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Andrea Serventi
28 August 2018
Reading time: 7 min

Inbound Marketing 101: how to attract more potential customers to your website

This blog post will thoroughly explore the world of Inbound Marketing: its origins, the differences with outbound techniques, the tools it employs and its application in the email channel.

The common word is bound, what changes is the prefix: in and out, which indicate two opposite marketing methods. This is the (macro)distinction par excellence of all the strategies.

Until just over a decade ago, only outbound marketing existed. In a very brief summary, outbound marketing is when a brand presents its products and services to consumers, even if they did not request the same and have never shown interest.

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This dynamic has caused outbound marketing to also be called interrupting marketing: it interrupts a person with something that could be entirely irrelevant in relation to what they are doing or thinking.

Outbound marketing aims to start a conversation with the user (or better, with the masses) which is unidirectional, with an increased tone and volume in the hopes that the message will go far and leave an impression. What are the most popular outbound marketing methods?

  • Television ads
  • Ads in newspapers
  • Radio advertising
  • Advertising flyers
  • Pop-ups that open on websites.

Up to here everything is clear, also because many consider outbound a synonym of marketing. In this post, however, we will explore the other prefix (in) which is still unknown or elusive to many, to fully understand what it is and what an inbound marketing strategy envisages.

What is Inbound Marketing anyway?

The term inbound indicates a marketing method that focuses on a brand’s ability to be found by potential customers (outside-in), which is clearly in opposition, as we have seen, to the more traditional outbound marketing method (inside-out) focused on a message uniquely directed towards consumers.

If we look at the matter from the perspective of the relationship between brands and people, we move from interruption marketing (outbound) to permission marketing (inbound): instead of meddling in people’s lives, interrupting the flow of their day, inbound marketing focuses on catching an audience’s attention thanks to useful and interesting content and information.

A short history of Inbound Marketing

Origin of the term

Several sources consider the co-founder and CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan, the person who coined the term inbound marketing.

Working with the theories of his partner Dharmesh Shah and HubSpot advisor David Meerman Scott, his ideas have led to a significant amount of literature dedicated to perfecting, optimizing and promoting inbound marketing.

Ancient history

Despite the fact that the term and concept have been attributed to Halligan, according to the famous economist Peter F. Drucker, the fundamental principles of inbound marketing appeared well over a century ago.

In fact, in the middle of the 1850s Cyrus Hall McCormick, the inventor of the mechanical harvester, developed market research techniques and embryonic inbound strategies to generate consumer interest for his new agricultural machinery models.

In 1888 Richard W. Sears and Alvah Roebuck published their innovative mail order catalog , which in a few years went from 80 pages to over 300 and became a global sales tool that captured thousands of customers.

Modern developments

In the 50s and 60s Drucker emphasized the value of market research, in which customers’ interests and trends could easily be identified, quantified and implemented.

In explaining his theories, Drucker emphasized “customer orientation” and “market segmentation” as the theoretical and practical cornerstones. In 1974 he stated: “The goal of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product and service adapt and sell themselves. Ideally, marketing should lead a customer to be ready to make a purchase”. His perfect recipe envisaged more logistics and less the art of selling, more distribution and less promotion.

Recent developments

Seth Godin worked from these basic ideas to elaborate his concept of permission marketing, in which marketers take a less aggressive sales approach and ask customers for permission to send content, emails, and promotional material.

In the mid-90s another piece of the inbound marketing puzzle emerged: relational marketing, of which Regis McKenna was one of the main supporters, who made “marketing is everything” his motto. According to McKenna, companies should focus on satisfying and maintaining customers to create lasting relationships over time.

Inbound Marketing keywords and tools

The benefits of inbound marketing can be extended to any organization or type of company, whether it’s a private or non-profit organization. The sine qua non condition is an online presence (first and foremost a website).

Let’s start with the keywords of inbound marketing:

  • Content, to answer the customer’s questions and information needs
  • Customer lifecycle, to know all the user’s interactions with the company and to provide different actions for each phase
  • Customization, to render messages more specific based on the characteristics, needs and interests of the individual user
  • Multichannel, to communicate with people using the methods and channels that they prefer
  • Integration, to synchronize data and information and convert it into new, even more refined strategies.

We can distinguish four fundamental steps in inbound marketing methodology. The graph below was edited by Hubspot and places the necessary techniques and tools under each phase.

inbound marketing step

The basic tools that inbound marketing uses are:

  • Website
  • Content marketing
  • SEO
  • Social media

More recent and modern ones are added to the basic ones:

  • Automation
  • CRM
  • Live chat
  • Push notification

Yet one is missing from the list: email marketing. However, we are still asking ourselves about its true nature today: inbound or outbound? Let’s take a moment to clarify.

Is Email Marketing inbound or outbound?

The answer is: “it depends on how it is used“. Too many companies today turn to email marketing from an outbound perspective, buying and renting lists of email addresses and, therefore, implementing pure interruption marketing.

But email marketing is something entirely different, it’s the permission channel par excellence: the golden rule dictates that emails should only be sent – whether informative (newsletter) or commercial (DEM) – to contacts that have expressed their consent to receive communications. 

Therefore, email marketing is an inbound marketing channel companies can use to attract qualified leads, to then accompany them to conversion and later retain them.

How to design an Inbound Email Marketing strategy

Define a clear value proposition

Simply asking users to subscribe to your mailing list is not enough, especially because it is not very effective. You have to change your approach: ​​the subscription request must in itself express the reason why, and not just be a mere proposal. The “reason why” is called value proposition.

By providing a strong value proposition, a brand has the chance to initally naturally select users. It is up to each business to find the right value proposition to touch its target.

Once the value proposition has been defined, the entry points must be implemented, which means diversifying the subscription points for the user:

  • Website, through customizable forms or multichannel pop-ups
  • Events or in-store, through an iPad app
  • Facebook, through a form which can be created with just a few clicks

The other possibility envisages an incentive system, such as trials, webinars, ebooks, or any other valuable and downloadable content which requires that the user leave his or her email address on the subscription form.

Alternate promotions and useful content

Rule number one: your first email should not be commercial or promotional. It is critical to start the relationship by offering content that people can find useful, carrying out preliminary research to understand what is relevant and useful for your audience.

Organizing your email marketing strategy to alternate commercial mailings and informative mailings means relying on a structured editorial plan which focuses on both the immediate future and the long-term future. There is nothing more incorrect than considering the email channel as an occasional, impromptu, usable one to make use of “when you have something to communicate”. The editorial plan lets you give rise to constant, continuous communication.

Profile, segment, target the right audience

Segmentation and profiling are an integral part of an inbound marketing strategy which let you organize your database based on interest groups, needs and behavior. The result is the ability to cultivate a truly personalized and relevant relationship with each recipient.

There is also a practical motive which induces brands to carry out segmentation and profiling activities: each contact database has a margin of decay (the so-called unsubscription rate) that heavily depends on how relevant your emails are. Profiling and segmentation let you reduce the unsubscription rate as much as possible.

If this is not enough, here is some data that shows how segmentation is not an option but an opportunity for brands: according to the latest report by MailChimp, the open rate of segmented emails is more than 14% higher, the click rate is over 100% higher and the unsubscriptions are 9% lower.

Let users manage their subscription preferences

There’s a fundamental tool in email marketing that works like a web page, where your contacts can land to complete and update their profile independently. It’s called the Preference center, and it lets the recipient change their subscription and self-profile (both things which are advantageous for the brand).

The Profile management center is a panel that is subdivided into areas:

  • Personal data, to allow the recipient to update their personal data
  • Subscription types(newsletter or DEM)
  • Sending frequency of each newsletter (according to HubSpot, in 2016 78% of consumers unsubscribed from a brand’s emails because they received too many)
  • Subscriptions to social networks.

This is a landing page with its own URL that companies can insert in the form of a link or call to action in the footer of all their emails, in their welcome emails, in their subscription confirmation emails, or where they deem it best.

Allow multichannel sendings, including email, SMS and messaging

One of the best ways to implement inbound marketing? Give your interlocutor the opportunity to interact and communicate with you where and how they hold best, that is to say, on the media and channels that they consider most comfortable and immediate.

An email marketing platform such as MailUp lets you integrate email with SMS, a channel with its own unique advantages and peculiarities in terms of immediacy and fruition (in fact, according to a Dynmark report, its opening rates exceed 98%).

The SMS channel is joined by another, which is 100% real time: messaging, which – allowing you to communicate in real time with the user – opens up important marketing prospects to brands.

Wrap up

Do you want to start developing your inbound email marketing strategy? You can start now by requesting a free trial of the MailUp platform, the indispensable tool that will serve as a support base for all your activities, from the creation of subscription forms to the sending of your newsletters.

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Andrea Serventi

I was born in 1986 in Milan, where I graduated in Modern Literature and started writing for online newspapers, magazines and TV news programs. Having now converted to marketing and the digital world, I am a Content Editor at MailUp: I read, listen, collect ideas, and write about what email marketing is and how to use it strategically.

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