Fast fact: Practicing inbound marketing results in 54% more leads than outbound marketing, according to HubSpot. But what exactly is inbound marketing, and how does it differ from the way most small businesses market themselves?
If you’ve ever been to one of those networking events where small business owners mingle and make contacts, you’ll probably know this guy: the “pusher.” The pusher shoves his business card in your hand, makes idle small talk that somehow revolves entirely about him, and disappears only when he detects a new victim he can push his card to.
Luckily, this type of event also happens to be the natural habitat of the “puller,” the one who earns your attention by taking an actual interest in your business. She offers tips and advice to overcome your challenges, and volunteers to send you some useful info if you give her your email address.
Those two characters, ladies and gentlemen, are the best examples of outbound marketing and inbound marketing. The first refers to traditional marketing that’s based on pushing and “interrupting” consumers via cold calling, flyers, and emails (as well as billboards and TV/radio spots for big companies). Problem is, studies show that consumers are becoming more and more resilient to that type of marketing: They throw away flyers, ignore mails, and even worse, don’t even see banners anymore, let alone click them.
So what does affect consumers these days? Well, according to a study published last year, 81% of customers go online and read before they make purchases. That’s where inbound marketing comes into play.
For example, when you think about marketing ideas for restaurants, coupons and print ads usually come to mind. But why not use the best types of content these businesses can offer? For instance, recipes are some of the most popular online attractions, so it’s only natural for a restaurant owner to open a blog with unique recipes—and then use that blog to encourage readers to visit their restaurant. A beauty salon owner, on the other hand, can easily create helpful videos that teach viewers how to create certain hairstyles. That way, when a potential customer searches online for a specific look, they are more likely to discover the video star’s beauty salon—especially if the video is particularly popular.
Of course, if you have a mobile app, inbound marketing is a great way to get people to download it. When consumers read your useful content and then want to stay in touch, it can help to suggest that they download your app to access even more quality content. You can also add content channels like a newsfeed, Facebook, and Instagram to practice inbound marketing within your app.
Now that you understand the value and meaning of inbound marketing, here are eight simple steps you can take to start off on the right foot:
As many successful entrepreneurs will tell you, the key to success in life starts with defining what you want to achieve. Answer the following questions:
- “What is my goal? Do I want to raise sales, get more app downloads, or get more reviews?”
- “Who is my target audience? What are their age, gender, and hobbies?”
- “What types of content are they looking for online? What content will bring them actual value?”
- “What sort of content can I provide to offer that information to them? Should I write a guide, shoot a short video, or publish a blog post?”
Have a pen handy? Go ahead and write your answers to all those questions now!
Once you’ve defined your goals, your audience, and the topics they’ll be interested in, you can start producing valuable content! A great way to start is by creating your own blog, as blogs are often considered to be at the heart of inbound marketing. You may want to use WordPress, a free do-it-yourself tool that allows you to create a blog, embed it in your existing website, and even get stats and data about your blog readers. If you don’t feel you have the skills to pull off strong written content, consider alternatives that show your expertise, such as instructional videos and product reviews.
If you choose blogging as a core part of your inbound strategy, keep in mind that too much text could become tiresome for the average consumer. Use interesting and relevant images to spice up your post and make it much more attractive. If you’re a good photographer, you can use images you took yourself, but you can also use free images from sites like Wikimedia Commons (just remember to give credit where needed).
One of the biggest challenges businesses face is not creating the inbound content itself, but figuring out how to convert readers into paying customers. The key is offering an effective call to action (CTA)—that short sentence that directs your readers to click, sign up, purchase, or otherwise act on the content they’ve just read. To make your CTA successful, keep these two factors in mind:
- Style: Your CTA should be actionable and answer the consumer’s eternal question: “What’s in it for me?” For instance, if you’re writing a product review and your goal is to increase your app downloads, you could end with a message like, “For more professional product reviews that save you time and money, click and download our app,” followed by a hyperlink.
- Position: Your CTA should be placed in a logical place within your content. For example, let’s take a health food shop owner who set out to increase orders through his website. He decides to write a post about the best types of food for energy throughout the day, including relevant products from his shop. At the end of the post, after reviewing the products, it’s only natural for him to close with, “For all the products listed here and many more that’ll give you an energy boost, click here.”
Now that you’ve created your content, your major mission is to spread it to your customers. Remember your social media channels? Now is the perfect time to post your content on Facebook and Twitter. Not only will you reach your fans directly, but you’ll also supply them with valuable information they long for, the stuff social media marketing gold is made off. Make sure to ask your fans to share the content posted in your updates and tweets.
Inbound marketing is a lot like parenting: It takes time, care, and learning from mistakes to make the best of it. Just like a parent wouldn’t expect their child to start running in their first month, you shouldn’t expect to see significant results immediately. Sure, some of the customers will click your CTA, but most customers will come, read, and go—and that’s OK. Inbound marketing is about creating long-term relationships. Even if they haven’t bought your product on their first visit, if they now know you supply quality content, ultimately they will be more inclined to read your next piece. Provide useful content, and you are bound to see the results on your platform’s statistics page.
Instead of getting discouraged if the statistics say certain types of content do not click with your customers, take it as a learning experience and continue to experiment. Choose a different topic, place the images in another location, or make subtle changes in the CTA. In the end, you’ll find the perfect formula that suits your clients.
Inbound marketing is an amazing tool, but that doesn’t mean you should rely solely on it. Instead, combine outbound and inbound techniques to create a killer strategy that customers won’t be able to resist. For instance, send an email with a free how-to blog post and a promotional discount to help drive sales. The key is to always offer actual value and then top it off with a tempting promotion.
If the past couple of years are any indication (and I think they are), inbound is only going to become a more powerful force in online marketing—increasing profits, boosting app downloads, and creating customer relationships. For those businesses still living in the outbound-dominated past, now is the time to start using inbound techniques to better reach customers.
What are your inbound marketing tips? Share them—or any questions—in the comments below.