When you have a problem, do you turn on the TV and hope you see an ad for the solution? Or do you put on your researcher hat and proactively find what you need? Now that Google dominates the world, the vast majority of us scurry over to our favorite search widget whenever we have a question that needs a timely answer. In other words, inbound marketing helps you build genuine connections by telling stories that matter to people who want to hear them.

How's your current content plan?

Inbound marketing is a subset of content marketing that revolves around three experiences that you can provide your prospects:

  • Content that piques a prospect’s interest and attracts them to your brand as a trusted guru in your field or industry with easily digestible insights
  • Content that provides deep insight that your engaged prospect can use to combat their pain points and reach their goals
  • Content that supports and empowers the post-purchase buyer to find delight with your product, service, or brand

When your customers are thrilled by a product and feel like you’ve been listening to their needs every step of the journey, this creates an infinite loop of pleased customers who become delighted promoters. Those promoters spread the word about their fantastic experience to attract a constant stream of new prospects.

That’s really what makes inbound marketing so powerful. The investment it takes to acquire each customer turns into momentum that fuels the cycle.

As your strategy gains velocity, it can scale progressively larger—your devoted promoter base grows exponentially with time and with the continuous stream of intrigued prospects and happy customers.

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Who should use inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing works for anyone who wants a balanced content marketing strategy. Chances are, you’re already using inbound tactics such as email campaigns or social media promotion.

You should use inbound marketing if you want to:

  • Get hotter leads (and more of them)
  • Position yourself as a valuable partner
  • Create delightful customer experiences
  • Spend less on customer acquisition
  • Build authentic customer relationships
  • Boost brand and product awareness

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The inbound methodology

The inbound methodology is about valuing your prospects and customers and empowering them to invite you on their journey.

That’s right—this framework dictates that the prospect or buyer is always the one in the driver’s seat.

Expect potential leads to turn into prospects only if they’re attracted to your content and decide that your brand is a valuable partner in knowledge. That’s when they’ll invite you along for the ride (your opportunity to engage them by hitting their pain points and delight them by supporting their success with your product).

An inbound marketing strategy moves leads, prospects, and customers through three stages:

  • Attract
  • Engage
  • Delight
Attract Strangers and Prospects

Every prospect begins the inbound sales cycle as a stranger, and your job is to attract them to your brand.

It starts with knowing your ideal prospect, and buyer so you can get inside their head and think about their problems from their point-of-view. You can anticipate their questions and position your answers to be found at the perfect moment.

From there, potential prospects do all the work by searching for the content they need and (hopefully) stumbling upon yours.

Engage Prospects and Customers

When an inbound prospect stumbles upon your content and decides that you’re a valuable source of information or value, that’s your opportunity to engage them and prove that you really do know their pain points. Nothing makes a prospect more ready to convert than feeling understood and heard!

Now’s the time to introduce the solution to your audience’s problem. How does your solution alleviate the reader’s stress and make their life easier? What’s the value of your solution compared to others that your audience may be considering?

Delight Customers and Promoters

Your work isn’t done once the prospect decides they like your solution. Now it’s time to delight each newfound customer by providing support, expertise, and continuing value.

The more in tune you are with each customer, the more likely it is that they’ll become promoters and shout your praises from the rooftops. You can’t underestimate the power of a passionate brand advocate!

What sets inbound apart from outbound marketing

Outbound marketing is the traditional old-school methodology in which the marketer reaches out with a message in a format like cold calling, print and media advertising, or cold emailing. You’re spreading your message far and wide to as many potential customers as you can (regardless of the likelihood that they’ll become a customer).

There are a few problems with this approach:

  • Outbound marketing requires far more resources to acquire each customer since you’re not distinguishing between hot (likely to convert) and cold leads.
  • Your audience is hit with over 2000 outbound marketing intrusions every day and that’s a lot of noise to cut through.
  • Today’s customers prefer to be in control of the discovery process by researching problems and solutions, and outbound excludes these customers.

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The average person isn’t turning to a print magazine or waiting for a sales rep to email them with the solution they desperately need. Inbound marketing empowers these prospects to come to their own conclusion that your solution is the right one for them.

An inbound strategy pulls the prospect toward the Buyer’s Journey while an outbound one pushes them into it. Inbound strategies put your content in front of the consenting viewer’s eye, while outbound marketing intrudes on the viewer by interrupting their experience.

Inbound content revolves around specific insights and answers—for instance, an email newsletter covering this quarter’s niche trends in your industry; or a blog post that hones in on a complicated problem (that requires a high-quality answer). Outbound content offers a generic perspective that may be broadly interesting to a big audience, but won’t bring real value to anyone in your industry.

Plus—and this is an important difference—the returns from inbound marketing tend to be exponential and cumulative as you keep working at it and long after. With outbound marketing, the ROI drops as soon as you slow down or plateau.

The inbound flywheel outpaces the sales funnel

Inbound marketing revolves around the flywheel, a cyclical framework for lead generation that HubSpot adopted when they outgrew the sales funnel.

Today’s customers expect more than a transaction. They want a partnership; a relationship that continues to provide value long after the first purchase. Sales funnels are useful, but they don’t address the customer relationship beyond conversion.

The inbound flywheel allows you to prioritize business growth and customer delight simultaneously simply by focusing on the customer experience and harnessing the natural momentum that results.

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Flywheels are vehicles for storing kinetic energy. In the world of inbound marketing, that energy comes from the buyer’s movement through the phases and buyer stages:

  • When you Attract Strangers, they become Prospects
  • Engaging with Prospects helps them decide to become Customers
  • Delighting Customers encourages them to Promote your brand

As you continue to Delight Promoters, they’ll repay the value by Attracting targeted Strangers who become Prospects with a little engagement on your part.

There are two other ways to keep the flywheel momentum going, and you need all of them:

  • Invest in inbound strategies that generate constant force to keep the flywheel spinning
  • Target friction with a vengeance by finding points where your prospects and customers are dropping off (and smoothing those points over)

Learn more: Find out how the flywheel covers critical gaps in the sales funnel (and how to apply it to your inbound strategy).

Inbound marketing focuses on the Buyer’s Journey

The Buyer’s Journey is an upgrade to the sales funnel—the stages (Awareness, Consideration, Decision) are similar, but how the prospect moves through them couldn’t be more different.

Instead of a passive process that the lead moves through, the Buyer’s Journey is the active research process that leads up to a buyer’s purchase.

Contrary to popular belief, prospects don’t want you to sell to them, close a deal, or demo them. What they do want is the ability to independently find a solution to a problem they have, and that’s where you come in.

Marketers can use the buyer's journey to create different content at every stage -creating educational content that aligns with the current state of your business.

- Courtney Sembler, HubSpot Academy Education Manager
Awareness Stage

At this step, a prospect is thinking about their problem and researching it. They want to understand and name their problem, and they want you to validate their distress. At this point, the buyer isn’t necessarily looking to choose a solution: they just want a solid foundation on which to make decisions later.

Consideration Stage

During the Consideration stage, the prospect knows exactly what the problem is, and they’re confident in their understanding. Now they’re beginning to research the possible solutions—hopefully your product or service is one—and start sizing up their options before making a commitment.

Decision Stage

Now, the prospect has all the information they need to make an informed decision. They know their options and the pros and cons of each, and the hope is that they’ll land on your solution as their savior.

So... Are you nailing inbound or nailing your palm to your face?

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Inbound marketing solves real problems

Not only does inbound marketing solve problems for your prospects and buyers; it tackles some of the most pervasive marketing challenges too.

Lead generation

Inbound marketing can help you reel in the leads at a reduced cost and with less time and effort. Those customers that you work so hard to attract and engage turn into delighted promoters willing to shout your praises from the rooftops. There aren’t many lead generation tools more powerful than word-of-mouth!

Promoters aside, the content that you publish online has a long shelf life. Your blog and gated content can continue to bring in leads months or years after publication, especially with regular updates!

Search engine visibility

Because the entire focus of inbound marketing is making yourself easy to find, your SEO naturally improves when you go inbound.

Inbound marketing shares some principles with SEO best practice, including:

  • Building content around relevant and focused keywords: Your readership is looking for answers to specific questions, and your content should target those questions as closely as possible.
  • Following an internal and external link strategy: Building a network of links can be as easy as referencing old blog posts in new ones, or linking a relevant video when you post a case study.

Prioritizing quality over quantity: Search engines know when your content is hard to follow and not interesting to the reader. Write for the reader, not the algorithm—Google can tell the difference.

Offering value

Lasting partnerships start with adding value. What have you done to establish yourself as valuable to your reader base?

Your blog is an excellent place to start—it’s real estate for all the expert information you’re about to share with your loyal readership. Sharing knowledge helps readers feel like they’ve gained value in the form of rare insight that helps them in a tangible way.

The best way to offer value through your blog is through careful topic generation. What are the questions that your readers can’t answer, but need to? What do you know that could make your readers’ lives easier, or help them get a better experience out of your solution?

Learn more: Find out how blogs can help you add value by establishing your expert reputation and acting as an informative library for your readers.

Brand identity

Inbound marketing helps you define your brand identity, which is important in a world where buyers make snap judgments about value propositions from the look and feel of the brand.

Your brand identity is a conglomerate of:

  • Your values
  • Your vision
  • Your “secret sauce”一what makes you better than the competition?

It’s also a reflection of who your buyers and brand advocates are, since people tend to select brands that they personally identify with.

The content that you produce to support your inbound strategy speaks to your values and personality as a brand. Consistent content over time establishes your brand voice and makes it 100% clear to your audience who you are and why you’re here.

How to create a powerful inbound marketing strategy

If you’ve made it this far, hopefully you’re convinced that inbound marketing is potentially the best thing that could ever happen to you and your brand. (It’s true!)

Not so fast, though—like any strategic planning, creating an inbound marketing strategy that works takes time and methodical thought.

The strategy must support the outcome that you want—while inbound is fundamentally fairly simple, there are a million ways to implement it, and none of them are wrong. They’re just designed to support certain goals and not others.

Define your goal

Start with a clear, measurable goal before deciding what inbound channels, tools, and content types to use.

One of the best goal-setting frameworks in marketing is the SMART method. Try creating a goal that’s:

  • Specific: Don’t leave any question about what you’re trying to accomplish. If you tell your team the quarterly goal is to “boost ROI,” they’re going to groan.
  • Measurable: Can you say without a doubt when you’ve reached your goal? “Grow my email list” is not a measurable goal, but “Reach 1000 email subscribers” is!
  • Attainable: Unrealistic goals are morale killers, so pick targets you can actually meet (no one doubles their conversion in a week)
  • Relevant: How does this goal fit into the bigger picture of your inbound marketing strategy? What larger goal does it help you support?
  • Time-Bound: When will you accomplish this goal? Setting a deadline helps keep you accountable and prevents your goal from dropping out of sight.

Learn more: Set the right inbound marketing goals by mapping out what you want to accomplish, whether it’s more social followers or a bigger blog presence.


Work with the right channels for the flywheel stage

You can execute inbound marketing in plenty of marketing channels, but you’ll get the best outcome if you tailor the channels you use to each stage of the flywheel.

Channels for Attracting Strangers and Prospects

When potential leads are trying to solve a complicated problem or find an expert answer, the easiest way to attract them is by publishing top-level educational blog posts, but that’s not where it ends. You also need to help them find your blog.

At this stage, you’ll use your expertise to build a value-packed blog and promote it using these channels:

  • Search Engine Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing

Channels for Engaging Prospects

When potential turns into a prospect, it’s time to engage them and keep their attention. Now prospects are looking for a trust-based relationship, and it’s your job to show them why you’re the best fit.

The best channels for relationship-building in the Engage stage include:

  • Email Marketing
  • Retargeting
  • Social Media Marketing

Channel for Delighting Customers and Promoters

Your job isn’t over when a prospect decides to become a customer. To the contrary, it’s just beginning!

During the Delight stage, you’ll focus on cultivating value for your customer, which in turn leads to a frictionless relationship and joyful customer experience. If you really woo them, they might ascend to a Promoter and spread the word about your message and solution.

The right channels for Delighting customers and deepening relationships include:

  • Email Marketing
  • Retargeting
  • Self-Service Channels (e.g. Knowledge Hubs, Resource Centers)
  • Live Chats and Chatbots
  • Loyalty Programs
Choose the right content for each stage of the Buyer’s Journey

The content you use is just as important as the channels you choose. Your buyer has different needs at every stage of the journey, so the content you deliver has to be tailored to what they’re seeking.

Learn more: Discover the high-converting content that dominates inbound marketing at every part of the Buyer’s Journey.

Content for the Awareness Stage

At this stage, your buyer knows they have a problem, and they need to find an expert to help them understand it. You’re the expert, and you can support the buyer in this stage by producing content that establishes your knowledge and reputation and adds value to the buyer’s experience.

The best content for the Awareness stage includes:

  • Blog Posts
  • Social Media Posts
  • Whitepapers and Ebooks
  • Tip Sheets
  • Workbooks, Tools, and Kits
  • How-To Videos
  • Webinars

Content for the Consideration Stage

Moving on to the Consideration stage means your buyer is confident that they know the root of the problem and understand it completely. Now they’re ready to start sizing up their options, including your solution.

You can convince the buyer in the Consideration stage that your solution is the right one by offering:

  • Comparison Guides
  • Case Studies

Content for the Decision Stage

Your buyer is making a list, they’re checking it twice, and you know the rest. Hopefully you’ve been nice this year. (Or merciless at executing your inbound strategy.)

Now’s when your buyer compares your product to the competition and scrutinizes every option and feature. To help your solution hold up to the heat, you can offer content that aids in the decision-making process:

  • Live Demos
  • Free Trials
  • Free Consultations
  • Email Offers and Deals

Measure, analyze, scale

Like any marketing strategy, inbound works best when you keep your finger on its pulse and make adjustments as needed.

That means an agile approach that includes:

  • Identifying the KPIs that matter to you
  • Measuring and reporting them consistently
  • Analyzing them and drawing conclusions
  • Going back to the drawing board when necessary

The KPIs you should follow vary based on your goals and strategy, but many inbound marketers start with some of these:

  • Website Conversion
  • Organic Search Performance
  • Social Media Conversion
  • Landing Page Conversion
  • Qualified Leads Conversion
  • Customer Acquisition Cost

Why it pays to adopt inbound marketing

Implementing a fully-baked inbound marketing strategy is the best decision you could make for your brand. When it’s well-planned and well-executed, a great inbound marketing strategy can help you achieve:

  • More traffic
  • Better quality leads
  • More leads
  • More conversions
  • Brand loyalty

What marketers and businesses say about inbound

  • 75% of inbound teams report that their marketing strategy is effective (HubSpot)
  • 72% of businesses report that inbound marketing increased their leads over 6 months (Visual Objects)
  • 55% report that their conversions increased over 6 months (Visual Objects)

The cost of inbound marketing

  • Businesses that use inbound marketing save over $14 per acquired customer (HubSpot)
  • Businesses with a lead nurturing strategy close 50% more sales and spend 33% less acquiring them (Weidert)
  • 5 months of consistent inbound marketing drops the average cost per lead by 80% (Eloqua)
  • Inbound leads cost 60% less than outbound leads (HubSpot)

Inbound lead generation and conversion

  • 53% of marketers report higher ROI from inbound (HubSpot)
  • Leads nurtured with inbound marketing spend 47% more (Annuitas)
  • Inbound strategies are 10 times more effective at generating leads (Gartner)

The edge over outbound marketing

  • 92% of marketers say outbound marketing is not the best source of high-quality leads (Weidert)
  • 79% of businesses have moved on to inbound marketing (HubSpot)
  • 30% of marketers say outbound marketing is overrated (Weidert)
  • Outbound marketing strategies generate under a third of the leads compared to inbound (Weidert)
  • Businesses with a lead nurturing strategy close 50% more sales and spend 33% less acquiring them (Weidert)

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Here’s what you need to remember about inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is a valuable methodology that anyone can use to generate leads, build relationships, and create customer value. Its Attract, Engage, Delight stages are completely focused on the buyer experience, which was never the case with the traditional sales funnel.

That’s what makes inbound marketing so effective—today’s buyers want to understand their own problem and find their own solution. They aren’t interested in being bombarded with non-consenting outbound messages that don’t get to the root of the issue. Instead, they’re in the driver’s seat actively seeking out each touchpoint along the Buyer’s Journey.

The focus on curating a delightful customer experience creates momentum, and you can harness that energy to:

  • Increase passive and active lead generation
  • Get your content seen by the right searchers
  • Establish your reputation as a valuable partner
  • Define your brand identity and value proposition

You can put inbound marketing to work for you—all it takes is defining your endgame, deciding how to fill your strategic toolbox, and analyzing your results so you know what to do next. You can scale your inbound strategy forever and measure its progress in a million different ways!

Outbound ROI is dropping with every gain for inbound, so what are you waiting for? It’s time to lay your outbound tactics to rest and get on board with the rest of the marketing world. Inbound marketing is already the standard, so you can’t afford to keep waiting.

If you know inbound marketing is for you but you don’t have the time, resources, or manpower to get your strategy off the ground, ContentBacon can help. We live and breathe inbound, and we’re always thinking about the customer’s story.

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