What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a method that focuses on attracting, engaging and delighting prospects and customers to help you grow a business. This cycle of attracting, engaging and delighting is known as the flywheel. The aim is to provide value to customers and build trust with them.

As technology shifts, making many things less human focused, inbound marketing offers a solution, encouraging business to be conducted in a more helpful, personal way. Inbound is a better way to market and sell, serving your customers with the things they want and need, meaning your business can grow better over the long term. So how do you know if it's time for your business to embrace inbound methods? Here are five signs you're inbound ready.

Sign 1: You want to learn about, listen to and react to your customers

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Most businesses will say their customers are at the heart of what they do, but how true is this in reality? It’s easy to say it, but doing it is another matter – inbound marketing offers you the opportunity to put clients and their needs first. If you’re already doing this – and want to improve even further – then you’re ready to try the inbound way. Luke Summerfield, Director of Inbound Marketing at Savvy Panda explains:

“The key is to create a strategic content strategy tailored around your personas and the stage of the buying cycle they are in. By doing this, you are providing valuable content geared directly towards that specific visitor. This helps move them down the buying cycle, answer their objections and build trust.”

One of the first steps in following the Inbound methodology is to create your buyer personas – which ESM Inbound has created a helpful tool to get you started with. These are fictional representations of your ideal customers where you take into account their pain points, needs, attitudes and habits, building as full a picture as possible of who it is you’re marketing to.

If you’re keen to really get to know your customers – through phone calls, face-to-face interactions and questionnaires amongst other methods – you’re already thinking in an inbound way. Firing out content at everyone in the hope that someone actually reads it – or worse, hassling people until they do – is the old-fashioned, outbound way. This way, you show you really care about your customer and want to adapt to their needs.

Sign 2: You already have loads of useful content

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Do you pride yourself on the high standard of work produced by your content team? Do you offer readers useful, helpful insights? Or if you don’t yet – do you have the resources and desire to do so? The inbound methodology is all about empowering your customers to help themselves, educating them and offering great content without expecting anything in return. As HubSpot explains:

“As an inbound service professional, you help your existing customers find answers to their questions, get help when they need it and how they want it, and enjoy their experience with you.”

Fantastic content – in the form of blog posts, downloadable offers, sales videos, podcasts, social media and emails – is at the heart of inbound. The idea is not to sell to prospects – this switches off many modern customers – but to educate and share great tips with them. If you create trusting bonds with users over time, consistently putting out valuable content to help them, they will come to consider you as a thought leader in your field; when they are ready to make a purchase, you’ll be the first ones they go to.

Repurposing your existing content to make it useful for new readers, or updating it to sound less ‘salesy’ and offer useful guidance instead, is a great way to begin your journey into inbound. Run an audit to find the great stuff you already have and try turning a blog post into a video or putting an existing resource behind a gated form as a content offer. You don’t have to create a load of brand new content from scratch, but reintroduce existing material with a twist to make it a less daunting process for you.

Sign 3: You want to adapt your business as technology changes

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Since first setting up your business you’ll already have experienced multiple changes in the way technology has progressed. You’ve embraced these as openly as possible, but you know you need to get even better with the advances being made to keep up with competitors – you’re open to changing, learning and growing. If this sounds like a fair description of your business, then inbound marketing could be an excellent direction for you. Thomas offers an example of this:

“While content like blogs, whitepapers, and infographics are still the central component of inbound marketing strategies, videos are now emerging as a powerful new tool. In fact, they now account for about 74% of all online traffic.”

Content is king – when Bill Gates said this in 1996, he was predicting the way businesses would need to adapt to develop rich content in the future. Over 20 years later, and he's still correct; inbound marketers keep this philosophy at the heart of their campaigns – but the forms of content are ever changing.

With the advent of smartphones, video technology and remote internet access, methods such as video calls, webinars and chatbots have become commonplace in many businesses. If you’re keen to give customers more control over how they communicate with you, spanning multiple social channels and showing your adaptability to fitting in with their lives through technological choices, you’re ready to embrace inbound marketing.

Sign 4: You want to build brand awareness

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Getting your message out there – your mission, values and purpose – is one of the most valuable things a business can do. Whereas, once upon a time, this was done through “shouting” at prospects on billboards, or making unwelcome cold calls, the modern marketing landscape is more subtle, yet more impactful than ever. The inbound process enables your business to become memorable, but your customers don’t feel pressurised. Protocol 80 puts this in simple terms:

“As with all inbound marketing strategies, your brand awareness strategies should not annoy or interrupt your target audience. It should place you in their field of view so they can approach you willingly, when they become interested.”

We can probably all think of a brand who are overly pushy and have bothered us with their constant interrupting. What do we do when we reach our limit with these companies? We unsubscribe from their mailing lists, ignore their calls, send angry emails asking to be removed from databases and certainly don’t make purchases with them.

Through inbound, you will learn the strategies to use that put your brand front and centre when prospects think of your industry, but learn how to hold back those negative associations of pushiness or aggression. By offering free consultations, obligation-free conversations, demonstrations and helpful how-to guides, your main target will be to help, not hassle, potential customers.

Sign 5: You like the idea of trialling, testing and learning

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If you’re constantly striving to do better and use analytics to decipher how your customers engage with your website, you’ve already got the beginnings of a great inbound marketer. In order to tailor content, offers and services to your audience, you need to be open to testing and trialling, understanding that you may not get things right first time – and that’s okay. You’re now in your learning zone – as Optimizely puts it:

“If there’s one thing you remember about inbound marketing, it’s the importance of tracking performance and refining your approach accordingly. This is where testing comes in too – discover what messaging, types of content, imagery, calls to action etc. work best for your target audience and ensure you implement these on a permanent basis, or in your next campaign.”

Great marketers don’t just “set and forget” their content. They trial a new approach – such as an updated CTA, email headline or video placement – or they A/B test to work out the most successful format for their customers. Marketers can advice you about best practice strategies – and there are plenty of these to learn about in the inbound methodology – but until you trial them for yourself, it’s impossible to know what your unique customers will respond best to.

If you aren’t keeping an open mind, trialling new methods, implementing changes based on learning, and tracking engagement, you aren’t using your website effectively and, ultimately, competitors who do want to listen to their customers will surpass you.

If you've answered "yes" to any of the above points, it's time to seriously consider integrating inbound strategies into your marketing plan. If you want help getting started on your inbound marketing campaigns with HubSpot, contact ESM Inbound using the button below, or contact us with your request