Inbound marketing is revolutionising the way in which business are being discovered online. Gone are the days of putting an advert in your industry magazine and watching the orders come in. We live in a time where traditional adverts are being ignored and consumers are refusing to be sold to. This is making it increasingly difficult for businesses to market themselves and gain coverage within their industry. Inbound marketing offers a new hope and new opportunities to marketers. It offers a solution which works for businesses, but also works with the changing consumer.
This guide presents an insight into what inbound marketing is and how it can help transform your business’s marketing potential. It shows you that molding your marketing around your target market’s buying process – addressing their needs at each stage – will attract customers easier than you ever thought possible.
If you are the owner of a small or medium sized business then this is the guide for you. As a business owner it’s important that you understand any marketing tools or techniques that can improve your sales or return on investment (ROI). Ultimately, it’s you that’s in control of the future of your business and you must make sure that you’re using every tool possible to reach out to new customers.
Generating quality leads that can turn into sales is the oxygen that keeps your business breathing. I want to share with you how inbound marketing can not only generate better leads, but also reduce your marketing spend. Using the latest marketing tools, techniques and processes it is possible to create a marketing machine that is scalable and can deliver all of the leads you need for your business.
Of course, this guide can also be useful for anyone looking to understand the future of digital marketing and how it can help build your business online.
Inbound marketing is simply using digital tools to ensure your customers can find your business when they need your product or service, rather than using traditional advertising techniques which are aimed at interrupting the user’s attention. Inbound marketing is built around your customer’s buying process (see fig. 1.0), ensuring that at each stage of the process your business is there helping the customer find solutions to their problems.
Fig. 1.0 – The Consumer Buying Process.
Inbound marketing uses search engine optimisation (SEO), social media, email marketing and pay per click (PPC) advertising to present users with content that offers solutions to their problems. This content, which is written to educate and assist users when they have a problem they’re looking to solve, has the objective of being helpful to them in their buying journey. By providing different content for users at each stage of their buying journey, you’ll increase the likelihood of them using your business’s product or service. Inbound marketing can be broken down into four stages:
Firstly, you need to ensure you’re attracting the right people to your business. This is done by creating a ‘buyer persona’ which identifies who your target customers are. These buying personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers; it is created based on an understanding of your current customer base and which ones are most suitable for the business. This buying persona will form the basis of the direction we take your inbound marketing. Once you know who you’re targeting you can adapt your content strategy to suit your customers’ needs, creating informative and educational content that is written to solve their problems. This is key because you only want to attract consumers with a genuine interest in your products or services. Using the digital marketing tools available, such as search engine optimisation (SEO), social media, pay per click (PPC) marketing and email marketing, you can put this content in front of the right people at the right time. It is also important at this stage that your website is fit for purpose, ensuring that it does not look out-of-date; is using responsive technology; and has good usability at its heart (more on this later).
Once you have attracted the users to your website you need to engage with them and convert them into leads. This is done by generating a micro-conversion, which can be something as simple as them filling out a contact form (containing key data), requesting a call back, following you on social media or signing up to your newsletter. However, people don’t hand over their information easily, so they need to be enticed. This can be done using Ebooks, how-to guides, offers, in-depth content, tip sheets, podcasts or webinars. Once you have opened a communications channel with the user you can start to offer them further content and information which can help them on their buying journey. It is even possible to customise the content you’re sending to customers (using email marketing) according to which stage of the buying process they are at, increasing the chances of them converting even further.
OK, so your visitors have now been transformed into valuable leads using your informative and educational content. Now is the stage where you must convert those leads into customers. At this stage your users have been viewing your content and generating micro-conversions. The further along the buying process they get, the more valuable information they are likely to have given you. For example, they may have just started following your social media, but as time moves on and their interest grows they may have submitted their name, telephone number and email address in order to get access to a gated PDF. It is this information which can then be used to feed into a CRM system and you can begin to reach out to them. Also, if you know which gated PDF they are accessing then this can be your conversation starting point. You can use email marketing or remarketing (using PPC to advertise on other websites to specific users) to provide them with gentle reminders about your product or service. Helping to push the users ‘over the finish line’ and convert into customers.
The 4th stage of inbound marketing is known as ‘delight’. This is where you continue to build your relationship with your customers after the sale. The aim of this stage is to ensure that the customers you’ve worked hard for stay with you, but also to encourage them to promote your brand to others. Word-of-mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool. This can be considered an extra stage because it is important to focus on the first three stages. The inbound marketing process is different for each business and industry. For some businesses this process is spread over several months; for others it can be just several minutes. Each business and industry requires a unique approach, taking the stages listed above and adapting them to suit, but the tools and techniques remain the same.
OK, so I have demonstrated to you what inbound marketing is, now let’s explain why it can be extremely effective for your business. Buying behaviour has changed dramatically over recent years: consumers are no longer paying attention to traditional advertising. This means that the time has come for businesses of all industries to evolve with the consumers. There is no going back to the old style of marketing.
So let’s take a look at where we have come from to understand this new shift in buying behaviour. Before the internet the world was influenced by mass media (TV, magazines and radio), which of course brought with it advertising that was monopolized by a lot of big companies. Suddenly, it was possible to reach millions of people with a single advert, spreading a business’s marketing message far and wide across the globe.
This traditional advertising relies on broadcasting to as many people as possible in the hope that if you tell enough people, a few of them would listen and purchase your product. This is reliant on the consumer remembering your brand when they come to have a need for a product or service. However, the internet is different to traditional media; it has permanently changed the way in which people interact with brands and make purchasing decisions: adverts alone are simply no longer trusted. These days, 70% of consumers prefer getting to know a company via articles rather than ads and 86% of people skip television ads. This means people are ignoring traditional adverts in favour of engaging with brands in a different way.
The reason this has happened is because the internet gave the consumers more information than ever before. Suddenly, potential customers had the ability to ask questions, get answers, read reviews and do in-depth comparisons. This put the purchasing power well and truly within the hands of the consumer – they were no longer simply being told what to buy. Today, only 1% of millennials say a compelling advertisement would make them trust a brand more
Take a look at your own industry and your customers – there is a strong chance that they began their decision-making process a long time before they got in touch with your business. They would have likely looked at related blogs, discussed their need on social media, read reviews and compared all of the businesses that sell that product. The traditional bombarding techniques of the past simply do not work anymore, in fact their effectiveness is lessening day-by-day. This gives your business two options: put even more money into traditional advertising, or find a different approach.
Through efficiency improvements it is possible to make considerable savings on your marketing budget and improve your ROI. By adopting the targeted approach of inbound marketing, instead of the blanket approach of traditional advertising, you will be directing resources at users which are most likely to turn into leads. The savings that can be achieved are significant; many businesses are even reporting that inbound marketing costs 62% less per lead than traditional outbound marketing
Inbound marketing is aligned with the new decision-making processes seen online today, targeting those users which are actively seeking information and looking to find solutions to their problems. It is a type of mutual exchange which was absent from traditional advertising that is so important in inbound marketing today.
So now you have an understanding of what inbound marketing is and how it can benefit your business, we need to look at exactly how to implement it in your business.
One of the key mistakes that many businesses make is that they hire a company that specialises in digital marketing tools (Social Media, SEO, PR, PPC or email marketing) without having a well thought out marketing strategy. Starting to implement tools without a solid strategy on how everything will coordinate is a recipe for disaster. It is critical that your inbound marketing strategy must tackle a few key areas before you begin to implement any techniques.
Buyer Personas – as aforementioned, buyer personas are critical for understanding who you want to target and building a picture of your customers’ likely needs. You must spend some time understanding your customers and build up your target personas. This will form the foundation of all your marketing activities going forward.
Voice Tone – OK so you know who you’re targeting, but how will you talk to them? What will the personality of your business be? If you don’t take the time to think about how to connect with your target audience, you run the risk of your marketing messages being ignored. Knowing how to engage and connect with users is critical.
Differentiation – what sets you apart from your competitors? This is what consumers will be asking when at the comparison stage of their buying process, so it’s important that you understand your unique selling point (USP). You can then use your USPs to your advantage by pushing them in your marketing messages.
Tool Mapping – what tools does your business need in order to achieve it’s goals? There are a vast array of digital marketing tools available, but you must choose the ones that will help you achieve your goals. SEO, Social Media, PPC and email marketing – all have different approaches depending on what consumers you’re looking to target; it’s simply a matter of finding the right direction for your business.
Budget – it’s a sad fact that most things in business come down to money, but if you don’t have the budget for a large international marketing campaign, there is very little point in planning for one. Thankfully a lot can be achieved in digital marketing with a relatively small budget, but it is still important that you plan within sensible financial limits.
Goals – to know whether your inbound marketing has been successful you must have goals which you can measure your success against. Traditionally, it has been very hard to gauge how successful a campaign has been: it is almost impossible to know exactly how many people have been exposed to your advertising in a magazine. Thankfully, digital marketing is built on data and we have the ability to very accurately measure your brand exposure and interaction.
It’s no longer considered acceptable to just have a website; you must have a website which impresses. Users will make a snap judgement on a website, making their first impression within 50 milliseconds of first landing on a page, so it’s important to make sure that your website works well for your target market. You often only get one chance to make the right impression and if your website fails the user will quickly be visiting your competitor.
The key is to create a website experience that can quickly deliver a powerful message to your user, enticing them to delve deeper into your website and discover more content. They have to feel as if your business is helpful, knowledgeable and credible, all of which is delivered by your content and website design.
Today, the majority of your traffic will be viewed on either tablet or mobile devices, with desktop usage declining year-on-year. This means that it is important your website works across multiple devices and delivers a seamless user experience. This can be done using a responsive website design, where the website content changes and resizes itself to the device you’re viewing the website on. This has become such an important area for the usability of websites in today’s multi-device world that many website design companies offer the service as standard. Moreover, Google has even prioritised these mobile friendly websites in their search results.
You also need to think about the navigation and structure of your website. You might have the best content in the world, but if the user has to put effort into hunting for it on your website then it might as well not be there. Ensure that the navigation and menu system is clear and simple. Users should be able to quickly jump from one area of your website to another knowing exactly what information they will be likely to find.
Of course, content will play a big part in your user experience, but I’ll go through that in detail in the next section.
One of the major differences between traditional advertising and inbound marketing is its approach to educating your prospects. Users will find your website because they have a problem they’re trying to solve. By generating content that is designed to educate the user in solving their issue they will naturally form an affiliation with your company and turn into a lead. This selfless approach of helping your customers will differentiate you from your competition.
Not all of your website visitors will be at the same stage of the buying process. Some may be at the problem recognition stage, just starting to seek out how they can solve their problem. Others may be at the evaluation of alternatives stage, evaluating your business against your competition. It is important that you produce content which is designed to help users at each stage of the buying process. For example, those users at the problem recognition stage need content which shows them solutions to their problems, whereas those users at the purchase decision stage will need content that is more product information based. The further through the buying process a user goes, the more you will be able to present sales offers to influence their decision making, but doing so in the early stages will very likely discourage the user.
It is worth noting that there are too many business on the internet that simply present their product’s features and benefits to consumers and expect results. In reality, consumers’ purchases are often based on emotion; they rationalise their decisions later. Your content should connect with users emotionally. This can often be done using a technique known as ‘storytelling’, which will help people emotionally connect with your brand. A very good example of using storytelling to connect with customers is from Dove (www.dove.com/uk/stories). They use stories to highlight insecurities and issues their customers can relate to, which makes their customers feel closer to the brand.
All of this new content needs a place to go on your website. One of the best places to put it all is on your blog. Your blog should be the voice of your company, showcasing the personality behind your brand and helping users connect with your business. 67% of businesses that blog report that it helps them generate more leads. For those of you in B2B businesses, 80% of business decision-makers prefer to get company information in a series of articles rather than an advertisement. Therefore, creating well written blog content can be extremely powerful for your business. Plus, blogs are perfect for sharing on social media and for generating traffic on search engines, but more on that in the next section.
So basically, content is the glue that holds your inbound marketing together. You simply cannot create a trustworthy online presence for your business website without it. When you produce quality and contextual content, you present your business as being credible on your topic or service.
There are almost 1.5 billion people on Facebook, 365 million on LinkedIn and 300 million on Twitter. If you thought social media wasn’t important for your business then think again. You can be sure that your prospects are on social media, discussing problems which your products can solve. If you can get your content shared by influencers within your market then your business can benefit from exceptional exposure. Word of mouth is still by far the most powerful marketing for any business, with social networks simply bringing it into the digital era.
Social media is where people come together to discuss and share things of interest to them; highlight problems they’re having; and find solutions to their questions. Your business has the expertise to facilitate those discussions and help users solve their problems. Your content will be the fuel that starts these conversations, which is why it is so important to create good quality content that is of interest to your target market. The more you can get your content in front of your target market, the more potential customers your website will receive, which will naturally give you more leads.
Social media is also having an increasing importance on Google’s search algorithm. Google used to rely solely on a website’s inbound links (when another website links to yours) to determine how popular and trustworthy a website is. This has proven to be ineffective on its own, so now they use a combination of links and social activity. It is widely known in the industry that over the coming years social signals will only become more important in Google’s algorithm.
When you blog you need to share the posts on social media. Apart from publishing that blog post to your main social networks, it is also important to encourage your staff to share it on their (non-personal) accounts. This will extend the reach of your post across the social networks. Plus, you need to ensure that all of your social media profiles contain the appropriate branding – it is important that users know instantly which company the content is coming from.
Social media is essential for businesses, with 91% of UK adults using social media regularly and 93% of these users being influenced by social media during purchasing decisions. Your business needs to ensure that it’s getting the maximum benefit possible from social media.
Google receives 40,000 searches per second – that translates to over 3.5 billion searches per day. More people are using search engines than ever before to find content online. Google has the potential to bring vast quantities of relevant traffic to your website, making it the most powerful source of traffic. There are other search engines of course, but with an 89.5% market share in the UK, Google is the only one you need to be focusing on.
Inevitably, the increased use of search engines has meant that consumer search behaviour has evolved. At first, people were searching for simple keywords such as “Brown Shoes”. This then moved on to more complicated searches such as “Dark Brown Leather Shoes”. Now searches have become more question based, for example “where is the nearest shop selling dark brown leather shoes?”. Google’s Hummingbird algorithm update (released August 2013) is aimed at understanding the contextual meaning behind a user’s intent in searches like these above, rather than just matching keyword strings. The change in search behaviour can be seen below (fig. 2.0), which shows that the use of search terms including ‘how do I’ or ‘how do you’ has increased dramatically over recent years. The use of conversational language for searches is only set to increase over the coming years with the proliferation of voice searches on mobile devices.
Fig. 2.0 – Google Trends analysis for ‘how do I’ and ‘how do you’.
Google’s move towards understanding search intent is actually a very good thing for inbound marketing. This is because Google identifies when a user is searching for a solution to a problem, and then matches this to your content which is providing answers. Instead of thinking purely about keywords, your business should focus on providing quality content to answer the questions your target market is likely to be searching for.
SEO has become so intertwined with other areas of digital marketing that it is almost impossible to rank highly without everything working well together. It is steadily evolving into a multi-disciplined field which combines good usability with engaging content, whilst lifting technical barriers to make your website search engine friendly. It is important to ensure that your website is compliant with Google’s Webmaster Guidelines (see full guidelines here) and has implemented Google’s recommended techniques for the website’s setup.
With 93% of online experiences beginning with search engines and 83% of these users not clicking beyond the first results page, it is critical that you ensure your website is performing well in search engines.
Pay per click advertising is when advertisers (you) pay the publisher (search engines or social networks) whenever the advert is clicked on by a user. These adverts take the user through to a specific page on your website such as a product page, an information page or a blog post. If used correctly, PPC can be an extremely powerful and cost effective form of advertising because (unlike traditional advertising) it is possible to target users very accurately. There are three main types of PPC advertising: search engine adverts, social media adverts and display network adverts. Firstly, search engine adverts (see example in fig. 3.1). These are adverts that appear within the search engine results page after a user has entered a keyword search. They are targeting a user based on the specific keyword they have just searched for.
Fig. 3.1 – Example search engine results page (with adverts highlighted in blue).
Social media adverts (see example in fig. 3.2) are used to target users based on the information they have entered on their profile or the topics they discuss. It is possible to promote your account, display an advert or promote your content. Almost every social network offers these types of adverts including: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Fig. 3.2 – An example of a promoted tweet and trend on Twitter.
Display adverts (see example in fig. 3.3) are a form of contextual banners used in the Google Display Network (Google’s collection of network sites that agree to host display ads). Users are targeted based on the type of website they’re viewing or if the user has previously visited your website (this is called remarketing).
Fig. 3.3 – Example of a Google Display advertisement.
Not all of your target market is going to discover your business at the same stage of their buying process, some may discover it at the problem solving stage, others will discover it at the comparison stage. So you need to ensure your business is visible at every stage of the process. Whilst this can be done naturally using social media and SEO, PPC simply offers you the opportunity to extend the natural reach of your business to users at each stage. Some possible ways of doing this include:
- using text adverts in search engines which are based around problems your product solves
- push promoted content on social media to users who are at the information search stage
- start remarketing using display adverts to users at the purchase decision stage
Advertising using PPC can also give you the opportunity to test out segment targeting before you invest in long-term strategies using SEO or social media. Or if your business is new to the market, PPC can be a quick way of gaining a foothold in the market and rapidly gain brand exposure within the industry. PPC can be extremely powerful for businesses, with the ability to quickly and accurately target almost any target market on the internet and all within a controlled budget. Plus, because you only pay when a user clicks through to your website you can very accurately calculate your ROI from the PPC spend. Unlike SEO where it will likely take time and effort to reach considerable ROI, a good PPC campaign can earn a business profit almost immediately. However, it is important to bear in mind that when you stop investing in PPC, your traffic stops immediately too.
Since the beginning of the internet, digital marketing has transformed from an art into a science. We now have the ability to track and test key data points to help you make decisions. Today it is possible to get real-time data on your visitor behaviour giving you an insight into what is working and what is not, giving us the opportunity to constantly mold and refine our approach to find the perfect marketing solution for your business.
The analytics data needs to be constantly analysed and compared to your marketing goals (set in the marketing plan) to see whether or not the current tactics are working. I would often recommend that businesses use Google Analytics (See screen shot in fig. 4.0), unless you have very specific and technical requirements, because it is extremely powerful and free. This software enables you to see real-time data, run A/B testing (testing two different versions of the same page to see which is better), setup specific conversion goals (triggered whenever a user makes a specific action e.g. newsletter sign up) which are aligned with the marketing goals and see your online sales.
Fig. 4.0 – Screenshot of Google Analytics.
Never before have we – as business owners or marketers – had access to so much useful data. We can now very accurately measure and refine our approach to inbound marketing, aligning each stage of the process with goals in the Google Analytics software. However, it is important to be selective of which data you pay attention to: in a world where everything can be measured it’s easy to get bombarded with too much data. The key to a successful data driven approach is to pick out specific data and use it in a meaningful way to drive improvements in your marketing performance.
Inbound marketing will help your business grow as well as making your marketing budget far more efficient. By using inbound marketing techniques it is possible to significantly increase the number of leads generated from your website. Additionally, the targeted nature of inbound marketing decreases the cost of your marketing. Thus, the use of inbound marketing is a win-win situation for any online business.
Today’s consumers are looking for educational content followed by a guided and consultative sales approach; they no longer wish to be ‘sold to’. This is what sets inbound marketing apart from traditional marketing. Businesses are exposing customers to their brand by providing users with what they need. This results in a mutual exchange because businesses are gaining the valuable attention of customers, and the users themselves are getting the answers they need.
There are lots of businesses that ‘do’ SEO, social media, PPC and content marketing, but very few do it right. Only a minority of businesses use an integrated approach to their digital marketing, bringing all of of their digital tools together. This doesn’t have to be the case for you. Using an inbound marketing strategy assembles all of your tools to work together, making your marketing extremely powerful and putting your business in a position to dominate your industry.
The world is changing, consumers are evolving and for your business to survive you need to evolve too. Many businesses are already waking up to the possibilities of inbound marketing – it is most likely that your competitors are already using it. The real question for you is… can your business afford not to invest in inbound marketing?