Inbound marketing: how (and why) to get started

It’s a foregone conclusion that people hate advertising, right? More accurately, they hate interruption. They hate anything that takes them away from what they are doing in any given moment. Yet that’s the premise of most forms of advertising.

When the internet presented itself to marketers, many thought they could just replicate what they did offline in the online world. In other words, create video pre-rolls, interstitials and banners. All that accomplished (barring the first few years when everyone clicked on everything because, well, it was novel and new) was banner blindness and a rabid hatred of anything that got in the way of one’s online activities. Couple that with the DVR offline and things began to look bleak for marketers.

Now that marketers have realized interruption is not the way to go and the internet has given people the ability to find exactly what they want at the exact moment they want it, they have discovered that educational, informative content is what people want and need. And they have discovered that that very content can also be used to market their brands.

This “discovery” yielded what is now known as content marketing or inbound marketing. There are similarities and differences between the two, though I prefer the more all-encompassing term “inbound marketing.”

What is inbound marketing?

Simply put, inbound marketing is a process that attracts buyers and converts them to leads. It gently leads them down the path to a sale by offering them information that answers their questions and builds trust in your brand. And it’s all done without annoying, interruptive, outbound advertising. How does it work?

Basically, the process begins with content creation. Which, by the way, is easily done with a corporate blog…a content platform that has truly become the uber ad unit that does it all.

As a brand, you likely have much to say about your product, how it can be used and how it can benefit your customers. Developing informative and educational content allows you to convey the purpose of your brand in a way that doesn’t sound like a car dealer screaming at you while holding a bunch of balloons in one hand and a waving flag in the other.

That content — which, if published following proper SEO practices, will present itself in search results when people come looking for information about the category your brand serves — can be used to cultivate and generate leads through marketing offers (e.g. ebooks, webinars, whitepapers, etc.) placed adjacent to the content.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because those marketing offers generate leads (and email contact information) through forms used to download the offer, email marketing can be used to offer additional content to leads with the aim of moving them further down the purchase funnel by pointing them to landing pages on which additional product or brand information can be obtained. The use of social media (paid and organic) can be used to further disseminate content.

With each customer touch point and by using segmentation and lead nurturing, more specific information can be offered to answer a consumer’s questions, build trust, get them comfortable with your brand and, ideally, get them to buy.

Check out this very informative infographic created by IMPACT Branding & Design, which neatly and concisely takes you through the entire inbound marketing process.

How does inbound marketing benefit a brand?

Research recently compiled by Demand Metric found 90% of organizations currently market with content and spend 25% or their marketing budget to do so. 78% of CMOs see content marketing as the wave of the future. Per dollar spent, content marketing generates about three times as many leads as traditional marketing and it costs 62% less.

Why does it work? Eighty percent of people say they enjoy learning about a company through custom content, 90% find it useful and 60% seek out a product or brand after having read about it. And 70% prefer to learn about a company through an article as opposed to an ad. Which is exactly what inbound marketing delivers.

Because inbound marketing is 100% trackable and every action can be attributed to a particular piece of content (blog post, landing page, call-to-action offer), brands can get a very clear picture of which marketing efforts are generating the best ROI. And when you come right down to it, aside from the ultimate metric of sales, ROI is what matters most and what your CEO needs to know in order to approve your next marketing budget request.

How to get started with inbound marketing

Inbound marketing starts with content. You need a home for this content. Where’s the best place for all this content to reside? On a blog. If you don’t already have a blog, launch one now. Here’s an 11-step process from the Content Marketing Institute.

Create content for that blog in the form of blog posts that don’t directly sell your product but share useful tips and information about how people can better approach a situation or solve a problem in an area your brand serves. Create videos, eBooks, whitepapers, webinars, podcasts and infographics that address concerns your brand or product can address.

For example, if your brand makes an electric wall socket that’s actually a security drawer to hide valuable items (yes, a product like that does exist), you could compose an article that covers the five steps one should take before going on vacation or how to hide valuables in plain sight. The article would offer tips, tricks and advice that are of value to the reader. This builds trust.

At the bottom of that blog post, you could place a call-to-action that would lead to a landing page on which they might find a whitepaper entitled The Top Ten Home Safety Concerns When Going on Vacation. That download allows you to capture a prospect’s email address and, perhaps, ask a few qualifying questions that can be used to more finitely target additional product offers based on their specific needs.

In essence, the gist of inbound marketing is to create useful, educational, valuable information that is findable when a prospect comes looking, builds trust in your brand because you have addressed a concern and allows you to capture, qualify and nurture leads that can be converted into customers.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.