You spared no expense to get your product out there. Direct mail, print ads, TV commercials — you name it, you’ve tried it. And yet, none of these seem to generate anything even close to the leads you have in mind.
That’s because they’re all outbound strategies. It comprises 90 percent of marketing budgets in most organizations. Although said strategies have worked well in the past, they’ve also become increasingly expensive.
Case in point: As of 2011, 86 percent of Americans skip TV commercials, 44 percent don’t open direct mail. And 200 million are on the FTC’s “Do Not Call” list. Had you stuck with these tactics during the past five years, you would’ve flushed a significant chunk of your marketing budget down the drain.
Fortunately, there’s an approach that’s not only less expensive, but also more effective in helping you achieve your marketing goals. It’s called inbound marketing.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Simply put, this type of marketing is about getting customers to come to you, rather than the other way around. Instead of having you pay for ads that are a hit-or-miss in their ability to reach and convert potential buyers, inbound marketing adds value to your product by tying it with the most valuable currency in the Digital Age: information.
Because information is now literally at everyone’s fingertips, customers have more ways to find, research and make decisions before they purchase. As a result, they’re more discerning about what they consume, and are less likely to be swayed by traditional hard sell tactics. That’s where the softer approach of inbound marketing comes in.
How Inbound Marketing Works
There are four stages of inbound marketing: attract, convert, close and delight.
- This is where you produce unique, engaging and informative content for your customers. Content can come in the form of blog posts, videos, slide shows, infographics and other media. Find the one that best conveys your brand’s marketing message.
The goal here is to become an indispensable source of information. Increase your website’s potential to attract traffic by answering your customers’ questions, addressing their pain points and encouraging them to like, share and comment on your posts via social media.
- Once you’ve successfully attracted eyeballs to your site, your next step is to turn those eyeballs into customers. You can do this by creating landing pages, capturing contact details via sign up forms and writing effective calls-to-action (CTAs). To encourage customers to respond favorably to your CTA, you can also offer freebies like e-books, white papers and webinars.
- Based on data you’ve gathered from the preceding stages, you can further refine your marketing strategy. You can profile your audience, one of the essential components of inbound marketing, and determine which strategies work best, and which need to be scrapped.
This is also the stage where you give a gentle nudge to reluctant leads — that is, those who register as conversions on your site, but haven’t actually purchased anything. You can bring them into the fold via Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems, e-mails about useful and relevant content on your blog and marketing automation.
- Of course, you can’t forget about customers once they’ve written the check. It’s also important to maintain and strengthen existing relationships, as well as establish new ones. Keep customers engaged via surveys, contests and personalized conversations via social media. When you’re willing to show your brand’s human side, it can go a long way.
Will Inbound Marketing Work for Your Business?
To be sure, some businesses will benefit more from inbound marketing than others. According to Weidert Group president Greg Linnemanstons, inbound marketing works best when:
- You sell “considered” products. If customers need to think long and hard before they purchase your product, lest they suffer serious ramifications, inbound marketing can help you put them at ease.
- You’ve invested significantly in outbound lead generation strategies. As mentioned earlier, outbound marketing can be expensive. If cold calls, PPC ads and trade shows haven’t worked for you, inbound marketing can be a less costly alternative.
- You rely heavily on requests for proposal (RFPs). Submitting RFPs to each and every client, especially when you’re a contractor or consultant, can be time-consuming. Instead, you can forward clients a link to your website. They can get all the information they need about your products and services.
- You’re targeting international customers. Obviously, shipping print ads and paying for TV commercials across the globe isn’t practical. When you market through a vehicle accessible to anyone in the world (i.e. the Internet) instead, you can broaden your pool of potential customers without breaking your marketing budget.
- You have a real competitive advantage. In order to create meaningful content about your product, it has to have something that sets it apart from its competitors. That “something” must not be easily replicated, and be able to add value to your customers.
For example, let’s say you sell flower-printed hockey helmets for women. If female hockey players don’t really care what’s on their helmet as long as it protects their head, the product won’t have any “real” competitive advantage. But if the helmet provides additional protection, or enhances a player’s game in some way, it will turn heads (and open wallets).
In other words, it doesn’t matter how big or small your business is. If it meets one or more of the criteria mentioned above, inbound marketing strategies may be your best bet.
Should You Hire an Inbound Marketing Manager?
It depends. If you have the skill set, the time and the resources to perform inbound marketing all by yourself, then by all means go for it. Otherwise, you’ll want to build an inbound marketing team from the ground up. You can also hire an inbound marketing agency, which will save you the effort of training an entire group. Either way, make sure you carefully consider the pros and cons of in-house vs. outsourced teams.
Done right, inbound marketing can be the best thing that happens to your business. It can generate the highest number of quality leads, keep customers loyal and free up your marketing budget. Most importantly, it can help your business survive the Digital Age and beyond, so plan it out carefully.