What is inbound marketing?

What is an inbound marketing strategy?

Marketing is critical to business success because it attracts prospects and generates sales opportunities. However, prior to launching a marketing strategy, it's helpful to understand different marketing approaches and decide which one is right for your business.

For over seven years, Vanguard 86 has used the inbound marketing methodology to promote companies in various industries and has found that it can radically improve customer retention, sales leads, and brand recognition. But what is inbound marketing, and how is it different to the other types of marketing out there?

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing aims to attract and retain customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. It looks to align your marketing with ‘active buyers’, which are defined as people in the marketplace seeking solutions to their needs. These differ from ‘passive buyers’ in that the former are more likely to buy because they have a need they’re actively trying to meet.

With traditional outbound marketing, customers are interrupted by messages they don't always want. This tends to cause frustration and can be wasted on people that have no need for your solution. In contrast, inbound marketing allows brands to form meaningful connections with their audience and provide solutions to their problems — thus building trust and gaining the position of an advisor.

By creating content that aligns with the solutions people are actively seeking, an inbound marketing strategy will attract those who are already good-fit customers. This way, less time is spent sorting through numerous leads who aren’t always well suited to the brand.

Inbound marketing helps brands to build long-term relationships with customers, as well as foster trust and authority over time. When customers trust a brand, they are more likely to invest in it. This is why brands should offer helpful, relevant content that establishes a meaningful rapport with their customers.

Is inbound marketing the same as ‘they ask, you answer?'

If you’ve heard of the book ‘They ask, you answer’ by Marcus Sheridan, the inbound methodology might sound familiar. That’s because the team at Sheridan’s marketing agency, Impact, have been using the inbound approach for over a decade. Inbound marketing and ‘they ask you answer’ follow the same customer-centric approach that seeks to answer customer questions and cultivate trust with buyers before, during, and after the sales process. 

Sheridan found that customers who bought products during the 2008 recession read more content than those who didn't. That’s because customers want to be confident in their investment and are willing to spend time researching all of their options. So, providing your customers with relevant content to reassure them and help them make an informed decision is a great way to intercept their business. As a result, your company becomes more credible by demonstrating industry expertise and trustworthiness.

'They ask, you answer' takes inbound marketing into a more specific realm by honing in on the top 5 (Big 5) questions that every buyer has, regardless of your industry. By focusing on these key answers you build more trust, establish authority, and offer transparency that is unlikely to be found with your competitors.

Effective inbound marketing

The concept of inbound marketing is applied at three fundamental stages of the buyer's journey, known as the ‘attract’, ‘engage’, and ‘delight’ phases.

Attracting strategies

The ‘attract’ part of the inbound strategy is when a brand is attracting the attention of its prospective customers with relevant and helpful content. The content should establish the brand as a reliable authority within the industry, giving the customer a reason to believe in and engage with the brand further.

This step relies heavily on search engine marketing (SEM) and search engine optimisation (SEO) which improve visibility in search engine results. Through the use of keywords and paid advertisements, SEM and SEO ensure readers find your brand’s content at the most advantageous time.

Engaging strategies

The ‘engaging’ stage of the inbound strategy is all about supporting the customer’s research when deciding what to buy and who from. It includes presenting straightforward, informative content that aligns with their needs to ensure they see the benefit of a particular product or service.

The insights and solutions shared are most effective when they resonate with the buyer’s pain points and values, because this way, they know the brand understands what they’re looking for and is more likely to deliver the desired outcome.

Delighting strategies

Once a prospective customer is engaged with a brand, the next step in the inbound strategy is to ‘delight’ them. When done correctly, the delight stage provides them with help, support, and confidence after the purchase is complete.

This step reduces buyer’s remorse and ensures customers continue to trust the brand’s authority, thereby increasing customer retention. Customers often are left to their own devices after a sale, but these are critical opportunities to enhance customer satisfaction. If you want your customers to remain loyal and recommend your brand to others, delighting them is vital.

It’s worth noting that if any part of the customer journey is not performing well, your inbound marketing efforts may suffer. For example, if your ‘attract’ and ‘delight’ stages work, but prospective customers are not engaging how they should, your results will be disappointing.

Rather than viewing the buyer's journey as a linear process, you need to view it as a complete loop. This way, the ‘attract’, ‘engage’, and ‘delight’ stages will all work together to guarantee high customer satisfaction and retention.

Inbound marketing content

Inbound marketing has proven to work for a wide variety of industries but it can be overwhelming to get started. Fortunately, with so many brands using this approach, there are many examples you can follow.

Some of the most successful types of inbound marketing content include: 

  • Blog posts
  • E-books 
  • Infographics 
  • Videos and tutorials
  • Webinars
  • News articles
  • Social media posts

The most important thing to remember when producing this kind of content is that it should always provide genuine value to the customer. Customers are more likely to invest in a brand’s products when the content they find answers their questions and makes them feel understood.

On the other hand, if a piece of content doesn’t deliver what it promises, customers will feel deceived and disappointed, leading them to turn elsewhere.

Answering the questions customers ask most commonly is the best first step. If your enquiries centre around the timeframe something takes, start by answering that with a blog. Not only will it stop you from having to repeat the same answer time and time again but it will show prospects that you understand their needs before they’re even aware of them.

How to get started with inbound marketing

A relevant content strategy will increase your search visibility, attract good-fit customers, and help you reconnect with your existing customers. Setting realistic goals and researching customer needs will allow you to create customer-focused content that can transform your business.

If you want to use the inbound approach but don't have the technical skills or time to write articles, we can help. To engage their ideal customers, we write SEO-focused blog articles for clients and promote them via email and social media.

Are you looking for ways to grow your business's lead acquisition and reach through inbound marketing? Our free digital guide showcases 20 excellent inbound marketing examples.

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Discover inspirational campaigns that embody inbound marketing and generate leads for some of the best-known brands across New Zealand, and the world.

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what is inbound marketing?