Updated 30th January 2019
Inbound marketing is a methodology
In its most simple terms, it’s a way of marketing designed to attract (not force) prospects into your sales and marketing funnel and transition those prospects into customers by being super-helpful to them, all the time.
We all need to buy things. Often we even want to buy things and when we do, it can be enjoyable or it can be miserable.
Inbound really matches the way humans want to be sold and marketed to and it’s enjoyable mainly because it’s not forced upon you.
That’s why it’s so effective.
This article is part of a wider series of articles
The birth of inbound marketing
In the old way we practised marketing we looked to gain mindshare through interruption-based advertising and drove prospects to sales before they ever became aware of other options.
Founder and Director
You’d try to get ads in front of your prospects everywhere you could so that, when the time was right, you’d be top of mind and could get them into a sales discussion before your competition got to them. Keeping your brand top of mind was huge. And expensive.
Honestly, it wasn’t fun for the prospect and it wasn’t fun for the people going to market with the message. I’ve personally always felt that interruption-based advertising was a bit lacklustre and invasive.
Sometimes witty, sometimes smart but generally, I could have lived without it.
And geez, are we oversaturated. It. Is. Everywhere.
Insert humorous image of ad saturation
And then everything changed.
Many saw the arrival of the internet and critically the smartphone as a fantastic platform in which to push a never-ending stream of interruption-based advertising.
My Facebook feed is more adverts than posts from friends now.
Insert humorous image of facebook feed
So, we're all super-connected now and this has caused a massive shift in the relationship between businesses and prospects.
Now a prospect has more information about your product, industry and your competition. In many cases, they have direct access to your clients, so any brand gaps can be quickly exposed.
Very simply, the relationship between a business and its prospects has changed from a more controlled formal relationship, where you could tightly control the flow of information (typically in one direction), into a more informal, friendly relationship, in many ways like the kind you have with, well, your friends.
It’s all so much more transparent, less transactional and more human.
Because of this, marketing has changed.
It had to.
And so The Inbound Marketing Methodology was born and it makes so much sense.
Inbound Marketing matches the way humans want to be sold and marketed to and it’s largely enjoyable too because it doesn’t feel like interruption-based marketing.
It slips straight through our mental ad-blockers.
Now you’re talking!
To help you visualise what Inbound Marketing looks like in practice, I’m going to illustrate it below as a conversation between two friends and then show how that translates to an online engagement that we might see.
So, imagine the following conversation between two friends, Sarah and Jim. Both standing in Jim’s garden, looking at the roses Jim has had for a few years.
Jim: Thanks! I have actually, it’s been incredibly difficult. You see these black spots on the leaves? (points to the leaves) It looks like it’s damaging them but I have no idea what it is. I really need to find out what it is and how to stop it before it gets much worse.
Sarah: Ah, I know what this is, don’t worry, it’s totally curable. It’s called Diplocarpon Rosae; it’s a common fungus often found on roses.
I had this on mine last year and shifted it without too much hassle. It’s caused by the dead leaves collecting at the base of the plant and infecting it. I created a little mesh dome that prevents the leaves from landing close to the main stem.
Jim: Ah, Thanks Sarah, that’s super helpful! What did you use to get rid of the fungus?
Sarah: I tried a few different things but in the end, only one product completely killed off the fungus. I dare say it’s made the roses smell more fragrant this year too.
It’s called ‘Black-Spot Buster’ from Rose Masters. Do you want me to email you a link and you can check it out?
Jim: Yes, please! Thanks, Sarah.
Later that day Sarah sends Jim a link to Black-Spot Buster, along with a discount code that she’d been given when she purchased her bottle.
Jim buys it before the discount expires, cures his roses and is super-happy that he made the right decision the first time, saved his roses and also saved a bit of money too.
A few days later Sarah also sends Jim a link to the Rose Masters website, where she learned all about looking after her roses, including a how-to guide for the mesh dome she made to stop the leaves accumulating at the base of the plant.
Jim, keen to learn more, subscribes and receives helpful hints and tips on looking after his roses, along with well-timed, seasonal product recommendations.
Over time Jim gets better at growing incredible roses, including the hard-to-grow variety, thanks to the help of Rose Master via their educational content.
He purchases a few more products from Rose Master and becomes a Rose Master brand advocate.
They are his go-to brand and he recommends them to his friends, in person and on his social channels. Often posting pictures of his amazing roses.
#RoseMaster Insert pic of
The journey has completed its virtuous circle and Jim has taken up Sarah’s original role of brand advocate helping to drive more sales for Rose Masters.
And literally, everyone is happy and getting what
This is precisely how Inbound Marketing works. It’s a repeatable, systematic way of generating new leads because it clearly aligns your marketing with the needs of your target audience.
The critical part here is how and when the marketing is delivered, not only what it says.
How this looks in practice
If we break the conversation down we can look at the buyer journey and the lifecycle stages within it, seeing how Jim passes from one stage to the next on a predefined path.
Inbound methodology illustration
Attract (The self-educating bit)
Jim has an immediate problem he can’t accurately identify. He looks for answers online and finds a name for his problem, clearly defining it as a fungus.
In practice, Jim searched on Google for ‘What are these black spots on my roses?’ and Sarah was the author of a brilliant article on the Rose Master website that helped Jim to understand what the black spots were and how they came to be on his roses in the first place.
Convert (The known shopper)
Once armed with this information, Jim’s looking for a viable solution. He needs a product to kill the Fungus. At the end of the article, Jim is offered a how-to guide on the 3 best ways of killing the fungus without damaging the roses. He gladly trades his email address for the guide, identifying himself and his problem to Rose Masters (and their marketing platform).
Close (Getting Jim to a sale)
Jim doesn’t want to waste money on a product that doesn’t work. Especially when the roses could perish in the meantime. He downloads and reads the how-to guide which recommends ‘Black-Spot Buster’ as one of the most effective ways of permanently killing the fungus.
It’s a beautiful, well written and informative guide, from a source that Jim is starting to become familiar with and trust.
Jim follows a link through to the Rose Master website and looks at the ‘Black-Spot Buster’ product page. He doesn’t buy it but he’s checking it out.
While he’s on the site, he subscribes to their monthly publication that offers valuable hints and tips on growing roses.
A day later Jim receives an email with a link to a testimonial video that showcases the many successes of Black-Spot Buster and promotes its use and endorsement by some of the world’s most prominent rose growers.
Jim watches the video.
2 days later Jim receives a final, bottom of the funnel email with a 20% off discount code and finally converts, purchasing ‘Black-Spot Buster’.
The entire buying journey was pre-determined, based upon the specific pain and requirements of the potential customer and executed automatically.
Insert workflow image. Starts with ‘What are these black spots on my roses’
Delight (Jim becomes a brand advocate).
Delighted that his roses are free from fungus and proud of how beautiful they are Jim posts on his social networks including the #RoseMaster tag.
Rose Master run a competition on Twitter, encouraging everyone that is part of the community to share their photos using the #RoseMaster tag and now their happiest clients are also promoting their business.
Why inbound works
As you can see the conversation started before Jim had defined his problem and Rose Masters were there to help from the very beginning.
They didn't lead with their product.
Jim didn’t start his search by looking for their Fungicide. He began by looking for help with framing his problem. Rose Masters were there, ready and waiting for someone just like Jim to search for ‘What are these black spots on my roses?’
As such, Jim never spent time searching for an alternative competitor fungicide as Rose Masters controlled the conversation from the beginning. They built up some trust and rapport, were super-helpful, addressed his consumer fears and nurtured him to a sale.
They continued to help Jim succeed with his roses post-sale too and that led to more trust, more joy and more sales.
And Jim never felt pressured, just delighted.
Insert fake quote from Jim here about how thankful he is for finding Rose Masters.
Discover the benefits
Hopefully, that gives you a flavour of how Inbound Marketing works in practice and you can see how powerful it is in our super-connected world. Plus this is just a light overview to help illustrate Inbound Marketing.
If you’re a marketer, Inbound Marketing provides some incredible benefits over and above more traditional interruption-based marketing strategies. Especially when combined with the right Martech.
One of which, and my personal favourite, is the ability to easily and absolutely demonstrate the positive commercial impact of your marketing efforts.
Read more about that here: What are the Benefits of Inbound Marketing?
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