What Is Inbound Marketing?
If you’ve been trying to increase your sales online you’ve probably heard of inbound marketing. EverSpark’s Jason Hennessey and John Stringer recently did a video tutorial explaining the basics of this highly effective marketing method. We wanted to offer an expanded writeup here as well. So what is inbound marketing, how does it work and how can you get results with it?
Basics of Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing can be described as delivering the right content to the right people at the right time. More specifically, it means creating the content that potential customers are already looking for and providing it free, thus bringing them to your company—and the products or services you offer that can help them.
This kind of marketing method is by no means a new innovation, but it has taken on added importance in the internet age. That’s because consumers have more sources of information at their disposal than ever before, and tend to research their options more before making a purchase. In 2011 the average consumer looked at five sources of information before making a purchase, and by 2014 that number had grown to an estimated 12 or more. In other words, consumers today are savvier and want to be well informed. So who better to inform them than you?
Three Stages of Consumer Behavior
In order to inform your consumers—and convert them into customers—you need to know what kind of information they’re looking for. And to do that, you have to understand the three stages that every consumer goes through as they educate themselves to make a purchase. Those stages are awareness, consideration and decision.
- Awareness. At this stage the consumer realizes they have a problem, and work to identify that problem. For example, imagine someone whose car is knocking. They might start to google around to find out what’s causing the noise, ask a friend, or take a look under the hood. Eventually they realize the problem is engine failure. This is the awareness phase.
- Consideration. During this phase the consumer starts to explore and consider their different options. For the owner of the stuttering car, this could include buying a new engine and replacing it themselves, taking it to a mechanic, or buying a different car. These options could spawn new options to consider—for example, do I want to buy a car like the last one, or a different make or model, or skip the car altogether and get a motorcycle?
- Decision. Eventually the consumer has to make a decision, and different consumers use different methods to narrow it down. But even this is something consumers seek input on, which is an opportunity to move them even further toward a purchase.
What each of these stages has in common is that they are influenced by the stage before—and by all the information gathered up to that point. Good inbound marketing means creating content for each stage of the journey.
To understand what that content looks like we’ll offer an example from one of our own campaigns. EverSpark decided to do an inbound marketing test case, and for that test we chose marketing executives as our target group.
We knew that marketing execs would be held accountable for meeting sales goals and that achieving those goals would be a major source of potential problems for them. But we wanted to know specifically what problems or “pain points” they were experiencing. We did that through SEO keyword research. We tested a large number of potentially relevant search strings and discovered what marketing problems people are searching for answers to.
One of the pain points overlapped with an area of our expertise, SEO. We focused on creating content to help a marketing executive understand and solve their SEO problem:
- For the Awareness phase we created blog posts and videos that explain the basics of SEO and can help executives figure out where they’re going wrong.
- For the Consideration phase we created how-to’s that gave them a sense of what they could do on their own and why they might want professional help.
- Finally, for the Decision phase we made sure that marketing execs knew not all SEO is created equal—that a focus on good content and high quality linkbuilding is what they need to look for.
Perhaps most importantly we created a Do It Yourself SEO checklist they could download for free by entering their email address. This helped turn them into leads, which we’ll talk about in more detail below.
You can see how this sort of content can be adapted for any product and service. But you may be asking yourself a much more basic question: how well does it actually work?
The great thing about inbound marketing is that you can easily measure how effective it is. You already have access to your site traffic and sales data, so all you need to do is set the right benchmarks in evaluating that data. These benchmarks are called SMART goals, or goals that are:
In other words, your goals should allow you to assess how many leads your inbound program is responsible for over a set time period. With our test case, our SMART benchmarks included goals for how many people downloaded the free checklist, how many of those went on to schedule a free consultation, and how many then became clients.
Our data showed that the test campaign did very well: over 30 percent of visitors became leads! This figure didn’t surprise us, because it was a direct result of the scientific approach we took to building the campaign and the high quality content we created.
Understanding the Inbound Methodology
Just as a consumer goes through different phases in educating themselves, an inbound marketer has to work in different ways to convert them. In the inbound marketing methodology these are called the Attract, Convert, Close and Delight phases. In other words you want to attract visitors to your site, convert those visitors into leads, close those leads as customers, and then delight them so they become raving fans.
There are specific actions you need to take for each phase:
- Attract. You attract site visitors by writing blog topics focused on their pain points and using good SEO. The same thing can be done with videos and other types of content, and social media can help get them in front of your audience. (Paid advertising can also be used for this, but that’s outbound marketing; the two can work well together if done right.)
- Convert. Visitors are converted to leads by getting them to give you their email address or other info. You do this through strong landing pages, calls to action and forms where they can sign up for a helpful freebie.
- Close. Once the lead gives you their email address it goes straight into your automated email marketing platform. From here on you will send them a series of helpful emails and offers which can include webinars, whitepapers, case studies, or even free trials or demos of a product. But notice the difference from sending ads or coupons: the focus is on adding more value and offering more education. But all of this content is, of course, built around your products. They’ve already identified their problem, so show them why your solution is the right one.
- Delight. Delighting the customer means getting them so pleased with your product that they don’t just like it, they promote you to others. Good service and products are key—nothing else will help if what they purchased is no good. But you can do more than that as well. Continue to offer more content and education, and use surveys to get customer feedback (and act on it). You can even get a sense of what people think of you via social media monitoring (Radian6 is a great tool for this.) The more you improve the more you will delight your customers.
Ultimately the entire inbound marketing process helps you create customers who are fans and promoters, because you’re doing more than selling them something—you’re becoming their ally and trusted resource for information. It’s hard to overvalue the power of that relationship.
Starting Your Own Inbound Campaign
If your business isn’t already using inbound marketing online then you’re missing out on big potential increases in site traffic, sales, and exposure. This blog post gives you the basics, but to make your life easier we’re also offering you a free download of our own proprietary spreadsheet. This is the exact document EverSpark uses to organize and launch all of our inbound marketing campaigns and we’re offering it to your business completely FREE. Just fill out the form below and get your free download today.