What is Inbound Marketing?

What The Heck is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is the process of attracting people to your website who actually care about what you have to say. It’s about creating content that people are interested in consuming. It’s about admitting that the old way of marketing – interruptive advertising – just doesn’t work anymore.

What is Inbound Marketing

It’s marketing and selling your products with authenticity and transparency.

It’s what people want. 

You may have heard Inbound Marketing referred to by different names. Some people call it Content Marketing or SEO or Social Media. The truth is Inbound Marketing is all of these things and more. 

Inbound Marketing is a Puzzle

Inbound marketing is like a puzzle – but not because it’s confusing. It’s a puzzle in the sense that it’s made up of many pieces. Pieces that should not stand on their own, but when put together, make total sense. To truly succeed online, business need to have a comprehensive strategy inclusive of all the pieces in the puzzle. Assembling the pieces together into one, cohesive strategy is the key to marketing success.

Four Core Pillars of Inbound Marketing

In order for your Inbound Marketing program to be successful, it needs to deliver in four key areas:

Traffic Generation

Generating more traffic for a website is like a recipe: you will need the proper mix of ingredients but there’s no one single formula for success. Rather, it’s a set of strategies and supporting tools working together. Those strategies are Search Engine Optimization (SEO), Customer-Oriented Blogging and Social Media sharing. All three working together will ensure an adequate supply of targeted traffic to your site. 

Lead Generation

So you’ve optimized your content, your’re blogging regularly and you’re getting some content shared on social media. Great start. But just because you have traffic coming in, doesn’t mean you’re getting any leads.

This is where premium content, landing pages and great calls-to-action come into play.  

Lead generation is a tacit quid pro quo between the marketer and customer. You have to convince your potential customer that what they’re getting (information) is worth more than what they’re giving up (their name and email address). Giving away useful customer-focused, problem solving content in exchange for information is one of the best ways to do this.  The amount of information you ask of them is directly related to how valuable the content you’re giving away. The more valuable the info, the more information you can ask of them.  

Once you have their name and email address, you can begin the process of nurturing leads toward sales. 

Sales Conversion

Would you consider someone who Likes you on Facebook a lead? Would you consider someone who downloads your whitepaper a lead?

The truth is that not all “leads” are created equal. 

That’s why managing your leads realistically while taking the long term view is a key part of converting leads to sales. Lead nurturing and segmented email campaigns are your primary tools for converting your leads into sales over time. 

Analysis & Measurement

One of the great advantages of internet marketing is access to data. With the proper tools such as Hubspot or Google Analytics 5.0, you can track almost everything about your site visitors.

The reports you generate should tie directly back to the goals you’ve set for the business. Is your goal to increase site traffic? Is your goal to improve traffic from social networks? Is your goal to increase conversion of your existing site visitors? All of these can be reported on analyzed. 

Remember, data doesn’t lie. It doesn’t matter what your boss wants to do or what some article says you should do. If the data shows that you’re not meeting your goals, change tactics and try again. Your inbound marketing program should be a continuous process of testing, measuring and tweaking. 

Making the Leap to Inbound Marketing

If your business is looking to consistently and affordably generate leads over time without annoying your customers, Inbound Marketing is something you should look into.

Spark Inbound Marketing is a full service inbound marketing agency that can help you make the leap to Inbound Marketing. We don’t promise overnight success but we do promise a system that delivers results over time.

Drop us a line, we love to talk about this stuff!

Inbound Marketing: You're Not Doing it Right

My Internet’s Not Working…

Almost every day, we talk to people about their Internet marketing efforts.

Most of the conversations start off something like this:

[box color=white]”We have a Facebook page but it’s done nothing for our business”

“We started a company blog last year but haven’t seen more visitors to our site”

“We spent a lot of money on Google Ads and got very little return out of it”


The DIY Web Marketing Myth

Today, putting up a web site and getting a Facebook account is so easy your grandma could do it. 

But setting up your marketing tools is just the beginning.  

Now the hard part begins – establishing a presence on the Internet, driving traffic, converting traffic to leads and ultimately increasing revenue. 

And trying out social media with a couple of interns and a tiny budget just doesn’t cut it anymore.  

The bar continues to be raised every day

To make matters worse, the easy accessibility of free tools like WordPress, Facebook, Twitter etc. give people the false impression that the tool is the solution.

All they have to do is set up their free Twitter account and their marketing woes are gone forever. 

This is just plain false. 

Yes, in the hands of skilled technicians, tools are indispensible.  But in the wrong hands, they can be disastrous or at the very least ineffective. 

Would you trust your 5 year old with a chainsaw? I hope not. 

It’s the same idea with web marketing. 

Google’s own Avinash Kaushik even says that you should invest 10% of your budget in tools and 90% of your budget in people. 

It’s that important. 

Web Marketing Has Grown Up

Most companies tend to be good at some parts of web marketing, but not others. 

For example, some are great at creating content but aren’t good at generating traffic from it.

Others are great drivers of traffic but don’t know how to convert all those new visitors to leads.  

This common problem is often why their web marketing efforts fail. 

And it’s not easy to get right. It takes skills, perseverance and a willingness to try and fail until you get it right. 

These days, if you wish your web marketing efforts to succeed, you need access to: 

  • Marketing strategy talent
  • Top notch design and user experience talent
  • Keyword and expertise
  • Writing ability (hired an out-of-work journalist yet?)
  • Editorial and publishing experience
  • Video production capability
  • Conversion optimization experience
  • A/B testing experience
  • Analytics interpretation experience
  • Lots of time and energy

Inbound Marketing Methodology

Regardless of whether you hire those skill sets in-house or you partner with an agency, make sure they have the skills and methodology that covers all the bases of inbound marketing. 

Not doing so, can result in less than stellar results in your web marketing program. 


Spark Inbound Marketing Methodology

Here at Spark, we think about inbound marketing all day long. If you’d like to chat with us about our Inbound Marketing Methodology, drop us line. 

Matching Content to the B2B Buying Cycle

The B2B Buying Cycle is Tough

If you’re a B2B marketer, you know how arduous the buying cycle can be.

One day it’s a hot lead, the next day they’re  “taking another direction” or “waiting until the economy is more certain”.

Bottom line: B2B buying cycles are getting longer and more difficult to close.

The average sales cycle has increased 22% over the past 5 years due to more decision makers involved in the buying process. –  Sirius Decisions

How We Define the B2B Buying Cycle

While there are many variations of the B2B buying cycle, we describe the B2B buying cycle as having six primary stages.

  1. Problem Identification – In this first stage, the business realizes it has a problem. Often the issue is brought to light by an event or data such as customer feedback, product failure, decline in sales or new regulations. Regardless, the realization creates discussion, meetings and action items as the company springs into action.
  2. Criteria Creation – The company is on it. The are “getting smart” on the subject and are defining criteria and requirements to solve the problem. A lot of Internet research occurs here in this stage.  Influencers within the company render opinions on how to solve the problem and someone usually emerges as the company “‘expert”.

3. Search –  Search for vendors and consultants begins in earnest.  Company become smarter about a possible solution as lessons learned and war stories begin to emerge. An RFP and a budget are often defined in this stage as well.

4. Evaluation – RFP responses are received and a vendor short list is created. Detailed content and conversations become more frequent as a concrete solution begins to emerge. Demos and “pre-sales”  activity kick into high gear.

5. Test & Procurement – Trial test of software solutions and final evaluations occur in this final stage. A final decision is made and purchase orders are created.

Customer Behavior is Different in Each Stage

In the age of instant and free information, talking to a salesperson is often seen as unnecessary.

As a buyer, why would you want to create pressure and  confusion for yourself during your evaluation process? Especially when you’re in the early part of the buying cycle.

70% of the buying process in a complex sale is already complete before prospects are willing to engage with a live sales person – SiriusDecisions

So right now, your potential customers are trying to find useful content to help in their buying decision process.

Do you have the right content to drive their behavior?

More importantly, do you have the appropriate content for each stage in the buying cycle?

Content Should Solve Problems in the Early Stages

In the early Problem Identification and Criteria Creation stages, your potential customers are educating themselves by:

  • Reading blog posts
  • Downloading general whitepapers
  • Following influencers and subject matter experts in social media
  • Visiting industry forums
  • Asking questions on Quora
  • Subscribing to industry newsletters
  • Searching with broader, problem-oriented terms

Content in this stage needs to be more general and very focused on your target market’s problem or goal.

Don’t talk about your product and services. People already know you’re trying to sell something.

Blog posts are ideal for this early stage content. They should be less than a thousand words, casual in tone yet informative. Again, no need to explicitly sell your product. Put yourself in your customers’ shoes and talk about how to solve the core problems your product offers.

Another great technique is to curate content from other sources. For example when you see interesting articles and other content that might help educate your community, share it. Tweet it. Link to it on your blog. Become an information source.

Mapping Content Types to B2B Buying Cycle

Content Should Get Specific in the Later Buying Cycle Stages

In the Search and Evaluation stages your potential customers are narrowing down their choices by:

  • Watching vendor videos
  • Downloading more technical whitepapers and product specs
  • Attending webinars
  • Seeking product reviews
  • Searching by using more  detailed, long tail and-vendor specific terms
  • Joining vendor communities to discuss your products
  • Participating in demos and free trials

While you should never abandon your core problem-solving focus, understand that buyers have already answered many of their basic questions and are now forming a solution. Vendor specific information and technical discussions are usually welcome in these later stages. Videos are always good to communicate large amounts of detailed information quickly.

How’s your marketing content? Have you mapped it to your industry’s buying cycle? Do you agree with us?

“Analyst firm SiriusDecisions predicts that by 2015, more than 75% of leads will be sourced through inbound channels.” —Eloqua Social Media Playbook

Content Marketing at Spark

Helping you understand content marketing is one of our specialties at Spark. If you’d like to contact us to talk a little shop, we’d love to hear from you. See you soon.

The Web is Awash in Coupons – Are They Yours?

The Web is doing its usual jerky dance these days, changing on the run. The talk is swirling about Yahoo’s death spiral, while at the same time Online Media Daily is reporting that Yahoo was the #1 site for unique visitors in November 2010. But the same story includes the nugget for online marketers that “coupons were the top-gaining site category [in November], with visits surging 40% from October…”

In case you didn’t already know, coupons are big on the Internet, where price competition dominates many categories.  Businesses of all kinds, from giant Proctor & Gamble to puny ma and pa eateries on Main Street, are posting coupons to entice people in the door. After being rejected by Groupon, Google is testing its own coupon network, possibly called ‘Google Offers’. Online coupons have become a major focus of an industry trade group, the Association of Coupon Professionals.

An important emerging trend in online coupons is the integration of social media with coupon distribution and marketing. These approaches not only build direct sales but also emphasize relationships. They help companies to be found and as such can be a part of a comprehensive inbound marketing strategy.

This post is the first of 5 posts about online coupons – we will post them every Tuesday for the next 4 weeks. The next 4 topics will include:

  • 8 Good Reasons to Use Online Coupons
  • 5 Great Online Coupon Networks
  • Groupon Redefines the Coupon for the Internet
  • Planning an Online Coupon Campaign

Online Coupons Share Basic Traits with Ordinary Coupons

Coupons have been around for a long time. Online coupons are similar to these familiar offers in important ways:

  • A coupon offers a discount, a bonus, or another form of enticement that the prospect has to claim through redemption.
  • Often a coupon is a physical link to a transaction between a business and a buyer or prospect for a specific item. Therefore, coupons are usually (not always!) redeemable in a business for something tangible.
  • Because coupons are usually redeemed in person, they are a good tactic for purely local businesses as well as national or widely distributed products.

Online Coupons Offer Unique Benefits to Marketers

As we know, the Internet has a number of advantages for marketing. This holds for coupon marketing as well:

  • Coupons are a good direct mail tactic, except using email allows much better targeting and tracking.  Offer codes are a thing of the past.
  • Social media make person-to-person distribution a reality, extending the reach of coupon campaigns to people not previously known to the marketer.
  • Online coupons can be set up to help marketers capture the buyer’s contact information and sometimes even profile data.  The implications for followup marketing are obvious.
  • Personalized options, either by segmentation or at the individual level, make coupons more flexible and more appealing to customers.
  • Online “coupons” can be emails that supply coupon codes to enable customers to get discounts in online purchases.

Building Marketing Campaigns Using Coupons

Online coupons have pros and cons. They are almost always a discounted sale and that’s a problem if it’s all you have going for you. But if the numbers work, coupons can be a great way to motivate buyers and establish relationships.  Our next post will look at how to decide if online coupons are right for you.