Today, businesses are moving towards subtler ways of building their customer bases. This is becoming common for nearly all industries.

The verdict is in: you need an inbound marketing strategy.

By harnessing the powers of a list of tried-and-tested inbound marketing strategies, businesses can encourage customers to get in touch with them first. These strategies can be anything from blog writing and social media, to simply getting marketing right.

With this straightforward guide to inbound marketing, you will see both how easy these methods are to put in motion, as well as how effective they can be for those on the smallest of budgets.

What is Inbound Marketing?

“[Inbound Marketing are] things you can do on the web that earn traffic and attention, but don’t directly cost money.”

—Fishkin, Rand and Thomas Høgenhaven

Although there are many complex definitions of the term “inbound marketing” out there, we believe the version listed above defines it most succinctly. This simplistic definition covers all aspects of the term succinctly. Moreover, it really is as simple as it sounds—these are technically free strategies which will increase the traffic to your website or social media without you having to contact them directly. In short, inbound marketing is indirect marketing.

Much like the rising trend amongst bootstrappers of developing “passive income”, startups are now opting for building a passive customer influx. For example, if you wrote a best-selling book today, you’d be earning money while you sleep (ie. passively).

If you set in motion inbound marketing strategies today, you could be earning new customers while you focus on your expanding or improving your business venture.

Of course, to get the most out of inbound marketing, you will need to manage the marketing on an ongoing basis. However, on the whole, this is a lot less tiring. Plus, it requires much less effort and potential expense from you than those door-knocking, TV-advertising tactics of outbound marketing.

Why Should startups Implement A Marketing Strategy?

Nowadays, everybody is doing away with traditional marketing practices such as cold calling, spam emailing, flyers, and brochures. Startups would do well to follow the trend.

Over the past twenty to thirty years, the US and the UK has seen the introduction of a wide array of methods to clamp down on unwanted direct marketing.

It began with the implementation of the National Canned Spam Act and the introduction of Spam Folders in email services so that customers could blacklist certain emails. Next, Caller ID technology was brought in to allow mobile users to confirm whether the number may be spam. Most recently, GDPR laws have arrived to ensure there can be no unsolicited buying of customers personal data without their specific permission.

After the National Canned Spam Act passed, research from MarketingSherpa concluded the email opening rate for email marketing campaigns fell from 39% in 2004 to below 25% in 2014. Now, imagine what it’s like today, after the introduction of GDPR in May 2018. All these factors have compounded to make businesses, marketers, and customers more averse to methods which directly approach potential customers and leads.

While clearly companies of all kinds will benefit from inbound marketing, we believe it is startups selling products and services in particular_ _who will do well to follow these strategies. Why? Well, three reasons:

  • You can utilize the prospects’ own words.

Using the customer’s own words is surprisingly effective. You have been told countless times to focus on your target market. This is ultra-focus; it’s basically mimicking them. Essentially, you can introduce them to the product they’re searching for by analyzing their search engine data. This is all done without contacting them directly. Smart, right?

  • An inbound marketing strategy can solve customer problems associated with your products.

You directly solve their problems. You can include keywords your customers often search on Google when considering their purchases. For example, you can provide blog posts weighing up the pros and cons of products and gently steer them towards yours!

  • You can make prospects believe your primary aim is not to “sell to them”, but still sell.

This might sound strange, but it’s imperative to understand. One of the most challenging aspects of selling goods is striking a balance between making customers feel that you care about them, and getting straight to the point about what you actually sell. Online content is a sure-fire way to strike that balance. For instance, you can release content solving common customer problems without selling them anything. Alternatively, you can market your startup so that it expresses your values.

You can target all of this towards people who actually want to see the content, rather than pinging hundreds of people who have no interest in your product and hoping one of them likes it.

Social, Search, and Content

So, hopefully by now we’ve convinced you of the benefits of developing an inbound marketing strategy. How do you actually go about setting it up? Let’s get straight to the point. Here are four different methods of inbound marketing:

  • Content Marketing

Content marketing does what it says on the tin. It is the method of creating content to market your products. However, this does not necessarily mean the content has to relate to the product you wish to sell directly.

To some extent, that well-known saying of “all press is good press” applies here. Of course, we aren’t saying start creating content about illegal practices, cutting corners, and underpaying your freelancers. What we are saying, however, is that anything that increases your exposure _in a favorable light _is profitable content.

One simple example of content marketing is the posting of daily business-themed quotes from your staff or from famous business owners onto social media pages or blogs. Perhaps they could be superimposed onto eye-catching infographics on your company’s Instagram page.

You will begin to gain followers because your page includes something of quality to the people which is completely free. If you provide links to your website on all of these posts, you are sure to get more traffic to your website. Remember the bootstrapper’s wisdom: provide something of worth for free, so that people will want to purchase more value.

  • Social Media Marketing

On a similar note, social media marketing is the act of using social media to spread the word about your startup, services, or products.

We all know how influential social media is and we all know it’s an excellent way to get attention from customers. As shown in the previous inbound marketing method, social media marketing goes hand-in-hand with content marketing.

However, now there are so many different social media sites, which is best for startups? This really depends on the product being sold and the type of startup. We suggest the trial-and-error method. Attempt different strategies and see what fits for you.

Try one month focusing on content marketing on one social media site, and the next on another, and then another and so on. At the end of all your trials, compare the data. Which method produced the most engagement from customers? Focus in on the most powerful method you found. Invest time into it. Make it appealing and active.

Now try all social media again, but this time try other marketing methods within the site.

For instance, LinkedIn provides tools specific to its site such as a lead finder and sponsored targeted posts. Facebook and Instagram have similar tools. Trial and error is the only way to find out which social media marketing strategy will work best for you.

If you are still struggling, however, or don’t want to spend time worrying about all these trials, it may be worth investing in a marketing consultant for your company who will be able to tailor the needs of your company to a specific social media marketing strategy.

  • Search Engine Marketing

Again, this method is tied up with the other marketing methods. After all, it is content, and more visibility on social media might also boost your rankings in the search engine listings. To this effect, search engine marketing has some strategies specific to its field. The best place to start is Google Analytics.

Google Analytics tools are some of the most popular and most successful for search engine marketing. Google offers a free beginner’s Google Analytics course to get you up and running. These are by far the most respected tools in the field as they are provided by those that own the most popular search engine in the world. Your customers are likely to be searching on this engine, so it’s well worth following Google’s instructions.

If you’re setting up a blog, we would also recommend Google Keyword planner for ensuring you use words in your copy that leads to a higher position on the search engine. A simple search on the tool will allow the selection of the best words to use based on data in a table. (For those unsure of where to start before all of this, search for “SEO” and get reading!)

We won’t go into detail as it will be specific to your market and competitors. However, a keyword or phrase with a high search rating and low competition produces the best results.

  • Branding

Creating a recognizable startup is paramount to improving the influx of customers to your business. Your brand includes everything from your logo and color scheme to your company values and how they are conveyed in the tone of voice of your written copy. It is the consistency of these elements that is key.

Three elements you could easily sort out today are your logo, your colors, and your values. Your logo must be decided upon and then largely leave it alone to increase recognition.

A total rebranding can be a positive activity for businesses too.

Some basics: you must decide upon the specific size and dimensions of it so that it does not look distorted in any instance. Every time it is used it should be the same to embed that image into the customer’s mind and to show the authenticity of your startup.

Deciding upon consistent startup colors is equally as important. For instance, think of Coca-Cola. Customers will automatically think of that specific color of red they use in all their advertisements and on all their product packaging, right? Now to achieve this kind of quick association amongst your customers, bear in mind that every single shade of color has its own code attached to it.

There are tons of online tools for checking your color codes are the same across the board. Choose your colors, find out their codes and make sure you stick to them in all of your startup-ing, marketing and packaging.

Finally, gather up whatever staff your have (even if it’s just you and your co-founder), and brainstorm five key values for your business. While this is good for any company simply for morale and for promoting togetherness, it is also extremely beneficial to have these outlined for all your social media and content marketing. Every sentence and image can be quickly checked against these five values to ensure you are creating a consistent, likable, and identifiable startup identity. The best part is that this step is fairly organic; you likely already know your startup’s values, so putting them into words should be easier than normal.

The Inbound Marketing Process

The inbound marketing process is best considered as a cycle with three key elements that feed into each other:

  • Increase Visibility

Enable the right type of customer to see you online. Find out where your potential customers spend their time and then put your content there. This might mean creating a blog, website or social media page and guest posting, depending on where your potential customers spend time.

Don’t forget to use tools to target specific people and aspects associated with them and the content. For example, on LinkedIn, you can add tags related to the theme of the content, the target audience’s location, and even job role.

  • Convert Leads

With the newly found attention, it’s now time to target these customers with information about your product. As just one example, you could post your new product with a promotional code on the social media page or blog page you now have more traffic on.

  • Analyze Data

Now, look at the results of your marketing campaign. How many people bought the new product after clicking the link on your social media page? How many of the leads clicked on the link to the new product but did not buy? How many looked at the post but didn’t click on it? All this data will be key to improving strategy each time. With your new data, work on increasing the visibility of your startup to those kinds of people that looked at and bought your product this time around.

Attracting, Engaging, and Delighting

The term “inbound marketing” was first published by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah (Co-Founders of HubSpot) in their book entitled_ Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media and Blogs_.

This was part-and-parcel of sparking the industry-wide shakeup, along with the new laws against direct marketing practices.

However, it was Halligan and Shah’s later release of their book called Inbound Marketing: Attract, Engage, and Delight Customers Online that truly outlined what Inbound Marketing entailed.

The words in their book’s title are now buzzwords in the marketing industry since they concisely outlined what the inbound marketer should aim to do: attract, convert, delight. However, there is a further term which is omitted from their title—“close”— which we have included here to explain the marketing process from beginning to end more fully.

  • Attract: This is the Halligan and Shah philosophy of “you gotta give to get”. Provide something free and of value on your social media page or website. As mentioned earlier, this could be something as simple as posting famous quotes every day that your customers can share.
  • Convert: Use this new attention to carry leads over to where you want them. This could mean a link in your post to a specific product. Alternatively, it could be a promotion for all those that follow your social media page. It could be asking your followers to sign up for an email list for marketing emails. Start thinking outside of the box!
  • Close: Now close in on those interested parties that didn’t buy by re-marketing to them. Use call-to-action buttons at the end of blog posts or send emails to those who agreed to marketing.
  • Delight: This one is simple. Continue to provide _quality _in everything you do. Not only in selling quality products but also, for instance, in posting only engaging online content.

Which Method Is Most Profitable?

Marketers report they are commonly asked the question, “But which method is best?”.

Yet the answer to this is different every time because it greatly depends on the specific business, target audience and aims. No one method is fundamentally better than another. You must assess your needs and target market in detail before choosing one method over the other. It may well be that a combination of each method is required.

Nevertheless, we do have some suggestions to make for manufacturing marketing specifically. For business to business startups, we recommend search engine optimisation of your company website since business owners are likely to look for a popular and trustworthy website for their goods.

For business to consumer (B2C), we recommend social media marketing since this is where people go when they are not working.

An inbound marketing strategy is essential in today’s new world of blacklisted spam emails and the increased protection of personal data. Inbound Marketing aims to confront this issue by encouraging sellers to think outside the box and use the advanced technology we have available to us.

Startups should jump at this opportunity to be at the forefront as this transition from traditional sales methods (which wastes time contacting customers that may not be interested in their products), to more intelligent indirect ways of marketing which allow you to target those that have already expressed interest in their products.

It will not only save you time and money, but will also mean your startup is on top of its game within this new era of marketing.

Already on the trend? Have some successful tips and tricks to share with your fellow indie hackers? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom!