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Inbound marketing is one of those concepts that have garnered a lot of attention on the digital marketing scene in recent years. There has been a lot of hype across the marketing blogosphere and at various conferences, about it being the way to turn prospects into loyal brand advocates.
However, you’d be forgiven if you are a bit foggy about exactly what inbound marketing is, how it works and why it’s become the hallowed method to grow your audience. It would seem that not everyone who expounds its virtues can explain inbound marketing methodology without slipping down an even deeper marketing jargon rabbit hole.
So, I spoke to nine of Fresh Egg’s clever industry pals (the faces behind some of our favourite inbound marketing tools) to get their answers to the following key questions:
I chucked the last one in there to keep them on their toes (and also because I have a personal obsession with diagrams drawn on post-its).
First up, I spoke to Steve Rayson at BuzzSumo, a tool that allows you to analyse how content performs socially. This is how Steve explained inbound marketing in one sentence:
“To me inbound marketing is about providing free content and resources that are valuable to clients, and which build trust and your authority.”
Building trust and authority sounds great, but beyond this how did Steve think this approach benefited brands?
“The biggest benefit of inbound marketing is that it is not outbound marketing. It is not interruption based; it is based on giving away valuable free knowledge and resources that help your customers.”
I think the emphasis here is on the giving without asking for anything in return, a point which Steve went on to elaborate:
“To be clear, gated content is outbound marketing, it is not free content; you are asking for contact details in exchange for content so you can make outbound approaches. Through free valuable content you will build trust and authority and customers may then approach you when they have a specific problem they need to resolve. Thus you have warm leads that are more likely to convert.”
So, for Steve, the key to inbound marketing is giving away value in the form of knowledge-rich content in order to build trust.
When I spoke to Brian Peters, social media manager at the social tool Buffer, he also emphasised the role useful content has to play in inbound marketing:
“Inbound marketing is the multi-step process of attracting customers over time through the production of incredibly relevant and useful content.”
“Instead of using traditional outbound tactics like cold-calling, advertisements, radio, TV, etc., inbound marketing earns the attention of customers through great content which keeps them coming back time and time again.”
I like Brian’s way of describing the customer attention that inbound drives as being earned. This differentiation is significant. When you earn attention it means that the audience you’ve engaged are relevant and want to be there rather than simply being driven through paid means.
Next, I spoke to Nate Turner, vice president of demand generation at Sprout Social, a social media management tool. He went on to explore inbound and conversion further, pinpointing why inbound marketing is more cost effective than outbound marketing:
“Inbound marketing is about creating relevant content for your target audience, making that content easy to find via various marketing tactics and using it to draw people to your site, learn about your company, build loyalty and eventually convert them to customers.”
“The biggest benefit of inbound marketing is efficiency. Inbound marketing enables you to draw targeted prospects to your site and convert them all while using (and wasting) less money than any outbound channel or tactic; thereby leaving you with additional budget to continue bringing in more customers.”
Nate really got to the crux of why inbound is better for your bottom line compared to other forms of marketing. Essentially, driving relevant prospects to your site means they are much more likely to convert. This is a much more efficient way of working than spending money and effort driving big numbers of people to your site but who aren’t relevant or engaged.
Dixon Jones, marketing director at Majestic, a link explorer tool, also focused on efficiency when I spoke to him, honing in on the way that inbound marketing has revolutionised the traditional sales team structure for the better:
“Inbound marketing is the art of building a business by not selling. I don’t think this is the only benefit of inbound marketing, but sales teams are generally expensive and greedy.”
“Inbound marketing removes the need for pro-active, “red meat to lions” salespeople. These people of course can make a business, but the cost to a business’s reputation and brand can be immense. Inbound marketing allows customers to buy and engage on their own terms. This reduces both friction and waste in the buying process.”
The key point that came out from talking to Dixon is that inbound is truly the art of pulling not pushing: a much smoother means to persuade and ultimately sell.
When I spoke to Ari Rosentein, senior director of marketing at traffic estimation tool SimilarWeb, inbound marketing was, for him, about framing a targeted message about your brand. The value to your brand is in the process of discovery you go on to define that message:
“Inbound marketing is about taking the message you tell to your customers and distributing it to the wider world.”
“The benefits of inbound marketing lie in the thought process going into the messaging.”
Next up, I spoke to Martin Weinberg, the marketing director of competitor analysis tool SEMrush. He shared an excellent physics based analogy to describe inbound marketing:
“Inbound marketing is the gravitational pull that brings the right prospects into the orbit of your brand and value proposition.”
Martin also had an interesting take on the benefits of inbound, highlighting the way it enabled other channels to work more effectively:
“Inbound marketing helps other tactics be more effective by allowing them to focus on people that have already expressed an interest in the brand and its services.”
When I spoke to Pamela Wilson, VP of educational content at content marketing solution Copyblogger, she painted a great picture with words to explain inbound marketing:
“Inbound marketing means attracting the perfect audience with your message and serving them with the exact information they need right when they need it.”
“Brands benefit because inbound marketing positions them as helpful and trustworthy rather than pushy and annoying.”
“I have always thought inbound marketing was a little like putting out the right type of birdseed to attract a specific breed of bird, and then delivering it with consistency and a friendly tone until the bird trusts you enough to eat right out of your hand.”
I also spoke to our friends at the SEO platform, Botify, and CEO Adrien Menard was happy to share his view on inbound:
“Inbound marketing means letting your customers come to you (with some strategic work behind the scenes - like SEO and content promotion - to help get seen and be engaging).”
“With strong SEO strategy, Inbound Marketing means customers can find you when they’re interested in what you have to offer, so as a brand you’re not pushing ads and aggressive sales tactics on consumers who just aren’t interested.”
Last, but certainly not least, I picked the brain of Lars Hartkopf, marketing director EMEA at Searchmetrics, a search and content analytics service. He emphasised the fact that inbound marketing is a two-way street – much more like a dialogue than the traditional monologue of traditional push marketing:
“Inbound marketing is a conversation that a brand has, started by a prospect. It gives brands the chance to have people “join” it, even beyond their customer base.”
So, hopefully this blog post has gone some way to demystifying inbound marketing and you now not only know what it is, but understand why and how it could benefit your business.
Let’s now look at the four key inbound marketing takeaways that came out of my conversations with the industry experts:
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