The simplest definition comes courtesy of Rick Burnes at HubSpot: "Inbound Marketing is marketing focused on getting found by customers." This is a deceptively simple definition because in practice, it signals a seismic shift in long-held marketing beliefs. The traditional approach was to define your target market, load the ammunition (TV, radio, newspaper, direct mail, telemarketing, billboards, email etc. etc.) and fire away until the targets succumbed and bought from you. The science behind this was based on the belief that if enough data crunching, focus groups and surveys were done, there was a reasonable expectation that the target was good and a sale would result. If you look a little deeper into this process, it quickly becomes clear that if success was achieved with 97% of your target audience ignoring, or worse yet, rejecting your messages, the process was broken. And that presumes you could measure everything you did.
Along comes the internet and with it, the concept that the consumer is now in the driver's seat and can pretty much dictate what they want to consume in the way of content and messaging. Stir in the concept of search engine algorithms to refine the results of web search and irrelevant content starts to rapidly fade in the virtual rear view mirror.
In its pure essence, inbound marketing asks that marketers step out from behind the curtain of data, surveys, focus groups and distant relationships with their customers and prospects and fully engage with them. Provide them with the resources, knowledge, options and content that makes it easier for them to do business with you. Engage with them wherever it is they like to virtually reside and by getting to know them (and vice versa), they begin to feel they're dealing with someone or something they trust.
So, that's the theory side of Inbound Marketing. Now for the practical side.
There are three distinct aspects to Inbound Marketing:
Get Found.This aspect covers all the activities and tools companies should use to make it easier for potential customers to find them. Content is the key ingredient at this stage - content that educates, informs, is relevant to customer needs and is worthy of sharing. A key activity - frequent blogging. Keywords should be established in order to guide the content development process. Active participation on the social sites is also key - Facebook, Google +, LinkedIn and Twitter are the foundational sites where presence is critical. With all this getting found activity, your site should be structured in a way to guide visitors naturally through your sales process.
Convert. If all your hard work in the Get Found phase pays off, you'll want to make sure that conversion processes are built into your site design. Conversion is guiding interested customers through your sales process based on how you allow them to interact with your site.
Analyze. In order to leverage your learning through the first two phases, you have to analyze the activity you created to determine if you're successfully engaging with potential customers. Measuring the interaction with all of your content - blog, articles, white papers etc, measuring your interaction on the social sites and measuring your performance against that of competitors. Then refine things based on your analysis, adjust and continue the cycle anew. It's truly a closed-loop process.
So, now that you know the background and the process of Inbound Marketing, it's time to get started!