I’ve just been introduced to a friend of a friend when he asks me the obligatory, “so what do you do for a living?” Instead of just saying “marketing” or “freelancing” I reflexively answer, “inbound marketing.” The puzzled look on his face says it all.
I am always surprised when people —business owners and even marketers— do not know what inbound is or are, at the very least, unsure. The good news is, it prompted me to really think about a few things, that to be honest, I hadn’t thought about in a while; things like what my definition of inbound marketing is, how it began, who is leading this ship, and where is it headed?
What is Inbound Marketing?
First, I believe it is, hand’s down, the best way to turn an information seeker into a loyal customer and your company’s biggest cheerleader. Technically, though, it is a business approach to reach customers at any stage of the buying process by providing them with relevant content and information that helps to support their ultimate decision-making process. Therefore, it isn’t interruptive and salesy but rather focuses on their needs. Unlike other types of marketing, inbound helps clients find you through the more engaging mediums like blogs, social media, and of course SEO.
Outbound marketing, which still has its place, reaches out to customers and must vie for their attention. As the “click open” rate of traditional email marketing decreased, marketing through the inbound channels increased.
The following five elements are included in most inbound marketing strategies:
1. High-value Authority Content.
Whether you create a white paper, essential guide, or ebook, make this content available in exchange for an email sign-up. This in-kind exchange is the beginning of transactional relationship building.
2. Newsletter Content.
Another transactional relationship where in exchange for permission to email your client you are providing valuable information, as well you are building trust —by promising to keep their email address and personal information to yourself.
3. Selective Keyword Optimization.
Many argue that keyword SEO is not as important as it once was, however, it cannot be ignored as part of a sound inbound marketing strategy. The key is to focus on fewer keywords that are most valuable to your goals. Create special pages on your website that highlight those keywords specifically, with quality well-written content.
4. Incorporate Social Media.
Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Periscope, and Snapchat are just a few of the many social media channels —and the list grows weekly. Know where to find your target audience and engage them there. One of the biggest mistake brands make is not interacting with their customers via social media.
5. Content Content Content.
Blog posts, authority content, guest posts By creating content that addresses the specific pain point your customers are experiencing, you have the potential of not only winning their business but creating a real relationship, where your role is that of a trusted advisor. This type of content brings authority to your brand while building confidence and credibility.
Quick History of Inbound Marketing
The term “inbound marketing” was first used circa 2006, by HubSpot CEO, Brian Halligan. However, Seth Godin first wrote about a type of “permission marketing” that included a lot of similar processes way back in 1999. I’m happy to let those guys duke it out for credit.
If you want to know the truth of the matter, in the late 1800s Sears and Roebuck did something that certainly bears a resemblance to what we think of today as inbound marketing. Each year the company sent out catalogs mostly to farmers that included tips, homespun advice, and best practice guides all the while tempting them with ads for the farm implements, tools, clothing, and homesteading products they knew would be helpful and appealing.
As I stroll down marketing memory lane, I have to mention the contributions of Regis McKenna; who is known for the popular adage, “marketing is everything.” In his 1999 book, “Relationship Marketing: Successful Strategies for the Age of the Customer,” he posited that an organization’s focus should be on satisfying their customers. This he assured would create lasting relationships over time. Many companies attempt this with a “customer is always right” policy, but fail to take it to the next level by facilitating those relationships.
Inbound Marketing Influencers & Thought Leaders
So, in addition to the pioneers, there are several more luminaries we look to when considering the current state and the future of inbound marketing.
Dharmesh Shah – The MIT grad and co-founder of HubSpot has said,
“Customers are usually very good at identifying their problems, not so much the solutions.” @dharmesh
I believe this is the very essence of inbound marketing. You must be equal parts empath and problem solver. In addition to his ongoing role at HubSpot, he is active in helping entrepreneurs and startups achieve success through his blog, www.OnStartups.com. Here, he actively addresses the pain points of his 500,000 followers or as he calls them “community members.”
Neil Patel – He is one of the most sought-after consultants in marketing today. Luckily for us, we can gain from his valuable insights at his website, neilpatel.com, where he shares his process for “turning ice cold prospects into valuable customers;” you guessed it, through inbound marketing. One piece of advice I liked was,
“All content is not created equal. Some content will go viral, generating tons of hot traffic to your blog, while other content will be lost in the archives. If you want more of the first kind, you’ve got to put your readers first.” – @neilpatel
Rand Fishkin – CEO of the SEO mothership, MOZ, Fishkin hosts the jargon-busting videocast segment called Whiteboard Fridays. Here he explains the complexity of search engine optimization and marketing strategies in terms we can actually understand. He talks openly about his personal failures and successes giving us an often humorous glimpse of the realities of modern marketing.
“I’ve come to recognize that SEO will always carry a rough reputation, much like ‘used car salesman’ or ‘wrongful injury attorney’ or ‘member of congress.'” – @randfish
Guy Kawasaki – If you have ever heard of the term “evangelism marketing” this is the guy responsible. No surprise that he got his start at the tech cult, um company, Apple, where he, in fact, held the position of “Chief Evangelist.” He now holds the same position at the company Canva. As well, he represents top brands like Mercedes.
“When you enchant people, your goal is not to make money from them or to get them to do what you want, but to fill them with great delight.” – @guykawasaki
Gary Vaynerchuk – Marketing guru, CEO, investor, serial entrepreneur, YouTube personality, and influencer are just of the few adjectives I can use to describe this guy. He started working at his family’s small wine business at the age of 14, and by the time he graduated from college he had grown that same business into a $60 million dollar enterprise.
“The incredible brand awareness and bottom-line profits achievable through social media marketing require hustle, heart, sincerity, constant engagement, long-term commitment, and most of all, artful and strategic storytelling.” – @garyvee
John Jantsch – He is like your favorite uncle that gives the best advice, ever. Always humble, he bills himself as “the world’s most practical speaker.” In reality, his NY Times bestselling book, “Duct Tape Marketing” is packed full of actionable tips and real life experiences that highlight the importance of building relationships and taking the time to know your customer, deeply. He takes the concept of inbound marketing to the next logical step, inbound selling.
“For companies to succeed, moving forward they not only have to be able to produce content but personalize it, turn it into stories, add insights client by client and deliver extreme value along the journey from awareness to referral.” – @ducttape
Inbound Marketing is Evolving
Things change so fast in this business; sometimes it is hard to determine which came first: the disruption or the egg. The fact is that whether consumers are driving technology or technology is driving them, we as marketers and business owners have to be agile and ready to adapt.
One factor that I haven’t actually mentioned is the silent third-party to the relationship you have with your customer. While Google and the other lesser demons recognize the importance of content and in the “post-Panda” world, have somehow learned to acknowledge and reward quality content, they are still businesses. I hate to sound cynical, however, when organic SEO efforts fail, it may be time to consider paid SEM or Search Engine Marketing as a viable addition to your inbound marketing strategy.
This approach seems to be more and more necessary if you want to reach people with your message. We know our customer’s problems, we even feel their pain, we can help —respectfully with their permission. But not if they can’t find us. Fortunately, there are strategies available to extend your reach.
For example, it has been noted that frequency and freshness of content matter almost as much as its quality. I know what you are thinking —”I hardly have time to keep up with my measly one-blog-post-a-week schedule.” Me too!
Marketing automation platforms are a new technology that may be the perfect solution for reaching your target consumers wherever they are, with relevant content at precisely the right time.
As you continue to learn about all the components of inbound marketing and the ways it can turn a reluctant consumer into your company’s biggest fan. I hope you will reach out and let me know what you think. Is paid or sponsored advertising the next logical step? I’d love to hear your story and learn what your experience been with various forms of marketing.
Bio: Pamela Shows is an inbound marketing strategist and freelance copywriter based in the Southeast United States. She has an extensive background in healthcare and business. You can connect with her at her website Darn Fine Copy.