You do content marketing. You have a blog and you publish content regularly.

But is your technique any good? Do you have an real inbound marketing strategy?

As we move into another year of marketing our business online, now is a good time to sit back and take a look at how we are doing, and evaluate what we could be doing better. Sure, we’ve been doing the content marketing thing, but are we getting the most we can out of it? Does our process constitute an actual strategy?

inbound marketing strategy

Can your customers hear you now? Boost your inbound marketing.

As the popularity of content marketing heats up, we need to step up our inbound marketing game to make sure we are making the most of our efforts. We need to formulate a real inbound marketing strategy.

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What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is the art of leading our customers to us by providing them value, rather than pitching products or services through interruption. We conveniently deliver information that benefits them.

In laymen’s terms, inbound marketing is about selling our products and services without beating our customers over the head with ads.

This inbound marketing strategy usually brings us customers through the creation and distribution of relevant content that our audience finds useful. In contrast to the more traditional push marketing (like TV and banner ads), inbound marketing sounds passive, but in reality it does a much better job of building a long-term customer base.

With an  inbound marketing strategy, we are looking to attract, acquire, and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience that will turn into a profitable customer over time.

Push Marketing = Bad
Push marketing is interruption marketing. It usually pushes its way in while we are doing something else like watching television or reading an online article. I often experience push marketing when watching videos on YouTube with my kids. Each time we click on a new episode of Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck, we are interrupted with an unrelated ad for car.

86% of people skip through television commercials.Click To Tweet

Push marketing usually isn’t relevant, which is what makes it so irritating. Here are a few more facts about push marketing.

  • 44% of direct mail is never opened. It’s a waste of time, postage and paper.
  • 86% of people skip through television commercials.
  • 84% of 25-34 year-olds have clicked out of a website because of an “irrelevant” or “intrusive” ad.
  • The cost-per-lead in push marketing is more than for inbound marketing

Why should we use push techniques to buy one-time interruptions when consumers aren’t even paying attention? Wouldn’t our time and money be better spent developing long-term relationships with customers that are paying attention to what we do because they’ve sought us out in the first place?

That’s what inbound marketing is all about.

Inbound Marketing = Good
In contrast to push marketing, inbound marketing usually takes on the appearance of a blog, ebook, or social media profile that contains content that customers are already interested in and are searching for online. It is content that brings the customer in on their own because it is helpful and useful to them.

In today’s market, inbound content marketing is skyrocketing because it costs less and is more likely to convert one-time visitors into loyal, long-term fans.

Why An Inbound Marketing Strategy Works

Think back on some of the major purchasing decisions that you have made. What type of salesmen have you ended up buying from? Chances are that you can think of a few salesmen that you didn’t really like, and so you didn’t use them to make a purchase. On the other hand, you can also think of a few salesmen that you really liked, and happily used to make a purchase. The point is that we don’t usually end up buying things from people that simply have stuff for sale. We buy from people that we know, like and trust.

All things being equal, people will do business with, and refer business to, those people they know, like and trust. – Bob Burg Click To Tweet

Inbound Marketing Builds Trust

And inbound marketing strategy is basically a “know, like, and trust” strategy. The goal isn’t to bang someone over the head with our tagline or logo, but rather, develop an ongoing relationship with them as an audience member and potential customer. The online marketer today has to think about their customers in a three-step process.

inbound marketing strategy

1) Visitor -> Audience Member (Know)
Our first job is to turn an online visitor into a member of our audience. This is where your inbound marketing strategy begins. We all get traffic from various sources. If we are doing content marketing we are getting it from our blog and through our social media feeds. What happens to this traffic once it gets to our site?

If we are truly executing an inbound marketing strategy, we should be trying to convert those visitors into audience members. The most common way to accomplish this is to get our visitor to sign up for a free ebook, email newsletter, or become a follower (or fan) of ours on one of the social networks. This is called conversion, and the goal is get the visitor to start following along with you in some way. There are many ways to boost your conversion rate, and it is a key aspect of a good inbound marketing strategy.

2) Audience Member -> Potential Customer (Like)
Once we have built an audience, we need to look at turning that audience into actual leads, or potential customers. This is one of the trickiest aspects of the entire process, as it can be easy to jump into some of the old push-methods that we discussed early. The key to this step is to realize that our goal isn’t to actually sell anything. At this stage, we simply need to build trust with our audience.

Chances are pretty good that the reason our visitor became an audience member in the first place is because we gave them something that they valued. Perhaps they visited our site through a social post that one of our blog readers shared, or maybe they exchanged their email address for a free copy of our latest ebook. Either way, they likely became a part of our audience because we provided something that they found valuable.

This is all we need to do going forward–continue providing them with things that they find valuable. This is how we turn an audience member into a potential customer. 

3) Potential Customer -> Paying Customer (Trust)
When someone has taken the time to know you (conversion) and like you (ongoing relationship) then you are actually pretty likely to convert them into a paying customer over time. This is something that author Gary Vaynerchuck explains really well. He calls it the “thank you economy.” Basically, we you take them time to invest in your audience, they will develop a trust for your brand, and eventually thank you with their business (or a hearty referral to their friends).

At the end of the day, this is what an inbound marketing strategy is about – trust. Our content is not for selling, it is for building trust with a core audience that can helps us spread and grow online.

Inbound Marketing Leverages Your Strengths

In every business, there are experts. After all, we wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t have any expertise to offer, right? Plumbers know plumbing, marketers know marketing. We are all experts at something. Inbound marketing strategy is about using this expertise to help our visitors and build an audience. That is part of what makes it so effective.

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While we are all experts at watching advertising, we aren’t all experts at making it. But that doesn’t always stop us, does it? Every business owner in the world has spent their share of time playing “marketing director.” It’s the way it goes, wether it comes naturally to us or not. Inbound marketing is natural to all of us, because rather than emphasizing something that we aren’t that good at (advertising), inbound marketing emphasizes something that we know well: how to help our customers.

Bankers can give tips on personal finance and mortgages, retailers can give advice on current trends and decorating tips, and marketers can give advice on inbound marketing and the dangers of push-based advertising. And inbound marketing strategy an effective way for all of us to go.

Inbound Marketing Is Cost Effective

Push marketing is expensive. During the last Super Bowl, a 30 second advertisement went for around $4 million dollars. Obviously, this type of thing isn’t even on the table for most of us, but it highlights the trend. Paid ads on Google and Facebook aren’t cheap either. The  average cost for a single keyword can easily reach $7-$10 per click. These days, on Facebook, it can cost more than $5 per post just to get your audience to see what you are writing.

The point is that paying for advertising is crazy expensive, and because most of it amounts to little more than push marketing, it isn’t all that effective either. We need a better way–a more cost effective way–and inbound marketing is a great answer.

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Inbound Marketing Is What Your Customers Actually Want

At the end of the day, what do your customers really want? Do they want you to blast and obnoxious ad in their face during the local basketball game? Probably not. They want help. Every business is in the business of solving problems. When we use an inbound marketing strategy to solve our customer’s problems through helpful content, we give them what they actually want.

Even better, we give them what they need–help solving their problem.

A Sample Inbound Marketing Strategy

Tim Carter is an expert. If there is anything in your home that hasn’t been built yet, or needs to be fixed, he’s your guy. But, you probably can’t afford him. In fact, many of us can’t afford to have anyone fix our home, and that’s why we usually end up doing it ourselves. This is why I want you to meet Tim Carter. He is a do-it-yourself expert. He’s also pretty darn good at inbound marketing.

inbound marketing example is a great example of inbound marketing at work.

A few years ago I was deep in the middle of a basement remodel. I quickly learned that YouTube could provide me with a lot of assistance as I learned to build walls and lay tile for the first time.

Over and over, I ran into videos by Tim Carter. He knew his stuff, explained it well, and produced really great content. It turns out, he had me at step 1 (Visitor -> Audience Member). I knew Tim Carter. I started to seek him out (step 2), and eventually bought one of his DVDs  (step 3) for some more in-depth learning. Tim totally rocked me as customer, and I am perfectly ok with that. I will outline his strategy using the three step formula.

ask the builder inbound marketing strategy

Tim has hundreds of videos available with helpful advice. It is easy to get to know him.

1) Visitor -> Audience Member (Know)
Tim Carter has written more that 1000 columns and shot over 100 different videos on various DIY home maintenance projects. You can find a video (or videos) of him installing metal roofing, laying carpet, or re-grouting a shower on YouTube and throughout the web. If you do a Google search on any sort of DIY project, you will probably find something from Tim Carter. His website is full of helpful content that is 100% useful and 0% advertising. He’s an inbound marketing rockstar, and it is easy to find him online because of the quantity and quality of his content.

2) Audience Member -> Potential Customer (Like)
Tim uses his content–videos, PDF downloads, articles, and photos–to help anyone that has a pesky DIY project that they need help with. Most of his early visitors come through Google search, just like me, but he doesn’t leave it there. Before too long, many one-time visitors begin their search right from his website, or include his name in their search query. He even offers a free weekly newsletter that is chock-full of advice, tool reviews, and trick of the trade. The quantity and quality of his content both help him turn random visitors into a loyal audience. That audience builds trust with Tim over time and they quickly become a potential customer.

3) Potential Customer -> Paying Customer (Trust)
Over time, I learned that I wanted Tim’s advice on every project before I jumped in with both feet. I started to seek his advice on bigger projects that required much more than a quick 3 minute video. Soon, I found myself in his online store, adding one of his DVDs to my shopping cart. I didn’t even second guess my decision. I didn’t need to look into other options. I already knew, liked, and trusted Tim Carter. He had already helped my dozens of times in the past. Tim had turned a random visitor into a paying customer, without ever dropping a dollar on paid advertising.

Tim isn’t the only one rocking inbound marketing, although he is one of my favorite examples. Larger companies like KISSmetrics have done a great job in building traffic and customers through inbound content. The KISSmetrics blog offers dozens of infographics, blog posts, and ebooks that visitors can download in exchange for their email address. With that address, KISSmetrics sends additional helpful content that they know their audience will find useful. Because the content actually is useful, their audience shares it with their friends…and that’s the magic of inbound marketing.

Readers share the things that they find useful. Readers share the content that KISSmetrics gives them. The growth goes hand-in-hand.

Implementing Your Own Inbound Marketing Strategy

A good inbound marketing strategy  is a must-have for every type of business. As push marketing and advertising get more expensive and more cumbersome, we need to be moving as much of our marketing strategy to inbound marketing as we possibly can.  So, what does a business need to do in order to get there? Start by taking a quick inventory of your situation.

  1. Know Your Expertise – What do you know better than anyone? What problems can you solve in your sleep?
  2. Know Your Audience – What type of questions do your customers ask you first? What is their motivation? What are their needs? Your inbound marketing strategy will only work if you truly understand what you audience wants to hear.
  3. Understand Your Capabilities – What type of content can you create that won’t take too much out of your day? Each business has different habits and capabilities. Will video, audio, or written content work best for you? You must find a balance between quality and quantity.
  4. Discover Your Habits – In order to become an inbound marketing powerhouse, an organization needs to truly understand what it will need to be successful with the process. What are your habits? What are the pitfalls that your company usually falls into with projects like this? Be aware of the warning signs that you’re letting your efforts die away.
  5. Hold Yourself Accountable – Sometimes a tool like CoSchedule is just what a team needs to be successful. It is sort of like that gym membership that you keep around. You need it as a tool for motivation just as much as a tool for getting the job done. What will your business need to be accountable?

Once  you have a basic understanding and inventory of where you are with your business, you need to make a simple inbound marketing strategy. I usually think of strategy as high-level views rather than low-level plans so you need to figure out the big picture here. You need to define how you are going to hit on all three aspects of the sales process.

How are you going to get your visitors to know, like, and trust you? Outline your approach for each:

1) Visitor -> Audience Member (Know)
2) Audience Member -> Potential Customer (Like)
3) Potential Customer -> Paying Customer (Trust)

Creating an inbound marketing strategy for your business is essential. There are a many details and there will be several twists and turns as you move forward with implementation, but the crucial step right now is to get started. Perhaps you have already been publishing helpful content on your blog, but missing the big-picture strategy. No time is better than right now to put one into place. Even companies that have been doing content marketing for years find new life when they finally put their plan on paper, and into practice.