Making a Case for Inbound Marketing

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Marketers have come to understand the power of content to attract new audiences and strengthen relationships with existing customers. But for inbound marketing strategies to be effective, organizations must invest in the systems and strategies to ensure t

"If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing." This quote, by Guy Kawasaki, former Apple evangelist and co-founder of Alltop.com, puts into perspective the importance of a strong inbound marketing strategy.

According to HubSpot's 2013 State of Inbound Marketing report, one-third of marketing budgets are being allocated to inbound tactics. Further, the report shows that almost half of marketers were planning to increase their inbound marketing spending in 2013, with HubSpot noting this was the third consecutive year that inbound budgets were increasing at a close to 50 percent pace.

Marketers aren't simply investing in inbound marketing because it's the latest trend. HubSpot's report found that 41 percent of marketers who used inbound marketing techniques were able to gain measurable ROI, which is, ultimately, what marketers want to achieve.

Why is inbound marketing gaining so much traction? With limited budgets, marketers want to make the most of their advertising dollars. Instead of spending money marketing to the masses, business leaders understand that it's better to focus their attention on the right prospects who are already, or will soon be, on the market for their products and services. However, getting the attention of this group of individuals and then converting them into leads and ultimately into customers, is not a straightforward task, and requires a sound strategy as well as the appropriate tools to get it right, especially in today's non-linear sales funnel.

The right content attracts interest

The premise of inbound marketing is attracting prospects to an organization's properties, including a website or social media channels, understanding their needs and what they're looking for, and using this insight to reach out to them with extremely targeted information. But, as experts rightly argue, for this to be effective, organizations need to invest heavily in ensuring they have the right content for audiences to consume once they reach the company's channels. According to Gartner's survey on digital marketing spending in the United States, marketers are allocating almost 12 percent of their digital marketing budgets to content creation and management. "You need to make sure your content is as authentic as possible," stresses Myke Nahorniak, CEO and founder of Localist.

Marketers have several options to present their content, from their own website to social channels. Blogs are one of the most common content-creation tools of the trade among inbound marketers, allowing them to provide as much information as possible to prospective clients who stumble upon their Website or social media channels. "Have a blog or regularly post about your products and services and how these can benefit consumers," stresses Jonathan Searle, inbound marketing consultant at the Pedowitz Group. The HubSpot report mentioned above notes that about 80 percent of marketers who blog see positive ROI for their inbound marketing. Further, blog frequency is important, with 82 percent of marketers who blog on a daily basis saying the blog led to customer acquisition, as opposed to 57 percent of those who blog monthly.

Social media is another technology that's opening new doors for marketers both to showcase their content and also to understand who their customers are. Anderson explains that by sharing content created by others over social channels, organizations can gain access to a new audience.

While having content that resonates with customers is essential, this is just a first step. Marketers then need to make sure this information is found by customers. "You need compelling and engaging content that's searchable," stresses Jim Anderson, CEO of SocialFlow. As Forrester analyst Lori Wizdo notes in this blog, "Today's buyers might be anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of the way through their journey before they reach out to the vendor." But customers aren't idle during this time and instead are doing their research to learn more about the products or services they are interested in purchasing. This behavior doesn't only take place in B2B interactions; even consumers are doing extensive research before reaching out to a company. This is why a robust SEO strategy is essential, allowing brands to be easily searchable.

As Steve Olenski, senior creative content strategist at Responsys, notes in this article, many organizations are investing in developing "solid, SEO optimized web infrastructure that is search-engine friendly." Among his seven reasons for investing in SEO, Olenski mentions its cost-effectiveness and the fact that up to 90 percent of customers are checking online reviews before a purchase, with this number expected to continue going up. "Your business definitely needs to have an SEO strategy in place if you are interested in succeeding in terms of online marketing," Olenski notes. "It remains one of the single most important components of any organization's branding efforts and online presence."

Mike Skeehan, senior vice president of brand and interactive at Gabriel Marketing Group, recommends using HubSpot's content generation tools since its SEO integration tools make sure that on-page elements are congruent and aligned with primary keyword targets.

Yet, marketers need to make sure they can adapt to changes in search engines. Searle notes that one of the biggest changes has taken place in Google's latest search algorithm, Hummingbird, which has shifted from being keyword-focused to concentrating on phrases. Further, content related to author profiles is being displayed higher. "The true cost of remaining anonymous might be irrelevance," Searle explains. "It's all about trust."

Generating leads and converting them into sales

Every marketer wants to generate leads. After all, in many organizations, the amount and quality of the leads the marketing team generates impacts marketers' pay structure. Further, instead of having sales make cold calls to customers with the aim of finding that needle in the haystack who's actually interested in the company's products and services, marketers can start a conversation with prospects who have already shown interest in the brand.

However, executing this effectively requires a clear strategy and tools to capture data in real time. As Jonathan Gray, vice president of marketing at Revana Growth Services, notes in this blog, "Sales people must have the right data at their fingertips, allowing them to speak directly to the needs of specific individuals and engage them in highly personalized conversations."

But this is easier said than done, and can prove impossible unless organizations invest in the necessary tools to understand the customer's journey. "You need to know where a customer came from and what information has already been consumed," stresses Eric Holmen, chief marketing officer at Invoca. Further, in order to be effective, this information needs to be available to marketing and sales organizations in real time, allowing first for customers to be directed to the right person who can address their needs and second to speak with them in an extremely relevant manner. Gray uses the example of a female chemotherapy patient who contacts a hair restoration company to inquire about a solution. "It's imperative that she's routed to an agent who, from the start of the conversation, addresses her exact need and is empathetic," he notes. More importantly, she cannot be given the same sales pitch as a man who's looking for a hair restoration solution to improve his appearance. "The search history of these two people should unveil their distinct personas and be used as a tool to start the conversation on the right note," Gray stresses.

Michael Behrens, senior vice president of emarketing at WebMetro, Revana's digital acquisition marketing arm, also emphasizes the need of using data to understand where customers are coming from, the path they take on a company's website, and the content they look at in order to adapt the experience to their needs. "If a customer is consuming video, we make sure this content is highly visible," he notes. Behrens explains that campaign management tools allow marketers to learn more about individual users and their behavior in order to target them with the right conversations. "The more you engage with customers individually, the more relevant and authentic the conversation is going to be," he stresses.

Further, today marketers have tools that allow them to remain at the top of customers' minds even when they don't immediately convert. Searle highlights the effectiveness of Google's remarketing tool, which allows marketers to leverage display ads to remind customers who didn't convert about their products.

Finally, organizations need to make sure they have the tools to measure their campaigns, allowing them to iterate successes and address failures can never be emphasized enough. Savvy marketers are making sure they have the latest insights that allow them to make quasi real-time changes to their campaigns. "Every site needs to have some basic analysis and tracking," stresses Searle. He recommends starting with Google analytics tools and then, depending on budget, looking at investing in automation tools that allow marketers to be more agile.

Holmen also notes that organizations should make sure they think seriously about AB testing to determine which version of their web pages is delivering the most leads. "You've already spent money getting customers to your site. Capturing and understanding information about them allows you to continue nurturing them," Searle explains.

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