Inbound Marketing is a process not a piece of software
Once you understand the process, the choice of software you use to implement it is up to you.
The truth of inbound marketing as an effective process for generating and qualifying leads for your business is difficult to refute.
The principles were well documented by Seth Godin in his book Permission Marketing in 1999 and in turn Godin references the ideas published by Peppers and Rogers in The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time in 1993.
The limiting factor in practically applying the principles has always been the cost of the technology.
Nobody ever said that the process was flawed. It was just very expensive to implement.
So what is Inbound Marketing?
It’s the principle of tailoring marketing communications for each customer to match their sales stage and needs.
And the process of publishing and optimising content that is designed to be attractive to your specific buyer types.
In order to convert them into leads (usually with higher value content).
Then triggering a specific marketing nurture sequence to follow up over time to re-engage and further qualify.
Until the lead is sales ready.
So that’s Content Marketing + SEO + Blogging + Social Media + Marketing Automation. In fact most processes that are designed to connect with buyers as they do their purchase research could be described as inbound to some extent.
As opposed to outbound
By contrast most traditional views of marketing and advertising are based upon the idea of ‘interruption’ by forcing your messages in some way into the daily lives of people who you believe (at some point) might buy from you.
“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”
What makes inbound attractive?
Large scale interruption is expensive and not particularly effective, whereas being found ‘naturally’ by people who are actually looking to purchase is obviously a more desirable and cost effective scenario.
How to do inbound marketing
Inbound marketing should be considered as a complete process from being discovered by new prospects through your content marketing; driving conversion to leads; then following up to build trust and preference over time.
The content and messaging you use should be defined by an understanding of how your product or service meets the needs of your customers.
After all what you are looking to create is a customer journey tailored to meet the needs of your customer segments. You might for example have a completely different process and set of content for a novice buyer, compared to an experienced or professional buyer.
In fact one of the most important first steps for developing an inbound process is to define customer personas and using these to design a customer journey that is implemented via content and messaging.
In order to manage this process for each contact or lead there needs to be a system that tracks interactions and your contact’s activity.
The system should make changes to the sales stage of your contact when they take certain actions, initiate targeted email autoresponders when criteria are met, alert sales teams when certain levels of qualification are achieved.
When researching inbound marketing you’ll find that there is a lot of emphasis placed upon the content marketing and SEO aspects, but it is the Marketing Automation that keeps the process moving and enables the ‘one-to-one’ personalisation.
Choosing your inbound toolset
None of the activities needed to create an inbound process require a specific piece of software, in fact there is a great deal of choice as to how you might achieve it.
If you have a WordPress website already for example you will already have a fantastic blogging platform to build upon.
The main components you will need are:
- Blogging platform
- Email marketing
- Conversion forms / Landing pages
- Contact database / CRM
- Marketing Automation
Many marketers already have the majority of these and try to create an inbound flow using any automation features that exist within the individual tools.
Which whilst correct in principle has the major flaw of not having a ‘single customer view’ and correlating activity across the system in a way that decisions about what should happen next can be made from a central control point.
This is why it’s crucial that the Marketing Automation component is the ‘brains’ of your setup and your primary consideration.
Also, a good Marketing Automation system will include email marketing, conversion forms, a contacts database / CRM and sometimes live chat too. Radically simplifying the complexity of integrating these tools together.
These components are included for the very good reason that it allows deep integration to be built in.
And for any intelligence gathered from each of the components to be used in making nurturing and lifecycle decisions as well as effective personalisation.
Cost and benefit
If you’re not price sensitive, you might choose to use an inbound solution that includes the ability to publish blog posts and host your website, (as well as the automation smarts) which can be attractive.
Or if you are working to a budget but still believe that inbound marketing automation can offer something to your business, or even if you are nervous about the lock-in of building your content out on rented ground…
There are great options at a fraction of the cost.
Just remember, ultimately it is the inbound process that you are building that will deliver those results. Not necessarily any one piece of software.
And take your time to understand how you will use the process to build great customer journeys.