This blog focuses on the pros and cons of inbound marketing – this is a marketing technique that is designed to draw customers to your website primarily through well-tailored, quality content. It contrasts with more traditional, broadcast forms of marketing, like adverts. Ads tend to shout out about products and services, whereas inbound marketing is about answering the questions that people are asking and providing super useful replies.
In fact, if you’ve arrived on this page, it may well be because you are searching for information about inbound marketing. You’ve probably clicked on this blog from a search engine because you think it’s going to help improve your understanding. Bingo, that’s inbound.
Inbound is not a new idea – Seth Godin started writing about it as a concept in 2008 – but it is an idea that has increasingly come into its own as we predominantly research products and services online.
It’s also not a piece of software although it is strongly associated with software platforms like HubSpot and Marketo. Inbound is a marketing approach, but like everything in life, it has some pros and cons.
Inbound marketing works because it’s a common sense approach to marketing. Stop for a moment and think about how you make purchase decisions in the real world or online. Let’s say you know you need a new sofa because your current one is completely scuffed up by your dog.
The first thing you’ll do is hunt around for inspiration or look for a solution to your existing problem – online you might search for ‘how much to reupholster a sofa’ or ‘robust sofas for dogs’. When you find a site that has loads of useful information or has beautiful images or explainer videos, then you are more likely to trust that website. In inbound marketing this is known as the awareness phase.
OK, so let’s say you’ve decided to buy a leather sofa that will definitely withstand your dog. At that point you’ll start hunting down leather sofa shops and manufacturers. Again sites that give you information on grades of leather or care instructions will be the most useful. This is known as the consideration stage – the content on the website is helping you to make a considered purchase.
Finally, you are ready to buy. Again you hit your laptop and look for buyers' guides, sofa comparison information and reviews. Maybe it’s an email with a discount code that finally pushes you to buy. This is the decision making stage – the website content has helped you make a decision and pushed you to purchase.
At every point in this buyer's journey great content plays a part in the eventual sales success: done correctly you can nurture those early stage visitors through each stage until they become customers. If done exceptionally well, you can nurture those customers into repeat customers and brand advocates.
Companies that are great at inbound marketing have websites that are trusted, valuable resources in their own right – which has the secondary benefit of helping those sites rank on Google.
This process of creating content that answers questions is valuable and generates visitors in a virtuous circle. HubSpot talks about a flywheel, we often talk about a snowball effect. The point is that the more you do, the more effective it gets.
Good inbound marketing will organically grow visitors to your website, improve sales/leads and ultimately revenue. Everything works together and nothing is wasted.
In contrast to paid ads, inbound marketing is an investment rather than a sunk cost.
Inbound marketing is not a trick or a way to fool Google – it’s an approach to your marketing and a way of creating value for your customers and potential customers. Again, if done well then no matter what happens in the world of Google algorithms or paid ad auctions, your content will continue to attract valuable visitors to your website.
Inbound marketing is focused on providing useful information and advice for your customers. If you’ve nurtured a visitor through to becoming a customer, delivered a great product or service to them, and if you can continue to delight them with your marketing then you’ll be able to sell to them again, and again, and again.
The LTV of a customer is an important measure of your overall commercial success. The return on your investment into your upfront marketing becomes more valuable the longer you can keep a customer and the more they buy from you. This is particularly important for B2B marketing or professional services as you would hope for a long and happy client relationship.
Great marketing content should support sales – inbound marketing with its strong focus on target customers and lead nurturing should ensure your sales team has qualified sales leads, rather than too many, low quality leads.
Equally, some of the best inbound content is the day-to-day questions answered by your sales teams as it reflects what people are asking and how they are asking it.
Better alignment of sales and marketing so that they support each other rather than compete (it happens in some businesses apparently 😊) makes for a more seamless and integrated experience for your customers through their buyer journey.
As John Wanamaker famously said ‘Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half”. One of the cons of more traditional forms of marketing is that they are hard to measure and it's difficult to attribute success at a useful level.
Inbound marketing is far easier to measure. Using a free tool like Google Analytics you can easily see which blog post or product page has generated the most conversions or engagement. A platform like HubSpot takes this one step further, so you can measure the success of campaigns, downloads, calls to action, even individual sales or customer service interactions.
Better measures means you can make better decisions about future activity – which in turn further propels that flywheel, snowball or virtuous circle.
So much of what’s been said in this blog is caveated by ‘if done well’ because the reality is that some inbound marketing simply doesn’t work. Why is that?
With paid search you turn on some ads and bingo: you get results. It's fast and can be an amazing quick fix, however. inbound marketing does not work like this.
A content strategy takes time to plan, write and publish. Once it's rolling, it takes time to build momentum. We’ve seen clients lose faith too early and revert to paid. Flip flopping between inbound and outbound marketing (and reacting to short term results) is probably one of the quickest ways to waste your marketing budget.
Writing all that content is not easy. Unless that 21 year old intern happens to be your target market, then they will not be the best person to write insightful, expert content. For technical sales you need excellent technical content that is well written and shows your expertise.
You also have to get over ‘giving stuff away’. Inbound marketing is rooted in the concept of ‘give – get’ and permission. You need to be willing to let go of your expertise in the belief that being generous will reap rewards. This change in attitude is a huge effort for some people as it turns on its head some of the old models of business.
To get the best from your investment in inbound marketing, it's important to align sales and marketing. In small businesses this is easy – often it's aligned in a single person or small team. But as businesses get bigger and more complex they can become more siloed.
However, we all know the consequences of a jarring sales and marketing experience: a website that promises the world, but you never get a reply from your sales enquiry, or completing a low key contact form that turns into a weekly call from a sales rep. These experiences eventually will harm your business reputation.
Changing culture as part of your inbound marketing journey is possible and for many businesses it is one of the most impactful elements of inbound marketing. However, if you don’t have the buy-in for this in your business then implementing an inbound methodology will be frustrating!
We may be evangelical about inbound marketing but we also recognise that it doesn’t work for all businesses. The best fit is when you want to establish a long term relationship with your clients so that they become repeat customers and brand advocates.
That’s not to say it doesn’t work for ecommerce – it definitely does – but it might need to be part of a longer term strategy that is supplemented by paid ads and brand building PR.
In summary, inbound marketing does take time and will require buy-in from senior leaders but if you’re tired of being over-reliant on your PPC spend and want to start increasing the amount of organic traffic and leads through to your site, inbound is a no-brainer.
Still not sure? Then check out the case study below. You’ll see first-hand how Noisy Little Monkey implemented inbound marketing for Eclipse Recruitment Software and increased organic traffic by 370%.
Managing Director at Noisy Little Monkey, Nicola posts about Google Analytics and managing marketing teams.
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