Inbound marketing: the elegant way of addressing customers

In addition to classic e-mail marketing, advertising on search engines (SEA) and social networks, inbound marketing counts as one of the most sought-after and effective ways for boosting your company’s success online. In this guide, you’ll find out exactly what is behind this marketing concept and what kind of disciplines you should master for a successful inbound campaign.

What is inbound marketing?

Winning over new customers has never been easier thanks to global networking. The web has become the central communication and information platform and is a great basis for attracting users to your web project. Advertisements can now not only be displayed in the search engine results, but also directly on social media networks – perfectly matched to the target group. However, even if the costs are low compared to advertising on television and in print, the strong competition within the market means that classic online marketing strategies are seemingly hopeless for new companies. Only financially-stable companies can handle the financial costs of extensive campaigns relating to search engines, social media, and e-mails. The cost-effective and innovative alternative for startups and smaller companies: inbound marketing.

This marketing concept, unlike traditional approaches, is not based on addressing customers directly. New customers are not generated by simply pushing a flyer into their hand, or by them listening to an advertisement on the radio, or by print advertisement, which aims to get them interested in your company. Inbound marketing is based on the idea that users, who are looking for a specific product, find their own way to your website and become new customers of their own accord. As an inbound marketer, there are some things you can do to help, otherwise lead generation (turning users into potential customers) would just be left to chance. The main aim of inbound marketing is to offer value to users by providing informative content, topics, or solutions to problems. After lead generation, inbound marketing aims to convert the leads into actual customers, to retain them in the long run, and turn them into supporters of your brand.

How does inbound marketing work?

Inbound marketing is by no means a short-term marketing plan to lead visitors to your website – an important word in this context is relevance. By creating content that consumers notice and appreciate, you will succeed with this marketing strategy by reaching the target group and building a positive image of the company. If your product portfolio matches your content, then it’s likely that users will find your products and services by looking at your content, since they have already shown interest. The more useful your content is for the site visitor and the more it has to do with your offers, the higher the chance is of winning over high-quality users, leads, and customers.

The following sections explain the most important stages that need to be mastered to turn a visitor into a customer or even into a fan of your company.

Step 1: generate traffic

The basic task of an inbound marketer is to generate traffic for their own website. In this context, you would think about search engine optimization – and how important it is to improve the rankings for an inbound campaign. Your content strategy is of top priority because with the help of informative and high-quality content, you can attract your target group since they have the highest probability of becoming customers. One of the most effective inbound marketing tools is blogging, since a blog can be easily integrated into your existing web project. Once a user has read some blog posts, they aren’t far away from your products.

In addition, it’s recommended to use platforms relevant to your target group, such as Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, or Snapchat. Strong content also does well here; videos and infographics are especially popular with social media users. You can connect with your customers through these channels and share the latest news about your company. On your company’s website, you can also offer podcasts, webinars, e-books, or white papers. The aforementioned search engine optimization enables you to make the best of all the measures, by integrating previously researched keywords into the appropriate context and adding relevant links to your content. For more information on targeted content design, please refer to our guide on content marketing.

Step 2: convert visitors into leads

If you have managed to impress visitors with your website, you have to reap the benefits of your work. A high volume of traffic is a good sign for your project and also relevant for the search engine ranking, but it isn’t a guarantee that you will get the desired conversions and sell products, gain subscribers, or have users download from you. The next step is to turn visitors into leads by getting their contact information – especially their e-mail address. If you don’t do this, you run the risk of visitors leaving your site and then you have no way of getting in touch with them. The trick is to provide great content to impress the user, so that they gladly leave their information.

The easiest way to achieve this is to link the disclosing of contact information with access to exclusive content. If, for example, the prospective buyer wants to download your e-book or take part in a webinar, ask them to enter their e-mail address. Another idea is to allow access to additional features on your web project once a user has shared their contact information. It’s crucial that you have well-placed call-to-actions, such as 'I would like to participate in the webinar' on your website. Clear buttons or links should lead all users, who have followed the call-to-action, to a specially-prepared landing page containing all necessary information and the contact form. It is important to strengthen users’ interest and make the contact form as easy as possible to complete.

Step 3: turn leads into customers

Collecting visitors' contact information is a valuable asset, but as an inbound marketer you need to know how to use this data to your advantage. You should first collect the converted leads in a central database. This way, you can track individual users or certain user groups during customer acquisition and later customer relationship management. We also recommend lead scoring – the qualitative classification of your leads. In particular, it is important to check how up-to-date and complete the user profile is. At the same time, it makes sense to calculate the buyer’s potential.

Analyzing potential new customers serves as a basis for subsequently contacting them. The more you customize, the higher your chances of success: personalized e-mails are a tried and tested method, but when the plan is to gain leads via Twitter, for example, it’s more effective to focus on the short message service. Stay as relevant as possible to your prospective customers and you will see that this effort pays off in the long run, recognizable in an increase in trust and sales figures. Evaluate the cases in which lead-customer conversions are doing particularly well, or not as well, so that you can steadily improve the process.

Step 4: customer care

If there’s sufficient content, it’s optimized for search engines, the traffic is continuously growing, and enough leads and customers are being generated, you can count your inbound marketing campaign as a success. However, this doesn’t mean you can sit back and relax: Gaining new customers is important for your company’s growth, but it is much more important to keep these customers as long as possible. On one hand, it is easier to convince existing customers to make future purchases than to start from scratch with a new customer. On the other hand, inbound marketing also aims to encourage satisfied customers to do your advertising for you, by sharing your content or recommending products.

To maintain a relationship with your customers, you should always keep in contact with them. Newsletters as just as useful as blog posts or social network posts. After the initial phase, make sure that content is high-quality and tailored to your users, since your inbound campaign will be less successful if the quality decreases. The various communication channels are the first point of contact nowadays when customers have problems. Specialized staff are needed to run the profiles and answer any queries so that customers feel at ease and taken care of.

Successful inbound marketing examples

Various advertising campaigns have demonstrated that inbound marketing works. As is often the case when it comes to successful marketing, Coca Cola can be used as a positive example: In 2011, the beverage manufacturer released new labels on its bottles in Australia, declaring 'Share a Coke with…' followed by one of around 250 popular names. The idea got off to a good start, increased sales figures and profits, and quickly made its way onto social media, where customers shared photos of their bottles, and later, cans.

This campaign not only won back the attention of existing customers, but also generated a lot of new leads: In addition to the names editions that were available in stores, it was also possible to order customized versions from the website mail address. This is how the beverage manufacturer collected new contacts for their database.

For their inbound marketing campaigns, many companies use competitions as a way of generating leads. For example, Dove, the personal care brand, ran a contest called 'Real Beauty Should Be Shared' where fans had to explain why their friend represents real beauty. It was a very successful campaign, and was in line with Dove’s idea of ‘real people’ and sharing. The prize was to become the next face of Dove.

Another example is the department store Macy’s, which was founded over 150 years ago, and now boasts over 800 stores in 45 states. A recent competition, named 'Frank Sepe Sweeps', promoted their fitness wear as well as provided weekly fitness tips. All people had to do to enter was to 'like' the page and allow Facebook access. The winner received a $1,000 gift card for a new fitness wardrobe from the store.

The advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is characterized by its low cost. High-quality, goal-oriented content definitely comes with a price; however it’s a lot lower compared to the cost of advertising in print media, TV, and online. This makes it especially attractive for start-ups and companies with small budgets. Due to the fact that inbound campaigns are perfectly tailored to the target group, they generally promise a high success rate when generating leads and customers. If you meet the expectations of customers on a long-term basis, there’s a higher chance that they will promote your company and help you acquire new customers by recommending your product or service.

Inbound marketing is not always the right strategy for advertising. This is because a customer’s satisfaction should be the focus at first, rather than directly pushing for a sale. This means that a lot of time and money needs to be invested before any results can be seen. You will only see an increase in sales and brand recognition in the long-term. The initial effort usually pays off at the latest when leads are converted to customers and promoters. However, it should always be a priority to provide the entire user community with regular high-quality content. The growing demands of regular customers won’t make the task any easier.

The same can also be said about the content’s search engine optimization: Your keyword and link strategy should be matched to the concept of the content so that you can ensure the best possible quality. As a consequence, you have to use SEO more reluctantly with inbound marketing than with other advertising methods. A decisive disadvantage of inbound marketing is the strong focus on generating leads, since many users are reluctant to part with their personal information for privacy reasons and because they’re worried about being spammed. As a result, users tend to be put off when they see contact forms and may even enter wrong information just so they can access exclusive content. This results in extra costs for inbound marketers as they have to sort through 'bad' leads.

Long-term advertising concept with clear target group focus

Inbound marketing has the reputation of being a particularly cost-effective form of modern online marketing. However, you shouldn’t underestimate the necessary costs and, above all, the effort involved when you consider its sub disciplines: content marketing, newsletter marketing, search engine optimization, and customer relationship management (CRM). Particularly at the beginning, implementing high-quality content, which is perfectly matched to the users’ interests, requires a lot of patience and a certain budget. Even with the progressive duration of the campaign, maintaining content is very important – in addition, there’s also the effort involved in converting leads into customers – and the customer care later on.

However, inbound marketing offers a very good lead-customer conversion rate since it generates leads, which result in increased buyer potential. Target group-specific content and user-friendly, well-placed contact forms, linked to meaningful call-to-actions, form the basis to this.