Developing meaningful and long-lasting relationships with our customers by being transparent in the processes and sharing our knowledge to offer them the solutions they need is one of the most important goals of the inbound methodology.
Below, you'll be able to learn how to apply this methodology and know its scope, advantages, and disadvantages as well as when it's convenient to apply it and when it's not.
What's inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is a combination of strategies that work in companies whose goal is to attract customers organically. It's different from traditional marketing since it's based on consumers and their needs and doesn't try to sell a brand or product.
Inbound marketing aims at doing business in a more humane way with the premise that what's good for the customer is also good for the company. It supports the idea that knowledge must be shared and that will result in a more fair and transparent way of doing business by solving problems that customers really need to solve. One of its principles is transparency in processes by providing customers with the information they need to know how the process with the company will be like.
History and evolution
Inbound is a term coined by Brian Halligan, founder of Hubspot, in 2005 to refer to a new way of doing marketing, one that's very different from what was known until that time in traditional marketing. The term is used to differentiate itself from outbound marketing which wants to position a brand or a product by insisting on it with customers.
According to Peter F. Druker, the beginnings of inbound marketing can be traced back to the 50s in the 19th century when the person who invented the combine harvester did some research on the market to catch consumers' interest.
A century later, in the 50s and 60s but in the 20th century, market research started to become important and allowed to learn consumers' preferences and habits. At that time, the information gathered was used for advertising campaigns and all outbound marketing strategies we know.
In the 70s, the theories that gained importance were those in favor of segmenting markets and orienting strategies towards customers. From that moment on, all marketing strategies were optimized reaching new stages as technology allowed them to.
In the 90s, with the emergence of the Internet and search engines, SEO was born in 1997, and, during the 00s, pay-per-click advertising. Technological advances changed consumers' habits very quickly as well as the habits of the people who wanted to get to those consumers: companies. Strategies had to adapt to constant hyperconnectivity in which daily life was developing by implementing changes in the way companies got to consumers and the channels they used for it.
Customization and user experience became more and more important as strategies to differentiate from other companies, to stand out, and be chosen by consumers.
The buyer's journey is the process that customers go through since they realize they have a problem or a need, research into the possible solutions, and decide to convert to solve it.
The buyer's journey has three stages:
AwarenessIt's the first stage that prospects go through. At this point, potential customers are researching a topic; they are aware they have a problem but don't know its causes yet. At this stage, people don't need to be sold anything because they don't know what they need yet; therefore, it's good to offer them high-quality content that helps them learn more about what they are looking into. In general, in this stage, people base their searches on questions like what's this and that?
This is the second stage of this journey. Consideration begins when customers have already identified the problem or need for which they have to find possible solutions. Unlike the previous stage when they were looking into what it is, they now ask questions like: how can I solve this problem? The content you provide in this stage must be specific and prove you're professionals that know about these topics.
This is the last stage potential customers go through. At this point, prospects already know their problems and know how to solve them; now, they have to choose whom they'll hire to do it. Your company must manage to get chosen to solve their problem, so you have to provide them with content that emphasizes your advantages.
Stages of inbound methodology: flywheel model
The cycle based on the customer is a new way to see traditional marketing. For some years now, the model to display the process that all customers go through to buy a product is the well-known purchase funnel; however, inbound marketing suggests that processes should be seen as a wheel-shaped cycle in which the customer is located at the center.
The cycle gives you the possibility of storing and releasing energy, a key element in a company. The cycle shows how a company can propel itself with the same energy it generates. That drive will determine the company's growth. The amount of energy, or momentum, your flywheel contains depends on three things:
- How fast you spin it
- How much friction there is
- How big it is
The speed of your flywheel increases when you add force to areas that have the biggest impact, such as the customer service team. By focusing on how you can make your customers successful, they’re more likely to relay their success to potential customers. Of course, you must remember that every company is different and you may need to identify the area that has the greatest impact to boost it and get positive results.
When you think about the customer cycle, you must acknowledge the functioning of all your teams and eliminate the problems that may stop the wheel. Information transfer and collaboration among teams is vital to avoid your company from stopping its functioning.
Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing.
Inbound marketing and outbound marketing are two different strategies we can use in our business depending on our goals and how we want to attract our potential customers. Below, you'll find the advantages of inbound marketing over outbound marketing:
Steps of inbound marketing: Attract - Convert - Train - Close and Delight.
Knowing the steps that your team must take to make your company grow using the Flywheel model helps eliminate interferences among teams and represents them more fairly. Your team's actions have an impact on your company and on the other teams, therefore, communication and teamwork are very important.
When we talk about the cycle, we accept that there are three key actions you will carry out in your company:
The attraction stage is mentioned first even though we're talking about a cycle since, at some point, customers are included in the process. At this moment, you need to position your company on the Internet and attract future customers with your content. This stage is important to identify the main topic you're going to focus on. To go through this correctly, you need to design a content plan to organize the articles you're going to write, the topics you can add to your main subject, and how you can build your expert image on the topic you want to present to your prospects. It's important to catch their attention with the relevant and well-written content you publish.
In this stage, you have to make sure that your customers can interact with your company when they need to. Through several communication channels and personalized attention, your customers will know your previous success stories, and they'll also be able to enjoy your services; moreover, they can appreciate the value of the company through workshops in which they can take part. The interaction of customers with your business is very important to convert them as well as providing a good service to keep positioning you as experts.
At this moment, customers get information via email that will help them in their purchase process. During this stage, you should provide them with all the necessary content to nurture them about the product they're about to buy and the process to do it. It's important that you also provide them with customized content where you discuss the problem they are going through in-depth. You should also detect their level of engagement with the purchase; in other words, you should be able to determine who are those that are closer to buying a product to focus on them.
4. Close and Delight
At this moment, the marketing area is no longer important and the sales area is in charge of this stage. The work they do here is inbound sales. It's important that every time they approach customers, they have to provide the best service and the necessary tools since customers' recommendation is vital in inbound marketing and it's one of the main channels through which customers will know about your company.
Inbound marketing strategies
When we work with inbound marketing, there are certain strategies we can apply to achieve our company's goals. Below, you'll find the main ones.
1. Defining the target audience
The target audience is the group of people to whom your business wants to address. Defining the target audience is one of the most important tasks you have to carry out; it will help you have a general idea about your potential customers and design better strategies to approach them with your action plan. You should take into account the age range of your target audience, demographic information, interests, and what their behavior is like when they buy your products or services. At this moment, you can turn to your buyer persona since it will provide you with reliable information about your ideal customers.
The buyer persona is a representation of the ideal customers of your business and it's useful to determine how you should approach these potential customers. To create it, you should take into account their work and family situations, their demographic information, and how they behave online. As regards their behavior on the Internet, you should know how they use it, how they approach products, what content they like, and how they access it. This information will help you create the best content to approach them.
Another aspect you need to consider is your competitors to identify who is not being attracted to and use a strategy with them.
2. Communication channels
Once you've defined your target audience, you need to determine the communication channels through which you will communicate with them; these channels can be digital or analog. Below, we will mention the most important channels you can choose from:
Having a blog where you publish relevant content related to your product or service is very useful. You can use different types of texts such as articles, videos, ebooks, among others. This content will help people who are interested in your business know you better.
Social media are the most used mobile apps and it's very important for your business to be there. They allow you to communicate with your audience directly, receive feedback immediately and create a community with your followers.
Email Marketing is another option to get to your customers. This strategy is applied especially in the training stage of your customers since you can send important and customized information to your leads to get more information to make the purchase.
Another way to get to your customers is through in-person events (conferences, talks, online or offline courses) that will allow you to approach them directly.
3. Defining your content plan
Content marketing is a tool used to attract customers to our business naturally. This strategy looks for creating a website where you can publish high-quality, reliable, and necessary content for your target audience. Offering your potential customers high-quality content for the searches they make is important to develop a good relationship where potential customers can lean on to resolve their doubts. Creating a content marketing strategy requires having short and mid-term goals; measuring the metrics you can quantify to be able to determine if your strategy is working or if you need to change it; using the technological tools available that allow you to optimize publications to save time and make the most of them.
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4. Conversion path
Through the conversion content you have available on your communication channels, you'll be able to get more information about your leads such as name and email address. In this category, we can include the following digital elements:
This acronym means "call to action" and by clicking on a particular button, people provide their information in exchange for more content about the topic they were reading.
- Landing pages
They are pages that have the goal of converting people and have fewer elements than a traditional page has. In this type of page, there could be a brief explanation of some downloadable communication element for which readers have to fill in a form and leave their contact information so that the company can send them the desired content.
In general, forms are present on a landing page since placing a form on your web page directly would be very invasive. It's important that you offer some content in exchange for readers' information and that they can receive it at the email address they have provided you.
Emails are another very useful tool since through them you can get in touch with your leads in a more personalized way. It's important that you take advantage of this channel by sending them customized content according to their needs or ebooks that may interest them.
5. SEO Optimization
SEO positioning is an organic strategy that should be implemented in the creation and publication of your web content to get closer to your customers. At present, people look for the answers they need on the Internet and, especially, on Google. This is why there are several ways to achieve good positioning in that search engine to gain more visibility and increase your customers indirectly. SEO positioning is achieved by optimizing your content, following certain writing rules, writing about relevant topics for your audience, and creating authority with your publications. Google tries to give users the best experience by offering them high-quality relevant content and that's what you need to adopt for your strategies so that Google positions you among the first results which are the ones that get the greater number of visitors.
Analyzing the results of all the actions you've implemented in your strategies will allow you to know the results you're getting in-depth. Knowing those results is information you can use to understand what aspects you should improve to achieve the goals you've previously established. There are free useful tools provided by Google such as Analytics.
Main challenges of applying inbound
Like any other decisions we have to make to implement a new way of working, inbound presents some challenges that you need to take into account:
You need to take into account the strategy. Thanks to the digital era we're living in, the way of shopping and approaching a product change constantly which creates new paths all the time. That's why it's important that your business adopts flexible strategies to adapt to these changes and the communication channels that are more used by your potential customers. By being focused on the customer, strategies should be based on the knowledge you have about them, know what networks they use, and the way in which they look for your content; this is relevant information for your strategies.
It's very important to adapt your marketing strategies to the technological tools that are available and it's also another challenge you need to face when you start using inbound. Having a CRM is vital to organizing and automating tasks. There are several tools you can use but you should look into which one will match your company. Adapting yourself to the system you integrate also implies that you need to train all the employees that will use it; it's important that all know how to use it to avoid future problems and delays.
Increasing customer traffic is one of the most important challenges you have to face. Since Inbound methodology is not well-known in Latin American yet, it may be difficult to get customers. Big companies are not used to working with this methodology and can be reluctant to it, but once you get the right tool, the results will be positive for both parties. As in most new businesses, getting customers is difficult but this challenge should not discourage you.
When is it advisable to implement this methodology?
Inbound methodology can't be applied in all cases; there are some variables that we need to take into account to avoid serious errors in the future. Below, you'll find in which cases it's advisable to implement it:
- The average level of tickets ranges from USD 2.500 to USD 3.000: this is so because the inbound methodology doesn't have reduced value but it's a value itself and wants to provide customers with a solution.
- Growing markets: it's profitable to apply it to growing markets since its cost is annual; therefore, it's not useful in limited markets.
- It's suggested to manufacturers and not for retailers: applying this methodology is expensive so it's not advisable if you're not sure this investment will give you high profits; therefore, manufacturers have more advantage over others since they are the creators of the products they sell.
- Thoughtful sale: this type of sale is directly related to all the steps of inbound. The thoughtful sale consists in accompanying customers during the whole process until they convert.
We've been gone through all the main aspects you need to know about the inbound marketing strategy. Inbound is a more humane way of doing business that we can also apply as a philosophy in our daily lives.
Transparency in processes and sharing knowledge are the bases of inbound strategies. Selling just because we want to make our business profitable is not the aim of a company that applies this type of marketing; what's important is to provide our customers with products and services they really need, even if we need to train them about it so that, having all the information, they can make the best decision to solve their problem.