Inbound marketing exists today because of a change in buyer behaviour.
“Let’s imagine you want to buy a car,” says Andrew Thomas, Head of Marketing at leading inbound marketing agency Digital 22. “The chances are, even today, you’ll visit a dealership and meet with a salesperson. Historically, that person held a huge amount of information about the prices of the cars and the functionalities – information that you didn’t have access to.
“That was the old way – the power dynamic was seller-to-buyer and very high-touch. The buyer was low on knowledge, the seller was not. The seller educated the buyer; they owned the process. Long meetings and multiple conversations were needed in the dealership so the buyer could make a decision.”
Consumers in the know
Thomas explains that today, the balance is very different. You might know the car you want, maybe even the model and the specifications. “You know how much it costs and how much other dealerships in the area are charging. You’ve been conducting research for weeks or even months. Perhaps you’ve even chosen a specific dealership.”
The traditional buyer/seller model has been flipped on its head.
This can be attributed, largely, to the advent of mobile technology and high-speed internet as well as the growing prominence of social media channels. “Because we use these, buyers today are information rich,” says Thomas.
“Think about how easy it is to watch a YouTube video or read a review and get everything you need to know the way you want to receive it.”
Because of how easy it is to access information, potential buyers often invest a lot of time in researching before they even reach out to an organisation. More often than not, they’ll have been through many sales funnels before they pick up the phone or send an email.
The process should be low-touch, low-friction and easy for the buyer to engage in. “The company that shares knowledge before the sales conversation is going to win.”
Today’s buyer has the power. Companies need to implement a marketing strategy that is an evolution of the way things were previously done.
Inbound vs. outbound marketing
What does outbound marketing look like?
Newspaper and magazine ads
Buying lists / scraping LinkedIn
These methods are interruptive and low on content. Targeting is broad.
Outbound marketing is a numbers game, so lists need to be as comprehensive as possible. The hit rate will on average be around 1% or 2%, meaning there is likely to be a huge churn and significant wastage at the end.
Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is value-led. It focuses on content distributed through channels that organisations can really own. This includes:
A focus on owned channels
Social media posts
Premium content like whitepapers and industry reports – available for download
Segmented PPC with retargeting
A GDPR compliant database of engaged members who have signed up themselves.
On top of this, there are also tools such as newsletters and email lists, which are based on permission – people who sign up to hear what a company is saying. It’s about offering content and educational activities in your marketing mix that encourage people to become part of your database.
Inbound is about growth in organic and sustainable ways. It is, essentially, a more human approach to modern digital marketing.
A snapshot of the inbound marketing methodology
Awareness is where the marketing and buying journey begins. The prospect may have a problem and is considering potential solutions. They certainly don’t know what that answer is yet, as there are many routes and options. This is the starting point.
The next stage is consideration. The prospect has moved through the awareness phase. They now understand the problem and what the solution should be. This stage is about weighing up the options – looking at different vendors, platforms and companies; assessing the pros and cons. They are still researching and trying to reach the final stage, which is decision.
Decision is where the buyer picks their plan and commits to the purchase. By this point, they are all in. They’ve got the budget; they are certain they want to make this move and they’re likely to pick the best vendor of the companies they’ve been researching.
“Inbound marketing is all about that early stage,” says Thomas. “Too many companies concentrate their efforts on the decision phase, screaming ‘hey, buy our product, we’ve got an offer on.’
“But this will prove fruitless if they aren’t aware of who the buyer is and why they should work with you. In fact, they probably aren’t going to find you in the first place.”
Inbound, however, is about looking at the journey in terms of research, education and understanding. Providing people with targeted, value-led content so they can start to build a relationship with your organisation.
This means, Thomas explains, that they will make their way through that funnel to the crucial decision stage, and that by this point they will hopefully have a strong relationship with your brand, making conversion more likely.
Here’s an example of what an inbound journey could look like from a marketing POV.
Stage 1. You are a stranger to the buyer, but you’re helping to establish a relationship by answering common questions via your website content.
Stage 2. You’re creating high-value content, such as an industry report or a whitepaper that might be of interest to the buyer. You attract people to that report via blogs.
Stage 3. Offering website visitors the opportunity to download the report or whitepaper, you capture their details. This means you can start to send them emails, newsletters and timely contextual content that will help to transition them from being a lead to the point of becoming a customer.
Stage 4 plus. You don’t stop here, even when they are a customer. If you are continuously invested in the inbound marketing methodology, you’re looking to re-engage past and potential customers by posting regular content. You want them to come back to the website and find value in the brand. You’re establishing authority and brand awareness with educational content. This strategic and thoughtful approach will encourage connections to share content with their friends and their networks. That’s where true growth comes from.