Inbound Marketing: What It Is, How To Do It Well, and Why You Should Care
Inbound marketing is one of those big hairy concepts that encompasses a whole host of specific disciplines within the broader realm of marketing. It’s often used as a synonym for content marketing, social media marketing, email newsletter marketing, resource marketing, and other digital marketing channels that involve attracting potential customers without traditional forms of advertising. However, that’s not exactly right; it’s more of an umbrella term that includes all those disciplines listed above and much more.
You should think of inbound marketing as the collective efforts of all your organic attractiveness. Inbound marketing includes content marketing, social media marketing, email newsletter marketing, resource marketing, PR, training events, webinars, guest blogging, videos, podcasts, SEO, books, and white papers — just to name a few disciplines within this category. Effective inbound marketing is an ongoing effort that covers many marketing disciplines and includes analytics, A/B testing, constant optimization, and lots of hard work to keep your inbound marketing efforts performing well.
Long-Term Gains, Not Short-Term Bursts
Inbound marketing differs from other forms of marketing in several ways, but one primary distinction is that inbound marketing is not built on short-term campaigns to drive specific business goals. Inbound marketing is most effective when the brand or company plans to invest for the long-term.
Think of it like the difference between a crash diet and a lifestyle change. A crash diet will help you lose weight fast, but a lifestyle change will help you lose weight and keep it off. Inbound marketing doesn’t typically drive traffic in a hurry, but if you stick to the plan and constantly improve, you’ll see significant traction in the long run.
The Right Mix
Very few brands or companies will find value in every aspect of inbound marketing, and most can’t afford the time or expense to target every option under the inbound marketing umbrella. For example, some brands would benefit greatly from producing a regular industry podcast while for others, that would be a complete waste of time. Further, most companies find that picking a few options that they can execute very well is more effective than trying to do more.
Here’s what that looks like in practice: a local restaurant might find its sweet spot in local SEO work, email marketing, and highly interactive social media engagement, while a regional insurance company might build traction through its blog, authoritative whitepapers, email marketing, and free training webinars. A national technology brand might find success in an engaging industry podcast, producing timely eBooks, proactive PR, and hosting free conferences or meetups. Finding the right mix for your brand (which should take into consideration your goals, competition, audience, abilities, and budget) is sometimes a trial-and-error process, but once you discover your own rhythm you’ll see the needle start to move toward your business goals.
Track, Analyze, and Adjust
Executing an effective inbound marketing strategy takes plenty of hard work. To make sure that hard work is paying off to its best opportunity, you’ll need to constantly track how your work is performing, analyze the factors that effect its performance, and make adjustments to improve. This rhythm of tracking progress, analyzing opportunities, and making adjustments will be a key part of your inbound marketing strategy.
The tools you’ll use for this part of the process are all free. Google Analytics is a must-have for tracking how people get to your website and what they do when they get there. Google Webmaster Tools will help you refine your listing in Google’s search results. Mention helps you keep a data-informed eye on social media. Your email marketing tool should help you keep track of open rates and click-through rates on your email newsletters.
For this aspect of inbound marketing, the simplest tip I can give you is to watch for trends, both good and bad. Short-term changes can be deceptive, so try to stay focused on the big picture and pushing toward averages rather than seeking spikes. Finally, make small adjustments and give those adjustments time to be fully tested.
Inbound Marketing is the Present and the Future
Inbound marketing is not a new term; it was coined in 2005 and has been gaining steam with the advent of focused tools like HubSpot, Marketo, Pardot, and a slew of others. Even WordPress can be customized to be a powerful and effective inbound marketing tool at a very low cost. However, the relevancy of inbound marketing isn’t a result of available tools. The need for inbound marketing is driven by changes in technology and the evolution of culture with new generations.
The increase in the number of screens and the frequency with which we interact with them on a daily basis has changed how we engage with brands. In order to attract attention, brands must move past traditional advertising techniques. Earning trust over time with authority-building content, engaging events, effective SEO, and social media engagement is now your best opportunity to connect with potential customers.
The future looks like more of the same. More brands competing for more of our attention means the only ones that will be heard are the ones that provide value.
The Struggle is Real
Inbound marketing has its challenges. Connecting with your audience in an organic way is becoming more difficult. RSS, the ability to subscribe to a blog you like, promised to help us connect with people directly in a feed — but now it’s dead. Social media is simultaneously becoming more distracting (too many voices) and more siloed (think Instagram and Snapchat). Email marketing is making a comeback, but it takes a careful balance of your messaging. SEO is a constantly moving target. Blogging never died, but it isn’t the standalone juggernaut it used to be. Downloadable resources can be amazing, but how do you tell people about them?
Don’t Get Frustrated
All this talk about engaging your audience in natural, helpful ways can be maddening if you’re not sure where to start, what results to expect, how much time it will take you, or how much money it’ll cost you. Don’t be frustrated! I have good news for you!
I’ve worked with many local, regional, and national brands who know that inbound marketing needs to be a significant part of their marketing strategy. They typically come to us with an idea of what they want to accomplish, some personal experience in the space that didn’t work well for them, and questions. Lots of questions. We love to sit down with brand owners and help them understand how inbound marketing fits in their overall marketing strategy and what they need to do to build an inbound marketing strategy that adds to their bottom line.
If you want to learn more about inbound marketing, here are a few options for you.
- Subscribe to our newsletter in the footer. We’ll be sending a monthly newsletter that will cover inbound marketing as well as other helpful marketing-related topics.
- Read the HubSpost blog. HubSpot has amazing content about inbound marketing and provides excellent tools to turn your curiosity into a real strategy.
- Follow the topic on Flipboard. Flipboard will gather all the latest information on the topic of inbound marketing for you. Easy peasy!