Inbound marketing and content marketing are two popular terms in the world of digital marketing. Learn exactly what they are, how they’re different, and the connection for implementing both for growing a business.
In our modern consumer-driven world, any business, regardless of size, has to compete with other companies to grab the attention of potential customers. This is typically done via marketing and advertising. Consumers have the power to choose and reject brands at the tip of their fingertips. Consequently, traditional advertising techniques such as radio ads and television commercials are no longer as effective as the various digital techniques in driving conversions. Instead, marketers must utilize digital marketing channels to attract and nurture potential customers.
Digital marketing, such as inbound marketing is no longer a novelty that a few brands are experimenting with. Developing and implementing a rock-solid inbound marketing strategy has gradually become the norm for every business. It offers a wide array of benefits including a high ROI and long-term results. Moreover, it’s instrumental in boosting company/brand reputation and reinforcing customer retention and loyalty.
In this article, we explore the concept of inbound marketing and content marketing to understand their differences, similarities, and the connection between the two.
What is Inbound Marketing?
In simple terms, inbound marketing is the practice of attracting target consumers to your brand and converting them into paying customers. Instead of interrupting them with intrusive and self-promotional advertising, inbound marketing involves rewarding your potential and existing customers with meaningful quality content and experiences.
Ultimately it is the strategy of guiding potential customers through various stages of the customer journey by answering their queries and solving their problems. Thereafter, you must position your product/service as the most effective solution to their queries or problems. Inbound marketing, therefore, isn’t about selling a product or service. Instead, it’s all about selling the right solution to your potential customers and building a long-term relationship with them.
Additionally, inbound marketing involves lead nurturing and customer relationship management (CRM). Monitoring and analyzing relevant data at various stages is also an integral part of inbound marketing. It’s a specialized domain that requires seamless coordination between your marketing, sales, and customer support teams.
Inbound Marketing Myths
As a marketer, it’s crucial to understand the distinction between the various modern marketing techniques. Otherwise, companies can’t successfully implement a cost-effective marketing strategy.
Despite its sky-high popularity, inbound marketing is a relatively new concept. Although marketers have used inbound marketing for ages, the phrase was only formally coined in 2005 by HubSpot CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan. Consequently, there are many myths and misconceptions associated with this concept.
While many novice marketers believe that inbound marketing is the same as digital marketing, others tend to confuse it with social media marketing. Many marketers also think that inbound marketing is just another name for content marketing. After all, it involves publishing high-quality content for customers at various stages of the customer buying journey.
Stages of Inbound Marketing
Inbound marketing isn’t just about propelling brand awareness and visibility. Moreover, it doesn’t solely focus on maximizing conversions and revenue. Instead, it’s a holistic approach that uses various strategies and tools to attract and retain paying customers.
Typically, inbound marketing involves the following stages:
At this stage, you have to grab the attention of potential customers and encourage them to visit your website. You need to deliver meaningful content in the form of blog posts, infographics, videos, podcasts, and social media posts. This is the first point of contact between your target audience and your brand.
This stage involves converting website visitors into leads. You have to tempt website visitors with an irresistible lead magnet that immediately compels them to share their contact information. You can use e-books, webinars, online courses, free tools, templates, case studies, etc. as lead magnets.
This is the stage where you have to convert qualified leads into paying customers. It involves nurturing and guiding a lead as they learn more about your product/service and brand. Effective email marketing, CRM, and customer support are crucial at this stage.
Inbound marketing doesn’t end after you close a sale. Instead, you need to further reward existing customers with valuable content and experiences tailored for them. The idea is to earn their trust and loyalty and turn them into brand promoters.
What is Content Marketing?
Now that we have a fair idea of inbound marketing; let’s take a closer look at content marketing.
Content marketing is a modern marketing technique that involves publishing and distributing relevant, valuable, and well-researched content to attract and retain your customers. You can use high-quality content at various stages of the buyer’s journey to boost website traffic, generate qualified leads, and drive conversions. The key is to educate, entertain, or inspire your audience using top-notch quality content.
It’s worth mentioning that content marketing isn’t just about publishing a few blog posts every month. It’s also not just about posting interesting and visually engaging content on social media. Instead, effective content marketing requires a concerted effort across various channels. The key is to publish content that instantly resonates with your target audience.
In other words, you must have a deep understanding of the likes and preferences of your potential customers. Additionally, it’s crucial to have a clear idea of their ambitions and pain points at different stages of the buyer’s journey. Your content will garner traction only when it addresses their pain points, answers their queries, or resolves their problems. You must reach out to them with the right content through their preferred communication channels when they’re looking for relevant information.
Popular Types of Content Formats
- Blog posts
- Case studies
Content marketing involves a series of critical steps including goal setting, audience research, keyword research, etc. It’s also essential to identify the communication channels that your target audience is most likely to use. The commonly used channels include email, social media platforms, search engines, etc. It’s also essential to monitor your content assets and analyze their performance.
You need a well-defined content marketing strategy to steer your content in the right direction and accomplish your goals. Additionally, you need a skilled marketing team of graphic designers, developers, writers, analysts, and marketers to execute your content marketing strategy. It’s equally crucial to allocate a dedicated budget for every content marketing campaign.
Benefits of Content Marketing
Just like inbound marketing, content marketing offers a plethora of benefits. It is instrumental in fortifying your brand reputation and credibility. Additionally, it helps you win the trust of your target audience by establishing your brand as an industry authority.
The best part is that a well-written blog post or an eye-catching infographic continues to garner traction long after it’s been published.
These overlapping benefits might give the impression that content marketing and inbound marketing are the same things. Let’s find out if that is the case.
Inbound Marketing + Content Marketing: What’s the Connection?
Many marketers use the phrases content marketing and inbound marketing interchangeably. After all, high-quality content is the lifeblood of every inbound marketing strategy. You need engaging blog posts, infographics, videos, etc. to attract your target audience to your website. Likewise, you have to use lead magnets such as e-books and guides to generate leads.
Further, you need informative videos, tutorials, and reviews to woo qualified leads and convince them to purchase your product or service. Even after you’ve closed a sale, you must exceed your customers’ expectations with more personalized content. Evidently, inbound marketing requires valuable and meaningful content at every stage. Both content marketing and inbound marketing aim to build enduring customer relationships using excellent content.
Key Differences of Inbound Marketing
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to claim that content marketing is the same as inbound marketing. Instead, content marketing is a subset of inbound marketing. The former is solely focused on the creation and distribution of top-notch content to attract potential customers and drive conversions. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, focuses on the larger picture of delivering a smooth, hassle-free, and memorable customer experience.
Think of content marketing as the foundation of a powerful inbound marketing strategy. However, inbound marketing also involves other techniques such as SEO, PPC advertising, email marketing, etc. In addition to publishing awesome content, you must use other tools such as free trials and consultations to nurture and convert leads. It’s equally crucial to provide proactive and seamless customer support.
Additionally, you must use CRO to optimize individual elements of your website and landing pages. It’s expected of businesses to regularly follow up with qualified leads and provide them with excellent assistance even before they purchase your product/service. Likewise, you need to captivate paying customers by providing them with exclusive benefits such as early access to new products, premium support, etc.
Which Technique Should You Use?
It’s worth mentioning here that content marketing and inbound marketing aren’t mutually exclusive. You can’t execute an inbound marketing strategy without creating and distributing outstanding content across different channels. Likewise, if you publish content without adhering to the inbound methodology, it won’t yield the desired results. While your content might garner traction, it’ll fail to drive conversions and generate revenue.
You must understand that content marketing is an indispensable part of every inbound marketing strategy. That’s why you should use both techniques to complement each other. High-quality content breathes life into your inbound marketing strategy. Likewise, inbound techniques such as lead nurturing and analytics will help make your content marketing strategy conversion-focused.
The process of developing both strategies involves common steps such as:
- Defining your end goals
- Understanding your audience
- Identifying marketing triggers
- Selecting the right communication channels
- Performing keyword research
However, inbound marketing requires more than just a conversion-focused content marketing strategy. You must also incorporate organic search techniques, such as SEO to draw in website traffic.
Search Engine Optimization Strategy
Whether you want to find a new eatery or buy a new phone, you likely use search engines to find relevant information. Your potential customers aren’t an exception. Regardless of the size and niche of your business, you must develop a robust search engine optimization (SEO) strategy.
Google processes more than 3.5 billion search queries every day.
SEO involves various steps such as keyword research, link building, website optimization, etc. to drive increased organic website traffic. Optimizing your content using the right keywords improves your website’s search engine ranking. This, in turn, helps your website grab a prominent spot in relevant search engine results pages (SERPs). Consequently, it amplifies your website’s online visibility and takes it to your target audience when they are actively looking for useful information.
Basic SEO Categories
- On-page SEO – It includes everything you do to optimize the content, layout, and performance of individual web pages.
- Off-page SEO – It refers to the steps you take outside your website to improve its search engine ranking.
- Technical SEO – This involves optimizing the site architecture and navigation to aid the search engine crawlers and indexing.
How to Develop a Powerful SEO Strategy
- Site Audit – Analyze your website traffic and performance to identify gaps in your current SEO strategy.
- Define Your Goals – Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound) end goals. Assign relevant KPIs to each goal.
- Know Your Target Audience – Use Google Analytics, social media polls, online surveys, and other market research tools for a deeper understanding of your potential customers.
- Keyword Research – Identify relevant and popular keywords in your niche using tools such as Google Keyword Planner, SEMrush, Moz, etc. Analyze and validate them to select the most useful target keywords.
- Competitor Analysis – Use tools like SpyFu and Site Explorer by Ahrefs to analyze your competitors’ SEO strategy. Identify the keywords they’re targeting and the type of content they’re publishing.
- Outline a Content Strategy – Build a list of topics and themes that are relevant and useful to your target audience. Use Answer The Public and Google Trends to identify the most engaging and popular topics. Create a content calendar outlining your publishing schedule.
- Content Creation – Create insightful, original, and valuable content in the form of blog posts, e-books, guides, etc. Include the target keywords in key sections such as titles, subheadings, introduction, image alt tags, conclusion, meta description, and URL. Use relevant images and videos to make your content visually engaging.
- Website Optimization – Make sure your website layout is mobile-responsive. Additionally, you should improve your website’s speed and overall navigation. Add schema markup in key web pages to help search engines understand what your website is about. Make sure you generate an XML sitemap as well.
- Internal Linking – Include relevant internal links using meaningful anchor text in each blog post to help search engines crawl and index new content.
- Link Building – Leverage guest posting to build authority and strengthen your website’s inbound link profile. You should also check out popular blogs in your niche to identify broken links. Reach out to the blog owners or admins with links to relevant content from your website.
- Monitoring – Keep an eye on your website traffic and ranking to analyze the performance of your SEO strategy.
Search Engine Marketing (SEM)
Organically increasing your website’s search engine ranking offers numerous long-term benefits. However, it can take weeks or even months before your website gradually climbs up the SERPs ladder. Moreover, it can be particularly challenging when you’re competing with established brands for the topmost rankings.
Do you want to bypass the competition and quickly reach the top of relevant search engine results? Then you need to use search engine marketing (SEM). Unlike SEO, SEM requires you to pay search engines for a notable spot in SERPs. You have to create an ad, select your target keywords, and set your budget.
Thereafter, you have to pay the search engine every time a user clicks on your ad from relevant SERPs. That’s why SEM is also popularly known as pay-per-click (PPC) advertising. Most search engines offer in-built advertising platforms to create and monitor PPC ad campaigns. For instance, you can use Google Ads to reach your potential customers on Google.
Pros and Cons of Inbound Marketing
While SEO helps you build authority and trust, SEM can be instrumental in driving conversion. Users clicking on your PPC ads have actively searched for terms or phrases related to your brand and niche. Such people are more likely to convert into paying customers.
Make sure you create a relevant and optimized landing page for every PPC ad. Additionally, you should craft a crisp and eye-catching copy of the ad. It’s also essential to target profitable keywords that are associated with high search volumes. Moreover, you need to place optimal bids for each keyword to ensure that you don’t quickly blow your budget.
You should, however, keep in mind that SEM is a paid advertising technique. This means search engines will stop delivering your ads to their users the moment you exhaust your budget. If you want to run PPC ads, you must have a substantial marketing budget.
Social Media Marketing
Businesses can’t build an effective inbound marketing strategy without leveraging social media. Whether you’re selling car insurance or offering PR outreach services, your potential customers already use a few social media platforms. And they likely check their social media profiles multiple times every day.
The number of social media users worldwide has grown from 2.86 billion in 2017 to 3.6 billion in 2020.
This makes social media one of the most effective channels for connecting with your target audience. It also helps skyrocket audience engagement and creates a loyal community around your brand. When judiciously implemented, social media campaigns also help generate leads and drive conversions.
Best Practices for Social Media Marketing
Before you start developing your social media marketing strategy, you need to identify the platforms that your customers use. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn are the most widely used social media channels. Additionally, you should conduct online surveys and social media polls to find your audience’s favorite platforms. Thereafter, you need to create stellar social media profiles/pages for your business on each platform.
Uplift Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
- Tailor your content – Make sure you use the right content format for each social media channel. High-quality images, graphics, and short videos are great for Instagram and Facebook. However, well-research guides, case studies, and thought leadership articles are suitable for LinkedIn. Likewise, Twitter users have an affinity for trending content and updates.
- Upload engaging content – Irrespective of the format, make sure your content is valuable, meaningful, and interesting. Avoid posting promotional content too often. You should, however, regularly share customer reviews and testimonials.
- Leverage hashtags – Use relevant, meaningful, and trending hashtags to further expand your reach. You should also consider creating a snappy and memorable branded hashtag.
- Piggyback on trends – Watch out for trending content and breaking news in your niche. Capitalize on these trends by creating branded memes, GIFs, videos, etc. Don’t forget to add your unique take on these trends.
- Engage with your followers – Don’t take too long to respond to comments and messages from your followers.
- Interact with your audience – Host live Q&A sessions to directly interact with your potential customers and learn more about their pain points. Likewise, you can host a weekly AMA (ask-me-anything) to address their questions.
- Host contests and giveaways – Contests and giveaways are useful for increasing reach and engagement and facilitating lead generation. Make sure you clearly outline the rules highlighting the deadline and reward.
- Listen to your audience – Track your brand name and hashtag mentions across various platforms to evaluate how your audience is perceiving your brand. It also helps you understand their expectations, preferences, and problems.
If you’re starting a new business or launching a new product, influencer marketing is an excellent technique to build awareness and reputation. These campaigns encourage high volumes of user-generated content, or UGC, thanks to influencers’ skills in connecting with specifically targeted individuals.
Collaborating with the right social media influencers saves you the hassle of finding and targeting the right audience. Moreover, influencers share a friendly rapport with their followers. So, when they recommend your brand or product, their audience will likely check you out.
The first step is to find relevant influencers whose audience aligns with your target demographic. Next, you need to reach out to these influencers with a pitch. Alternatively, you can build a connection by engaging with their content before proposing a collaboration. Most influencers will charge a hefty fee for partnering with you. If you don’t have a significant budget, you could consider working with micro-influencers.
Types of Campaigns
- Reviews – Let an influencer try your product/service and share an honest review on their social media profiles.
- Social media takeovers – Invite an influencer to take control of your social media profiles for a specific period and post content on your behalf.
- Contests – Host a contest or giveaway on an influencer’s social media profiles. Offer your product/service as a reward.
- Videos – Collaborate with an influencer to create a stunning video that will resonate with a wide audience.
Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO)
The objective of the aforementioned techniques is to attract potential customers to your website or landing pages. The next step is to convert these website visitors into leads. In other words, you need to offer an irresistible lead magnet that immediately compels them to share their contact information. You can use e-books, guides, webinars, free templates, newsletters, etc. as lead magnets.
However, if your website/landing page isn’t optimized for conversions, even the most insightful lead magnet will fail to generate any leads. That’s why you need to place eye-catching calls-to-action (CTAs) throughout your website. Additionally, you should add an opt-in form and exit-intent pop-up to key web pages. Make sure you draft concise, meaningful, and compelling copy for each CTA and opt-in form.
Once you’ve added these elements, the next step is to run A/B tests to evaluate different variations of each CTA. Additionally, you need to test the content and layout of every web page to find the highest-converting combination. It’s also essential to organize your site architecture to make your website easily navigable. Lastly, make sure your website loads at lightning-fast speed; otherwise, first-time visitors will exit without taking the desired action.
Now that you’ve collected a treasure trove of leads, it’s time to nurture them with a well-timed and personalized email marketing campaign. Start by sending a series of automated emails to welcome new subscribers and educate them about your brand. Share useful and valuable tutorials, guides, and other resources to solve their queries and problems. Make sure you avoid sending overly promotional content that puts your products/services at the forefront.
When a subscriber expresses interest in your products, send the next series of emails highlighting how your product can resolve their problems. Finally, when they are ready to make a purchase decision, you have to give them the final push in the form of a free demo or trial. You should also share positive feedback from existing customers in your emails.
The role of email marketing isn’t limited to closing a sale. It helps you stay connected with existing customers and build a personal connection with them. Share exclusive content and freebies in your email to impress your customers. You can also give them early access to a new product. Additionally, you should send a feedback form a few months after their purchase to learn more about their experience with your brand.
Lastly, you should consider creating a weekly or fortnightly newsletter to reinforce authority and engagement. You can even segment your mailing list and send personalized newsletters based on each segment’s preferences. Make sure you use robust and intuitive email marketing software such as Mailchimp to create and execute your campaigns.
Customer Relationship Management (CRM)
CRM focuses on strengthening your relationship with your potential and existing customers. It’s crucial for nurturing leads throughout the buyer’s journey and converting them into customers. Make sure you use CRM software such as HubSpot to help your marketing and customer-facing departments monitor interactions with leads and customers. Additionally, you should ensure that your sales reps regularly follow up with active leads and provide them with outstanding assistance.
The quality of support and assistance you provide to your customers determines the fate of your inbound marketing strategy. Make sure you appoint trained customer support reps who are well-versed with your products. It’s also crucial to provide multiple customer support channels including a ticketing system, live chat feature, email, and phone. Additionally, you should implement conversational chatbots on your website to quickly resolve generic queries.
You should also keep an eye on your social media profiles and watch out for complaints or feedback from your customers. Many consumers use Facebook and Twitter to communicate with brands whenever they face any issues. Make sure you proactively respond to their comments or messages and relay the complaint to the right department.
Final Thoughts on Inbound Marketing & Content Marketing
Inbound marketing is fast replacing traditional advertising for the better. It delivers long-term benefits by focusing on building and nurturing customer relationships. It encompasses a diverse array of techniques such as SEO, SEM, CRO, email marketing, and social media marketing. Whether you’re running a home bakery or a law firm, your business needs a powerful inbound marketing strategy.
Valuable, relevant, and high-quality content is the backbone of inbound marketing. You need awesome content at every stage of the inbound methodology. In its absence, your inbound marketing strategy will fail to grab and retain the attention of your potential customers. That’s why building a robust content marketing strategy is an integral part of inbound marketing.
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