Introduction to Inbound Marketing
To begin learning how to be successful with inbound marketing, let’s start with a story.
Once there was a guy with a lawn mower that would no longer mow lawns. We’ll call him Normal Norm. As was Norm’s habit when things around his home stopped working, he called a buddy who was well-known for his ability to get broken things fixed. We’ll call him Handy Hank.
So Normal Norm texted Handy Hank. Not wanting to burden Hank by asking him to “help” fix it, Norm asked Hank where he would take a broken mower to get it fixed.
“I wouldn’t take it anywhere,” Hank said. “I’d fix it myself like a real man.”
Properly shamed, Norm typed a description of his mower’s problem into a Google search, found some advice on how to make the repair, and, in twice the time it would have taken Hank or a professional repair person, the mower once again was mowing the lawn.
What can we learn from Normal Norm and Handy Hank?
Well, as it turns out, this based-on-a-real-story example is a crude illustration of a powerful strategy known as inbound marketing. Hank’s history of providing valuable advice and useful suggestions made him a go-to source of information and the result was that people came to him when they needed certain types of problems solved — like, say, advice for fixing a broken lawn mower.
Hank, however, wasn’t running a business. You, on the other hand, don’t want to tell potential customers to, in effect, “figure it out yourself.” That’s not good marketing. But you do want to become their trusted, go-to source so that they are “inbound” to your offerings and become loyal customers.
In light of this example, let’s say you had a business selling and/or repairing lawn mowers. If you had effectively used inbound marketing, Normal Norm would have come to your website (or store) without ever bothering to text Handy Hank. He would have paid you to fix his mower or he would have bought a new or used one from you. You would have gained a satisfied customer. And Norm would have saved himself some time and frustration — all without the bruised ego courtesy of an overly blunt friend or the bruised thumb courtesy of an out-of-control socket wrench.
Inbound marketing doesn’t just work for lawn mower businesses. It’s also an effective way to create valuable relationships and product outcomes for almost any business — from retailers to restaurants, hotels to hospitals, and consultants to construction companies.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing emphasizes the importance of building relationships with customers and prospects. These relationships target the individual’s needs, wants, and desires. When a company understands why they’re doing what they’re doing, good things happen. Using agility and client-based content, the inbound marketing strategy will give you results from increasing your client-base to making projects smoother to increasing overall organization.
The goals of the client need to be clearly defined. This is extremely important. Customers want to be educated about their goals and how to go about them.
Much like Normal Norm, clients can find themselves in a world of uncertainty when it comes to marketing. This is where you come in: those who practice inbound marketing outline a strategy focused on the clients’ goals and independent research.
Your business wants to provide value. Continuing our story from before, Handy Hank had resources to offer. He was an outlier in a sense. Your business should function in a similar way. What can you do that others simply cannot? Essentially, you want to provide information and resources of your own. To begin, you must consider the following process: Attract, Engage, Delight… Repeat.
Ready for that “edge” on your competition? Here we go!
Stage One: Attract
A relationship starts with identifying who your audience is. What do they like, what do they dislike, what do they need, what do they desire? The list goes on.
Once you figure out the demographic you’re targeting, you begin the journey of inbound marketing. An extremely important element of the “attract” stage is researching your audience and collecting data that helps with understanding their specific goals, abilities, and roadblocks.
One way to display the data you gather from clients is through “buyer personas.” These are individuals that represent your target market. This means that they are semi-fictional but still very important when it comes to gathering data. Buyer personas are who you want to invest your time, energy, and resources in. When you imagine your clients’ needs and how they want you involved in meeting them, your understanding will strengthen. Not only that, you will find out what works and what doesn’t. This knowledge is a key component of inbound marketing.
The “attract” stage isn’t done quite yet. In addition to buyer personas, there’s such a thing as a buyer’s journey. This is a set of processes that a buyer goes through before making a purchase, and it’s important to understand this so that you can be in a similar mindset. In other words, it’s time to practice empathy, which we’ll get into more later.
This journey typically involves four stages (the marketing world at-large generally tells you about the first three, but we’ve now added a fourth):
- Awareness – This is when someone is experiencing a problem or sensing an opportunity. They’re doing some research to more clearly understand that problem or opportunity so they can set a course of action.
- Consideration – Once a person has clearly defined and named their problem or opportunity, their research shifts to identifying and understanding the available approaches and/or solutions.
- Decision-Making – Now the person has decided on a solution, a strategy, a method, or an approach, and they are compiling a list of vendors and products that fit their needs.
- Post-Purchase – The decision-making phase typically ends in a purchase decision. After that, the person could remain involved in a number of ways, including writing a good or bad review, recommending the purchase to friends, or becoming a repeat customer.
So, there you have it! The buyer’s journey is part of the inbound marketing process and works similarly to Normal Norm and the restoration of his broken lawn mower.
One of the most important factors of content creation is empathy (see, I told you we’d get back to this!).
Empathy is something that needs to be emphasized more and more in today’s marketing environment. Without it, we lose focus on respecting and supporting one another.
Empathy can also be practiced via social media. When you observe and record the trends that affect mainstream society, you’re increasing knowledge of the marketing environment. Following trends helps you understand the needs of clients, what they like and dislike, and so on.
If you know the environment you’re targeting well enough, you will be able to better your own ads, marketing campaigns, and social media. How cool is that?
On to Stage Two.
Stage Two: Engage
So let’s say you have your audience. You have an idea of what they want from you, and now, you have the exciting opportunity to engage with them.
The engaging process is a crucial part of the inbound marketing process. This is where you add value to the buyer and their journey to accomplish specific goals and desires. You need to create content that answers two questions:
- What is the reason–a goal, a problem, or something else–that the client is seeking help?
- How can you help the client reach solutions?
Once you’ve got these answers, the foundation for content growth has been created.
Let’s get into what “content” entails. Content can range from social media posts to blogs to videos and so on. These are things that are going to connect, communicate, engage, and bring joy to both the client and your team.
The “engage stage” is supposed to be fun. You get to know your audience, create connections, and use the resources your company has to provide value to the entire process. If you aren’t smiling while working, then you’re not practicing inbound marketing.
This is not to say that roadblocks won’t occur. You certainly will experience challenges in the “engage” process. This is where empathy once again comes into play. Empathy encourages communication, allowing you and your team to figure out who can take on the obstacle
head-on and break down the process so that progress is not hindered.
You know you’ve completed the engagement process when your team arrives at a CTA. A CTA is an acronym for “Call to Action.” These are specific goals or next steps. Tasks have been assigned, communication has not ceased, and your team is ready to exceed client expectations.
In another sense, your clients are a couple of Normal Norms, and they’ve taken action to prevent further damage to their lawn mowers (and egos). You, a Handy Hank of sorts, are ready for Stage Three.
Stage Three: Delight
All in all, you want everyone to be as happy as possible in the end. Inbound marketing isn’t a perfect process, but it is effective when it comes to meeting your goals as closely and as efficiently as possible.
When you’re the known resource for innovative ideas or solutions to specific issues, the whole neighborhood will be talking about how great you are. Your ability to do what others cannot is where client satisfaction will root and grow, hopefully improving your passion for the work you do as well. The more you love what you’re doing, the more you’re going to bring genuine value to your team and to your clients.
The “delight” stage is also an opportunity for feedback. Take in what your clients have to say, as well as what your team has to say: the good, the bad, and the ugly. Constructive feedback or criticism is the key to agile marketing. You live, you learn, you move on… but most importantly, you grow.
Stage Four: Repeat
So, you’ve attracted, engaged, and delighted your client. What next? You get to repeat it all again!
Inbound marketing is a circular process.
Before you worry about getting bored and tired of the same ol’ same ol’, remember this: every single trip around the flywheel will be unique to your client. Every project will present some new challenge, some new opportunity, and some new educational experience.
You’re officially the neighborhood’s handyperson.
To Sum it All Up
That was a lot of information, but if there’s one thing you take away, it should be this: inbound marketing will prepare you for business, create solid customer experiences and relationships, and provide overall value to your marketing process.
When everyone does their role as best as they can, a product will be created. Whatever product it may be, there will be lessons that come along with it: What went well? What didn’t go well? What can we do better?
Nothing will ever be perfect. If I have not said that enough, I want to reiterate it here and now. Inbound marketing is about learning quickly from your mistakes so that you can help better your client and team experience.