The scoop on inbound marketing

If you’re like me, you’ve often heard the phrase ‘inbound marketing’ but never really thought about what it means. What does it mean to you? If you’d asked me a few months ago, I would’ve mumbled something about search engine optimization then changed the subject. I’m here to protect you from that fate.

The term inbound marketing was developed by one of the co-founders of Hubspot, a Boston-based company that sells marketing services as well as offers trainings and certifications. It outlines a theory around drawing potential customers to you, instead of requiring you to seek them out – traditional marketing. There is definitely an element of SEO, but it’s so much more.

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Traditional marketing tactics will be familiar to many of you. Bulk direct mail campaigns that encourage you to sign up for a credit card, emails about things you don’t care about, and even the Goodyear blimp advertising over a sports game. These tactics are generally not personalized, and go for quantity over quality. Start out by thinking about what product or service your company offers – but beyond that, what your customers are buying as they aren’t always the same. Someone buying Advil doesn’t care about the tiny pills, they care about their headache going away. Someone buying Hubspot’s tools doesn’t have a particularly attachment to inbound marketing, they want higher revenue and better customers. With that framework, let’s talk about inbound marketing.

There are four major stages to the inbound marketing process:

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First and most important, ATTRACT. Inbound marketing is about driving traffic into your website instead of seeking out customers where they are. It’s recommended to start this step by building out a customer persona – what are your customers like? What do they want? How would they search for it? It’s about the solution to their problem, not the product or service you’re providing. For example, if you offer a service that helps customers improve their search engine optimization, would they be looking to find someone who helps with SEO or someone who helps them drive traffic to their website? Do they even know what SEO is? If you’re targeting startups who aren’t strong in marketing, they might not be searching for the terms you use to describe your own work. Figure out what your customers want and how they’d phrase and talk about it, then figure out how you’re giving it to them.

This applies to all the content you’re creating – and more broadly to your product, though if your product doesn’t meet any demand you’ll have bigger problems. You can do this directly on your website, but can also use social media to push out content to a broader potential audience. Social can also complement your other content strategies, because it gives potential customers another great path to find your work beyond just searching via Google or other search engines. If your content answers the questions your potential customers have, it’ll pull them to your website – and once they’re on your site, you have the opportunity to…

CONVERT. Once you’ve figured out what your potential customers are looking for and you’ve given it to them, you need to get them to want what you’re selling. They’re intrigued and they’re visiting your website, and you want to make them into leads. One classic HubSpot tactic here is requiring an email address to download a white paper. If you’ve looked at apartments in Boston, maybe you’ve filled out a form with your email address before getting access to listings, or created an account. If you use a tool like Facebook’s log-in integration, you can also get even more information about these leads when they provide it. Tools like these give you real leads – people who are willing enough to give you their contact information in exchange for content that you’ve produced that (hopefully) gives them what they’re looking for.

Third, CLOSE. You’ve attracted and converted these people – now what? You need to CLOSE and get them to actually commit to whatever you’re offering. Using appropriate lead nurturing, and by tracking what content is valuable to these leads, you should have a sense of what they’re looking for and how your product or service can give them what they need. Solve their problem, make sure they understand how you’ve done it, and they’ll become a customer.

Finally, DELIGHT. As you build trust with these converted leads, you can continue to provide them with solutions to their problems. The better experience they have, the happier they are – then you’re creating advocates for your brand and product. If you’re giving them something they can’t find elsewhere, they’ll stick around and tell others they’re doing so. If you can track their social behaviors, even better. They can tell you what they want and don’t want, and it’s on your sales team to find a way to give it to them.

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In general, the concept of inbound marketing is premised on pulling potential customers to you then converting them to customers, as opposed to trying to find them yourself. While it may take more effort and intentionality – you have to build out customer personas and then find ways to target them – it will help companies find more, better customers in the end.

I hope this overview helps you understand how the field of digital marketing is evolving and changing! To be a marketer today, you need to understand how to identify and attract customers, and building out blog and social with appropriate content using inbound strategies is a great way to do it.

8 comments

  1. Nice informational post. It was especially interesting to me because I spent all last summer working on inbound marketing for a software company! We followed the exact structure that you outlined in your post. The part that I found really interesting and where I spent a lot of my time was the development of customer personas. On the surface it seems like a fairly simple project, but I found that this is actually a lengthy process that uses a lot of data and analytics to complete. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Nice post! I didn’t have that much previous knowledge on inbound marketing or the role digital technology plays in it, so I found this post to be very interesting. It made me realize I just experienced it while shopping online. I was attracted on Instagram by this brand’s ad that fit seamlessly into my feed. When I got to the website, I was converted by exchanging my email for a discount. And their close tactic was really strong- when I left some items in my cart to mull over the purchase, they sent a clever email asking if I had a problem checking out because the items were still there. I think their inbound marketing strategies were pretty successful!

  3. andrewmanginelli · ·

    Very informative post! One thing I wonder is how companies are better attracting their customer segments once they’ve developed personas. I know that I personally ignore ads, even those that interest me. When I’m thinking of buying something, I likely go on Amazon to get it. Even if seeing an ad registers to me as something that I want, I still would never click on it and buy it on that site. I feel as though there is a negative stigma associated with tailoring ads through collecting data (the creepy side of tech).

    1. Great question! A lot of it revolves around companies figuring out what their customers want and are looking for. It’s also about finding balance – finding who your customers are, but also making sure that you’re giving them what they’re looking for. I’d also guess that you’re not the typical customer in a lot of ways – I know both @juliasmacdonald‘s comment and my experience show that this kind of thing happens all the time!

  4. mgiovanniello · ·

    Nice post! We spent a good amount of time studying inbound marketing in my Marketing Principles class last semester, and I thought it was a fascinating concept. Funny you mention Hubspot – we did an entire case study on their company, and it seems to me that they’re one of the early movers in inbound marketing, and have done a great job at proving its effectiveness, both on behalf of their own company, and in the products and services they offer their clients to carry out the same principles.

  5. emmaelennon · ·

    Wish we learned more about inbound marketing in our MBA classes! I’ve been taking the online Hubspot certifications and find it all super interesting and effective. Because we’ve been writing blogposts, I think a lot about how strategic one can be with tags and links in blogs and how that can generate users/business. You did a great job here of outlining inbound and why its important. Thanks!

  6. Sheritta Coleburn · ·

    Great job briefly outlining inbound marketing! I was first introduced to this last semester in my Information Marketing Communications class and has found it fascinating aspect to attract customers to your brand instead of trying to find them yourself. I am currently inbound certified and working to include inbound marketing for my own business, Esteem Hair. Inbound Marketing is a useful strategy to help grow your business and attract more leads. HubSpot has a vast knowledge platform, and it is great that they offer some certifications for free!

  7. fernanfu89 · ·

    Really interesting article about inbound marketing! I find the framework by hubspot excellent because attracting those strangers into your stores is hard, but probably the hardest part of all is retaining those customers. For example if I order something from a random website, I was a stranger and was attracted to the website, but after that, why would I order again? There has to be a compelling reason, and inbound marketing serves that purpose. Excellent article and I like how you organized it!

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