Marketing your business generates new customers and grows revenue.
But when many people think of marketing, their minds jump to TV commercials or those annoying banner ads on websites that become even more irritating when they pop up and block the article you were reading.
Yet that very article you wanted to see could also be a form of marketing, one where the business draws you in with desirable content.
That’s what inbound marketing is about: Customers come to you so you don’t have to chase them down. As a result, your business has an opportunity to build lifelong relationships with your customers.
It’s a powerful concept and one of the reasons why the approach has taken off in the last 20 years with the advent of the Internet.
Let’s explore how inbound marketing can help your business.
Overview: What is inbound marketing?
At its core, inbound marketing allows your business to attract and engage with customers in a way that builds trust and delivers value. It’s a customer-centric strategy designed to deepen a customer’s relationship with your company over time.
This relationship building is achieved through a variety of digital tactics. Examples include search engine optimization (SEO), video tutorials and webinars, podcasts, and social media posts.
If the content you provide benefits the consumer, they’ll be motivated to buy because they are already deriving value from their initial engagements with your organization.
Depending on how expansive you want your inbound marketing strategy to be, you may require a dedicated marketing team to manage these efforts, such as someone responsible for maintaining the company’s social media presence.
Inbound marketing requires time to develop good content, nurture customer leads, and create evangelists for your company.
Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing: What’s the difference?
A word about the difference between inbound and outbound marketing strategies.
While inbound marketing is about drawing customers to your company, outbound marketing is about your business pushing its message out to the world, usually through advertising.
Getting your company’s message in front of consumers through outbound marketing is costly. Buying advertising is rarely cheap, and results can be elusive since consumers tend to ignore ads.
In contrast, inbound marketing can be low cost or even free, and because you’re forming relationships, you’re also building the lifetime value of your customers.
What is the inbound marketing process?
There are four phases to implementing inbound marketing.
As a precursor, you must know your customers well. Use a tool like a buyer persona, which is a representation of customers in each of your customer segments, to help crystalize and communicate to your organization the types of customers you’re targeting.
Also, define measurable goals. For instance, if your goal is to increase sales leads by 10% next quarter, this quantifiable target enables you to see how you’re progressing.
Now, let’s take a look at each stage in the inbound marketing process.
Every inbound marketing strategy starts here. It’s about getting consumers who are not yet customers, called prospects, to visit your website through tactics like SEO, educational blog articles, and a social media presence.
For example, the use of search engines like Google has become a key step in the consumer buying process, and SEO helps your website appear higher up in search results.
This makes it easier for prospects to find your business, and increases visitors to your site.
In this stage, the focus is around converting prospects into leads. This means collecting contact information to nurture those prospects. For example, if your company provides business-to-business (B2B) offerings, you might use B2B sales.
Other methods include an option to sign up for a newsletter or get a white paper (an in-depth, informational document on a topic) in exchange for name and email information.
Once you’ve narrowed down prospects into leads, the next step is to close the sale. This is done by helping customers find the right solution to solve their concern. Methods of doing so include having a customer service team answer questions, or a blog post that compares different products.
Once the sale is made, you’re done, right? Not quite.
The power of inbound marketing lies in its ability to turn customers into loyal followers who refer your business to others and keep coming back. The delight stage is all about this evolution of a customer into a fan of your business.
Many approaches exist to make that happen. Email marketing is a form of direct marketing that works well here; once a customer has made a purchase, sending the occasional email about special promotions or new offerings can generate repeat business.
Another tactic is a loyalty program providing rewards for repeat customers.
Examples of inbound marketing
Now that we’ve touched on the basics, let’s look at some real-world inbound marketing examples.
Chewy sells pet products, and one of the inbound marketing tactics it employs is its website and SEO to generate sales. SEO gets consumers to your website; a good site gets them to convert.
Chewy has done a masterful job with SEO. Let’s dive into how Chewy succeeds here:
- SEO makes it easy to find the business: Type keywords like “pet food” and “dog food” into Google, and you’ll see Chewy.com show up near the top of the results. That’s because Chewy has optimized its site to appear ahead of many rivals, giving it an edge when it comes to driving pet owners to its site.
- Good content helps customers decide: Once the consumer arrives at Chewy.com, they’re greeted with rich content to help them make their purchase decisions. By choosing a dog food product on Chewy’s site, you can see the product page contains a detailed description, feeding instructions, nutritional information, videos, key benefits, and customer reviews.
Birchbox offers consumers a personalized box of personal care and beauty samples to try before they buy the full-size versions.
Originally, Birchbox used television ads to get the word out about its service, but that approach became too costly, so the company switched to inbound marketing, using social media as its key tactic. Social media allows for deeper customer engagements.
Social media naturally lends itself to conversations. This allows businesses to build relationships with customers.
Here’s how Birchbox did it:
- Offer useful information: Birchbox uses online videos to offer advice and educate its customers on topics such as make-up tips, and employs live streaming sessions to allow customers to ask questions.
- Tailor the approach to the social media channel: Birchbox posts longer video content on YouTube. On Facebook, videos are shorter and include text because most videos are viewed without sound. On Pinterest, where photos are prevalent, Birchbox groups its photos into helpful topics, such as hair tips and eye makeup.
Should you use a CRM for your inbound marketing?
A business has to keep track of where each prospect or customer is in the inbound marketing process. Otherwise, it’s not possible to nurture that person on to the next stage.
This is where customer relationship management, or CRM, software comes in.
Here are some ways CRMs can help:
- Identify leads: CRM software tracks actions taken by prospects, such as how often they open your email or visit the website. Use this data to segment prospects in the CRM so you can know which to pursue and which are unlikely to turn into leads.
- Track your leads: Your business requires a way to track prospects who provided contact info. Housing this information in a CRM makes it easy to track who requested to learn more, and who needs some follow up to close the sale.
- Use automation: Sending email follow-ups is a good tactic, but without automation, this task can be time consuming. Many CRMs provide capabilities to send automated emails, and to schedule these emails to go out at regular intervals.
- A unified view of your customers: A CRM serves as a repository for all the customer data that teams across the company can access. This single view of the customer ensures they have a seamless experience when engaging with your company, even if different employees handle each engagement.
Final advice for inbound marketing beginners
To achieve successful inbound marketing results, the key is the quality of the content you create. It’s got to be entertaining, informative, and valuable to your customers.
Content that is too salesy or focused on promoting your business will fall flat.
Put the customer’s needs first, and your inbound marketing strategy will evolve prospects into lifelong customers.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Robert Izquierdo owns shares of Facebook and Pinterest. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Facebook, HubSpot, Pinterest, and Salesforce.com. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.