If we’ve said it once we’ve said it a hundred times: there is so much conversation that goes on in the online marketing space. Concepts, ideas, jargon–all are thrown around so much that it’s easy to lose sight of the underlying foundation for it all. Don’t get me wrong–a lot of that discussion is really relevant and helpful, even instrumental in coming up with a strong strategy for your inbound approach. But sometimes it’s important to take a step back, and make sure we understand why we’re implementing that strategy, and what we’re aiming to achieve with it.
So that’s what we’re doing today–going back to basics, and reminding ourselves of the key ‘what’s and why’s’ of inbound marketing. And that boils down to understanding the four stages of inbound marketing.
First of all, we’ve explored inbound marketing before but never hurts to remind ourselves of its core definition.
Inbound marketing is attraction marketing. Instead of interrupting prospects during the course of their daily life, inbound meets them where they are, and provides helpful, valuable content for them as they search for what they need. (We call this the ‘moment of discovery’).
This process of inbound can best be understood when broken down into four stages, each of which we’ll explore to help you understand what we’re talking about when we use the phrase inbound marketing. Follow along on the visual at the top.
The first stage of inbound is attracting strangers to your site, thereby turning them into visitors.
A critical point to remember with inbound is that we’re not just looking for any traffic. We want to be hyperfocused on attracting the right traffic, the right strangers. That’s why one of the critical first steps of any inbound campaign is building buyer personas. Yes, we know, you’ve heard that term 100 times and it’s starting to feel redundant. But we cannot emphasize enough the importance of having a strong understanding of who you want in the door.
You need to sit down as a company, ask yourselves “Who is our ideal customer?”, and build a buyer persona around that. Then, get to know that customer on the deepest level until you feel like you can tap into their challenges and struggles. Use that to determine the people who are the most likely to become leads on your site, those who will find value in the content you’re providing, and, ultimately, the ones who will need and want your product, thereby becoming happy customers.
Buyer personas is sort of the prestep to the “Attract Stage”, because when you’re thinking about translating strangers into visitors, you need to focus on the right strangers, the people who have the potential to become customers. Focus on the strangers who fit those buyer personas.
And now that you know them, how do you attract them? Through another term that is probably starting to sound somewhat familiar: CONTENT MARKETING.
Content marketing is, by definition, creating content that appeals to your buyer personas. But even though this is the central M.O. for Attract, don’t get bogged down by creating a ton of content.
A mantra to repeat with any stage of inbound marketing, but especially with content creation, is quality over quantity. You want to be creating valuable content that serves your buyer personas. Which is again why that prestep is so critical; once you understand who those personas are, what they’re interested in, and how their struggles and challenges relate to the product/ service you’re providing, you’ll better be able to create content that speaks to that person, content that serves them. And that, in a nutshell, is the art of attracting them.
There’s a few ways that content attracts:
- SEO (Search Engine Optimization)
Where do people look for answers? Google. Maybe Bing. But it all starts with: search engines. And you want your content to show up as the results. If you’re doing a good job of answering those questions, search engines will serve it up.
- Blog and social media
Once you have great content, you need to get it out to this potential audience. First of all, make your website a place that they want to be. Your webpages, especially your blog, should speak to them and appeal to them, and serve as a resource or library of information.
Once you optimize that central platform, you need to extend the reach beyond the website. Social media should not be seen just as an opportunity to talk about how great you are. Use it as a platform to distribute your content to your followers.
Bottom line to attracting strangers so that they become site visitors: understand which strangers you want to attract, and target them with dynamic, relevant content that you present on an optimized website and distribute through your social media channels.
Once you have visitors on your site, the big concern becomes converting these anonymous strangers into contacts or leads in your database.
“Turning them into a lead” is basically a fancy way of saying that you’ve collected information from a visitor–an email address at the very minimum. Contact info has become a super valuable form of currency in the online space. When a visitor hands over contact info, they are in essence handing over a request for this relationship to deepen. They are saying I’m interested, I want to learn more. They are taking the action of raising their hand and showing interest in hearing more from you.
So how do you do it? How do you convert a visitor into a lead and get that coveted email address? And a legitimate email address at that, since people are so guarded about that info, and even have inboxes dedicated to emails they don’t care about. So how can you ensure that you’re getting the right info?
Well, if an email address is currency, then you need to provide something of value that’s worth the price. Some people view it almost like a bribe, offering them something in exchange for an email address, but it’s not at all. You’re looking to truly serve this person. You could give them a certain offer for free, but that’s not serving them since you won’t be able to follow up and see if there’s more you can help them with.
And it’s not as if you’re unloading something on them that they don’t want. After all, that’s the beauty of inbound–the fact that they got to you in the first place is because they have a need they’re looking to solve and you have that answer. Therefore, those expressing enough interest to take the next step and give you contact info will be quality leads, who are beginning a relationship of trust with you.
The epicenter of this exchange is a campaign stemming from a premium offer–an ebook, white paper, webinar, tip sheet, a free consultation. Something that provides value to them before you ask them to give you what you want.
In building that campaign, there are a few elements to consider to ensure the flow of the conversion process:
- Ensure that there are calls to action (CTAs) throughout the site, directing people to relevant offers you have for them, and directing them to the form they should fill out to receive it.
- You need to create those forms you’re leading to. It’s a simple journey: the CTA promotes the form, the form lives on the landing page. This page is a chance for you to go into detail about the offer and explain what’s in it for them, as well as to clearly tell them what you’re going to do with their email address, and if and when they’ll receive relevant follow up. Be upfront about your intentions, and it will pay off in the form of quality relationships who feel served by you, as opposed to disgruntled visitors who feel taken advantage of.
These elements are crucial to the lead conversion process, and, once they are in place, will allow you to take the next step of closing those leads.
It’s time to take all of those quality leads that you collected through offers and forms, and close them into real-life customers.
This stage is where the power of marketing automation comes in, giving you the ability to accumulate customers without the manual input of your sales/ marketing team. You want to drive prospects into the top of your marketing/sales funnel, and hit ‘automate,’ so that the bottom of the funnel spits out hot, qualified leads to the sales team.
This helps your business in so many ways. First of all, it tightens up the process, and makes the sales and marketing teams focus on the same goal. Second, it makes the process super personalized and relevant, creating a wonderful experience for prospects and customers. Third, email marketing and automation will allow you to nurture and track a lead fully through the sales process. To that end, you’ll also want to use a CRM– a customer relationship management system/ database–in order to retain all the details about these leads. As they go through the automation, you’re going to learn a lot of key information about them, and that data lives in the CRM. You can then pull out important pieces as you need them.
Marketing automation, utilizing a central database and email marketing, allows you to create a lead nurturing process that’s tailored to the needs and challenges of your prospects, and offers solutions at the right parts of the sales and life cycle of a given lead, ultimately resulting in you closing that lead into a customer.
Many people think they’re done when they get a new customer. Someone purchased, let’s pat ourselves on the back, and then ciao. THAT IS A MISTAKE.
You’re next step is to take the customer into the promoter space, and turn them into someone who is a mouthpiece for you and your company, someone who sings your praises and helps you build the business beyond your own efforts.
Inbound marketing is about providing amazing content to your users at any point–even when they’re already customers. You don’t just want to forget about them and move on–if anything, after they’ve become customers is when you serve them the most, by continuing to provide valuable and helpful info to them.
Ultimately, you want to delight them, and turn them into promoters of your company. And there are several tools to do so. One effective way is requesting their input on surveys, and using their testimonial on your site as an indicator of what your company can do for others. You also want to continuously be keeping track of your customers’ conversation on social media. Know what they’re saying and how it relates to you, and engage with a “thanks for the feedback” or a “here’s the answer to your product question” when relevant.
You should also have a pool of content just for existing customers. Continue serving them with content that addresses a customer or product-specific slant, introduce new products and features that are relevant to them, and just keep them in the loop. Remember that what you say to them is different now that they’re customers, and you can use that to your advantage.
Lifecycle marketing can be beneficial for more than just goodwill, It will allow you to create new revenue streams and extend the life and value of each customer.
So there you have it: the journey you’ll create to move a stranger to a visitor and from a lead to a customer straight through to being a promoter of your business. And when that ambassador or enthusiast gets new strangers interested, the cycle starts over.
What these four stages essentially do is spell out this new methodology of modern marketing, and show you its value. Gone are the days of being a slimy marketer or perceived as a used car salesmen. The above steps provide the most straightforward way of creating an experience and environment of serving your prospects, which will strengthen and expand the reach of your relationship with your potential customers.