In its most general sense, inbound marketing refers to the practice of allowing consumers to find your products on their own without using aggressive selling tactics. Inbound marketers are some of the most common creatures on a marketing team, even if few of us have that title.
Understanding is the first step on the path to excellence, so we wanted to take a moment to profile those who practice inbound marketing, touch on the most challenging parts of their days, and offer some suggestions for easy ways to overcome those challenges.
A (Very) Brief History of Inbound Marketing
Brian Halligan of Hubspot first coined the term “inbound marketing” back in 2009, but the tactics that characterize this type of marketing first began appearing in the years after the Dot com bust in 2000.
In fact Seth Godin’s seminal work Permission Marketing was published in 1999. This groundbreaking book argues that companies must now offer something of value to consumers in order to get permission to continue the selling conversation.
Its ideas continue to inform inbound marketing, content marketing, and social media marketing today.
Inbound marketing focuses heavily on customers who choose to engage with products and brands based on the value that they see in what those products and brands have to offer. This means problem solving content as well as high quality, responsiveness, and a compassionate corporate culture.
The most common forms of inbound marketing are:
- Search Engine Optimization: Make a good website that’s easy for people to use, full of content that answers their questions, and make it easy for Google access it.
- Content Marketing: Create valuable resources to offer potential customers without expecting an immediate sale. Includes blogs, articles, ebooks, infographics, Slideshares, etc.
- Social Media: Connect with audiences in a social setting. Authenticity and engagement are key; people can tell if you’re checked out.
The Inbound Marketing Strategy
Inbound marketing relies on reaching a large audience and converting a relatively small percentage of those into customers. But because the volume can be massive, the lower conversion rate is typically not seen as a problem.
Brand awareness is also a major factor in an inbound strategy, because even if someone doesn’t make a purchase based on a Google search, an ebook download, or reading a post on social media, they have still interacted with your company’s brand.
These types of engagement create positive feelings toward a company, brand, and product, increasing the likelihood of future purchases.
What Successful Inbound Marketers Do
The vast majority of modern marketers are inbound specialists of some kind; degrees and areas of specialization vary widely.
Our goal is to connect with potential customers, make it easy for them to find out more about us, and help solve their problems along the way.
This strategy requires us to create relationships with an audience that transcends the buying process by extending into non-purchase driven actions across the internet.
Therefore, we need to be adept at marketing without seeming to be doing so.
This can be a little tricky to measure, but inbound marketing success is typically marked by increases in:
- Followers on major social media networks, as well as good interactions with social media posts.
- The number of subscribers to an email list, as well as strong open rates and clicks on links within the emails.
- Organic traffic to websites, meaning people who searched for generic terms rather than the company’s name.
- Downloads of content resources such as ebooks and Slideshare presentations.
- The amount of time that readers spend on website pages consuming content.
Famous Inbound Marketing Professionals
This is a long and distinguished list, but some of the most well known inbound marketing pros are:
- Seth Godin: The original guru, and author of Permission Marketing, the book that started it all.
- Brian Halligan: co-founder of Hubspot, the 800-pound inbound marketing gorilla.
- Dharmesh Shah: co-founder of Hubspot, the 800-pound inbound marketing gorilla.
- Heidi Cohen: Markets marketing to marketers successfully. That’s pretty high praise.
- Jay Baer: The title of his website, “Convince and Convert,” says it all about Jay’s approach to inbound.
- Brian Clark: Founder of Copyblogger and a master of the full suite of inbound techniques, he’s grown his business exponentially practicing the inbound methods he preaches.
- Guy Kawasaki: Alum of Google and Apple who teaches us mere mortals how to master marketing.
A Day in the Life of an Inbound Marketer
Because inbound marketing covers so many different marketing tactics, its practitioners are rarely stationary during the day.
A typical work day might go something like this:
Check on new articles on their favorite sites to make sure they’re keeping up with best practices, using the most cutting edge tactics, and not missing out on any breaking industry news
7:55am: Get Social
First official social media check, but really they’ve been getting notifications on their phone for the past 12 hours.
8:15am: Feed the Beasts
Inbound marketers are slaves to two ravenous monsters: social media and content production. They must be continually updating social media and interacting with their communities, as well as creating and optimizing a steady flow of fantastic content.
10:45am: Strategize and Connect
All of that inbound traffic has to go somewhere, and that’s usually to sales. These marketers coordinate closely with their sales team to make sure they’re sending qualified leads. Strategy comes up a lot.
11:30am: More Email
This is a common marketing hangup: there is just so much email. Inbound marketers must create and maintain connections of all kinds. They need to stay on top of guest post reciprocity, connections from conferences, and possible interviews
Then there are communications with subscribers via newsletters and post updates, which include tasteful calls to action to proceed further with the buying process.
Probably at their desk, maybe eaten while standing up.
Inbound marketers have a lot of balls in the air, and they have to keep a careful eye on many different metrics to ensure their current approaches are working.
The analytics check reveals major success on a particular channel. This means a short pause for a celebratory gesture, then an immediate move to the next one (while still not neglecting the one they got right).
Content doesn’t create itself. Research, writing, and editing take up a lot of time.
Once you create the content, it’s got to be added to a website and turned into a resource people will actually want to engage with.
5:30pm: The End?
Sadly many inbound marketers take their work home with them in the form of constant email notifications and social media pings.
If you like constant change, inbound may be right for you. But if you need a narrow focus to your efforts, specialization will most likely serve you better.
Easiest Wins for Inbound Marketers Feeling Overwhelmed
As you can see, the average inbound marketer is being pulled in many, many different directions. It’s not uncommon for many of us to get fixated on a particular aspect of inbound that we like and neglect the others, but this usually results in poor overall performance.
So here are some productivity tips for those of you feeling overwhelmed:
- Don’t check your email first thing in the morning. Instead tackle your most important task for the day before you turn on the distraction machine.
- Get better at the things that take forever. Whether it’s writing, making images, or formatting emails, spend a couple of hours educating yourself and you’ll save yourself tons of time farther down the road.
- Ask for help. Many inbound marketers have a hero complex, meaning we want to be the ones to save the day by bringing in tons of new visitors or growing our Twitter followers by 5,000 in a week. This can be a great motivator, but it doesn’t mean we have to do everything alone. That’s a recipe for burnout.
Prioritize. If everything is important, then nothing is important. Inbound marketers will always have a broad focus, but we need to have clear priorities within the big universe of inbound tactics. These should be based on which channels perform best for our particular business, not on assumptions.
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Who Will Our Next Marketing Profile Feature?
We’ll be profiling other marketing types in the coming weeks, so if you have a suggestion for who should be up next let us know in the comments.