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What is inbound marketing? Definition, examples and strategies

Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing definition
Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing
The 4 stages of the inbound marketing funnel
7 benefits of inbound marketing
When to use inbound marketing
Final thoughts

Today’s customers want to research solutions in their own time, coming across brands and products that resonate with them more organically.

More and more companies are turning to inbound marketing to adapt to this. It attracts customers naturally by offering them valuable content and solutions to their pain points.

In this article, we’ll discuss inbound marketing in detail. We’ll explain what it is, how it differs from outbound marketing and how to create a solid inbound marketing strategy.

Inbound marketing definition

Inbound marketing is a business method that attracts customers through useful content and tailored experiences.

It’s about creating content that addresses potential customers’ interests and problems to pull customers toward your products or services, then nurturing them through the sales funnel.

Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing

The main difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is how you connect with your audience.

Inbound marketing pulls interested people in. Outbound marketing pushes a message to a broad audience to capture the attention of a few.

Here are some other ways inbound and outbound marketing differ:

Inbound Marketing

Outbound Marketing

Focuses on drawing customers in through tailored experiences and content.

Uses traditional forms of marketing to push messages to an audience regardless of their intent to buy.

Relies on earning the audience’s interest rather than buying it.

Often involves interrupting people through methods like cold calls and TV or radio ads.

Uses content marketing, SEO, social media marketing and other forms of content.

Uses direct mail, telemarketing and other forms of advertising that can reach a large audience.

Builds a relationship with the customer over time, creating trust and positioning the brand as a helpful resource.

Focused on making a sale rather than building a long-term relationship.

The 4 stages of the inbound marketing funnel

The inbound marketing funnel describes a buyer’s journey from first learning about a brand to becoming a loyal customer. Here’s how inbound marketing works.

Step 1: Attract

The goal at this stage is to attract visitors to your website or platform. Educational content and a positive social media presence will draw in an audience that’s interested in what you’re offering.

For example, you might use social media strategies to share tutorials, how-tos or guides. You could also create website content with search engine optimization (SEO) strategies. When people search for topics or questions, your website will hopefully be in the top results.

Step 2: Engage

Once you’ve attracted visitors to your website or platform, the next step is to convert them into leads. To do this, you need to engage with them and make them more likely to buy from you. Often, this involves getting web visitors to provide their contact information in exchange for something valuable.

Here are some strategies you can use to engage your prospects:

  • Use web forms to collect contact information from people who download ebooks, whitepapers or newsletters

  • Create useful landing pages and calls to action (CTAs) on your website that nurture leads toward a buying decision

  • Implement an AI chatbot that provides customers with answers and helpful information

Step 3: Close

In the closing stage, now that they’ve shown interest in your products or services, you convince them you’re the best choice and transform your leads into customers.

To close a deal using inbound marketing strategies, provide content that nurtures them further down the funnel.

You can do this through marketing automation, targeted content and personalized email campaigns. For example:

  • Offer a limited-time discount if they’ve shown interest in a particular product or service. If they spend some time on your landing page and then disappear for a few days, a targeted promotion might convince them to buy.

  • Provide social proof on your website – things like case studies, testimonials and reviews that show how happy other customers are with your offerings

  • Use targeted email campaigns. If a lead downloaded your white paper, you could send them a series of emails that explain more about what you offer and how it could benefit them.

Step 4: Delight

You might think that once you’ve converted a lead into a customer, the buyer’s journey is over.

However, the final stage of the inbound marketing funnel is about turning customers into loyal brand advocates – people who will promote your brand to their friends and family.

The goal of this step is to continue engaging customers after they’ve made a purchase. Make sure they’re satisfied and getting the most out of your product or service.

Here are some strategies for this step:

  • Create detailed knowledge bases, guides and tutorials that help customers use your products and services

  • Provide excellent, personalized customer service

  • Establish loyalty programs that reward customers for repeat business and referrals

7 benefits of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is a powerful strategy that offers several benefits:

  1. It’s cost-effective. Creating content like blog posts and social media updates is usually cheaper than advertising, buying email lists (which we wouldn’t recommend) or attending trade shows. Content can also continue to attract and convert customers over time, without ongoing expenses.

  2. It builds trust and credibility. By providing valuable content, you can establish yourself as an authority or expert in your field. Appearing as a knowledgeable and helpful brand builds trust with potential customers. It also makes them more likely to purchase from you.

  3. It respects customer preferences. Most modern buyers like to look into products and services before making a decision. Inbound marketing respects the buyer’s preference for autonomy and gives them the resources they need to explore at their own pace. Many buyers now find outbound marketing too intrusive.

  4. It helps build long-term relationships. Continuous engagement encourages repeat business and fosters brand loyalty. By constantly providing value, you can stay top-of-mind with your audience, making customers more likely to buy from you when they’re ready.

  5. It helps you understand and reach your audience. Inbound marketing strategies often leverage customer relationship management (CRM) tools that allow for detailed tracking and analytics. You can use this data to better understand and segment your audience so that you can deliver personalized content.

  6. It increases your brand’s visibility. Regularly publishing helpful content (alongside good SEO practices) increases your website’s chances of ranking on search engines. As a result, potential customers are more likely to find you through organic search, leading to more traffic.

  7. It provides measurable results. It’s often challenging to measure ROI from traditional advertisements like a billboard or print ad. Inbound marketing offers clear, trackable metrics through website traffic, conversion rates, social media engagement and other key performance indicators (KPIs).

When to use inbound marketing

While both inbound and outbound marketing strategies can be effective, there are scenarios where inbound marketing could work better.

Here are some examples of when you should use inbound marketing.

You have a limited marketing budget

Startups and small businesses with limited marketing budgets might find that inbound marketing is more cost-effective.

You can generate social media and blog content without too much of an initial investment. Even better, it will continue to generate traffic with minimal ongoing cost.

You have longer sales cycles

Inbound marketing is a good choice if you’re in an industry with longer sales cycles where customers take more time to consider their options, or there are a lot of decision-makers involved.

It can provide sustained engagement through content, email marketing and social media interactions.

You can use these to share information with, and offer value to, your leads, keeping them interested throughout the decision-making process.

You offer knowledge-driven products or services

If your products or services need a high level of education or knowledge to use, inbound marketing is ideal.

Your website and content are great places to educate your audience in more detail than traditional methods allow.

For example, you could share how-tos and tutorials, or host a knowledge base showing how to get the most out of your product.

You have a digitally savvy audience

If your target audience is active online, inbound marketing can be more effective at engaging them where they spend their time.

Outbound methods (like cold calling or print ads) are unlikely to reach this online audience as effectively.

However, the opposite is true, too. If you sell primarily to an offline audience, then outbound methods may be more effective.

You want to build long-term relationships

If your goal is to build long-term relationships and establish a loyal customer base, inbound marketing can be very effective.

Focusing on search engine visibility, creative content creation and social media engagement helps you attract more traffic to your website organically.

Outbound marketing methods like adverts can be effective at pulling in one-time customers quickly, but without pairing it with inbound marketing strategies, you might find it harder to generate repeat business.

Your market is oversaturated

In saturated markets, outbound methods can add to the noise and make it challenging to stand out.

Inbound marketing lets you differentiate yourself by creating a unique voice, authority and valuable resource for new customers.

4 Inbound marketing examples to boost conversions

We’ve covered some broad inbound strategies and explained when they’re most useful to use.

Next, we’ll describe these digital marketing strategies in more detail, with actionable advice that you can use to boost conversions.

1. Content marketing

Content marketing is the backbone of any inbound marketing strategy. It focuses on creating and distributing relevant, high-quality content to attract and retain customers.

Content marketing helps you:

  • Build trust and establish authority in your industry

  • Form a relationship with customers early in the buying process

  • Improve brand recognition and loyalty over time

One powerful tactic is to develop a comprehensive blog on your website. Here, you can offer in-depth guides, industry insights, case studies and how-to articles. The goal of this content should be to establish your authority in the field and help customers find solutions to their problems.

Using keyword research and a good SEO strategy, you can find great content topics and optimize your posts for search engines.

Example: Pipedrive’s sales blog

Pipedrive blog

Pipedrive employs an effective content marketing strategy through its blog and knowledge base. It provides a rich resource of sales tips, best practices, industry insights and strategies to help sales teams improve their processes.

The Pipedrive blog attracts and engages prospects.

The knowledge base, meanwhile, provides in-depth, practical support to both prospects and existing customers.

The goal is to drive traffic to its website and build credibility. It does this by demonstrating a genuine commitment to helping its customers succeed.

Some actionable takeaways include:

  • Focus on content variety and quality. Cover a wide range of formats and topics focused on delivering value. For example, blogs, guide articles, how-tos, podcasts and webinars all work together to cater to different stages in the customer journey.

  • Use a customer-centric approach. Focus on solving real-world problems and answering actual questions from your target audience. Doing so will help ensure your content is both relevant and engaging.

  • Ensure visibility and discoverability. Use smart SEO practices and cover topics that matter to your audience so that they rank well in search engines.

Download Your Sales and Marketing Strategy Guide

Grow your business with our step-by-step guide (and template) for a combined sales and marketing strategy.

2. Social media marketing

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and LinkedIn, have become crucial for inbound marketing. They enable you to share valuable, engaging content that speaks to the needs of your potential customers.

Social selling lets you:

  • Engage directly and create useful, interactive communities with a targeted audience

  • Attract attention to your brand and encourage sharing, amplifying your reach

  • Listen and respond to your audience’s feedback, creating a two-way conversation that outbound methods lack

The focus is on creating pieces of content that address common concerns or interests. For example, a kitchen appliance company might share recipes, cooking tips or how-to videos using their products. The content should engage, entertain and inform your audience. It should also help to build an authentic connection without directly selling to them.

Consider which platforms your target audience is most active on. Consider platforms like LinkedIn for business-to-business (B2B) marketing, or TikTok for business-to-consumer (B2C).

Use these platforms to share your content and engage with your audience. Comment on their posts, answer their questions and participate in conversations to increase your visibility.

Example: Starbucks’ White Cup Contest

A notable example of a successful inbound social media marketing strategy was Starbucks’ White Cup Contest, first launched in 2014.

Starbucks encouraged their customers to draw on their cups and share their creations in social media posts using the hashtag #WhiteCupContest. The winning design would become a new limited-edition Starbucks cup.

Starbucks Cup

By the end of the campaign, they’d had over 4,000 photo entries. The winning cup was so popular that it was still available for purchase over a year later.

The strategy was so successful because it:

  • Actively involved the Starbucks community by encouraging personal expression, making customers feel like they were a part of the brand’s story

  • Generated organic visibility across their customers’ social media networks, attracting attention without needing to advertise

  • Created a stack of user-generated content that Starbucks could share without needing to create new content themselves

3. Email Marketing

Email marketing allows you to communicate directly with people who’ve expressed interest in your offerings.

By growing an email list, you can:

  • Nurture your prospects and customers through highly personalized content

  • Provide promotional offers and timely updates that move your prospects through the sales funnel

  • Get measurable results, track key email engagement metrics and optimize your campaigns

The hard part is building your email list. A common approach is to offer valuable content (like an exclusive e-book) in return for email addresses.

You could create an in-depth guide or report that addresses a common problem or question in your industry.

Set up a landing page on your website where visitors can download the guide after submitting their name and email address.

You can then segment your email list based on user behavior and interests to send more targeted follow-up emails.

Example: Sephora’s personalized email marketing

Sephora is well-known for personalized email marketing campaigns.

Sephora’s Beauty Insider loyalty program helps the company:

  • Collect customer preferences and purchase histories and use these to send tailored product recommendations and offers. For instance, if someone purchased a skincare product, Sephora will share emails that feature related skincare products and exclusive offers.

  • Leverage important dates like birthdays and milestones to send personalized offers

Remind customers of abandoned carts and recommend follow-up purchases. For example, if a customer buys a product that’s estimated to last 3 months, they’ll send a reminder to restock the item before it runs out.

Sephora inbound marketing email example

4. Video marketing

Videos are a powerful way to engage visitors in an easy-to-digest format. According to a survey by Wyzowl, 91% of businesses now use video as a marketing tool. Over 90% say that it’s improved brand awareness, lead generation and website traffic.

Video marketing lets you:

  • Engage audiences with effective storytelling

  • Help to create an emotional connection with viewers

  • Produce a wide range of content from tutorials to customer testimonials and behind-the-scenes looks

  • Boost SEO, as videos can encourage longer page visits

  • Produce content for your website and social media platforms, making you more visible to your audience

To create successful video marketing content, you should optimize your video titles, descriptions and tags with keywords. You can then integrate the videos into relevant blog posts, landing pages or social media platforms.

Example: Spotify Wrapped video campaign

Spotify wrapped inbound marketing

Spotify’s annual “Wrapped” campaign shares a summary of its users’ listening habits over the last year.

It then presents this in a personalized video with engaging infographics. Spotify encourages users to share their unique listening statistics on social media, increasing user engagement.

The company’s effective inbound marketing strategy works because:

  • It’s highly personalized. The Wrapped videos showcase each user’s top artists, songs and genres. It shows how each user’s experience is unique and helps create a deeper connection with the brand.

  • It encourages social sharing. The Wrapped campaign includes social sharing features that act as word-of-mouth promotion. Most people are proud of their listening habits and like showing off their taste in music to friends and family.

  • It improves engagement and retention. Wrapped reminds users of the value Spotify provides throughout the year by highlighting their music discovery and listening patterns. The annual Wrapped release has become a kind of yearly tradition that many users look forward to.

Final thoughts

The inbound methodology is a broad marketing strategy that uses several distinct marketing techniques to generate organic traffic.

To ensure that your inbound marketing efforts are successful, try to create excellent quality content that’s tailored to your audience’s preferences.

Driving business growth