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Attract, engage, delight & repeat – The key stages of inbound marketing
Every business wants to generate sales, but during this digital age where information is saturated and with many competing brands vying for attention on different channels, there is no room for chancing your arm. The challenge is to make sure your brand is the one that your potential customer finds at the specific time in which they are looking and on the very channel with which they are searching.
Inbound marketing is a methodology that, as the name suggests, systematically draws your target audience into and onward through your sales funnel. The term ‘inbound marketing’ was coined by HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. As restrictions increase against ‘outbound’ tactics like cold calling and sponsored advertisements, many believe we are now in the age of inbound, with the emphasis on delivering real value to buyers.
How do we deliver value? It’s actually simpler than you think. Value is derived by your potential customer when you provide them with reliable and authoritative answers and solutions to their specific questions and challenges without unsolicited distraction or misleading information.
And the benefit to your brand? Ultimately, in utilising inbound marketing methodology, you can build sustainable relationships with your customers that don’t simply end once a purchase has been made. Instead, you build on trust and integrity and continue to engage with further insight, expertise and opportunities for repeat sales. The value cycle is infinite.
And the other great news is that in terms of performance, inbound marketing systems are extremely easy to track and monitor, allowing you to tweak and adapt your approach as you go which means that as needs change, your messaging and approach can change with it. You can also easily demonstrate tangible results across the boardroom table. In short, it’s the ideal marketing system for most modern, progressive business.
If you haven’t already adopted inbound marketing in your organisation, this guide will help you to understand the what and the why in more detail. We explain the key stages of inbound marketing and how these map onto your customers’ journeys. We’ll also tell you what tools you will need to create an effective inbound campaign for your business.
The need for insight
Insight is the key ingredient that powers any worthwhile marketing activity and is the difference between success and failure.
At the heart of inbound methodology is the ability to deliver a tailored message to your customer that considers their buying stage – this could be awareness or consideration for example, along with their preferred method of contact or engagement such as social media, email, SMS, phone call etc. To do inbound marketing well, you therefore need quality customer insight that helps you understand how to reach and resonate with your audiences.
There are many tools that you can use to develop knowledge of your customer audience. Your aim must be to identify their needs, the challenges they face, their interests and habits, the media channels they use regularly to find information, and how they prefer to interact with brands. It can be extremely helpful to create ‘buyer personas’ for each of your audience types, since this will help your marketing team during the briefing stages of content planning and target marketing activities, and to ensure that everything is consistent.
A great content plan will incorporate the topics and questions your audience is interested in, and specify the channels that the content should be delivered. Better still, it will help you to adapt content for every stage of the buyer journey, so that you can keep inspiring and delivering value to your users and move them along the cycle to making a purchase decision.
The stages of inbound marketing
We’ve broken down the stages of inbound marketing to show you what activities to use across the customer journey.
The first thing to note is that the days of the linear sales funnel are over. Modern inbound marketing works as a flywheel, and this is because the inbound process is a cycle that is constantly moving. There is no end; instead, each stage is designed to nurture the potential customer forward to the next stage.
The first stage of inbound marketing is in attracting your customer audience. Often people in this stage of their customer journey are strangers to your brand. During this phase, your customer will be in the early stages of rationalising and validating the need that they are trying to address.
Your focus needs to be on delivering content (often emotive at this stage) that acknowledges this need, whilst demonstrating empathy and understanding and at the same time making the user aware of your brand. This will help to resonate with your audience, develop curiosity and incite a response or an action to find out more.
At every stage of the journey, your content needs to be ‘found’. To do this, you need to target your potential customer on the platform they’re already on – this could be a social media channel or news outlet, and ensure that you rank highly on the search engine results page (SERP) for those topics and search terms that your target customers are researching and using.
There are many channels you can use in the attract stage. These include:
- Digital PR and outreach – helping to get your business in the public eye for good reasons
- Social Advert – Targeted social media adverts are often very successful. Facebook for example, allows you to be extremely specific about the audience that you are targeting to a very granular level. These online adverts can incorporate a data capture form or serve as a click-through to a separate landing page that captures contact data for your prospect database and helps to move the user into your sales nurturing cycle.
- Search – by answering common search queries associated with brand topics
- Targeted social media post or advert utilising the right platforms – appearing on people’s newsfeeds while they scroll
- Blog – providing information that nurtures prospects onto the next stage of their journey
Examples of content types you could utilise on each of these channels are:
- Press releases
- Influencer endorsements using relevant ambassadors
- Blog posts that are optimised for SEO
Remember to rely on your customer insight to identify how you can provide value at the early stage of their journey. This will help you to choose content that matches their preferences and stand out when they come across you. Once they become more aware of you as a business and see that your brand is resonating with them, they will accept you as a key player in their choice for a potential purchase and the trust will start to develop along with their curiosity.
Next is the engage stage. This is where you turn your new prospects into customers, guiding them through the ‘consideration’ and ‘decision’ sections of their buyer journey. You can do this by providing expertise and helpful insight that highlights how they can overcome their challenges whilst also helping them to navigate the different solution options that are available to them.
Whilst you control the narrative, you should always maintain a neutral stance favouring factual accuracy and quality of information. This in turn will help your potential customer to view you favourably and have the confidence to consider your brand as a provider of the solution that they seek.
Examples of channels that commonly feature in the engage stage are:
- Search – continuing to answer any queries a lead may have about their challenges
- Blogs and articles – providing authoritative information about your brand as a provider of the solution to their specific need, and as an authority on related topics, also of interest to your customer
- Email – placing content in the inboxes of your prospect that can guide them along the journey
- Landing pages and lead forms – offering tailored insight about your brand and capturing information about leads that enables you to provide them with more content – this could be a downloadable guide or article, for example
- Website – product and service pages providing more detail and technical data to help your customer decide if your solution is right for their specific requirements
- Review sites – showcasing how others have experienced your brand, products and services
- Comparison tools – some websites offer product comparison tools that can help you to very easily compare key specification between very similar brand solutions
Content types include:
- Guides (including video guides)
- Detailed articles and technical information (more complex products)
- Top tips
- Product/service data and pricing
- Product/service demonstrations
- Incentives and offers, such as 10% off your first order
The emphasis is on enabling your customer to learn more about you so that they can come to a decision on their terms. Your job is to deliver the best possible facts and salient information that positions your product or service above your competitors in the eye of your potential customer.
You will also want to include a suitable and strong call-to-action in your content (and at every stage of the flywheel) this could be to make contact, provide details in order to download a content offer, or even a link to ‘buy now’ if it is appropriate. This will set a path for them to follow as they make their way across the buyer journey.
The delight stage is where you exceed the expectations of those who choose to buy from your business, with the outcome (hopefully) that they will become loyal brand ambassadors. You need to provide an excellent service and show them that your relationship with them does not end once they’ve spent their money. This may include providing additional support that empowers them to get the most from their purchase and alerts them of ways you can continue to help in the future.
Channels that should be utilised when delighting customers are:
- Review invites – show that you’re interested in their feedback on your products and service
- Emails – provide timely support for customers regarding your products and services and regularly deliver news or offers that may be of interest
- Blogs – outline how to get the most from your business/product/service, such as different ways to use products
- Website – Make it simple and easy for customers to find out more about what else you have to offer and a tool to re-purchase.
- Social media – keeping the conversation open with customers and giving them the opportunity to interact with you in a way that they feel comfortable
The content types that might feature on these channels include:
- Smart content
- User-generated content
- New product/service updates
- Sales support information
- Offers and discounts on their next purchase
By showing customers that you’re still invested in them, you can sustain your relationship with them even after the point of purchase. This offers benefits to both parties: it enables consumers to get the most from their purchase and access continued support while allowing businesses to retain customers and get repeat sales.
It will also enable you to expand your customer base by incorporating loyal buyers with new prospects, impacting your sales growth and profit. Never forget that a recommendation from an existing customer is more valuable than any other form of marketing! Delighting your customers can also fuel the inbound process for future leads. Happy buyers will often leave good reviews and feedback about your brand, whether through review sites, social media or word of mouth. This can help turn strangers into prospects, with your marketing activity moving them into the customer category.
Once you have successfully attracted, engaged and delighted your customers, the cycle begins again. By this point, your customer will have (hopefully) had a positive experience with your business so that whenever they need to make a purchase again, you are at the forefront of their mind.
With this, the inbound marketing flywheel keeps on spinning as you grow your customer base.
The role of marketing automation
The inbound methodology relies on timing. Marketing automation tools allow you to map the buyer journey process into a timed workflow capable of delivering the right content to your customer at the appropriate time and stage of their journey. For example, a potential customer may have seen an advert on social media and completed a form. This form adds them to your marketing database, and this triggers the automation element, and starts what is known as a nurturing cycle. The first item of which might trigger a follow-up email 3 days after their initial action, this may be a welcome message containing a link to a blog or a download. When the user clicks the link, it may then initiate another action such as a phone call follow-up from a member of your team. You can configure it exactly as you see fit. What you are doing is effectively anticipating their next step.
There are many marketing automation tools that are available, and one that we favour, due to its comprehensive functionality and ease of use is HubSpot. Equipped with these tools, you can easily collate data and intelligence about users and how they interact with your brand. This, in turn, can educate your marketing activity, so you can optimise how you target people at each buyer stage and match their preferences.
The outcome will be improved results, streamlined marketing strategies and satisfied customers – the holy grail for any business!
The inbound methodology should feed into every part of your marketing efforts. Using its principles, including a focus on customer insight and providing value, you can craft optimised content plans, refined tactics and automated processes that deliver the best possible message to your audience.
Understanding your customers’ needs at each part of their buyer journey is essential to move them along the inbound flywheel with timely activity. At the same time, you can enable your brand to target them successfully until they choose to purchase with you, based on the positive impressions of your business you have built through your marketing activity.
By mastering the cycle and repeating it continually, you can ensure continued sales and customer satisfaction. Over time, this will see your customer base and bottom line grow.