What is inbound marketing and how can it grow my business?

How to use inbound marketing to reach new customers and convert them

Inbound marketing

Cold calls or emails and professional advice just don’t mix. A far more effective and less intrusive way to gain new business is via inbound marketing. This strategy involves growing your online presence so that it spreads awareness of what you do, and so encourages and enables your audience to find you. As such, it can be ideally suited to a professional advice business.

Here’s our introduction to inbound marketing and how to make it work for you.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a way of drawing customers and clients to your business, by giving them something else that they want first, and then gradually ‘reeling them in’. Yes, it’s like fishing (but not phishing!). In this analogy, the ‘bait’ is the inspiring and/or informative content that you offer them free of charge, and the hook is the paid service that you offer. The other key difference, of course, is that when you make a ‘catch’ – convert a client – ideally both you and the client benefit.

So what is this ‘bait’ that you use to attract clients, and how do you use it? Well, perhaps you’ll provide answers to questions they have. Or maybe you’ll discuss noteworthy topics in the news that relate to your service, providing an expert and entertaining angle that draws an audience. You might engage directly with the public on social media, not ‘selling’ to them but simply raising awareness of your existence and your brand. Whether you engage, inform or entertain, or all three, inbound marketing is about putting your business at the front of potential clients’ minds, without the ‘hard sell’. So that when people do happen to need the kind of service you provide, yours is one of the first brands they think of.

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is probably the most familiar and traditional kind of marketing. The market trader shouting about their fresh strawberries – that’s outbound marketing. TV ads, print ads, cold callers, internet banners – they are all outbound marketing. Indeed, a lot of attempted inbound marketing often ends up being outbound in reality, because impatient marketers cannot resist slipping in a hard sell.

Over the past decade or so, outbound marketing has become less favoured, and people have grown conditioned to it and resistant to its methods. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is a gentler approach that encourages clients to seek you out, through a process of give-and-take. Another way of looking at it is that you are ‘flirting’ with your target audience, catching each other’s eye to gauge the potential level of interest before ‘asking for a date’ (i.e. trying to make a sale).

How does inbound marketing work?

Inbound marketing works by growing awareness of your business in a way that reaches your target audience. There are many ways to do this.

Let’s say you’re a financial adviser specialising in pension advice. Your core market is people aged 50 and over, who may be within five to 15 years of wanting to start drawing their pensions. One thing you might do is create helpful content (blogs, videos, infographics, podcasts etc.) that address some of the questions they may be asking, such as ‘How can I spot a pension scam?’ People searching on the internet for answers to this question or similar issues may then come across your content and remember you as a helpful source of information and guidance. Do this often enough and successfully enough, and you may become their go-to authority on pensions. Then, when they are finally ready for full pension advice (and your content should hopefully guide them on this too), you are the first person they think of.

This approach is used very successfully by Unbiased itself, such as through our content hub on Life’s Biggest Decisions. A high proportion of all the people who find professionals through Unbiased discover the site through its helpful content.

What are the different inbound marketing channels?

There are a number of ways to get your voice heard through inbound marketing.

  • Create blog posts – share tips and comments on relevant topics. This tactic enables you to show your expertise in certain areas. And studies have shown that 71% of buyers engage with blog content during the buying process.
  • Social media – set up social media pages to share your content and interact with others. LinkedIn can work well for advice businesses, like IFAs, as it is a more professionally focused site.
  • Write whitepapers and opinion pieces – you won’t need to create these frequently, but they can be a strong way of showing your deep expertise in important issues.
  • Setting up or attending webinars and podcasts – connect with others in your industry, or in other industries, to reach out to people on a professional level.
  • Post videos – videos, including tutorials, are effective at engaging people and can help if you’re not as confident at writing.
  • Produce original research – share your findings in different ways to create lots of useful content.
  • SEO and PPC – use tactics in your content that help it, and your website, rank higher on search engines, so more people find you. With pay-per-click (PPC), you can advertise your company on other web pages and drive traffic to your site.

Most inbound marketers will use a number of these channels to help create a rounded strategy that speaks to people at different stages of their research/buying journey. To find out what works for your company, it’s worthwhile getting stuck in with different methods and testing them to see how you can improve.

It’s worth bearing in mind that Unbiased uses all of the methods listed above, so you can benefit from them both directly and indirectly via your subscription plan.

What are the five principles of inbound marketing?

As you research inbound marketing, you may see ‘the five principles’ or ‘SCOPE’ mentioned a lot. But what are they? These are the key components of a successful inbound marketing strategy, and they include:

  1. Standardise – make sure your content is consistent, so clients learn what to expect from you.
  2. Contextualise – every piece of content you put out there needs to be relevant to your audience. Use segmentation to divide your audience into smaller groups and design content that’s important to each group to help it resonate.
  3. Optimise – make your content better by assessing how well it is performing and tweaking it for better results. For example, if people are reading your blogs but then closing the window, you need some calls to action to lead them elsewhere and keep them on your site.
  4. Personalise – adding a personal touch helps you to build a relationship. Include anecdotes and stories in your content. Even using the receiver’s name in emails and subject lines can help.
  5. Empathise – giving your content a human element can make it more engaging. For example, you can illustrate how new developments are impacting people, encouraging your clients to act.

What are the advantages of inbound marketing?

Given that outbound marketing has a bit of a bad reputation, inbound marketing is seen as the more polite way of selling to potential clients. But that isn’t the only advantage. Here are a few others:

  • Expertise, or ‘show don’t tell’ – rather than just telling people what your business does, you’re showing that you are the expert in your field. This helps to build trust with clients, so they keep returning to you.
  • It's helpful – by sharing tips and tricks, you are helping clients even before they get in touch, helping to nurture a stronger relationship. The idea is to share your knowledge as a ‘free sample’ now, so that when something with a price tag does come along, they’ll know it’s worth paying for.
  • Better engagement – when done correctly, the content you share will be welcomed by new clients. In theory, and often reality, they will be more likely to interact with inbound marketing because they enjoy it rather than finding it an annoying interrupter.
  • Increase your search engine optimization (SEO) – inbound marketing content that’s created with SEO in mind can help your website climb the ranks on search engines, so you’re found much more quickly.

What are the disadvantages of inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing may be sophisticated and effective, but there are some drawbacks:

  • Long-term strategy – it’s important to remember that you won’t see impressive results overnight. It can take a long time to get your content seen and to build a rapport with potential clients.
  • Time consuming – the content itself can take a while to have effect, and you will also need to dedicate a lot of time to it. You may need to get an extra pair of hands to help.
  • Difficult – as a more complex strategy, inbound marketing isn’t easy to get right. If you’re new to this kind of marketing, you may need to gather expertise to create a strategy that works for your business. You may need the services of creative professionals, of which plenty are available either freelance or via agencies.

What tools can I use to improve my inbound marketing?

If you don’t have a team on hand to carry out your inbound marketing, there are some tools that can do some of the heavy lifting for you. Hubspot, for example, brings a number of channels into one place, including blogs, social media and emails, helping you manage them and track performance. Google Analytics shows you how well content on your website is performing, so that you can improve it for SEO. And Hootsuite offers a way to schedule your social media posts, allowing you to plan in advance.

One of the most powerful tools for inbound marketing is an Unbiased plan. Unbiased conducts a huge range of inbound marketing activities to draw traffic to our site, which we then turn into client enquiries for you via our directory and matching tool.

About the author
Nick Green
Nick Green
Nick Green is a financial journalist writing for Unbiased.co.uk, the site that has helped over 10 million people find financial, business and legal advice. Nick has been writing professionally on money and business topics for over 15 years, and has previously written for leading accountancy firms PKF and BDO.

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