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October 4, 2016

Inbound Marketing 101: What, why and how

Highly relevant, non-interruptive marketing designed to deliver qualified leads. Sound good? Here’s a primer…

What is inbound marketing?

The clue is in the name. Inbound marketing is designed to bring prospects to you, rather than you reaching out to them. It’s a heavily content-led approach, focused on the creation of material that answers queries, meets needs, reflects interests or solves problems. The content itself could be in any format – blog posts, videos, podcasts, eBooks, newsletters, whitepapers, social media posts. What matters is that it attracts customers at various stages of the purchase funnel.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The difference been inbound marketing and outbound marketing is often framed as “pull vs push”.

Inbound marketing seeks to pull people in by creating the kind of content they’re looking for, and putting in the places where they are likely to look. Instead of interrupting what the target audience is doing to send them a message, you’re making a genuine contribution to an active research or problem-solving process.

Outbound marketing tries to push people towards your site or content, using techniques and channels such as bulk email, broadcast advertising, unsolicited direct mail and cold calling. While these channels can still deliver relevant messages – you can target display advertising about VW cars to people who are interested in VW cars, for example – they generally seek to interrupt what the user is doing. (For instance: our VW ad might pop up while the user is reading a news website or browsing Facebook.)

Inbound marketing methodology

To get started with inbound marketing, you need to understand the basic customer journey. A simplified view breaks the journey into three clear stages: attract, convert and re-engage. Your goal is to create content that will pull in prospects at a given point in the journey, then move them on to the next step.

To achieve that, you need to know which channels and touchpoints your target customers are most likely to be receptive to at each stage of the journey.

inbound marketing methodology - 3 step process
  1. Attract

Inbound work strives to be relevant, timely and in context, and the key to that is an understanding of the user. You need to know their pain points, their questions, their goals, their interests and their media habits. Cue some solid research and data analysis on your part.

To attract prospects right at the beginning of the journey, you could find yourself using a variety of different media or channels – you might even use offline PR placements to encourage initial search queries
. But most commonly, ‘attract’ activity revolves around content tailored to organic search queries.

Whatever you do here should be guided by an overarching strategy that is rooted in your audience research. From there you’ll develop themes and insights that convert into relevant, appealing and well-placed content.

  1. Convert

Converting a visitor into a lead or customer is the next key step.  This often involves funnelling the user onto the right landing page through a clear calls to action (CTA).

To some extent it’s up to you what ‘conversion’ means. It isn’t necessarily a sale – though for obvious reasons, that’s the measure many businesses choose. But depending on your campaign goals there are several other actions and goals that could qualify as ‘conversions’, including:

  • Data capture
  • Booking a consultation
  • Subscription (to a newsletter, a social channel, etc)
  • Sharing content
  • Viewing a complete video
  • Downloading a brochure
  • Spending a specified time on page

User behaviour differs greatly from industry to industry, from product to product, and from journey stage to journey stage. So there’s no standard time to convert or conversion window. In fact, you might have multiple conversion types targeting different stages of your conversion window within the user journey.

  1. Re-engage

The final stage of the methodology is about re-engaging and nurturing the user post-conversion. Here the goal is to move them into a loyalty phase, increasing their lifetime value or even securing them as a brand ambassador.

Like the first two stages, this will be heavily based on your research and the strategy that emerged from it. But with a record of engagement and purchase behind you, you now have the benefit of understanding your customer to a greater degree. This is your opportunity to use it – take as much information as you can and turn it into something that adds genuine value.

Common channels for re-engage activity are email, remarketing and social media.

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