Although inbound marketing is not a new term, there are still companies who don't fully understand the concept of inbound and how it can help them in growing and establishing a profitable business.
Over the past 7 years that Spiralytics has served clients from across the globe, we find that people often specifically look for companies that provide "content marketing, "SEO", and "lead generation" services when what they really need is an integrated inbound marketing campaign.
This should be a concern since incorporating inbound marketing into your overall strategy can reap significant rewards for your B2B company. Take a look at some statistics on inbound marketing:
- 75% of companies with an inbound marketing strategy believe it’s working for them. (HubSpot)
- 53% of marketers believe inbound marketing yield higher ROI. (FinancesOnline)
- Marketers use inbound marketing to achieve their goals in growing their organic presence (61%), creating blog content (55%), and automating marketing (50%). (HubSpot State of Inbound, 2018)
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a methodology developed by HubSpot in 2005. The concept is very similar to permission marketing, a term that first came out on Seth Godin's book Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers, published in 1999.
Although the concept of attracting website traffic and converting this traffic to paying customers through valuable and informative content has been around for decades, the introduction of inbound marketing forms an actual foundation for the concept.
Since then, inbound marketing has become a multi-million dollar industry, sprouting discussion groups and online communities, and changing the way marketers do content marketing and SEO over the past decade.
The Rise of Inbound Marketing Agencies and Experts
Over the years, professionals started calling themselves inbound marketing experts and job sites started showing job openings for inbound marketing specialists, making inbound marketing an in-demand marketing discipline and skill.
By HubSpot's definition, inbound marketing is about using marketing collateral to bring potential customers to you, rather than being intrusive and fighting for their attention. Sharing is caring, and inbound marketing is about creating and sharing content with the world.
By creating content specifically designed to appeal to your dream customers, inbound attracts qualified prospects to your business and keeps them coming back for more. By publishing the right content in the right place at the right time, your marketing becomes relevant and helpful to your customers instead of disruptive.
The 5 Essential Elements of an Inbound Marketing Strategy
As mentioned, inbound marketing is more about allowing customers to find you naturally, which can only happen if your inbound strategy includes the following components:
- SEO—Using keyword research and analysis, you optimize your content and website pages for better search engine visibility and ranking.
- Paid Advertising—Even paid advertising has become more personalized than ever in recent years, making it a perfect fit in the inbound practice of creating highly targeted content. This way, it won’t feel like "interrupting" your target personas because your ads are most likely what they need. Thus, content marketers regularly use paid ads to strategically distribute content.
- Content Marketing—You need to create various content types in different formats as a way of helping your audience find the best solution for their problem or question.
- Social Media—Here, you build relationships with peers and influencers by promoting your brand and content on your social media and extended networks.
- Landing Pages—A landing page may come in the form of product page, a signup form, or a subscription service page of your website that gives you an opportunity to provide your leads with further information about your brand and what you can offer to potential customers.
Now, to be able to leverage inbound marketing, you’ll need a mix of channels with which you can deliver and share content to your prospects and leads. Here are some of your top choices:
- Blogging - Use the blogs on your site to share information, insights, and opinions to your audience. The more blog pages you have, the easier it will be for a user to find their way around your site, where you can further interact with them.
- Email Marketing - Use this channel to promote your content and to connect with readers/potential customers. When prospects are happy to receive emails from your brand, chances are they’ll be more receptive to any of your communications.
- Social Media - Social networks are great channels for connecting to your audience and driving genuine engagement, so you can nurture and eventually convert them as actual customers.
The Inbound Marketing vs Content Marketing Debate
Through the years, there's been a lot of talk about the differences between inbound marketing and content marketing. Is inbound marketing under the bigger content marketing umbrella or the other way around? (Answer: Neither.)
Clearly, there are significant overlaps; after all, both disciplines involve strategically creating and distributing data-driven content to clearly defined buyer personas, with the intention of leading them through the marketing funnel.
So what's the difference?
Some marketers would say that inbound marketing is a subset of content marketing, where inbound is just one way of doing content marketing. Others would argue that content marketing is the subset of inbound, where content marketing is just one way to achieve inbound results.
Both, I believe, are true.
I think the stark difference is in the medium used and the implementation, which I’m going to discuss in the succeeding sections.
Content Marketing: Fusion of Online and Offline Media
Content marketing covers a myriad of marketing mediums. Content Marketing Institute traces the roots of content marketing as far back as 1732, when Benjamin Franklin published the yearly Poor Richard's Almanack to promote his printing business. In Paris, in 1801, a bookstore opened a reading room and published its own newspaper to promote the bookstore.
These days, content marketing may involve creating quality visual content, organizing a series of informative workshops and gatherings for bloggers to promote your new product, setting up an FAQs page—any online or offline marketing effort that gives value to the buyer’s journey.
I see the online and offline intersection more as a content marketing strategy rather than inbound. You want to create content that will delight/entertain your buyer personas, bring them to designated outlets to buy your product, or lead them to a website to purchase items, eventually converting them to raving customers who also promote your brand to others.
To get this closer to home, here at Spiralytics, we have been creating blog posts about our services—a strategy that’s proven to be effective in creating buzz, building authority, and increasing our search engine visibility to attract potential clients.
But it wasn't until in the more recent years that we've become more intentional in creating gated content for the purpose of acquiring leads.
Which brings us to inbound.
Inbound Marketing: Lead Generation through Digital Content
An inbound marketing strategy is more intentional in acquiring information about your leads, so that you can create content that's highly specific to their needs.The existence of sign up forms and automated marketing workflows has become more prominent when the inbound era began. Inbound marketing, therefore, lies heavily on creating content within the digital realm.
Blog posts, eBooks, online tools, worksheets, e-courses, free trials on premium tools—these digital forms of content match the strict digital workflow of the inbound process.
In the HubSpot inbound methodology below, you’ll see that a visitor starts his or her journey by getting drawn to your content so much so that he or she submits their email address, which then opens up opportunities to engage them in a highly strategic marketing funnel.
The deeper your prospects go into the funnel, the more specific the content you give them becomes. The inbound methodology, when done right, is able to do this seamlessly, especially because contacts are readily giving out information about themselves.
Remember that the inbound premise is hinged upon Seth Godin's permission marketing, where content is presented only to prospects who permit or give consent to receive the marketing information.
When a marketer hands out fliers that have the URL to a landing page, is it considered inbound? I say, the inbound journey starts when a stranger who happens to receive the flier goes online, types in the landing page URL on his web browser, reads what's on it, and signs up to signify that he's interested.
Why Inbound is Highly Effective for the B2B Industry
When a company is looking to another business to provide products or services for them, things can get very technical. And when you're offering technical services and products to another business, the way to convince them is to provide value long before they invest.
The point of inbound marketing is to build relationships with people you just met. You want them to get to know more about your brand’s authority. As an inbound marketer, you're able to build up momentum that will strengthen your business relationship with every piece of free and valuable content you create for your target B2B market, eventually convincing potential buyers that you have exactly what they're looking for.
Rand Fishkin explains the similarities and differences of a B2B and a B2C marketing funnel in detail.
Inbound Marketing Tools
HubSpot has developed a software that helps users implement an inbound marketing system that works, and they do claim ownership of the term. But the inbound methodology can be done in its simplest form through the integration of the following:
- A Content Management System (CMS), such as WordPress or Squarespace
- An Email Marketing / Lead Generation Tool, such as Mailchimp, ConvertKit or AWeber
- A Landing Page Builder (Optional), such as Unbounce or Leadpages. This is optional because landing pages can be done with CMS plugins, too.
- A Marketing Automation Tool (Optional), such as Autopilot. This is optional because marketing automation is often already built in your email marketing or lead generation tools.
I don't want to leave the content marketing vs. inbound marketing debate hanging in this post. In fact there really shouldn’t be a "versus" in there, nor should you choose between the two. The right combination of both marketing disciplines will spell a huge difference in your own strategy.
It may be a different approach for every industry, every set of business goals, or every buyer persona. They key is knowing what's applicable to you based on the circumstances surrounding your business.
When you work with Spiralytics, we help you identify specific industry trends and create a custom strategy for your unique requirements.