If you are here, it probably means that you’ve heard about inbound marketing and would like to know the inbound marketing definition. So, what is inbound marketing?
The goal of inbound marketing is to earn the attention of customers by making your startup or company easy to be found. You want to draw customers to your website or blog by consistently creating interesting content. Inbound marketing is about using marketing channels and tools to bring potential users or customers to you, rather than fighting for their attention. As the name says, inbound marketing is opposed as outbound marketing. Outbound marketing consists in pushing the product in front of potential customers (For instance, with ads). Inbound marketing is the opposite and the goal is to pull potential customers toward your product.
In other words, inbound marketing has an effect of pulling the customers toward your product or service whereas with outbound marketing, you are pushing your product toward them. Inbound marketing is the strategy of connecting with potential customers by sharing content they find useful. Instead of interrupting your audience with advertising or other outbound marketing strategies, an inbound methodology will bring potential customers through content they find by themselves. Having an inbound marketing strategy will prevent your startup to fail and will help you build a successful startup.
Now that you know the basics of inbound marketing, I am going to give you the 4 fundamental pillars to transform your audience into satisfied customers. Making your product or service being discovered, used and purchased is the whole point of setting up a good inbound marketing strategy. Today, I am going to give you the complete inbound marketing definition. This is a process in 4 phases: Attract – Conversion – Closing – Delight.
I believe that having an inbound marketing strategy well thought through should be implemented as early as possible in your entrepreneur journey. If you are building a startup from scratch, start think about inbound marketing now. If your business is more advanced, start yesterday.
Some marketers will tell you there are 5 phases in inbound marketing. This 4-phase framework is not an exact science but I believe it is very complete. For the curious ones and impatient ones, I write at the end of the article the reason why I don’t include the 5th step in this inbound marketing definition.
The 1st step of inbound marketing is to attract visitors. And, when I say visitors, I mean qualified and relevant visitors. This is the awareness phase or also called discovery phase.
How to attract relevant traffic as part of your inbound marketing strategy?
You should always think in terms of targets. Your target is based on segmentation: social demographic criteria such as gender, age, location, native language, education, income, profession, habits are important to define. By knowing your target, you will be able to define what kind of content to address, to whom, when and through which channels you want to promote it. The best way to know your target is to create users/buyers’ personas.
A buyer persona: what is it?
The buyer persona is actually a kind of avatar, a caricature, a stereotype, a fictional character of your perfect customer. Here is what a buyer persona should have:
- One identity, which overall corresponds to social-demographic criteria.
- His/her characteristics and habits: relationship to work, technology, family, consumption, culture...
- Their free time, leisure, vacation...
- Their facilities, consumption, media they use...
Here, you want to focus on how each factor may influence, directly or indirectly, the brand-customer or startup-user relationship.
Personal objectives: you need to ask yourself several questions about your buyers' personas. What are their needs? What motivates them? What would it take to satisfy them? What do they think? Where do they go? What do they like?
Now that you have defined your users’ personas, I am going to give you a few channels you can use to attract visitors.
Inbound marketing often starts by creating a blog. Blogging is a great way to attract new visitors to your site. In order to be found by the right prospects, it is imperative to create content that speaks. Inbound marketing is nothing without content. Answering questions your potential buyers (Target) might ask themselves is a great way to start. On the long run, you will be able to grow your startup revenue with a blog. There are so many content marketing tactics you can use to make your startup blog a success.
In addition to your blog, you can also create landing pages to attract visitors.
Understand good SEO (Search Engine Optimization) practices
The prospect (Your target) will, in most cases, use a search engine to find the answer to the questions that arise. You must, therefore, make sure to be well visible when they seek for this information. For this, you need to identify the right keywords, optimize your pages, make your blog easy to navigate, make your website fast, create content, create internal links with these keywords and have a linkbuilding strategy. If the SEO concept is still vague for you, here's an article from Search Engine Land that will allow you to become a SEO expert.
An inbound marketing strategy that works well is the result of relevant content. Social media will allow you to share this content, interact with your audience and talk to your community. To best optimize your publication, you must have a strong presence on specific social media channels. Having a well-defined social media strategy for your startup is crucial. You need to share your content in the right places social media channels. The right ones are the ones where your buyer personas are.
E-books are a great content marketing format and I believe they are largely underused. These formats allow you to increase your thought leadership and retrieve qualified leads to your blog. You put forward your expertise, give great insights and details by answering a specific question. The e-book, downloadable on your blog is one of the formats, if not the most effective format to retrieve valuable information about your visitors.
Stop writing and speak up! Be friendly, show your face to readers who follow you and to the newcomers, they will be delighted. A webinar or also called an online conference will largely increase your credibility while improving your reputation (When it is relevant, it can be used to make you to advertise your startup or company). You have proven your expertise in writing through your blog, your prospects will find pleasant to hear you and ask questions in real time. This will bring a more personal touch.
Have an email marketing strategy / Send a regular newsletter
The goal here is to keep in touch with your audience, prospects and customers by encouraging them to go to your site regularly. It's also a great way to warm up a few prospects who don’t have the habit and perhaps the time to browse your site repeatedly.
This is key to create a newsletter when implementing an email marketing strategy. It needs to be sent regularly (I recommend once a week or twice a month. Don’t send too many emails to your subscribers. They are important and have been nice enough to share their email address with you: don’t spam them). The email marketing strategy is a key element and should be part of your overall startup marketing strategy. I will talk a bit more about email marketing later on in this post.
This was a quick list of ideas to expand your audience and completing the 1st step of inbound marketing. Well on, you can always be more creative in finding new types of formats. For instance, you could also create surveys, case studies, create videos or infographics, interview influencers in your niche or your users, create podcasts and more. The implementation of these tools, combined with a rigorous work (and regular), will ensure the transition to level 2 of this rather nice game: the inbound marketing process. I am now going to address the 2nd step: Conversion!
In order to convert traffic into leads, it’s important that you work on quality content rather than quantity. You need to define a marketing strategy for your startup blog. With the regular publication of relevant content, you are able to attract new visitors to your blog or website, and at the same time, you begin to earn their trust. It would be stupid to stop there. In this conversion phase, several techniques can be implemented to retrieve valuable information about your prospects. This conversion phase, also called appreciation, interest or consideration phase is most often referred as "Lead Generation". You can effectively generate leads by the implementation of…
CTA or "Call-to-Action"
These CTA (Call-to-Action) "buttons", visual hooks or clickable links push your readers to take action. They will be located intelligently at strategic places on your blog or on your landing pages attracting the eye of the visitor. They are meant for your audience to take action. Make them as “sexy” as possible in order to attract the interest of prospects. There are so many different formats in use and I am going to give you my top 6 CTA:
- Discount / Offer to one of your services/products if they sign up
- Subscribe to newsletter
- Download a white paper
- Registration for a webinar
- Subscribe to training
- Filling a contact form
There are many other formats available for you to accelerate this conversion phase. These 6 are the ones working the best according to my experience.
These CTA can seem classics but strongly effective to collect information about your visitors. You don’t need to re-invent the wheel all the time. This is good to test and try new techniques bit it’s also important to use tactics that proved their effectiveness.
However, do not expect to get too much information at once. Don’t fail by annoying the people who were about to deliver their information. Don’t ask them too many questions at first (Just their email address, maybe their name and why not their website; no more than that. You don’t want to give a barrier to your potential subscribers by asking them 10 questions even before getting their email address).
In addition to having attracted new visitors, you've created quality content, included CTAs and therefore have collected the necessary information to move you to the next step, the Closing phase! In other words, it's time for you to unveil your offer and do business.
Do you want to implement an inbound marketing strategy to your business?
A perilous phase which is also called engagement phase or conclusion step... In short, this will be probably your favourite phase. This can also be called the activation, evaluation, sales, purchase or action phase. This step needs to be very structured because you need to bring your lead accepting your offer naturally.
In fact, once your visitors turned into leads, it is important to properly feed them with content: you need to deliver the right message, at the right time to keep in touch regularly and you need to make them confident to make a decision (In this case, use your product or service).
To be honest, if you follow this inbound marketing definition, you should soon have too many leads – yes, you’ve heard it well, too many leads: that could feel like a dream and you can make it happen too. But having leads is not making sales or closing. Having leads is great but if you don’t convert them into sales, if you don’t close them, this is useless.
Your leads need to have full confidence in your expertise before moving to the closing phase. And yes, a sales cycle (Conversion cycle) can be very, very long... If you are lucky and efficient, you can close a sale straight away and you might close a few other leads within a few days but it often takes weeks or months to actually close leads.
Do not lose patience; consistency and resilience are your best assets when applying inbound marketing. The idea here is to keep in touch over time and to stay in the minds of your potential customers by providing interesting content. You might get frustrated if you don’t convert yet but don’t worry, your audience won’t be bored or frustrated if you keep bringing them quality content.
Email is not dead, far from it. On the contrary, this is one of the tools that still work best and will bring you great ROI (Return-on-Investment). As I mentioned before, having great email marketing campaigns is crucial for your startup success. Indeed, email marketing is vital to convert leads into sales. Emails are a very good way to keep in touch and continue to feed your leads with relevant and interesting content.
CRM - "Customer Relationship Management"
If you are an advanced startup, a medium or a large organization, having a CRM is important to keep valuable information about your business contacts. Such a tool allows you to optimize processes and reduce information loss. It facilitates the analysis of sales and marketing. Each lead has its little history that the sales person can consult in order to act accordingly.
Salesforce is the most commonly used and known but you have alternatives such as Zoho, Sugar CRM, Capsule, Contactually or Solve 360.
If you are an early stage startup, you probably don’t need a CRM yet but you still want to be organized. The free tool Trello is great to organize yourself, your tasks, your progress…
With a good content strategy, a marketing automation software can be embedded to your CRM, allowing you to connect the sales and marketing in order to significantly optimize your sales funnel and sales processes.
This will give you the opportunity to track your leads and see where they are in your sales funnel. The tracking will be done automatically and without effort on your part. A good CRM coupled with an automation marketing tool will give you lead scoring or lead ranking, which allows you to sort out the most interesting leads. This technique will help you to choose from the leads by showing you automatically which leads are the ones that need to be contacted soon. In other words, which leads are most likely to close soon.
Your nurturing-marketing with new and relevant content, when orchestrated with a marketing automation software will make your sales and marketing teams better than ever. Your closing phase will be facilitated, your closing rate should increase and the time between conversion and closing will decrease.
Now that you’ve done sales through your inbound marketing process, you are probably thinking that you could actually stop at this stage. But, I think this would be a mistake. In fact, your customers of today may well become your prescribers, referrers or evangelists of tomorrow. And since, I don’t want to neglect any steps in the inbound marketing strategy, I am going to explain you the 4th step of our inbound marketing definition: Delight!
For an inbound marketing process to be complete, signing a customer is only the third step. You can go even further with this 4th step: Delight.
During the different stages, we noted that the success of an inbound marketing strategy was based on the regular creation of interesting content for your readers whether they are visitors, leads or existing customers.
With different formats of content, you managed to show your expertise, capture a qualified audience, convert traffic by generating leads and closing those leads into sales.
A client who already paid for your product or service - is not a client to forget. Instead, you should continue to interact with your clients to make them happy promoters of your business or startup. A very happy customer will share your product or service on social media and tell their contacts about it. They will become evangelists and promote your product just because they love it. This is called advocacy. This is free promotion and free marketing you have in your hands here. Who doesn't want a free marketing channel? Delighting an existing customer is easier than getting a new one and can have a huge impact on your business.
In that delight phase, here are some tools or channels that you may find helpful in order to help you delight your customers…
The best and easiest way to learn what your customers like remains to ask them. So, use customer feedback, ask your customers questions, see if they are happy with what you gave them, check if they would like you to offer a new service or a new feature… Getting users’ feedback is part of the growth hacking process and it’s very important to use it. This will allow you to know your customers more, see what they are looking for, what you can improve in order to make your product more user-centric.
This has 3 main benefits:
- This will show your customers that you care about them.
- This will make your customers more faithful and more engaged with your brand – and they may buy again from you later on.
- Knowing more about your customers might lead taking an Up-sell / Cross-sell approach. Indeed, by knowing a need, you might be able to offer your customers a product that they didn’t know existed.
A great way to delight your customers is by organizing an event. This will allow you to meet personally with your customers and have a direct contact with them. This will largely increase their trust in you, your product and your business.
If you don’t have the budget for a big fancy event, this is ok, don’t worry about it. An event can be very simple. Not everyone can afford a theater or a concert hall filled with hundreds of bottles of champagne to make an event. If you are an early stage startup, just invite your users to have a coffee with you. I can guarantee you that they will be pleased. If you listen well to them and make great use of their feedback, I can ensure you some of them will become evangelists.
More than ever, you need to have a good presence on social media. I still see startups telling me they don’t need social media, just a great product. If you think that, I am sorry to say but you’re wrong. Get on social media now and start interacting with your potential users, your target audience or start promoting your product now!
Social media is not just checking news or watching cats’ videos. On social media, you can listen to the customers’ questions or concerns and answer them. You can like or share their posts, they can share yours to their community, you may offer limited discounts, or you can simply interact with them. And of course, propose relevant content again, again and again!
Social media will help your startup or business to interact with your brand ambassadors who can become evangelists in the future. This approach will enhance your sales force (Through the various accounts your customers have), the image, the visibility, the reputation and the expertise of your company. Establishing a trusted and long-term relationship with your customers will significantly expand your audience.
During the four stages of inbound marketing, content creation never stops. Therefore, you must renew the topics and readjust your content ideas to adapt to new customer expectations.
After closing a deal, conversing individually with your customers is key. The delight phase of the inbound marketing approach will allow you to collect further information. Clients will share with you, their opinions, concerns or needs… not just their email addresses. You need to make the most of it by answering their needs.
Then, if you do it right, they will naturally talk to those around them – whose might become new visitors. If you reach this point of getting new visitors, the inbound marketing loop restarts: you need to convert the attracted traffic into leads again, close into sales and delight them.
How to sum-up the inbound marketing definition?
That’s it for today! To summarize, inbound marketing is a 4-phase approach where you go from getting qualified traffic through content creation (Attract). Then, you want to convert this traffic into leads, mostly by getting email addresses from this traffic (Conversion). After that, you need to have a strategy in place where you still create content but with the goal to close leads into sales (Closing). Finally, you need to stay in touch with your customers either to build your brand loyalty, upsell your existing customers or have them become evangelists (Delight). I want to add that A/B testing should be a central element all along the way.
It is important to note that the inbound marketing process has a long-term focus and sales might take weeks or months to make. During that time and after that, you need to keep creating insightful content and be patient. Resilience is the main indicator of your inbound marketing and startup success.
For the curious ones: I said at the beginning of the post that many marketers consider there is a 5th step in the inbound marketing process. This 5th step is: Track / Measure Results & Optimize. In my opinion (And you can disagree with me, that’s fine), you need to measure results (In order to optimize) during each step of the inbound marketing process. You need to track results from each phase (Attract – Conversion – Closing – Delight) individually to improve all of them. Measuring and optimizing are decisive but have to be done along the way, not only at the end.
At Growth Hackers, we believe that inbound marketing is a great way to give visibility to your startup, improve your reputation and increase your sales. If you want us to implement an inbound marketing strategy for you, just give us a shout and contact Growth Hackers.
I am the co-founder and CEO at Growth Hackers. We help startups, small businesses and entrepreneurs with growth methods. I am passionate about startups, growth hacking, inbound marketing and entrepreneurship. You can follow me on Twitter: @GrowUrStartup