Marketers are pressed for time. There are way too many things to do and channels to do them on ‒ and not enough staff, cash, or time to get them all done. That’s why an inbound strategy is so appealing.
Maybe this isn’t true for you and your B2B marketing team. But, personally, I know that our team’s to-do lists only seem to grow longer and our deadlines only seem to grow shorter. And we won’t even start talking about measuring ROI.
At Act-On, we believe in a balanced marketing approach that includes both inbound and outbound tactics. We’ve also built best-in-class inbound features in our platform, according to Forrester, to help marketers do the best work of their careers. For this post, let’s focus on what you need to know to maximize your inbound marketing strategy.
- What is inbound marketing?
- The role of personas
- The power of content marketing
- How to gain visibility
- How to convert prospects into customers
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing is defined as a marketing strategy that focuses on a brand getting found by customers.
“Now that sounds really simple until you’ve ever tried to be found by customers,” said Phil Bosley, Act-On’s lead marketing automation strategist, in the on-demand webinar Maximizing Inbound Strategies.
Bosley outlines the inbound marketing components as:
- “We have to have content we’ve developed specifically for our audience that they will find relevant and engaging.”
- “We have to find the right audience and attract and pair those people with that content.”
- “We have to learn who these people are by capturing their identity through some mechanism.”
- “We have to nurture them through a decision-making process (the buyer’s journey).”
- “We have to convert them into customers.”
As you can see, inbound marketing is more than just attracting folks to your website. As Bosley says, “An inbound lead is going to be an excellently qualified prospect, but they are still just that, a lead and a prospect. I still have to nurture them.”
What is a buyer persona?
A buyer persona is a constructed depiction of your ideal customer that allows you to identify your target audience. The more focused your buyer persona, the more successful you’ll be marketing and selling to that greater audience.
This is always a hard fact for businesses to accept ‒ especially for startups, where you’re keenly interested in getting sales and less worried about where you get them from. That sort of shotgun approach to growth can work for a bit, but it’s never sustainable.
Besides the business reasons, it’s also important know who your buyer is when you want to create content for them as the hook to your inbound marketing strategy.
Creating a persona requires gathering demographic and psychographic information about your buyer. The demographic information consists of the facts about your ideal buyer. For example, you might be targeting someone who is female, 35 years old, a homeowner, and so forth. The psychographic information is more in depth and goes into things like buying behavior, decision-making processes, and things of that nature.
Do you need help with this step? We have a short video to help you get you started.
What is content’s role in inbound?
What is content? Well, I really enjoyed a recent Gartner blog post that begins the conversation by asking whether the marketer wants to focus on marketing content or content marketing. For our conversation, we’re focusing on content marketing: creating content such as eBooks, videos, blog posts, infographics, quizzes, and other interactive that speak specifically to your ideal buyer, who you previously identified in your buyer personas.
At Act-On, we like to use the Rule of Four when we’re thinking about creating content. And that is when you create one strong piece of content – what Larry Kim would call Unicorn Content – and repurpose it into four additional pieces. In this blog’s example, we’ve take a webinar, turned it into an on-demand webinar (1), and now have turned it into a blog post (2) with a video (3). For #4 I could schedule a call with Phil to record a podcast on the topic or pull quotes and bullet points from the post and make them into a SlideShare.
But, you may be asking, what is the purpose of this content?
To answer this question, we first must understand what we mean when we describe our buyers as “being on a journey.” In the first leg of that journey, they are becoming aware they have a problem (it could be either a good or bad problem: not getting enough leads, or getting too many leads). In the second stage of the journey, they then begin searching for potential solutions. This could be asking a peer for help, or it could be typing what they believe their problem is into an Internet search bar.
The content you create is aimed at addressing the questions your buyers have. It could be directed at those initial questions they are typing into Google or Bing, or it could be more content aimed at addressing questions buyers have when they’re further along on their journeys, such as why they should choose your solution over your competitor’s, or why should they act now rather than at some later time.
Also, you may create content that frames the problem in a new or different way ‒ one which is more favorable to the solution you offer.
A personal example comes from my days marketing a startup making electric vehicle charging stations. We felt confident positioning our charging station as the smart networking option for our buyers, who were local governments. Then, out of the blue, a competitor who did not have a smart solution changed the conversation to talking about the need for retractable charging cables that would prevent people from tripping or getting their hands dirty. The result was that those local agencies started requiring cable management in their RFPs.
Channels to Turn on Your Inbound Strategy
So, you’ve created a lot of great content that really speaks to your buyers throughout their journey. Great! Now what?
Well, this is where your Inbound Strategy is going to need some help from Outbound Marketing Tactics because, as the cliché goes, if a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it …
You need to activate some promotion to help get that great content seen and heard by your target audience. And this is for several reasons. First, Google and the other search engines may have indexed your website and seen that you have Content X that addresses a specific question being asked by your buyer, but they’re giving preference to other, similar content that’s getting traffic, engagement on the site, links, social shares, and mentions throughout the web. As a result of this ‒ and because you’re not the only one attempting an inbound strategy ‒there is a ton of great content being pushed out into the world.
I can’t say what channel or type of promotion is best for you. But, if you’ve done the legwork of building a robust buyer persona, you should have a pretty good sense of the channels your audience is using, whether that is LinkedIn, Facebook, syndication, PPC advertising, or some other vehicle.
What we will recommend is that you test which channels are working best for you ‒ and then test them again and again.
“One of the tactics that I’ve seen work very, very well is, at the end of any given quarter or the time period you’re measuring, look at where your lowest-performing channel was and reallocate that budget to your highest-performing channel,” Bosley said. “That way you’re constantly improving, dropping the dead weight, and maximizing those channels that work best for you.”
Nurture and Convert
What happens when folks do get to your website and want to access that great content you’ve created for them?
Well, you’re hoping they read your value-filled blog post and then click “buy.” But I’m guessing that, for most of us, it’s going to be a longer cycle, which is one of the reasons you may want to gate that content so you can begin to identify and nurture your prospective buyer until they’re ready to convert.
Gating content has its advocates and opponents. I’m an advocate ‒ as long as you’re providing real value in exchange for the visitor’s name and other information.
“When we’ve developed good content for our audience, content that’s designed to help them, that content has intrinsic value,” Bosley said. “And that’s the type of content that people will trade their information for so that they can gain access to that resource. It’s commerce, like anything else. The price of admission is your information. And if I believe that I have a problem and you have a solution that’s sitting behind that gate, I’m absolutely making that trade.”
Once you’ve made that initial exchange of identify for content, you should next segment those buyers so that your future conversations with them remain meaningful and valuable. This could be characterizing them by where they are in the buying journey, or by their persona type, such as CMO or decision maker, and so forth.
Next, you’ll want to create automated nurture programs that deliver your content to these prospects based on their engagement. For example, they originally downloaded your eBook on creating a high-performance marketing plan. A week or two later, you may want to invite them to watch an on-demand webinar on a related topic. And, if they watched the video, you may invite them to check out the next piece of content in their journey, such as a data sheet comparing various marketing automation platforms.
As your ideal buyer continues to engage with you and your content, you’ll start to have a conversation about converting to a sale. This could be as simple as your buyer clicking on a “buy-me” button on your website, but, more likely, it will be engaging your sales team to reach out and connect with them.
The good news is that those actions are going to be welcomed by your buyers because you’ve already had conversations built upon an inbound strategy for a targeted, specific buyer with value-added content made just for them.