Inbound marketing can unlock the door to a flood of business now and in the future, if you use it correctly.

Inbound marketing is all the rage these days, and with good reason, it flat out works! In fact, although the term itself is relatively new, savvy online marketers have been using inbound marketing principles online for over a decade to bring customers into their marketing funnels.

That is one of the powerful advantages to inbound marketing, it gets qualified and motivated prospects coming to you, in a ready to buy, or at least in a very interested frame of mind. That’s what it does, and no business owner could deny that is something they want, but what is it, and how does it work, exactly?

All The Noise is Killing Me

Outbound marketing is the old way; reaching out to consumers, and hoping they’ll respond. If they do, great, the sales process begins in earnest. While traditional outbound techniques are still effective, the reality today is that you’re competing with a veritable plethora of other messages for the prospect’s attention.

Think about it. It’s not only marketing messages, either. How many text messages, TV programs, e-mails, websites, radio broadcasts, billboards, magazine ads, social media interactions, and phone calls is the average person exposed to in a day?

Unless you’re like the GEICO guy living under a rock, it’s  dozens, at a minimum, and therein lies the problem. There is just too much noise out there, and a business’s message has to be quite compelling in order for it to gain any traction whatsoever….. and that is if it even gets to the prospect at all.

Think about the lengths people go to these days to NOT see your marketing message. DVRing their way past TV commercials, using caller ID and the do-not call list to shield themselves from telemarketers, and deploying a bevy of SPAM filters for their email. It’s an increasingly tough go for marketers trying to get their message not only out there, but delivered to the prospect’s brain.

Upside Down, But Definitely Not Backwards

Inbound marketing turns all that on it’s head. Instead of competing with all of the sensory clutter, and fighting it’s way past the myriad of filtering devices, it gets ahead of the clutter and around the filters. Inbound marketing is exactly what the name implies, having customers inbound to your business.

How do they get that way? Simple, you make them not only find you, but eagerly embrace your messages. In most cases an effective campaign will have them not only embracing your messages, but anxiously awaiting the next one, and sharing them with friends, family, and business associates.

The premise is is simple, yes, but the execution is not always easy. In fact, in some ways it is more difficult than the old way, but done correctly, it’s devastatingly effective, and can persist for quite some time beyond the campaign’s end.

At it’s heart, inbound marketing is a content marketing strategy. You create compelling content people love and find valuable. These days people do things with content like that, and it’s all good for you. They share, save, and bookmark it, and with any luck it will go viral, spreading your message far beyond the original recipients.

The Secret

If that viral content happens to support your business, that’s a great thing for you, indeed. Even without a large viral component however, pulling consumers in using content and social media is almost like the marketing version of taking candy from a baby. In the end, there’s much less convincing, and more buying. The secret is in developing the proper content mix and deploying it to achieve maximum effectiveness.

If you’re a marketer, your company has a marketing department, or you hire a marketing agency, you’ve been battling the message delivery problem for years. Now, instead of futilely banging your head against the wall, trying to develop the next innovative campaign that will grab consumers’ attention, you can spend more time working with prospects and refining your sales process for maximum effectiveness.

Still the King

While content is king, as virtually online marketer will be all too happy to tell you, it is really only one of the three legs of the inbound marketing

Before your business can enjoy the pofits inbound marketing brings, you have to lay the foundation. A solid inbound marketing strategy isn't someting you just cook up in a few minutes, over cocktails. Shocking, but the best performing campaigns will actually require some planning.

stool, albeit the most critical one. The other legs are social media and SEO.

SEO? Well, if inbound marketing is all about customers coming to you, they have to find you when they’re looking, don’t they? Of course they do, and obviously, social media is another way they come calling.

Content is the Mac Daddy of inbound marketing though, because without the kind of content that makes people want to spread it like Vegemite, it’ll just sit there. Without the kind of content that the search engines love, they’ll never rank it highly enough tha people find it when they come looking.

How to Make a Winning Inbound Marketing Campaign

Okay, so you’ve drank the Cool-Aid and are ready to jump into this inbound marketing thing with both feet. Where do you begin?

Follow the Bouncing Ball – Steps to Create a Winning a Inbound Marketing Campaign

Step 1 – What’s it All For?

Like with any other marketing campaign, you’ll first want to define your objectives. What are you trying to achieve with the campaign? Are you introducing a new product, filling up your email list for the future, or increasing brand awareness? No matter what your goals, you need to have a target before you can hit it.

Step 2 – What’s Inside – The Offers and Supporting Content

After you’ve determined exactly what you’re aiming for, you can develop an offer mix that will take you there. You want something compelling, that will make people want to respond. You support that content with other content that leads your prospect to the offer content. It’s much the same as how people follow that mouth watering smell wafting out of the kitchen to see what’s cooking.

Some of the best offers we’ve used for clients in the past are process-oriented videos explaining key concepts and how to use them, free reports or white papers, and e-mail courses. When prospects follow the supporting content to the offer content, they arrive hungry and ready to consume. In the offer content your potential customers.

In reality, most inbound marketing campaigns are all about teaching. You’re delivering a powerful learning experience with your content, which is one reason this next content modality works so well.

I’m referring to webinars. They are also another highly effective offer. In them, you deliver highly valuable, informative, and actionable content and give consumers the ability to interact with you. This is very powerful, but it doesn’t stop there. They’re persistent, too.

Not only do the stay around in their original form, but webinars let you turn the presentation into a video and audio recording after they’re over. This content can then be used to bring even more prospects into your funnel, and it is easily shared.

Step 3 – Metrics and Testing – No, That’s Not a Government Agency or a Law Firm

Measuring and testing is a pain in the ass, sure, but it’s what separates winners form losers. In addition, it lets you know which are which, and perhaps more importantly, it can show you how to transform one into the other. Which way you’ll want to take that is up to you.

To do any measuring and testing, you’ll obviously have to define the metrics that you’ll use. There are many, but typically you’ll be things such as tracking email sign ups, downloads, traffic to your landing page(s), conversion percentage, and similar measureables. It is key that you do this for every campaign, and have the granularity to reveal things down to a page level, so you can refine for the future, or even within each campaign, to increase effectiveness.

For example, split testing multiple landing pages, each with a different headline, will reveal which was more effective at converting visitors to your desired goal. That goal can be varied; downloading a report, signing up for an e-course, or even making a purchase.

Obviously, it doesn’t take much to make a huge difference. Say you have a guest post on a popular blog as part of your campaign, and you’re sending traffic from that post to one of the landing pages. You’ll use a script to rotate which landing page the visitor sees, enabling you to keep the one which had the higher conversion rate.

If you received 10,000 visitors from the post, and one page converted at 2.5%, while the other was 4%, that’s significant. Although 1.5 percentage points may not sound like much to the math challenged in the crowd, when the conversion rates are relatively low, that’s a big deal, to the tune of 150 more conversions.

After your testing, you can just keep the better of the two. In this example, testing the winner against another headline would further validate the winner and give more opportunity to boost conversions.

Step – 4 – Bring It On!

Traffic, that is. About this time, you’ll want to think about getting some serious traffic to your offers. You know what to measure, and have done some preliminary testing. With your improved conversion rates in place you’re ready to rock some visitors.

The key concept behind inbound marketing is to let the traffic come to you, so how do you drive it, without asking for it? Simple, you make them want to come see you. It all comes down to compelling content, (here is a very important point) who distributes it, and how they distribute it.

Yes, you’ll distribute some of it yourself, and possibly most of it, but in many cases, you can dramatically boost your campaign’s effectiveness by letting someone with a more powerful voice than you deliver the message. It isn’t necessarily the messenger’s absolute power, but their reach and respect among your target audience that counts. It’s all about leverage, and in this case, changing the messenger lets you leverage their voice to amplify your message.

That’s why reaching out to popular niche bloggers, e-zine publishers, and cult celebrities (think authors, actors, musicians, poets, and athletes) for content distribution can deliver results all out of proportion to their absolute audience size.

It’s All in Who You Know…. or Convince

Don’t forget social media. Including social media in your inbound marketing isn’t just a good idea, it’s plain crazy to omit. You can’t just Tweet out a link to your video or webinar, though. No, your campaign will have better results if you get some help from influential social media users. They can help get the word about about your content, and you’ll flat kill it.

When the right person tweets out a strong recommendation with a link to your content, it’s time to upgrade your webserver. The same holds true with a share on FaceBook or LinkedIn from a niche icon with a large following. They’ll be some dancing in the boardroom after something like that, and it can really make your campaign take off.

It’s the targeting, of course. If you make widgets, and a famous athlete or actor tweets out your content to their 50,000 followers, you may get some visitors, and possibly even some viral action. On the other hand, if someone with only 5,000 followers, but is a well respected member of the widget niche, shares your stuff on Twitter, it’s far more likely that people will not only see the tweet, but care about it, share it, and instantly go to your content.

Not only will the attention be better, but the traffic you get will be much more targeted, and visitors will arrive with a more receptive attitude, because of the recommendation. Try it sometime.

An Inside Job

Don’t forget one of your best resources, either. I’m referring to your employees. This is especially advantageous if your employees are in your target demographic and socially active. Make sure your employees are actively promoting your social media initiatives. It helps if they are completely bought in and committed to your business and what you do.

In fact, don’t just get employees to help Tweeting and sharing. Look to them for ideas, too. One of them could be instrumental in creating your next social media or viral marketing success, both of which are cornerstones of inbound marketing.

Promote your social media initiatives within the company and strive to create a strong culture that embraces it as a key part of your marketing arsenal. Remember, though overly promotional or spammy will lose all you’ve gained. Deliver value, always, and your following will grow like mushrooms after a Seattle rain.

What Next??

Remember, inbound marketing is all about getting past the noise and letting potential customers find you. Not only find you, but arriving in a receptive mood, rather than with their buying protection in overdrive. It’s one of the most powerful ways you can start to build a loyal customer, or grow your customer base, especially if you have an eye on expansion.

The first steps in an inbound marketing campaign are:

1) Goal Definition – What, exactly do you want your inbound marketing campaign to achieve?

2) Offer Creation – What are you going to offer your prospects to entice them?

3) Metrics and Testing – How are you going to measure success and be sure you’ve achieved it?

4) Turn on the traffic – Create the content and use it to bring traffic to your offer(s) using a variety of methods, including SEO, syndication, and social media.

In the next inbound marketing installment, I’ll look at where to send all that traffic, and what to do with it once you’ve got it.

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