements
Regardless of whether you choose to utilise a marketing automation product or manually track and deliver your campaigns, lead nurturing is a key part of any inbound marketing strategy and is responsible for progressing your leads along their buyer's journey and down your marketing funnel until they're ready to make a purchase.
Inbound marketing has proved itself to be the most effective method of digital marketing of our time, and the best approach for businesses and marketing teams looking to transform the way they do business in the 21st Century. Today's buyer has more access to information about your company, products and competitors than ever before and knows which solution they're willing to purchase without ever having spoken to a sales person. In this age of consumer enlightenment, having a strong grasp on the inbound methodology and a marketing plan that reflects it is the key to crafting successful relationships with your prospects, buyers and customers.
Here at Digital Media Edge we specialise in helping businesses embrace inbound marketing and the benefits it can yield if properly implemented. If you're interested in making the most of inbound marketing for your business then book a free 30 minute discovery call with us where we'll talk about your business, what success looks like for you, and how you can use inbound to generate more leads, revenue and growth for your business.