Inbound. Outbound. Upside down-bound. As a business owner, you may be sick to death of hearing all these terms thrown around, and yet, you’re still not really clear on what they mean and how they differ from good old regular “marketing.”

If you’re using social media, email, blogging, and a few other tools to spread the word about your business, that’s a great place to start. But simply using digital marketing tools isn’t going to be effective for your company without a well-planned strategy that takes your goals and objectives into consideration.

Inbound vs. Outbound: What the BLEEP is the Difference?

Let me simplify the whole inbound vs. outbound marketing concept:

  • With inbound marketing, customers seek you out
  • With outbound marketing, you’re pushing a message to the masses (think tv commercials or cold calls)

And while there may yet be a place for outbound, if the majority of your marketing dollars aren’t being spent on inbound tactics, you’re probably overpaying for each lead and customer and missing out on revenue. HubSpot’s State of Inbound Report 2015, reports that 32% of the brands that use outbound marketing tactics say that paid advertising is overrated. That’s a sign that they will soon be moving toward inbound marketing!

Why Your Business Needs It

Inbound marketing has three benefits over traditional marketing:

  1. People won’t tune it out. Blogging can yield 13 times increased ROI over a year (HubSpot), and marketers who use blogs generate 67% more leads per month than those who do not. 
  2. It’s less expensive over time. Inbound marketing costs 62% less per lead than traditional outbound marketing (HubSpot).
  3. Higher quality leads. Your leads are likely to actively be looking for a solution.

Now, if you’re Coca-Cola, Yahoo, or any one of the big corporate brands who spend millions on their marketing every year, you can reach millions of people with those dollars. But if you’re a small business, your limited marketing budget will get you not nearly as far…unless you use it wisely with inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing, in fact, is ideal for small and mid-sized businesses like yours. In HubSpot’s report, we learn that 84% of companies with 25 or fewer employees use inbound marketing. Even 49% of companies with 200 or fewer employees use it. So clearly it’s a good fit for brands with smaller budgets looking to make an impact.

Channels of Inbound Marketing

There isn’t one set way to successfully create and implement an inbound marketing plan that works for your business. It’s best to try a combination of the channels, collect data, and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly. Marketing Land found that SEO (search engine optimization) is the dominant channel that produces the highest conversions.  Fifty-four percent of visitors find new websites through the organic search from effective SEO. In the study, email follows behind SEO with 51%, and social media is in third with 32%. The very last item on the list is paid search ads with 18%.

Here’s more on those cornerstone tools that make inbound marketing so great.

SEO. Properly optimizing your website to appear higher in search results on Google, Yahoo, and Bing can easily boost visibility to your brand. When people need to find anything, their go-to answer is usually a search engine, with Google being the most popular. Hundreds of potential clients use search terms like “roofing contractor New York” or “online crm software” daily. Most people who search find what they’re looking for on the first page of Google. If your business listing is on that page, you’ve just made their list of possible vendors to purchase from.

Content Marketing. Once on your site, you want to offer your visitors educational, top of the funnel offers that help them through the buying process. In exchange for this content, you get your prospects email, which you can then use to nurture the lead, building their knowledge and trust in you.

Email. Once you’ve been found and get you leads’ email information, you nurture that relationship. You can do this by creating highly targeted, useful email campaigns. Because you can track what is of interest to your prospects to see what’s working and what’s not, you can easily tweak your email marketing strategy for best results.

Social Media.  Social media helps you increase your reach (the number of people who see your brand and content). During the second quarter of 2015, Facebook reported 1.49 billion active monthly subscribers. Your business can take advantage of social media platforms by creating attractive profiles on the sites that your audience frequents. And if you’re looking to pack a bigger punch with a few advertising dollars thrown in, social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow you to allocate a monthly budget to get your posts seen by more of your target audience. Focus on delivering interesting content (that means more than just your own) and value to your social followers.

Blogs. Your business’ blog is the ticket to building trust with potential customers. When people search for solutions to their problems, you want your blog posts to appear in search results. Then, once people have clicked and read your content, they are more likely to see what else you offer. The chance of them becoming customers is much higher than if you didn’t write a blog at all.

Infrastructure. An important part of any inbound marketing program is the technology infrastructure that helps to automate this and provide the analytics you need to continually improve your results.  Whether you’re using a platform like Hubspot, an agency platform or cobbling together free/low-cost tools such as Gravity Forms, WordPress, Google Analytics and other tools, you need to have the technology in place to execute this strategy.

Creating an Inbound Marketing Strategy

All these tools are neat and all, but unless you have a cohesive, integrated marketing strategy, they won’t do you much good.

Begin your strategic planning by establishing specific goals. Instead of “increase website traffic,” your goal should detail a goal such as “gain 20% more website visitors by the first quarter of 2016.”

In HubSpot’s report, these were the most popular goals for brands:

  • Increase number of contacts/leads
  • Prove ROI of marketing activities
  • Reduce cost of lead acquisition
  • Convert leads to customers
  • Increase revenue from existing customers

After you’ve defined your goals, it’s time to create steps to help you achieve those goals. These steps should be broken up into small, clear tasks for you and/or your employees to implement. For example, if one of your goals is to establish a social media presence, the goal can be broken down into four tasks:

  • Create profiles with all of your business and contact information
  • Create graphics (profile pics, headers, backgrounds) to complement the information and make the pages stand out
  • Add the page links to your website, business cards, and email signatures to let your clients know that you’re now social
  • Post twice a day to these websites with engaging, useful content and images that attracts your target audience

Make sure each task has someone assigned to it, and check in regularly to ensure that each is being handled to move you toward your goals. Then, assess results every month. After a quarter, if you’re not getting the results you want, revisit your strategy and execution. Don’t just blame the tools and quit. Get help from someone who has proven experience – not just with one piece of it – but with the whole process.

Inbound marketing is the future NOW of finding customers. It’s the “how-to.” If you want to increase leads and revenue, consider it as your only marketing strategy.

photo credits: WordStream