Understanding What Inbound Marketing Really Is In 2017
Inbound marketing is, in my opinion, widely misunderstood.
The idea that publishing a nice landing page and decent case study will drive thousands of leads essentially on its own is a myth. That old saying, “build it and they will come” doesn’t apply to inbound marketing.
I think that’s partly the doing of strong, marketing-lead organizations (perhaps, umm, some marketing automation vendors) who have created this illusion that inbound marketing is easy, happens immediately, and is possible for any organization in any industry.
Spoiler alert: it’s none of those things. However, inbound marketing still plays an important role in marketing programs and should be carefully balanced with Demand Generation strategies (outbound marketing). Wait – what’s the difference? A little housekeeping before going any further:
Inbound Marketing (lead generation): Attracting/Acquiring a desired audience to you and your content (pull technique)
Outbound Marketing (demand generation): Distributing your message/content to a specific audience (push technique)
With inbound marketing, you don’t really control who comes to your website and engages with your organization. You hope it’s your ideal audience, but you don’t 100% know. With outbound marketing, it’s a highly targeted audience that you are deliberately trying to get in front of and engage.
Back to inbound marketing and understanding what it really is. I’m often asked which is more expensive between inbound and outbound marketing. The answer: inbound marketing by a mile. In fact, when executed correctly, inbound marketing is a highly strategic initiative that requires significant investments of resources and money.
If you still believe inbound is easy and/or relatively inexpensive, I’m going to break down four keys to executing a quality inbound marketing program.
Inbound marketing requires good content
When I say good content, I mean high-quality, thought-provoking content. Not a solution brochure or a great case study. Collateral that contains original content, thought leadership and value-add knowledge. You may have to partner with a respected and authoritative voice within your industry. It can be expensive, but it is the difference between acquiring a lead and another bounced visitor.
Inbound marketing requires an investment in distribution
One of the most important parts of inbound marketing is getting your great content in front of the right audience. And unfortunately, this is expensive too. You’ll want to distribute this content across a variety of mediums including (but not limited to) targeted LinkedIn and PPC campaigns, respected industry publishers (their web properties and email sends) and more. There’s no point investing in great content if you don’t tell the right people about it. Unless you are HubSpot, Shopify or another organization with millions of followers already tapped into your brand and message, content distribution will play a major role in the success of your inbound marketing program.
Inbound marketing requires MarTech infrastructure
This is where technologies like marketing automation platforms come into play. A successful inbound marketing campaign will rely heavily on landing pages, automated emails, lead scoring, and more. The important thing in this stage is to understand your new leads and identify which might result in an immediate sales opportunity. One clever trick to consider: try asking that question on the form in your landing page. In the past, I’ve had a solution timeline drop down field that asks “Will your organization be investing in TECHNOLOGY XYZ in” with four options: 3 months, 6 months, 12 months, and No Immediate Plans. The idea is to qualify where the lead might be in their buying journey for that particular solution.
One often overlooked detail: just because the leads don’t engage immediately in this campaign, doesn’t mean they won’t later. You should constantly be messaging and engaging with this lead you acquired – not with sales messages, but with increasingly engaging, valuable content. Not all leads move through your marketing and sales funnel at the same speed. And if you do use the solution timeline suggestion from above, make sure to create nurture campaigns for each. While this can be a lot of work, this level of detail can be the difference between an inbound campaign with mediocre results and great results.
Inbound marketing requires qualification guidelines and processes
This is probably the least prioritized part of inbound marketing. Suppose you are successful in creating valuable content and driving a ton of leads, how will your team handle that load? Sure, you can automate scoring, nurturing, and to an extent, qualifying leads, but at some point, Sales will need to get involved. Does your qualification criteria match that of Sales? Will their schedules accommodate contacting a slew of new hot leads? Does Sales buy into the message and content of the program? And most importantly, can Sales properly continue that message? It sounds obvious, but if Marketing is investing a lot of resources into a big thought leadership whitepaper, they will need to educate and enable Sales on the content as well. Marketing should never “throw” leads over the fence to Sales. You need to hand them off in a measured and mutually agreeable way. Both departments need to work together in order to make an inbound campaign successful.
If you’re not sure how to tackle inbound, why not contact us? Our strategists are always up for a challenge!