Sometimes, the best things are inbound. That might very well be true for inbound marketing, a strategy that no longer deserves to be called emerging. In 2019 and beyond, inbound marketing is a powerhouse.
Most companies use at least parts of it, whether or not they know it. Some have embraced it fully, building their entire online presence around the inbound concept. What side you land on almost doesn’t matter; today, inbound marketing affects your business, whether you want to or not.
That brings up some natural questions: what is inbound marketing? How did we get here, and where are we going? And, most importantly, how can you leverage the concept for greater marketing success within your business and industry?
What is Inbound Marketing?
Let’s start with the basics. Inbound marketing, at its core, is a philosophy. It assumes that in the digital age, consumers and business customers alike are not waiting to hear from you. They do their own research, and they make evaluations and purchasing decisions based on credibility and value.
That means traditional ads and email blasts no longer work nearly as well as they once did. Forget about cold calls. What you need instead is a strategy that pulls your audience into your online presence, and convinces them that they’re the right fit for you. Enter inbound marketing.
Three concepts make up the core of inbound marketing: through various marketing channels, you attract your audience to your website. Once there, you engage them with great content. They become leads as a result of gated content, and you delight them to the point of purchase.
A traditional business might purchase a lead, give them a call and an email, and hope they respond. An inbound-focused business researches their audience, and finds out what they value and look for. Then, it builds content designed around those findings. That content is gated behind a sign up page to gather contact info. By the time the user converts, the business has built up credibility, value, and plenty of valuable information about its new lead.
To be more specific, inbound marketing tends to leverage a variety of channels, all of them unpaid:
- Your website
- Social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn
- Search engine optimization
- Email marketing
- Analytics that show audience journeys and conversion statistics
The website is the engine. It runs on content, and its road is organic channels like social media, search engine optimization, and email. When followed, that road reliably leads to success and business growth.
Why Does Inbound Marketing Matter in B2B?
The core concept is applicable in both B2C and B2B. At the same time, it brings unique advantages to the B2B realm that are worth considering further.
Credibility matters for B2B buyers, who tend to look for long-term relationships with their partners and vendors. The research phase and buyer’s journey tends to be more extensive. Almost three quarters of B2B buyers conduct their own research online. And of course, personal relationships that build over time are absolutely crucial for success.
Inbound efforts, in their own way, address all three of these concerns. Relevant, high-quality content improves credibility. That same content positions your company as a valuable resource for your audience. Meanwhile, personalized messages built on lead generation build valuable long-term relationships.
So yes, inbound marketing matters within a B2B environment. According to HubSpot, a leader in this area, word of mouth remains the most important channel even for business buyers. That word of mouth is much more likely to come through high-value, shared content than a random ad on a web page.
Recent Trends in Inbound Marketing
It’s impossible to talk about inbound marketing without at least addressing its constantly changing nature. That simple example of an inbound process we shared above? It might have been true in 2006. Today, as channels proliferate and options multiply, it only gets more complex.
Mobile, for instance, is taking an increasingly central role even in business environments. Research has found that 80% of B2B buyers use mobile devices to conduct some work, and 60% have used them specifically in making a purchase. Content developed for mobile users tends to get more shares, engagement, and conversions.
Voice assistants are also making a name for themselves. Searches on sites like Google are becoming more conversational because they’re spoken rather than typed. In fact, ComScore predicts that by 2020, 50% of all searches will be made via voice.
Ready to keep going? Chatbots are revolutionizing the way even business-facing marketers are operating. Through artificial intelligence and machine learning, they’re able to pick up on common questions and answers over time, adjusting their conversations to become more human and less robotic. That might change the way in which we communicate as part of the lead nurturing process.
All of these have significant implications for inbound marketing. They also show that, at its core, we’re not talking about a fad here. Inbound has become the philosophy to guide most of what we do in digital marketing. Naturally, that means any general trends in the digital realm necessarily apply to inbound, as well.
5 Dos (and 5 Don’ts) of Inbound Marketing
Enough with the basics. Let’s get down to the nuts and bolts of the philosophy. To truly embrace inbound, keep these five tips in mind. All of them are accompanied by an action too many marketers just learning about inbound marketing tend to take.
1) DO: Focus Everything on Your Audience
DON’T: Start With Your Business Definition and Features
Everything in inbound marketing revolves around your audience. If you can’t reach them or convince them, you will not succeed. That means every strategy has to start with thorough audience research, persona development, and similar efforts.
2) DO: Address Audience Questions and Values
DON’T: Optimize For Specific Keywords
Inbound marketing is built on the value you can provide. The more valuable and relevant the content, the more likely potential buyers will give you their attention and contact info. Rather than focusing on specific, industry-wide keywords and topics, build your mark on that value.
3) DO: Use Email Marketing as a Targeted Lead Nurturing Opportunity
DON’T: Blast Emails With Irrelevant Content to Irrelevant Audiences
Email is the glue that holds inbound marketing together, especially after the initial lead conversion. But you can’t treat it as an outbound, push tactic. Instead, segment your list, personalize your messaging, and make sure that each message you sends builds on the value you want to communicate instead of just making another sales pitch.
4) DO: Build Your Strategy With the Entire User Journey in Mind
DON’T: Focus on Awareness or Lead Generation Only
This philosophy is holistic. It’s most frequently mentioned in connection with lead gen, but actually works from awareness to customer retention. Treat it that way, building out a strategy designed to stick with your audience from the time they first hear about you to the nth time they buy from you.
5) DO: Strive for Continuous Improvement
DON’T: Set and Forget
So many channels working in conjunction with each other is almost impossible to get right. Inbound marketing is not a strategy you set up and watch how it works. Monitor success, especially based on conversions, and make continuous tweaks to ensure that you’re sending the right message, to the right audience, at the right time.