Your Complete Primer
to Inbound Marketing
Traditional marketing keeps fading. Savvy consumers block sales blasts before the message even has a chance to hit home. And only 18% of marketers say outbound practices provide their highest quality leads.
If you haven't done so already, it's time to focus on content. Your organization's content—from social media to e-newsletters—forms the foundation of inbound marketing.
Rather than pushing advertisements out to the general public, inbound marketing focuses on attracting the right visitors, then cultivating relationships with them through meaningful content. This requires moving beyond a simple website and an outdated sales funnel model—but the resulting exponential growth is worth the effort.
To visualize inbound marketing, imagine a flywheel in place of the traditional sales funnel. Funnels are outdated because they don’t consider how customers who have reached the end of the process can remain relevant to your organization, amplifying success.
While funnels lose momentum, flywheels keep spinning.
Think about it: Every prospect (member, donor, supporter, etc.) is already on a quest to accomplish a set of goals. Since they might not know where their journey will lead them, inbound marketing acts as a faithful guide. Your brand’s educational guidance—your content—builds trust and long-term growth for both you and your prospect. Inbound marketing flywheels are full of genuinely helpful interactions that allow you to build a relationship by learning more about prospects and guiding them toward solutions to their problems.
This relationship-focused approach to marketing goes beyond solving prospects’ immediate needs. You also facilitate their long-term growth. In turn, prospects and customers consider your organization to be a valuable resource, one they can return to and recommend to others.
Let’s consider what tools, information, and resources your organization needs to take prospects around the flywheel, through the three stages of inbound marketing: attract, engage, and delight.
Every organization has different goals, but the staples necessary to get started with inbound marketing are the same:
- Personas. Before you can initiate any relationship, you need to understand who you’re trying to connect with. Developing fictional representations of your ideal consumers, aka personas, ensures that you know your audience.
- Keywords. Once you understand your personas and their pain points, you must develop a strategic SEO plan. Research keywords and phrases to bridge the gap between your personas and a data-driven content strategy.
- Content Strategy. Inbound marketing is all about a two-way conversation between your organization and your target audience. Content strategy is the plan for how you'll get that conversation started. Bonus: We love including HubSpot Conversations in our strategy implementation because it lets you interact with prospects on the channels they prefer—through email, bots, live chat, or messaging apps.
- Social Media. Inbound marketing refocuses social media efforts by targeting your personas. This includes an emphasis on sharing content—both your own blog posts and info from other solid sources your personas will enjoy.
- Website design. You want to deliver an experience that caters to your leads’ preferences from the moment they engage with your content. If they prefer direct engagement, create a clear path to a 1:1 conversation through a bot or phone call. If your personas aren’t quite ready for a direct conversation, develop website pages and conversion opportunities to empower visitors to learn more.
Inbound marketing takes consumers through three personal, organic stages that represent the buyer’s journey. First, you attract; then, engage, building relationships with prospects by adding value to their lives through both your conversations and products and services. But it doesn’t end there. In the third stage, you delight current customers, inspiring them to become promoters of your organization.
Buyers don’t want to be sold to—they want to be empowered, educated, and inspired.
Think about what you do when you have a problem to solve: You research potential solutions, often weighing the pros and cons of products and services along the way. This is how you make your audience aware of your organization at the beginning of the attract stage. You increase traffic to your website by understanding consumers’ problems and offering helpful solutions.
Examples of inbound marketing strategies at the “attract” stage include rich keyword development, pillar pages and blogs, and social media engagement. The point is to position yourself to be in the right place at the right time.
While attracting people to your content once involved just pushing out the maximum number of new blogs every week, things are different now.
Today, most successful content marketers:
- Build visibility across topics, rather than keywords
- Provide answers to questions
- Publish long, authoritative pages
- Form all of their content into a set of topic clusters with carefully planned internal links
By defining your audience and optimizing your website to offer content that solves their problems, you will attract consumers into your space rather than blasting sales messages out into the world.
For some organizations, helpful content will primarily be educational. For others, it makes sense to sprinkle in inspiration or entertainment. Buyers want something pretty simple: a positive, connecting experience that encourages them to come back for more.
In this stage, your new website visitors—who are now leads—should be nurtured with a continuous supply of fantastic content. This is also a good time to discover more about your prospects. Which pieces of content do they gravitate toward most? How can you craft ads targeted toward your audience’s most frequently asked questions? How can you personalize their experience with your company, speaking to leads as people, rather than faceless visitors?
For most companies, offering visitors helpful, specific content requires a minimum of two to eight blogs per month, multiple social posts each week, and a monthly e-newsletter. Utilize a CRM (customer relationship management) such as Hubspot to leads’ action on your blog and website, then trigger follow-up emails or content offers that guide them closer to making a purchase or donation.
If you’re wondering how to come up with all this content, you’re not alone. But creating content shouldn’t feel like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. You need a strategy. A winning content strategy includes a list of offers, or premium content, offered on your website, as well as a content calendar for blog posts.
It’s crucial for all content, at all stages, to have a clear call-to-action (CTA). There are many fantastic ways to guide your leads into a deeper relationship with your organization:
- Subscribe to your blog
- Sign up for your monthly e-newsletters
- Comment, share, or like a blog post
- Make an appointment
- Schedule a discovery call
- Download an ebook or other lead magnet deliverable
Don’t forget to create compelling landing pages for your lead magnets. A landing page is a web page your user lands on after clicking the CTA. It should include the same language as the CTA itself, a clear offer, image, and brief description. Once someone reads through the copy on the landing page, they will decide whether to click “download” or fill out the form.
Closing the deal at the end of the “engage” stage looks different depending on the structure of your organization. For businesses, the goal is to turn visitors into customers. For nonprofits, the goal is to turn visitors into donors. No matter how it looks, it should feel genuinely beneficial for all parties. Nurturing the relationship is more important than a one-time sale.
This is the stage where inbound marketing really shines. At this point, you’ve added enough value and removed enough roadblocks to cement your one-to-one relationship with a visitor, prospective customer, or customer. What’s next?
You continue delighting. Ultimately, the goal of the delight phase is to empower people to think beyond their immediate roadblocks and grow with your company.
The conversation doesn’t end with one purchase. Keep them coming back for more. Become the resource they recommend and evangelize to others. Encourage and enable them to become advocates for your nonprofit or promoters of your product.
Most inbound marketers use surveys and referral programs in the “delight” stage. Both of these strategies allow you to ask your customers questions about how you can improve your process. Also consider segmenting your customer newsletters to deliver “insider knowledge” instead of top-of-the-funnel pitches to repeat customers.
That wasn’t so bad, was it? When you have a solid understanding of the results inbound marketing brings, it’s easier to dive in wholeheartedly.
Once you’ve completed one rotation on the flywheel, it’s crucial to keep that momentum going. That means keeping your finger on the pulse of your customers’ needs and continually reassessing your strategy, which is determined by your specific goals.
Goal setting is a fundamental piece of inbound marketing because it gives your content specific actions to progress toward and helps ensure internal alignment between your marketing and sales teams. Don’t forget to set aside time for analysis regularly — this could be daily, weekly, or monthly. This step will help you figure out how effective your inbound marketing efforts have been and how they can be improved.
Inbound marketing continues to help you adapt to the fast-changing needs of your personas, solidifying your relationship with existing customers and clients to help them become advocates for your organization.