As human beings, we tend to make our decisions based on trust. Our friendship groups. Our commitments. Our purchases; all stemming from whom and what we trust. Building trust with customers, clients and our target audiences is now vital to secure their business, and a must-have in any modern marketing strategy. Inbound marketing is an effective method of demonstrating this. But, to effectively utilise this methodology, you must understand the answer to the question of what is inbound marketing?
Imagine you are in the market for a new kitchen. Typically, the first step is to scope out inspiration designs, layouts and appliance usage. At this stage, you probably aren't fully committed to buying a new kitchen just yet, but you want to take a look regardless and get a feel that works for you. The next step will most likely be one of two things:
Download or request a glossy brochure showing pristine kitchens in studio surroundings (as opposed to in practice in a property that remotely resembles your current layout).
Visit a kitchen designer / store to see the kitchens up close.
As a society, online shopping has become the general preference (which would mean the brochure download approach in this instance). Primarily for the convenience. After all, you can shop from the comfort of your bed/bath/sofa/hot tub/toilet [insert other places you tend to browse from as applicable] etc etc.
Going out to physical store locations is time-consuming. Modern day society has been spoilt by the instantaneous results we can achieve at the few clicks of a button or taps of a screen.
Secondly, online shopping removes the need to speak directly with another human being.
When visiting a store simply to browse, and particularly in the example of kitchen shopping, the chances are that at some point during your browsing, you will be swept upon by a member of staff.
Some will have a genuine want to care for your needs, whereas others will prey on you like a hawk for their own gains through commission. Regardless of how long you spend looking for a kitchen, you can be certain the majority of staff members in the store will either attempt to speak with you, or do their best to sell to you even if you aren't ready to commit.
This method of aggressive hard-selling is a mostly a thing of the past. In some circumstances, it can still be effective, but this is generally on people that are easily pressured into making spontaneous decisions or the elderly.
As a society, our relationships are typically built on trust, and this trickles down into our choices of what to buy, and also the types of marketing that we consume.
One example that really grinds my gears personally can be found in the property sector. Many letting agents will stick posters up in their shop fronts stating "LANDLORDS WANTED. TENANTS WAITING FOR PROPERTIES DUE TO HIGH DEMAND".
Sure, there is a high demand in the property market at the moment with plenty of tenants looking for the right property. But if I was a landlord, why would I use that particular letting agent over the others? Aren't they the same as everyone else?
And here lies the problem. Not just for letting agents or for kitchen sales companies (or any other company for that matter). As a customer, why should I use you over your competitors?
You can probably list at least five reasons I should use your services over anyone else, be that attention to the customer or perhaps you're the cheapest. But your next problem is that everyone else will be singing from the same hymn sheet.
They will be using the exact same basic fundamentals in their marketing strategies.
So unless you were the first on the scene with a pre-established recognised brand, or have a revolutionary new product at the right time and right place, then you're going to have difficulty breaking that ice.
This is where inbound marketing has its advantages.
The fundamentals of inbound marketing.
For companies who are willing to make the commitment to a long-term marketing strategy, inbound marketing is crucial.
Inbound marketing matches compelling content to buyers interests in order to attract the right types of customers that are the most likely to convert.
It has proven far more effective than traditional approaches at engaging and keeping customers. To define inbound marketing in its official form, inbound marketing is a technique for getting customers to your company of their own volition, via valuable content the consumer finds valuable during the buyers journey.
What does inbound marketing involve?
Inbound marketing requires a great deal of time and effort involving a developed content strategy; an over-arching omnichannel plan based on delivering relatable content. This includes:
Building a professional website full of awesome content.
Publishing engaging posts to your blog and social media channels.
Increasing the ranking of your site on Google (a practice known as SEO, or Search Engine Optimisation
Unlike the outbound marketing of the past, this includes the inbound strategies to show users things that they would find particularly useful or interesting. Instead of making the marketing about you, it is about what interests prospects.
If your content is compelling enough, people interact with it, read it, and share it, leaving a positive impression of your brand, which influences subsequent purchasing decisions.
When consumers discover your company in this way, it has a powerful impact on their future purchasing decisions, as well as on how they feel about your company overall. It instils trust. The very trust that is needed to power decisions to use your business over all your competitors.
If you as a business or individual become the reference point for your market, by providing relevant content and having close connections to your target audience, you are no longer going after them, they are coming after you. If outbound strategies make a company chase their audiences, inbound strategies lay out a camp for them to first seek the brand out when looking for products, services, or solutions.
How can I utilise inbound marketing in my strategy?
To effectively deploy an inbound marketing strategy, you must be able to show a comprehension of your target audience or customer. Who are they? What are their problems? How can your service or product answer their questions or solve their issues? How can you as an individual or business relate to your customers?
By identifying the wants, needs and problems of your clients, you are then in a prime spot to craft an inbound marketing strategy around your customers.
You should firstly start by mapping out a customer journey. How will your customer find you from what they are looking for? Google is not only a powerful search engine, but it's also a problem solver for your clients. They will be typing in their questions or problems into Google looking for answers. As a business, you need to identify what these questions are, and build content around shaping the answer.
Tools such as Keyword Planner and SEMRush allow you to identify the search terms your customers are looking for. You can pinpoint how popular a search is, and therefore use this as the wireframe for your content strategy.
Once you have identified the solutions, you can start to plan out your content strategy. From the problems your customers have and the questions they ask, write down the many different ways you can solve this. For example, if you were a private school, the chances are your customers (paying parents) will want to know the difference between an independent school and a state funded public school. You can therefore write an article on "The differences between independent and state schools" to start with.
If you want to go one step further, identify a number of key points you can then discuss in the article. If you can write about five key points relating to this subject, the title then transforms to "Five differences between independent and state schools". This gives your reader an insight into how short/long your article will be, and it provides them with the objective of reading all five points as opposed to a chunk of text. Give them a clear action point to take at the end of your content as well. Contact options are normally the most common, whether that be a link to a contact us page on your website, or to a form fill / phone number. Always strive for a variation in call to actions (CTAs), from contact us to click here for more information, or even downloadable content.
Downloadable content can be a powerful tool, allowing your users to download pieces of information that are perhaps too lengthy to be displayed on your web page. Crucially, they can also be used as a method of lead generation / lead capture. This is where a user is required to give you their details in order to complete the download.
Of course, such details need to be stored and used correctly within GDPR procedures, but this allows you to open up a whole new level of content marketing through email campaigns. You can then distribute relevant content in a tailored multi-channel approach depending on what your users have downloaded.
Are there any cons to inbound marketing?
The saying "patience is a virtue" is certainly true when it comes to inbound marketing. The reliance on building trust means this is a strategy that doesn't just deliver results overnight.
It takes time.
To succeed at inbound marketing, you need to allocate yourself a realistic time to expect results. It will likely be six to nine months before you see a significant return on your investment, and that's only if you are consistent with your efforts.
You shouldn't be disheartened if you haven't seen any traction in a matter of days or even weeks. Inbound marketing is a long-term commitment, not a quick fling.
It can be difficult to measure ROI.
The very concept of inbound marketing makes tracking ROI somewhat difficult if you don't have the right systems in place. For example, PPC (pay-per-click) strategies allow you to see how much cash you have invested, and the number of clicks generated from this. An instant measurable ROI. With inbound strategies, you will be churning out awesome content like a chocolate factory. But, that content isn't going to get you leads straight away in the grand scheme of things. It can even take multiple pieces of content to create conversions (hence the need for multiple levels of content).
When you throw social media and email marketing into the mix, inbound marketing becomes the finesse of juggling multiple plates with content tailored to each platform. Not only does it then become a long-term strategy to generate leads, it also becomes heavily time-consuming generating this content.
Putting in all this time and effort into the content, only to not generate instant results, can be disheartening. This is where many companies fall down on inbound marketing strategies. They expect instant results and when they simply fail to deliver this expectation, the strategy is shelved. This defies the entire point of inbound marketing and ultimately building trust.
If you want to properly track your ROI through inbound marketing, you will likely need a dedicated CRM software (such as Hubspot). This allows you to see all of your marketing touchpoints that a user will interact with. You can also monitor what your users are clicking on and how long they are staying on pages courtesy of Google Analytics. If you have created a 2,000 word piece of content, and users are only spending 30 seconds on your web page, you can be certain they aren't digesting it.
The main benefit to any form of digital inbound marketing however, is that it will always be easier to track than traditional methods of marketing!
It requires a diverse skill set.
Inbound marketing is a multi-platform art. It requires the craftmanship to take words and shape them into sentences that pop out in front of your audience. You need to be able to captivate them. Inform them. Educate them. It requires someone to understand the principals of SEO, how to target keywords and the best practices for landing on page one of Google. It also requires someone with a firm grasp of social media; not only how the landscape changes and which platforms best serve your purpose, but also the tone of voice each platform has. Instagram is a very visual platform for example, so you would be looking to promote your content as vibrantly as possible. LinkedIn, on the other hand, can require a slightly elevated professional approach, with the platform predominantly aimed at working professionals.
There is a saying in marketing that content is king. Inbound marketing is all about content, so to succeed at this strategy, you will need to have firm understanding of, or work with someone who recognises the importance of long-term content strategies. It's also important to recognise how time-consuming fleshing out a committed long-term inbound marketing strategy is, as well as producing it entirely and seeing it through to delivery. That's why I help companies and professionals just like you to create compelling content strategies for the long-term, and promise to deliver on them from end to end.
Are you in need of attracting visitors to your website and keeping them engaged, rather than endlessly chasing customers like cars? Then I'd be more than happy to help. Get in touch or connect with me on LinkedIn and let's take a look at your requirements and inbound marketing journey together!