Inbound marketing used to mean blogging with an offer at the end
Calls to action on landing pages were followed by thank-you pages. And when the viewer got this far, it was all about nurturing interest until you turned them into a customer. Inbound marketing is just not that simple anymore.
A brief history of inbound marketing
The concept of inbound marketing was born in 2005 when the term was coined by HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan. However, it wasn’t until 2012 that it gained popularity. Previously, most businesses marketed their products by ‘interrupting’ potential customers with adverts and cold calls.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, refers to easily navigated web pages and blogs containing high-quality content. This should include keywords and targeted phrases to maximise SEO (Search Engine Optimization). By being visible on search engines, it is easier to attract leads through website content. Leads then provide their contact details so the marketer can contact them directly with follow-up content, which will drive sales. Inbound marketing is known as ‘permission-based marketing’ as potential customers are asked for their consent.
As a marketing strategy, inbound has only been widely used in the past decade. However, the origins of the founding principal “customer orientation” date back to the 1850s. Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical harvester and developed basic inbound strategies to generate consumer interest in his machines. It took time, but McCormick increased his sales.
Inbound marketing today
Adopting an inbound marketing strategy was never a quick fix, and this is still true. The whole process that comes with inbound, including creating free content, social media posts, and SEO rankings, consumes valuable time. And today, there are ever more technologies to master in the pursuit of creating unique and meaningful content.
Inbound marketing still responds to the way people buy; it recognises what matters to them, on their terms, and in their time. Moreover, when done well, it acknowledges both the intent and the context of your prospects’ search.
Inbound marketing is an endurance effort—you need a strategy, resources, and the skills and experience to constantly attract, convert, close, and delight.
To understand inbound, you must understand the buyer’s journey
A potential buyer has a problem. Let’s imagine an Original Equipment Manufacturer that has designed a product. They own the intellectual property but need to get the product ‘made’.
What do they do? What we all do hundreds of times a day—they ask Google.
They review and compare the first few items, evaluate their options, and think about what service is the best fit for their company. Then they decide which services they might contract—and eventually contract one.
This is the buyer’s journey. A person with a problem becomes aware, considers, then decides.
Inbound marketing involves understanding the buyer’s journey—the problems and pain points that the customer experiences along the way. As a marketer, your task is to help the customer by providing them with useful content that answers their questions and builds trust between you. Trust is the key to long-term success in business; it is the antithesis of the pushy car salesman.
Just as we described above, this stage is when the potential buyer becomes aware of the problem they have. They are aware of frustration but are not sure what may be causing it. They research how they can fix it to understand more about the problem and define its parameters.
People in the awareness stage are not ready to be sold to; however, they are responsive to any source that helps them become more aware of their problem.
How can you help the lead during the Awareness stage? At this point, they don’t care about your brand—or anyone else’s for that matter. They want to understand the issue at hand, so help them by providing loads of useful content.
You could help the potential customer with their problem by writing an informative blog that gently nudges them towards the next stage—when they are considering whose services to contract.
Any content you put on your website should aim to educate, define, contextualize, clarify, and inform. The best content will help potential customers understand their problem and prepare them for the next step: considering what solution is the right one for them.
Already aware of the problem they are facing, the potential customer now needs to know who can help them resolve the issue. How and where they search depends on the information they received and the vocabulary they developed in the awareness stage, which is why the consideration stage is so critical.
Customers have a need, which must be resolved. So the most useful thing you can do is provide them with a solution to the problem. Remember that at this point they still don’t care about brands—whoever provides the best solution will likely win. Also, at this stage, the potential buyer is still not ready to make a purchase, but they are eager to give things a try.
So give them what they need—perhaps a blog detailing actionable steps to take. Also, why not offer the chance to download an eBook that can be read later or shared with colleagues.
What type of content is useful in the Consideration stage?
- Technical blogs with steps to follow
- How-to videos and podcasts
- Downloadable eBooks with actionable steps
- Online Q&As
This type of content is valuable as it showcases the benefits of your product while consensually collecting prospects’ details. Your objective during this stage should be to enable potential buyers to carefully consider your product by showing them how you solve their problems.
You have attracted the customer and convinced them that you offer a solution that will resolve their problem—but so have two other companies. This is the stage in which they need to make a decision on whom to contact. The companies providing the solution are now in sharper focus, and the customer is interested in who you are and what you have to offer.
At this point, you want to shout the loudest. Your content in the decision stage needs to demonstrate the benefits of your solution and show how it helped others who faced similar problems.
Give them something: a demo, a trial, or even better, offer them a chance to come and get to know you.
What type of content is useful in the Decision stage?
- Customer case studies
- Free trials
- Competitor comparisons
The content you display on your website during the decision phase should aim to provide evidence of expected results and persuade prospects that your solution is the best choice on the market.
The classic sales funnel is no more
Inbound marketing exists throughout every step of the buyer’s journey—this is true whether you are taking a highly-target Account-Based Marketing approach or are trying to get found by people who have no idea who you are. Hopefully, you are doing both.
Whichever approach you are taking, the idea is to turn people into customers through inbound marketing. This was previously visualised as a funnel.
The funnel was a great metaphor as it helped people visualise how customers went through their buyer’s journey.
Leads started at the top, and throughout the attract, engage, and delight stages, they were serviced separately by marketing or sales and then dripped out the bottom of the funnel.
While this worked for many years, the analogy now seems a little flawed. It saw only the marketing as important rather than the customers themselves. But if you do inbound right, customers become marketers. While the funnel sees customers as passive input, the new way of visualising this process sees them as a driving force.
Enter the flywheel. The flywheel is a way of driving your business forward. It is a comprehensive way of visualising the different forces at play that have an effect on how your company can grow.
The flywheel concept was coined by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great. A flywheel is a huge metal disk that takes a lot of energy to move. However, once it starts to turn, the weight of the wheel itself helps build momentum. This means that the same effort can be put into the flywheel and it will turn faster and faster.
The underlying concept is that, regardless of the end result, great transformations never happen overnight. Increasing sales does not involve one single defining action. Instead, building a business is more like pushing a giant flywheel. With each new effort, you will continue to build momentum.
The flywheel doesn’t only worry about how to do inbound marketing. It recognises that what happens prior to a customer reading any of your content is becoming ever more important. According to HubSpot, 57% of B2B purchase processes are completed before buyers reach out to vendors. This means that to engage potential customers, your concern should not only be directing content at potential customers.
It is important to consider that your potential customers read third-party websites, look for peer recommendations, and listen to word of mouth. Simply put, to begin with, buyers trust other buyers rather than businesses. This change has been promoted by technology: the review sites and ever-more important social media instead of physical marketing materials.
The funnel is an outdated concept because it sees the buyer’s journey as a linear process that doesn’t use the built-up energy from previous customers to attract new customers. Conversely, a flywheel is in constant movement. It uses rotational energy for its speed and stores kinetic energy for later use. It’s dynamic, not static.
To continue the metaphor, the more energy stored in your flywheel, the faster it will spin, the more customers you will attract, and the more profit you will make. Think about the buyer’s journey and your use of the inbound methodology as something cyclical. A customer who is delighted by you giving them the right content will drive forward the Attract stage for a new customer, who then needs to be engaged by your great content.
Once you get it moving, your flywheel uses its own inertia to continue moving. Imagine how much more powerful (and efficient) this is than channelling all that energy back into a funnel—only for it to go nowhere and leave you back where you started.
When you visualise your business as a flywheel, you will start to make decisions that keep it spinning as fast as you can. Putting your customer at the centre of this process is what will make the difference. At the heart will be your inbound strategy that conceptualises your customer as the hero.
And just like the flywheel is circular, your inbound strategy also needs to be circular; both wheels turn around your customer—the central axle. Your inbound marketing needs to attract, engage, and delight customers to create a great customer experience.
Lastly, the flywheel is a great tool to integrate sales and marketing—to avoid the division between the two teams that you can see in the traditional funnel graphic. Previously, customer experience was often a precarious affair, but the circular, integrated flywheel promotes seamless and frictionless experiences as the whole team is tasked with attracting, engaging, and delighting customers.
According to HubSpot, 57% of B2B purchase processes are completed before buyers reach out to vendors.
Stage 1: Attract
Attracting customers involves getting your website noticed by new visitors. Your importance as a company will grow when more people find your content beneficial.
You need to break down the initial barriers and get your company noticed by new potential customers. Inbound marketing is all about giving people the information they want and making sure they can find it.
Here are several tools you can use as part of an inbound strategy to maximise your success during the attract stage:
You are only going to attract customers if you speak their language. To get your customers to come to you, you first need to understand their desires, concerns, and pain points before you can make their problems disappear.
Keyword research is all about turning these desires, concerns, and pain points into strategic keywords to be used in your website’s content, which satisfies both readers and search engines.
Understanding your target market and how they use the Internet to search is the first step. You will likely already have an idea about the keywords and phrases you think are important for your customers. Try to look for long-tail keywords (4 words or more) as they are more specific and can present more conversion opportunities. Entering them into a tool such as Moz, SemRush, and Ahrefs will provide you with useful insights into how to use them.
They show you how many people search for that keyword every month, how difficult it is to rank for that keyword, a SERP analysis, and other keyword suggestions—which might be better than the keyword you have in mind. They allow you to discover other keywords, common questions, and topics for your content that you might have otherwise missed.
When you know the exact keywords you want to write about and rank for, it’s time to write.
Blogging is still a good idea. A static site is going nowhere, whereas regular blogging will create authority for your company and, over time, great blogs will help you rank higher on a Google search. This is important as the first page of Google captures up to 92% of all traffic, whereas companies on the second-page capture only 6%.
Traditionally, blogging was all about taking specific keywords for your target audience and crafting posts around them. While there is still definite value in this, blogging today requires much more than just a few keywords. The importance of blogging has shifted to in-depth, long-form articles that are of far higher quality and provide real value to the reader. Blogging regularly is important, but more important is the quality of the blog.
A blog with insightful advice and an intelligent opinion will be commented upon and shared. And, each time you post, you add a new page to your site, making you more visible to search engines.
Google takes more notice as your site grows and your posts gather social proof. Each post creates opportunities for backlinks, building your authority. And each post creates an evergreen asset that can keep on giving as it continues to get found.
And it’s not enough to only blog, you also need to promote what you are writing about. People need to find you.
Social media makes your content visible. But social media is not made equal—you need to know your audience. In general, LinkedIn is the preferred platform for business, Facebook for older customers, Instagram for younger customers, Twitter for networking, and YouTube for everyone.
Getting your content liked and reposted or tweeted is a great way to gain credibility and divert attention to your website. Monitoring social media can also be a great way to find out what keywords are useful for your target audience, which will then fuel your blogging strategy.
Here are some tips to improve your traction on social media:
- Use great visuals with posts to get more engagement.
- Know the best times to post (not necessarily the same for each platform).
- Create optimised titles for social posts, and test and learn what works best.
- Post at different times and on different days with different headlines and images.
Influencer marketing uses individuals who have established a leading profile and built significant audiences in the field in which your business operates. You can harness their outreach by engaging them to promote your content to their followers.
This is not as easy as it sounds; it takes time to establish relationships and execute the strategy. And you cannot expect results from this approach without creating excellent content.
Here are three tips for a successful B2B influencer marketing strategy:
- Identify the right influencer
- Build a meaningful relationship with the influencer
- Involve the influencer in strategy
Paid social media is increasingly a feature of content amplification programmes, especially as organic social reach declines. This is because leading networks are favouring paid posts as they continue to monetise their platforms.
For many, paid social works best when used to promote content rather than advertise products or services. And it can be useful in driving more traffic to destinations where you are running tests and analysis.
Many leading platforms have powerful segmentation tools, and results from a well-executed campaign can be good. But, as paid social becomes more competitive, the need for savvy targeting will increase.
SEO and on-page optimisation
Change is the only consistent feature of SEO. The performance of each page on your site is more about semantics, user intent, and the authority of the domains sending links back to your pages than it is about the on-page optimisation of your pages.
There are technical aspects to optimising your site like using SEO friendly URLs; including keyword phrases in URLs, page titles, and H1s; and getting your keyword into the first 100 words. But there is only so much you can do with on-page optimisation today.
Google may look at over two hundred attributes as it crawls your site. And the algorithm is now smart enough to interpret a searcher’s intent—results will be given to them based on the value of both the content and the context of their query. So, the quality and relevance of your content matter. Important features include spelling and grammar as well as usefulness, uniqueness, and volume.
You should measure, analyse, and improve your on-page optimisation. Make sure to be mindful of emerging search terms, updates to search engines, and emerging trends.
Focus on your customer
Make your customer the centre of your inbound marketing strategy.
Forget trying to sell anyone anything. Instead, focus on helping people. Attraction means having qualities that others like and admire. Do this and you won’t need to convince anyone—but you might just engage them.
Stage 2: Engage
During this stage, the idea is for people to engage with you. So make it easy for new prospects to become customers. Let them engage with you on their terms and on their preferred channels whilst guiding them through the consideration and decision stage of the buyer’s journey.
Focus on cultivating the relationship is key—not selling. Do this by using your content to provide useful insights that will help your potential customers resolve their problems. And while you’re at it, show them how to understand and implement the different solutions that are on offer.
In this stage, trust is the name of the game. While the goal is for the customer to choose you, this is not the time to use tricks out of the Only Fools and Horses playbook. Remaining neutral and allowing the facts to talk will make you an authority and allow you to nurture trust—the customer is more likely to see you in a favourable light and see you as a potential problem solver.
The content in the engage stage
- Incentives and offers
- Detailed articles and technical information (more complex products)
- Product and service demonstrations
- Guides (including video guides)
Your content should allow the potential customer to understand more about what you offer. Present them with objective information that showcases your product and knowledge and makes your brand stand out.
Don’t forget the CTA
You will also want to include a strong call-to-action (CTA) in your content—really you need one at every stage of the flywheel. The purpose of the CTA depends on your product, but, as a rule, it should stand out from a design point of view. You could include a prominent ‘Book a Demo’ in orange in the right-hand corner of a black header, for example. This allows the potential customer to walk down the path of their buyer’s journey.
CTAs really make the difference. Instead of someone visiting your site and leaving no trace, they provide you with insight and permission to communicate with them in the future. When the customer clicks on the CTA, they are guided to the next step in the conversion path: the landing page.
Make sure you follow some best practices for CTAs to maximise the chances of conversion:
- Make your CTA action-oriented
- Make your CTA stand out on the page
The idea is to reduce friction as much as possible. You can do this by embedding forms in the CTA, for example. It is current good practice to only ask the customer for an email address, with a message telling them how it will be treated with respect.
A CTA can also be a banner that will give you more real estate and the opportunity to use images or graphics as well as text. CTAs at the end of blogs are more likely to work in this format than a simple button.
If you are a HubSpot user, you can benefit from:
- A/B testing to check the performance of one design against another
- ‘Smart CTAs’ that recognise the persona, lifecycle stage, geography, and devise the visitor is using
Channels used in the engage stage
Google search: Ranking highly on a Google search and getting featured snippets is a way of engaging customers and showing them you are trustworthy.
Email: Although some people say email marketing is dead, sending a piece of content directly to a prospect’s inbox to help them throughout their buyer’s journey can still be a winner.
Website: The place where you provide the customer with technical and in-depth details about your business to show them if you are a potential solution to their problem.
Blogs: Continue to blog on topics that answer customer questions, provide solutions, and show your company as a thought leader.
Review sites: Show the experience your existing customers have had working with you.
Landing pages: This is a website page that allows you to capture a visitor’s information through a lead form. It’s here where you expand on the offer you made with that compelling CTA and capture information about leads that enables you to provide them with more content.
Here are some tips for creating a remarkable landing page:
Design: Landing pages should be uncluttered. Nothing should distract from the customer understanding the offer. Top navigation, sidebars, or any unrelated information needs to be removed.
Copy: As with CTAs, your landing page copy should use actionable, value-driven words. Copy should explain the value and benefits of your offer in a clear and unambiguous way. Convey empathy, write in the second person, be brief and to the point.
Images: Images should be indicative of what the visitor will get after filling out the form. There’s no need to get too artistic—that risks diverting the visitor’s attention.
Forms: Forms should be short and focused on gathering the most valuable information. Progressive profiling creates an opportunity to expand on a contact's profile on subsequent conversions.
Some landing pages will convert better than others. A/B testing is a vital component of lead generation. And, whenever possible and appropriate, you should also include social proof, introduce scarcity, identify a knowledge gap, and promote exclusivity.
Tools that help conversions
There are many touchpoints with potential customers before they become customers. There are also several tools that can improve the chances of a successful conversion, which involve automating the inbound marketing process.
The HubSpot platform provides a suite of automated processes to deliver relevant content and personalised messages to leads when they are ready and receptive. For example, if a customer downloaded an eBook, you can send them several related offers.
Here are the top tools to help close the deal:
Lead scoring allows you to give each lead a score based on the information they have given you and the actions they have taken.
Here are areas that you could score (generally out of 100):
- Job title
- Company type and industry
- Company size
- How many pages of your website they read
- Offers downloaded
Through identifying the higher scores, you’ll be able to focus on the leads that are the most likely to make a purchase.
At a more advanced level, you can look at contacts who became customers and those that didn’t to see what they have in common to ascertain which attributes should be weighted.
If the information exists, you can calculate the lead-to-customer conversion rate, identify the characteristics of customers you believe were higher quality leads, and then calculate the individual close rates of each of those attributes.
Email is a powerful tool to connect with customers.
You can make use of a subscriber’s lifecycle stage, list membership, or any of the information held in their contact records. This can help to create bespoke subject lines, personalisation, content relating to previous actions, associated links, and schedule campaigns to send at the optimal time, regardless of time zone differences.
You can also maximise campaigns with A/B tests and analytics to discover subject lines that get the most opens and content that gets you better engagement. And you can dig into your data to analyse the best times, days, formats and much more when it comes to sending re-engagement emails, newsletters, and any number of offers you may have.
Closed-loop reporting happens when sales and marketing work together and both know what’s happening with the leads. Understanding where leads are will allow you to target them with the most efficient marketing efforts. Using HubSpot is a simple yet effective way to automate the data generation needed for your team to keep up to date with closed-loop reporting.
The Workflow tool in HubSpot enables you to set up any number of trigger conditions so that the right messages are sent to the right leads at the right time. And, Workflows can be tied to goals, so you’ll know if they are working.
You can use the advanced segmentation logic in the tool to determine who gets enrolled in your workflows, and when, then personalise emails for each recipient using details from your contacts database or CRM.
Workflows can be used to set up web-hooks, score leads, send leads to sales, update properties, copy values, and much more. And you can trigger notifications when a contact takes a particular action that matters to you.
This allows you to manage which questions appear in a form based on the data that has already been acquired. Each time a contact fills out a form, you can collect new information and keep forms short.
You will achieve higher conversion rates using shorter forms and avoid repetition. In this way, you can build a deeper, more comprehensive profile of each lead, which wouldn’t be possible if you had to use much longer forms.
You can reuse the same forms across multiple landing pages. By queuing up questions, you are constantly adding to the profile of a prospect, irrespective of the offer they are converting on.
Stage 3: Delight
Also, the great thing about this strategy is that it will allow you to increase the number of customers you have by attracting new prospects through loyal customers. This is because recommendations hold far more weight than traditional marketing methods. Social media, word of mouth, Google reviews, and other review websites such as trustpilot.com are highly effective in generating new business. Delighting a customer who then leaves a sparkling review online is worth far more than any effort your marketing team can achieve on its own.
There are several valuable channels that, if used correctly, will help you engage with customers during the delight stage.
Customers should easily be able to access information through your website. Clear communication is critical. And one way to find out what customers want is by asking them. Why not create a simple survey that can assist you with creating a successful inbound marketing strategy. It would help if you also allowed your customers to review your business and provide you with feedback.
Your blogging should help customers and teach them how to get the most out of your business.
Follow up emails
Customer follow-up emails should apply the same logic you used in the attract stage. A successful inbound strategy means that you need to be creating and promoting valuable and engaging content. But you now have the upper hand as you have more information about your customers. Understanding how they have behaved in the past will give you an insight into how they will behave in the future. Therefore, you can take a more targeted approach, which your customers will value.
Please keep the conversation open with customers and give them the chance to interact with you via their preferred channel.
Also, make sure you monitor your social media. This can be a complex endeavour, but it ensures that you are aware of conversations around your brand's core words and phrases.
You can delight more customers and convert more leads by using the integrated Contacts tool in HubSpot to support your social conversations.
You can set up social monitoring on HubSpot to monitor what prospects and customers say about your industry and company. You can also get notified when there are mentions by important contacts in your business.
If appropriate, you can monitor different leads by their interests. And you can watch the activity of influential thought leaders in your industry when they mention specific terms on Twitter, thus creating opportunities to engage and build engagement.
Through social monitoring, you will pick up on questions or concerns people may have about your products or services, including positive and negative feedback. This creates opportunities to respond to both.
Here's what type of content you might choose to include on these channels:
HubSpot platform's 'smart content' functionality is a powerful tool that enables intelligent personalisation by data segmentation, device, location, persona type, and lifecycle stage. If you use HubSpot's CMS, this is possible with your CTAs, landing pages, and website pages.
With this level of technical ability, there are opportunities for highly tailored experiences, which means you can make interactions extraordinarily relevant.
Smart content can alter the content in a rich text module, a form, custom HTML, and a CTA module. This is powered by Smart Lists, which update each time a contact meets a set of predetermined criteria, unlike static lists.
When visitors come to your site, they also bring some context with them for that session, including any cookie attached to them from a previous session. But this functionality can also be used to respond to anonymous visitors based on their country, device type, or referral source.
This is any content, including text, images, videos, posts, and reviews created by customers rather than you and usually published on a social network.
Other types of content might include:
- New products
- Sales support information
- Service updates
- Offers and discounts
- Loyalty programs
- Customer feedback surveys
As a final word, remember that delighting doesn't mean being irritating. Customers don't want to feel as if they are being stalked and their privacy invaded. To help the final stage, here are some tricks that you can use.
Conversational marketing uses synchronous personal interactions between the company and the customer. In addition, your business can take advantage of the many different types of live chats, chatbots, and messaging apps that allow private communication.
While multichannel availability is critical, including chat, messaging, phone, and email, today, instant messaging tools are by far the most popular solution. Slack, WhatsApp, Signal, people love receiving messages instantly without committing to a telephone call. Chatbots can make your conversational marketing more accessible.
But, as always, different customers have different requirements. Younger customers may want to chat, but older customers may still want to call. Understanding demographic preferences is important, as is varying your level of formality accordingly. Chats are informal, while email and telephone require a more formal tone.
When you have successfully guided a lead through the buyer's journey and closed the sale, you need to onboard them to establish expectations and obtain essential information. This process must be as smooth as possible to give a great first impression, and the customer must be onboarded as efficiently as possible.
This is why you should take advantage of automated onboarding for the most time-consuming parts of the process. It will provide the highest level of customer service.
There are significant differences between historical inbound and the way we conceptualise it today. The theory behind the concept is the same, but everything has become far more complex.
Today's circular inbound methodology considers the buyer's journey and requires the marketer to do three things:
- Attract potential customers by creating content that helps them understand their problems
- Convert potential customers into leads by providing them with helpful content
- Delight customers by giving them helpful information that will help and retain them
Focusing on the customer and establishing how you can help them will allow you to design a content strategy that addresses problems throughout the buyer’s journey. Ultimately, this means you can supply the customer with the information they need at every stage.
What was a funnel that drained your energies is now a flywheel. Generating customer momentum will allow you to provide continued customer satisfaction, which will create your most important asset: loyal customers.
Loyal customers generate new customers in a cycle that continues spinning, driven by its own inertia.