In recent years, inbound marketing has meant everything to the marketing and entrepreneurial community. Thanks in part to the decline of user trust in brands and advertising (which in turn has led to the decline of traditional advertising), the alternative—naturally attracting customers by putting your brand in places they’d seek out naturally—is far more cost-efficient and rewarding.
“Inbound marketing,” though, is a collective term referring to a number of different strategies, all working together in complex ways. These include content marketing, SEO, social media marketing, and influencer marketing, just to name a few. There’s no surefire recipe for success (not that there ever was for outbound marketing or traditional ads), so many new marketers and entrepreneurs feel intimidated to step into this world.
There are probably hundreds of articles worth of information on the subject, but if you’re looking for the top factors for success in inbound marketing to get started, or if you’re trying to refine your own approach, these five fundamentals are necessary for a successful campaign:
1. start with a well-researched strategy
There are two components to this deceptively simple tenet, and both are vital: “research” and “strategy.” First, you’ll need a formally documented strategy. It’s not enough to “know in your head” what you’re trying to do, or start off with a basic concept and just wing it the rest of the way. You need to know exactly what your goals are, exactly what resources you’re going to allocate, and exactly who on your team will be responsible for executing what. Without this strategy, your campaign will meander aimlessly, and more importantly, you’ll have no basis of comparison to see what kind of progress you’ve been able to make. Second, don’t just base your strategy on instinct or one-off brainstorming; base your strategies, ideas, and goals on hard research, whether that’s competitive, strategic, or demographic based.
2. understand the difference between expenses and investments
Traditional ads and outbound marketing have historically been treated as expenses; you pay a fixed amount of money for a given service or opportunity, and you get a finite amount of value in return over a fixed period of time. Inbound marketing strategies, on the other hand, are more like investments. You’ll pour money and energy into them, building measurable equity in the form of online assets, visibility, and reputation, and the more you invest, the more you’ll reap over the course of time. It’s a long-term strategy that usually won’t start paying off right away, so you might be fooled into thinking it’s ineffective if you only think of it as an expense and don’t give it enough time. You’re investing in your brand with inbound marketing, so plan accordingly.
3. know how complementary strategies interact
There are dozens of strategies that could be considered part of “inbound marketing”, and you’ll need to at least familiarize yourself with them if you want to be successful. While it’s possible to see decent results by focusing on these strategies one at a time, it’s far more effective if you learn how to lace these strategies together, understanding how they complement and enhance each other. For example, using content to fuel your social media strategy could earn you more visibility, which can lead to more inbound link, which will, in turn, boost your search engine rankings. In this relationship, one move—the sharing of content on social media—affects your performance across three distinct strategies (content, SEO, and social). Know these relationships inside and out to maximize the potential value of every action you take.
4. measure everything
This should be a tenet for any marketing strategy, but it’s especially important in the inbound realm. Regularly take measurements of your inbound traffic, your user behavior, your conversion rates, and everything in between. Compare these numbers on a month-to-month basis to see how your strategies are performing, especially over the long term. More importantly, these numbers are going to be what you use to determine whether your new experimental strategies are paying off; for example, let’s say you introduce a new type of content to your campaign. How can you know whether it’s an effective addition if you don’t have any numbers to compare your performance to?
5. adapt constantly
Speaking of experiments and adjustments, you’ll need to adjust constantly if you want your campaign to be effective. Even if you start with a fully fleshed-out, well-researched conceptual strategy, it’s almost impossible to reach your full potential right off the bat. Even if you do, your available resources, technologies, and audiences will change over time, and if you want to stay relevant, you’ll have to change with them. Be prepared to make adjustments to your strategy, sometimes overhauling major components of it. It’s risky, yes, but you can always reverse your approach if you find your original methods worked out better. If you stand still for too long, you’ll either become obsolete, or a competitor will surpass you.
It’s impossible to reduce inbound marketing to a singular concept, since it can work across so many different strategies and so differently for different brands, but these five fundamentals will help you be a better inbound marketer no matter what your direction or strategic approach entail. Being an inbound marketer takes practice, experience, and refinement, like any other area, so don’t neglect your own personal abilities as you develop your methods.
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