What Is Inbound Marketing? The Ultimate Resource



Inbound marketing is a dynamic buyer-centric solution that's focused on the consumer's needs, desires and buying journey. What it's not is an expensive solution that serves the seller.

The methodology identifies a fitting buyer persona's pain points and aims to provide a solution through enticing engagement. Its various steps account for the different stages of a buyer's journey. Through these steps, tailored content is served to targeted buyers in order to attract, convert, nurture and delight them throughout their buying lifecycle.

The inbound methodology places emphasis on a content/context understanding. Ideally, you should be focusing on creating content that's fully optimised for search and social media, and that attracts your relevant prospects. Context refers to understanding which content is most engaging to prospects and what is most likely going to pull them through your sales funnel – that context should be understood and mastered to personalise messages, emails and various other promotions.


Inbound is focused on attracting the correct customers, nurturing them to a conversion and then continually delighting them. Traditional marketing is outdated and doesn't attract the modern buyer anymore. This is where and why inbound marketing has stepped up and filled the gap.

The idea of sales without selling is based on promoting your knowledge of your services, products and industry. But how do you grow your sales without selling then? By growing your brand, establishing yourself as a thought-leader/industry authority, and thereby curating those accurate leads.

Inbound marketing looks at holistic marketing and is focused on delivering tailored content to target buyer personas at the right time, equipping them to make informed, educated decisions without feeling pressured to make a purchase.


Advertising is interruptive. There, we said it.

While it's still one of the most widespread media landscapes; televised, broadcast and print advertising is largely a noisy channel. We are bombarded by advertising everywhere we look and everywhere we go. As such, we've become accustomed to tuning out the noise and filtering it into the background.

Consumers have also become jaded by so many false claims, resulting in a lot more research being done before making a purchase, regardless of what flashy advertising promises. Coupled with a disinterest in noisy advertising, technology has helped consumers to evade intrusive advertising with tools like Caller ID, Spam Filters, Ad Blockers, etc.

Technology has also helped the modern buyer to seek out their solutions, and to research products and services that they're interested in.

Inbound marketing exists to serve these modern buyers. The philosophy aims to reward their time and energy spent searching, with helpful and valuable information, and to guide them into an action (depending on where they are in their buyer's journey) through the use of engaging content. The inbound marketing process aligns this content with buyer's interests to appeal to the right types of customers who are most likely to become customers. It also weeds out buyers who are not ready to purchase yet, and enriches them with further lead nurturing, until they are ready to convert.


Simply put, inbound marketing is "buyer-centric". This shift is due to information becoming more and more available to consumers who can make their own, informed purchasing decisions. Inbound is a focus away from the traditional WHAT that a company sells and focuses on who the company is, and WHY it sells.

There is always the question of Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing and what the differences are:

Traditional marketing is "seller-centric" – it focuses on what the seller sells and the features of its products or services. The biggest shift between the two is that inbound marketing businesses reach out with information and content, proving themselves to be thought-leaders and innovators in their industry. The inbound approach is both patient and active, never aggressive and never trying to force a sale – inbound businesses are more concerned with solving a buyer's problem and building a relationship.

Through traditional marketing's barrage of advertising, it costs a great deal acquiring a new customer in comparison to inbound marketing's more organic methodology. Inbound's focus on creativity, talent, effort and putting you in touch with knowledgeable people, stands in contrast to traditional marketing's focus on budget and repetition through bulk, impersonal advertising.


The inbound methodology escorts the buyer through the sales funnel by facilitating their individual buyer journeys. The methodology comprises of 4 stages, namely Attract / Convert / Close / Delight.

The 4 Pillars of the Inbound Marketing Methodology are aimed at serving your buyer persona regardless of where they are in their respective buyer journey, with a goal to transform visitors from relative strangers to a brand, product or service promoter.


This is done with Blogs, Social Media, or fully-optimised Web Pages.

These strangers have now become visitors, and the next step is to convert them into leads by having them share some contact information so that you may have them recorded for future marketing. This is commonly achieved by offering them content or materials which serve their needs or offers a solution to a problem they may be facing. 


By clicking on Calls-to-Action, Landing Pages, and filling out Forms.

Once you've secured your lead, you then need to identify which of them is ready to make a purchase. Those not yet ready require further nurturing through your lead-nurturing process, guided with timely content throughout this buying process.


Nurtured leads into customers with Email campaigns, Workflows, Lead Scoring, and various CRM Integrations.

Well-nurtured and ready to make a purchase, your lead qualifies to customer status. The valued relationship needs to be kept active in order to encourage the most important aspects of the inbound process such as repeat business, referrals and positive reviews. Do this right, and you've earned yourself loyal customers and brand promoters.


Delight – Done by personalising your engagement through Social Media, Smart Calls-to-Action, Email and Workflows.

Continual customer satisfaction and attention, even post-sale, is just another element that differentiates inbound marketing from traditional marketing. Delighting your follower base continuously with valuable content is the best means of maintaining your relationship and motivating them to perform ongoing actions such as repeat business, or advocating your brand to friends and family. Remaining front-of-mind with a presence on their social media feeds, and through emails and workflows ensures that you always have an open channel with your customer.


Every methodology has strategies in place needed to carry out each step. Inbound marketing is no different.

The simple and transparent strategy sees strangers attracted to your brand with useful, appealing content, aimed at building brand awareness and reaching new audiences. There are very specific means of attracting these prospects, and very specific tools to drawing them through the sales funnel, namely …


Tools to marketing to your buyers is just one aspect of inbound marketing, formulating just who those buyers are is one of the most integral steps to Inbound.

Marketing research dictates who you wish to sell to with traditional marketing focused on developing a target market list. This list is made up of a set of buyers who all share common needs or characteristics. Remember though, that with inbound marketing, you're not trying to market to everyone and so, casting such a wide net is a waste.

Inbound marketers refine their target market using demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural characteristics. A target market might include information on:

Inbound marketers further utilise this information to formulate buyer personas. These personas are used to streamline your marketing approach and help you to group your target customers based on actual statistics by creating semi-fictional characters that better affect your approach to marketing.


Buyer personas help you form a semi-fictional identity of your ideal customers. If an accurate description is set up, you should be able to determine exactly where to focus your time, encourage and guide product development, and create better integration through different business functions. This information is necessary for the creation of engaging content. Setting up personas helps you understand your buyers better, aids you in anticipating certain behaviour and helps you create targeted content that draws in the people you want to be talking to.


Creating a persona profile is just a matter of asking the right questions that lead to the most accurate description of your buyer persona. The more in-depth your questions, the more accurate a persona you can draw up.

Your questions should be directed at actual people made up of either customers, prospects, referrals or third-party networks who closely resemble your ideal customer. Incentivise these interviewees in order to get accurate and honest responses. A good group-size to interview is around 3 – 4 people per buyer profile. Once you can start predicting what your interviewee's answer might be, you've succeeded in creating an accurate buyer persona profile.

If on the other hand, you are not able to conduct interviews, seek out alternative methods of reaching out to potential persona guides. These include compiling surveys which may be posted on their company websites or interviewing your internal sales people and supplementing your results with sufficient research. Reaching out through social media is a valuable means of gaining persona insight, use LinkedIn to do some accurate buyer persona research.


There are at least seven categories you need information on, be sure to highlight these and get enough information for each:

  • What's your job role and title?
  • What does a typical work day look like?
  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • What knowledge and tools do you use in your job?
  • Who do you report to and who reports to you?
  • Which industries does your company work within?
  • What is the size of your company, revenue, employees, etc.?
  • What are you responsible for?
  • What quantifies success / What does it mean to be successful in your role?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What are your businesses' biggest challenges?
  • What are your industry's biggest challenges?
  • Describe your personal demographics – how old are you, are your married, do you have children?
  • What's your educational background? What is your completed level of education? What schools did you attend and what did you study there?
  • Provide information about your career – how did you end up where you are today?
  • Describe your purchasing habits – what do you consider before making a purchase, what's your evaluation process, how do you decide to purchase a product?
  • Do you use the internet to research vendors and products? If so, how do you search information?
  • What is your preferred method of interaction with vendors – email, phone, face-to-face?
  • What publications or blogs do you read?
  • What social networks or groups do you participate in?
  • How do you gather new information about your job or industry?
  • What's your source of information about latest trends in your industry?

With information from all of these categories, you can begin to create a picture of what your buyer persona looks like, and start to identify what their specific pain points are. Source an image (you could search Shutterstock for a picture) of what your buyer persona might look like, so your team can have a visual representation. Then draw up a template with all the information you have gathered.

Lastly, name your buyer persona appropriately – such as Marketing Mark, Finance Manager Francis, Owner-Manager Owen, etc. - to clearly depict who you are targeting and what role they fulfil.


There's no point going ahead with planning and preparation without monitoring your success and failures. Analytics help to measure your growth and reveals where you can improve efforts and emphasise optimisation. Google Analytics is the most popular source for accurate reporting. Some CRMs, like HubSpot, allow you to include tracking codes on buttons and links so you can measure your entire marketing funnel from acquisition to close.

Beware of bot traffic which may skew your data and results – follow this handy guide on how to detect bots, and successfully exclude them from your reporting.


Creating targeted content with intent and purpose is the quiver in your inbound marketing arrow. It guides content, leading it straight to the right user, and provides them with a solution.

Follow the Content Marketing Template Pack to make sure that your targeting's on point.


What's better than being number 1? Being number 0, of course! 


A featured snippet is the small box above the top rank of your search (called Rank #0), this space is very often occupied by the number 1 search result – effectively giving more click-through potential to that specific page – but it's not always the case.


Short answer, yes! HubSpot's February 2016 study uncovered that high-volume keywords ranking #0 showed a CTR increase of 114%, even though they already held the #1 position organically. This research, like much others are anecdotal, but reflects that Rank #0 does indeed affect click-through rate.


Now that you know that you can score yourself a featured snippet position – how exactly do you go about getting there?

First up, you'll obviously need to be ranking organically on the first page of search results. Next, your content needs to directly, and effectively, answer a targeted question.

What you don't need, is to be ranked #1 for the question – although that certainly helps your chances of a Rank #0. Here you can see the percentage of featured snippets as they occur by ranking position on the first page:


Although there are opportunities across all of Page 1, they predominantly come from the first position, which makes sense considering that Rank #0 involves a solution that fully satisfies a search. A differentiating factor often boils down to relevance rather than ranking/authority, making a Featured Snippet, a very welcome SEO shortcut if you're looking to dominate a search but are struggling to rank first.

So, Rank #0 relates specifically to inbound, as marketing is solely aimed at providing users with the best solution to their problems. Being the most accurate solution to a customer's pain point is what Rank #0 is summed up as, and gives inbound marketing teams another factor to look at when considering how best to reach the right personas.


To get great inbound results, you need to ensure that your website is inbound-ready. Every page and every internal link should be designed to lead a visitor through to some conversion point. Whether it be through landing pages and forms, or email subscriptions, your website should entice each and every visitor to keep coming back for more. Follow the Growth-Driven Design principle to ensure that your website is inbound marketing ready.


Now that you've attracted the right personas with your targeted, performance-driven marketing, how do you go about moving them through the sales funnel and identifying a quality SQL from an MQL?

This is where inbound sales comes in. Follow our Sales Enablement Guide to get your sales and marketing teams working in tandem, and getting the most out of your inbound sales effort. 


Inbound marketing is closely related to digital marketing with the latter best described as being a component of an overall inbound marketing strategy.


One definition is that digital marketing is concerned with the isolated tactics which you can use to reach your user. These digital marketing tactics may be comprised of page banner creation, designing logos, various branding, optimised site pages, etc. Another definition is that digital marketing is the encapsulating term for all your company's online marketing efforts.


We've mentioned that cold-calling and bulk advertising are outdated methods of engagement, and so digital marketing, as a component of inbound marketing is largely about maintaining your online presence. Marketing, especially inbound marketing, is all about making a connection with the right customer. With people increasing the amount of time they spend on the Internet and most of us using our smartphones for pretty much everything, it makes sense that to make that connection, your approach has to be a digital one.



Although they occupy the same space, and digital marketing is considered an inbound component, the two methodologies are not on equal footing.

Digital marketing doesn't differentiate between inbound or traditional, outbound marketing tactics. Digital marketing may be employed to serve both these principles with outbound focused on getting its message across to as many people as possible, regardless of whether it's relevant or welcome. Inbound differs in that its digital marketing is more tailored and precisely aimed.

Examples of an outbound approach would be online flashing banner ads. Inbound marketing's digital approach is divided between targeted owned, earned and paid media.


By separating your digital inbound approach, you can segment your channels and streamline different tools across your digital marketing framework.


Owned media refers to all the elements, content and resources created by you and your team. These may be used and leveraged at your discretion, and you are free to distribute it as needed. Examples of owned media is:

  • Your blog
  • Your website
  • Your branding
  • Your social media profiles
  • Email/newsletters
  • Authored content (eBooks, whitepapers)


Simply put, earned media is word-of-mouth exposure. It is the coverage you receive from interaction with others within your industry and throughout. Earned media has both a positive and negative impact on your business: a bad review, for example, could prove hazardous to your brand, whereas great customers service feedback my boost your appeal to potential customers. Examples of earned media include:

  • Online reviews and ratings
  • Social media posts from users sharing your content
  • Contributor articles to other websites
  • Your social media profiles
  • Email/newsletter
  • Media coverage of your products or services (such as press releases)


Paid media refers to the tactics you've paid for. It generally revolves around "rented space" on a platform, like a banner ad (Display advertising) on a website that's popular with your targeted users. By using Google Adwords' Pay-per-click functionality, you could potentially appear at the top of Google search results, whether you rank well for a specific keyword or not. Paid marketing assets are:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC)
  • Boosting social media posts
  • Contributor articles to other websites
  • Native advertising – your ad fits the corresponding user journey (e.g. car insurance ad on a motoring website.)
  • Digital advertising (display ads, banners, etc.)


Media convergence refers to pooling your resources and getting your paid, owned and earned media working together. What is known in marketing circles as hitting the trifecta, is when you take a converged POEM (Paid/Owned/Earned marketing) approach. Our Guide to Digital Marketing deals with how to get your digital marketing framework working for you.

Talk to us about sales enablement and converging your digital marketing assets.


With inbound marketing being more of a strategic and well-planned methodology, your inbound toolkit is highly specified to target your buyer persona and keep them engaged. Use these tactics to highlight and target your ideal personas and lead them through each of the Attract/Convert/Close/Delight stages.


  • Blogging – Using your blogging platform is one of the most effective ways to attract new users and potential leads. To get found by your targeted lead, make sure your content answers the kind of questions you know that your buyer persona might be asking.
  • Social Publishing – Once you've created your very precise content, you have to make sure it gets distributed so these users can find the valuable information. Social publishing is more than just ameans of sharing contact though – it allows you to personalise your brand and engage with prospects face-to-face (as it were).
  • SEO – Like Social Publishing, Search Engine Optimisation is a means of getting your message out to prospects and vital for getting your content noticed on the net. Conduct research, choose the right keywords and optimise your content, pages and links accordingly. SEO ensures that your content gains prominence over other brands in Page ranking, and answering your persona's questions first.
  • Pages – Once the right crowd is attracted to your website, keep them there by showcasing helpful, onsite content, to further appeal to these buyers. You want these visitors to gain value from visiting your site, and encourage them to keep coming back.


  • CTAs – Calls-to-Action are an incitement to perform an action, namely to click-through to a download. Behind every CTA is an incentive, these could be in the form of eBooks, whitepapers or a piece of content a reader may find valuable. CTAs should be very specific and extremely enticing, or you can forget about your reader taking the time to click your CTA button. The value behind your CTA is purely lead generation and leading your prospect to a landing page.
  • Landing Page – Your landing page serves a dual function, primarily to provide your reader access to their download, but more importantly, to lead to a conversion with the visitor filling in their information and thereby becoming a contact. Visitors fill out a form on the landing page in exchange for the offered content. Once the prospect fills out the form, they may then be lead to a Thank You page where they can find their download. From your side, their offered information is a means for your sales team to begin a conversation with them.
  • Forms – Found on the landing page, forms are an important tool in the lead generation and conversion process. It's essential that your forms are fully optimised to make this process as simple as possible so the contact may be accurately recorded.
  • Contacts – Your centralised marketing database aids in having all your data and contacts in one place. Contacts are the leads you're converting, and your database helps you keep track of where each one is in their buying journey. Your marketing database helps to record all your interactions with each contact (emails, landing pages, etc.) and shows how you could optimise your future interactions.


  • CRM – Your CRM is your most important closing tool, and an essential inbound marketing tool. Your Customer Relationship Management system facilitates sales and keeps track of all details about contacts, deals and companies in your pipeline. With more information available to you, you can confidently engage with leads and easily identify their individual pain points. Your CRM also helps you ascertain if they're the right fit for you, and if you are the right solution to their problem.
  • Closed-loop Reporting – CRM integration lets you analyse how well your Smarketing (sales and marketing) is communicating. The secret sauce behind effective sales is aligning sales and marketing teams. Closed-loop reporting between sales and marketing brings about accurate leads, and qualifying MQLs/SQLs at the right time, with the right content.
  • Email – Your Closed-loop reporting identifies when your customer is ready for a specific action. When your prospects are not ready to purchase, they may be included in an email workflow which further nurtures them until they are ready to perform an action. Email campaigns are a great tool to communicate events, convey useful information, promote relevant content or build trust and rapport through valuable, personalised messaging.
  • Automation – Your email campaigns should be uniquely geared toward serving each lead's lifecycle stage. Marketing automation plays a big role in providing tailored content to leads based on previous actions they've taken. If a lead is already involved in another workflow, or has downloaded a specific piece of content, a secondary or follow-up content piece may be sent through automation. Marketing automation is not just convenient, but is a crucial targeting tool as well.


  • Smart CTAs – Smart Calls-to-Action allow you to tailor your messaging to different leads based on where they are in their lifecycle stage. This is a great way to keep delighting your customers and personalising your approach.
  • Surveys – Conducting a survey is not only good for market research, but also reminds your customer that you are always thinking about them. It's a behind the scenes peek into how your customer perceives your value, and how you may further marketing services to them.
  • Social Feedback – Want to know exactly what your customers are looking for? Just ask! Social monitoring helps to keep track of what customers are searching for and provides an avenue for you to reach out with relevant content.
  • Smart Content – This tool allows you to offer tailored content to a customer post-sale. You're able to appeal to their specific interests and may even help them achieve new goals. Proving to still be a valuable source for information, your smart text could lead to repeat business and is an outlet to introduce new products, services, events, features or offers.


The value of inbound marketing tools extends beyond just simple automation. The right tools allow you the best means of targeting your reach and improving your content strategy implementation.

These tools simplify your efforts when focusing on distribution (social or other), lead recording and management, and measuring your ROI. An effective Content Management System (CMS) lets you curate and schedule your content, distribute across social channels and set up your company blogs or newsletters. Here are a list of the most important inbound marketing tools, and what they do:



Moz, a great tool for inbound marketing and analytics has shifted away from inbound tools, to rather focus on SEO. They now provide amazing optimisation insights to business intent on broadening their "search-optimisation" horizon.


Free from Google, Google Analytics lets you track various website metrics, such as duration of visits, bounce rate, the number of visits and pages per visit. These categories may be tracked by geography, platform and more.



The partially free to use social media management tool, Hootsuite allows you to neatly arrange all of your social media channels under one easy to manage hub. From here you can compile, compose and schedule your posts with its handy automation features. Spending a little extra gets you reporting efficiently, with Hootsuite's analytics tools.


While not a direct social media management tool, BuzzSumo may be leveraged to gain insights into the content and context of your social media messaging. When used as a tool to measure the most shared content and key influencers, BuzzSumo is handy in helping you create targeted messaging that works, as well as giving you enough data to build your content around.



A free to use Newsletter Program (provided you have under 500 subscribers), MailChimp is a great way to reach out to prospects and implement your delight phase with regular, informative mails. Best of all the handy program reports back with analytics which measures bounce rates, clicks and more.


A great all-around tool for checking everything from forms, and CTA's to analytics. The strength of Optimizely lies in its A/B testing ability allowing you to measure iterate and improve. Run multivariate testing on your websites, landing pages and mailers to help your chances of improved conversion rates.



A free content management system, WordPress powers over 44% of the world's websites. The straightforward layout and functionality allow you to modify themes and plugins to suit your website needs. A great tool for small to medium-sized businesses, most WordPress plugins are free and most themes are designed to be mobile-friendly.


The HubSpot CRM and CMS have been cemented as the go-to platforms for all-in-one inbound marketing and inbound sales functionality. Integrated and used as a single interface, you could blog, create forms, distribute social content, monitor and report on results.

HubSpot's workflow functionality is regarded as one of the most powerful inbound marketing tools, allowing you to create granular workflows or broader lead nurturing programs. What differentiates it from other workflow tools is its focus on personalisation. With the use of Smart Content elements, you can create that one-on-one experience in emails and communication tools that virtually reaches out to your reader.

The platform lets you create landing pages with relative ease and full tracking capability. It's a competent SEO tool, as well as offers expert videos and tutorials on how to use the software. All this while being one of the most affordable options on the market.

While many tools, including HubSpot, may cost you; the investment is a fraction of what traditional marketing might set you back. Being a HubSpot Platinum-Partner, we can help you get signed up with HubSpot. Talk to us about how we can get you set up. 

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While it is a straightforward methodology – the elements surrounding inbound marketing and its application in your business could seem a bit daunting. This is where we come in. We can confidently say that our performance-driven approach to inbound marketing will be a solution tailored to suit your business – big or small.

Our People – Processes – Technology foundation is what we call our "secret sauce". We offer you digital marketing on an inbound-ready platform, with support from a team of performance-driven marketers and fiercely technical designers. More importantly, our full-funnel agency aims to equip you with a website that's optimised to attract more of your targeted visitors, get your marketing to convert more leads, and your sales people to close more business.

Have a closer look at what we do.

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