You're a marketer, or a business owner, and you're trying to boost sales, or increase your digital presence, or otherwise grow your business. Maybe you've heard the term inbound marketing, or content marketing, but you're leery of buzzwords, and you don't want to waste your time on a passing fad. Maybe you've even tried your hand at some of the techniques that go along with the inbound approach, like running a blog or increasing your social media presence.
In the digital world we live in, it’s no wonder more and more business are turning to digital marketing initiatives to meet their bottom line. When it comes to your digital presence, simply being online isn’t enough any more. You have to find marketing strategies that match the online behavior of your ideal buyers.
Most marketers understand that customers are turning to the Internet to find what they’re looking for; in fact, a recent study conducted by Fleishman-Hillard found that 89% of consumers begin their buying journey with a search engine.
This leaves companies like yours with two burning questions to answer: “How do we get our website to the top of the results page? And once they’re on our site, how do we convert visitors to customers?”
In 2006, HubSpot coined the term “inbound marketing,” which broadly refers to a means of drawing in prospective customers with targeted, relevant content. Inbound and content marketing are terms that are often used interchangeably, but they both reflect the same fundamental digital realities: customers don't want to be sold to, they want to be educated. They want businesses to add value for them even before they've taken the step of purchasing a product or ordering a service. A successful Inbound Marketing Strategy seeks to find ways to provide that value, whether that's in form of blog posts or free consultations. Traditional outbound techniques can still bring in business, but the reason you've been hearing so much about inbound lately is that outbound sales in isolation are no longer enough for most businesses.
By what exactly are the advantages of going inbound, and how does it help businesses attract relevant visitors and convert them into leads? Here are some of the inbound marketing basics:
Inbound marketing is truly a product of the digital age. It’s a uniquely 21st century approach that stands in opposition to traditional means of reaching customers such as print ads, radio ads, billboards, and telemarketing. These are more of a shotgun approach that lack any focus or targeting.
Although these strategies are still used, more and more marketers are finding that inbound allows them to reach a much more targeted audience, allowing them to then focus in on the specific issues customers are facing. In turn, this allows them to respond with specific ways they can help.
By creating blog posts, for example, that offer people relevant, timely, and interesting quick takes on the state of your industry (for example); you position your website as source of high-quality information that will keep potential customers coming back for more.
There are myriad social media platforms where you can link to these informative posts on your company website. This is another way to bring eyeballs to your company site while also creating additional means by which your customers, existing and potential alike, can interact with your and your company.
These repeated visits will lead to more potential customers converting to paying customers when they see how your content fosters interactions. This will keep people on your site longer, and encourage them to explore other pages to learn even more about you and your company. And the extra engagement and interaction on social media gives you added opportunities to explain how you can assist in solving their business problems.
The best part? All of these customers are being drawn to your site without you contacting them directly and without any direct sales pitches being needed!
Ok, now that your potential customers are finding your website via the content you’re posting to various outlets, it’s time to gain their trust. By conveying information that is relevant to the issues they’re having - you move yourself, and your company into a position of trust.
According to a study by Demand Gen Report, 47% of buyers view at least 3 to 5 pieces of content before deciding to speak with a company representative. By demonstrating that you can be a valuable resource in a non-intrusive way, you help lay the foundation for a relationship based on valuable content, and trust.
This direct engagement between the customer and your company is your chance to demonstrate clearly and concisely how your can solve their problems. They are now solidly in the middle of the sales funnel and it’s time for you to wow them with even more of your great content and convert them to the final stage of happy customer.
Inbound marketing strategies are full of clear, measurable actions.This leads to data you collect and use as a tool to see what’s working and what’s not, much faster than in traditional marketing methods. You'll be able to see what content is driving up engagement and where opportunities exist for future strategies to be implemented. You will also see what content is maybe falling flat and trim that from your future plans.
For example, inbound might track how long someone watched a video, what pages they viewed, how many downloads there were of an eBook, etc. This data in turn allows you to tailor your new content to match what the most people are already looking for and engaging with.
As Benjamin Franklin said in 1748, “time is money.” Since inbound marketing allows you to tailor your message to relevant visitors, then engage with them until they convert to customers, you can fine tune where your marketing money is going. By creating only relevant content that you know prospective customers are looking for, you can trim waste by not spending on ads that no one sees.
Although inbound isn’t meant as a be-all-and-end-all marketing strategy, it provides the opportunity to reallocate your dollars toward more effective spending.
Developing an inbound marketing strategy won’t happen overnight. It takes time and planning to strategize, create, and set realistic goals and expectations. Then you use the data you collect to fine tune and recalibrate your content so you’re hitting even more of your target audience, with even less wasted spending.
Setting out a long-term strategy like inbound marketing makes it possible to generate more sustainable results. You’re creating a database of relevant and engaging articles, videos, and other content that you can use to draw in and convert new customers for years to come.
Then the word-of-mouth marketing can kick in, with these happy customers telling their network about your business and how you solved their issues. They will gladly share how trusted you are, how knowledgeable you are in your field, and how much these other companies will benefit by engaging with your as well.
Pretty soon you’ll have an army of happy customers out there doing your marketing for you!
Now, at this point you might be thinking that you don't need inbound marketing, or that you don't need content marketing more broadly. Conversely, you might be finding that there are just too many possible marketing strategies out there, and you're struggling to choose the right one to meet your business goals. Are you seeing good traffic metrics for your site, but not seeing those visits convert to sales? Or have you recently seen a decline in website visitors and want to see those numbers increase to their old level? Or maybe your numbers are fine, but you’re looking for growth?
Whatever your specific situation, there are so many marketing strategies out there that it can be hard to sift through them all in order to find the one, or the combination of ones, that’s right for your company. Well, help is on the way. In this section, we'll aim to define, then briefly compare and contrast, two of those strategies.
Those strategies are content marketing and Pay-Per-Click (PPC). Before we dive in for a more detailed view of these options and how they can interact for additional impact, let’s start with a quick definition of terms.
Content marketing is defined as: “marketing that tries to attract customers by distributing informational content potentially useful to the target audience, rather than by advertising products and services in the traditional way.” (Dictionary.com). This is a growing field within the marketing world, with good reason, as it allows you to develop a relationship with your customers as a trusted resource and partner. We went into greater depth on content marketing in a recent blog post here.
Content marketing allows you to nurture this relationship with existing and new customers alike by creating informative content that brings them back to your website because they see it as a resource. This fosters interactions, which lead to conversions. You'll notice that this sounds a lot like how we described inbound marketing above. There's a good reason for that: the two ideas are closely linked, and when it comes to things like blogging and content creation they can be used interchangeably. Still, you may have heard it contrasted with PPC in the past, so we'll spend this section talking about it in its own terms.
Pay-per-click, better known as PPC, is defined as: “a system used to set prices for online advertisements on a search engine or other website, by which the advertiser pays a small fee to the website publisher each time a user clicks on the advertisement.” (Dictionary.com).
You've undoubtedly seen PPC ads when you've used a search engine like Google (I’ll be lumping all search engines under this universal term for brevity). At the top of a page of search results, you’ll generally see a small number of paid ads. These are there as a result of PPC: the company being advertised pays Google each time a visitor clicks their ad. PPC campaigns are increasingly showing up on social media platforms as well.
Now that you have the definitions, the question remains - which marketing method is right for your company?
As briefly described above, PPC involves paying a search engine such as Google to display your ad on their website. Each time someone clicks your ad, you are billed a small fee.
Much of the strategy in this method revolves around keyword use. The more specific keywords you use, the better targeted your ad will be, translating into the right people seeing your ad and clicking through to your website.
With PPC marketing, you can increase your visibility, at the cost of time spent researching keywords, ad placement strategies, analyzing metrics, and adjusting your preferences with each individual search engine. This strategy can often become expensive fairly quickly. Additionally, many savvy internet users have browser plugins that block these ads from even appearing or they prefer organic search results which are driven largely by our next marketing strategy - content marketing.
Content marketing, on the other hand, works by attracting customers through timely, industry-specific content. With this strategy, it’s all about adding a value proposition for your customer, in this case useful content, to keep them coming back for more. You want them to view you and your business as a trusted, reliable resource. There are a variety of content channels available: blogs, vlogs, ebooks, video, and email newsletters for starters. Each of these plays a role in helping you create the engaging content and feed the interactions that transform a first time visitor to your website into a loyal, repeat customer.
It’s true that creating the content for this strategy to work will take time and resources. It will also:
help you grow your readership/followers,
inspire trust in your customers (new and existing alike),
and lead to them putting you in that coveted position as trusted advisor
Creating fresh, inspiring content on a regular basis will also benefit your website’s SEO, or Search Engine Optimization. This in turn improves your ranking in the organic search results on Google. According to MarTech, 70-80% of search engine users are only focusing on the organic results. With better SEO, more searchers are bound to find you.
Now that you have a handle on these two competing, yet complimentary marketing options, the question remains - which marketing method is right for your company?
The truth is, both are viable marketing techniques. The rest of the truth is that no amount of money spent driving clicks to your website is worth much if you don’t have quality content for visitors to see once they get there.
Therefore, the best bang for your buck is to start building that trust. Engage your customers and build that sense of trust within your industry. How? By creating high quality, engaging, topical, and even inspiring content.
Then maybe as your company begins to see the associated growth of clients who love you and tell all their friends about you, it will be time to consider using PPC to drive even more customer eyeballs to that storehouse of knowledge you’ve created.
According to industry leader HubSpot, “Paid ad campaigns present an effective marketing channel when used strategically and in sync with other initiatives” (emphasis mine). PPC has the potential to drive new eyeballs to your website. Without a high quality, informative, trust-inspiring content marketing strategy in place, these eyes won’t stay around long enough to convert.
As with any strategy, intent and focused attention are paramount. By creating a solid base of content for customers to read, watch, and interact with - you’ll create and keep customers for life.
At this point you may feel like you understand what inbound is, and how inbound marketing (or content marketing) compares and contrasts with other methods of attracting leads. But there's still something that you can't quite put your finger on: how does inbound actually help you to grow your business?
With so many options to market to your existing customers, and lead the search for new ones, it's more difficult than ever to attract and hold people’s attention long enough to convert them into paying customers and increase your company’s growth potential. Once you have their eyeballs on your company website, how do you convey the information you need them to have in order to make the right choice and pick you over your competitors?
That’s where inbound marketing comes in.
It’s about finding ways to attract customers by educating them with high-quality content. Not by selling to them.
It's a way to build rapport with customers. By keeping them informed of goings on in your industry, you can better explain how keeping up with the changes enables you to better assist them. By sharing tips and tricks of the trade with them, or even by sharing the stories behind the creation of your company, you can position yourself as their trusted resource and advisor.
Tell your customers why are you doing what you’re doing. Tell them how you got to the point where you realized you could help other businesses by starting your own business.
The idea is to connect on a purely non-business level, then tell them how you will use that to help them solve their problems in business. Becoming this trusted resource and advisor, you position your company for leads that will generate increased revenue, which in turn fuels future growth.
The title of Simon Sinek’s book says it all, “Start with Why.” This means you start your sales pitch by NOT selling anything. You start it by connecting with the people behind the business. Then work up to telling them how you can help them make their business everything you know it can be. And from there, you sell your services as the way to achieve this growth.
The content itself can take many forms. A company blog is a great way to share detailed stories or updates. The myriad social media platforms connect with people when they’re looking to be entertained, so posting funny videos or pictures that draw attention to a certain aspect of your business in creative ways are a fantastic way to draw people in.
Content marketing is fundamentally about educating customers; it’s also an opportunity to be creative and craft an experience that will delight them on a personal level, make them subscribe/follow you and your business, and most importantly make them customers for life. If you’re really good, they may even tell their friends!
When it comes to content marketing, we believe in the power of planning and strategy. If you're just starting out, be sure to begin with a plan in place. If you've been at this for a while, take this time to reassess your goals. What do you want to accomplish with your content, and how are you going to accomplish it? We've written a whole post to get you started thinking along these lines. You can find it here.
Think of content marketing as having a conversation with a potential customer. What do you want them to know about your company? What are the key pieces of information you want to be sure they have right off the bat?
According to a Demand Gen report, 47% of buyers viewed 3-5 pieces of content before engaging with a company representative. Make those pieces of content count by ensuring that your offerings are full of relevant information. To become their trusted advisor for all things relating to your industry, you need to connect on this personal level.
The next step in successful content marketing is to tell your customers how you, by way of your business, can solve the problems they identify in their own businesses. How do you know what these problems are?
Then tell them how you can help. “Want to increase your company’s revenue stream? Here are the 4 ways we can get you the growth numbers you’re looking for.” By engaging with your customers in the comments section of your blog, or by replying to their tweets, you develop and maintain the kind of relationship people feel good about. Once you’ve identified a handful of these problems, create content that outlines how you can solve them.
It’s true, creating meaningful and engaging content that will attract customers does take time and expertise. That said, the potential for sustainable growth is immeasurable. The Marketing Institute says that, “Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less.” So content marketing brings in more customers, cheaper than traditional outbound marketing.
As a bonus, your customers will see you as a trusted source of useful information, rather than as a persistent annoyance who never lets up with the sales pitches.
When you’re building your content strategy, it’s important to consider what information you want your customers getting, and at which point in their relationship with your company. An important corollary is that you want to be sure to tailor your content to each platform you use. As an example, if you have an article that covers “The 5 most important things to know about xyz,” you’re going to want that on the company blog, or maybe in an email newsletter. On the other hand, if your creative department came up with some great new videos showcasing the newest widgets in your industry, think along the lines of Facebook or Twitter.
Bottom line, you want your customers to use your company because they trust you. By using content marketing strategies, and by being open and honest about your company and how you can help solve their problems, you can build up that trust. This will keep your existing customers loyal, as well as help bring in new customers who got excited about working with you because someone they already trust shared your content. Now your company is growing, and in turn helping you help them grow theirs.