Inbound marketing

How email fits into your inbound marketing strategy

Inbound marketing is getting more popular by the year. In fact, 75% of companies now say inbound marketing is their preferred marketing approach, while only 25% prefer outbound marketing.

For marketers who track campaign ROI, stats say inbound marketing provides a clear performance advantage over outbound.

Meanwhile paid advertising, the most traditional of all outbound channels, is ranked as the #1 most over-rated marketing technique.

Of course, you might not have jumped on the inbound marketing train just yet. You might not even fully understand what inbound marketing is.

So before we get to the heart of this post – how email marketing can fit into your inbound marketing strategy – let’s take a moment to look at what inbound marketing is, how it differs from other methods, and why you need to be aware of it.

What’s inbound marketing?

Even if you’re not all that familiar with the name, unless you’ve been avoiding the Internet for the past 10 years then you already know what inbound marketing is.

Hubspot, one of the noisiest supporters of inbound marketing, describes it like this:

Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.

So in other words, inbound marketing is about creating quality content that draws customers towards you. And of course, you’ve heard about similar content marketing strategies before, lots of times.

But wait – email is something you send out to people, not something they find on their own. Email must be outbound marketing… so how can that work? Don’t worry, we’ll come back to that later.

How does inbound marketing work?

Inbound marketing isn’t just something a bored marketer cooked up one day, then managed to convince the whole world about.

It’s an organic response to changes in the way people – shoppers, travellers, tech enthusiasts and so on – are behaving online. And those changes are mostly down to search.

Unless you’re really young, you’ll remember a time when the only way to find information on a topic was to read a book, watch TV or look at a newspaper. Some advertising would also attempt to educate its customers on topics related to the products it sold.

That isn’t how things work now.

Today if you want to find out about, for example, how to learn JavaScript programming, you’re probably going to search online.

When you search “free JavaScript programming tutorial” you’ll find lots of free content that will help you do just that. And you might pick a tutorial from, say, W3Schools.

What does it mean for W3Schools that you ended up finding and using their content? It means…

1. You found their site because you searched for good content on Google, Bing etc.
2. Because you found their site, you also saw their ads and service offerings
3. If you liked their content, there’s now a much better chance you will remember them and use their services in future

W3Schools didn’t push any marketing on you – you found it on your own (with help from a search engine).

But because they provided good content, the company was able to get your attention and tell you a lot more about themselves. The chance of you engaging with them again is now much higher.

And that’s inbound marketing in a nutshell.

The 4 stages of inbound marketing

So how do you start planning and delivering an inbound marketing campaign – including email?

Proponents of inbound marketing have split the concept into a 4-stage “inbound methodology,” which aims to convert strangers into customers and even promoters of your business.

1. Attract

The attract stage of inbound marketing aims to to turn strangers into visitors of your website. But you don’t want just any visitors – the goal is to attract people who could be your ideal customers, with interests in like with the products and services you offer.

Content you might use to attract visitors includes blog posts, SEO content, your core web pages and content published via social channels.

2. Convert

The convert stage is about turning your visitors into leads. A visitor becomes a lead when they give you their contact info, such as an email address. (Hey email marketers, now we’re getting somewhere!)

It’s usually a straight swap – your great content, in exchange for the lead’s email address. Key tools for conversion include web forms, landing pages, and the database of email addresses (your subscriber list) that you grow through inbound marketing.

3. Close

‘Closing’ means turning leads into customers. To do that, you need to use your most effective marketing techniques to nudge your leads past their tipping point.

The tools you’ll use for closing include email, automation and CRM – all the techniques you’re familiar with from your email marketing campaigns.

4. Delight

Converting strangers into customers is just the beginning. After all, it’s easier to keep a customer than try to win a new one. So once you’ve gained the contact details, trust and business of your customers, it’s time to keep delighting them with more content they’ll love. The more you build the customer relationship, the more valuable that relationship will become.

Great ways to keep delighting customers include satisfaction surveys, personalised content and personalised offers.

Those are the four stages of inbound marketing. Now let’s look at the role email marketing can play in each of them.

Using email’s in the ‘Attract’ stage of inbound marketing

As we saw earlier, the Attract stage is about bringing the right kinds of customers to your website. But since you can only send email to known contacts, how is that even possible with email marketing?

It’s time to think a little more flexibly about your email marketing content, and how that content can be seen by other people besides those in your subscriber list.

Publish web versions of your email campaigns online

Just as your blog posts shouldn’t exclusively for website visitors, why should your subscribers be the only people to see your email campaigns?

Your email marketing tool has a built-in option to publish your email messages on the web. So why not use it – and then share you campaigns on Twitter, Facebook and even your website? Now strangers can see your email marketing – and your campaigns might just convert them into visitors!

Create email campaigns your subscribers want to share

If your subscribers can spread your email campaign to strangers –those strangers might just become visitors.

So make it really useful. Make it highly focused on the needs and interests of your target audience. And in your design, include highly visible buttons that let your subscribers share a web version of your message via Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

Share blog content in your campaigns

Blogging is bread and butter for inbound marketers. That’s because blogs are the simplest and most flexible way to share regular, SEO-friendly, targeted content, which your ideal customers can find via search.

But that doesn’t mean your blog content should only be read by people on the web! Try compiling your best articles in a monthly email newsletter. Or re-purpose your posts in email campaigns. Now your blog posts are working harder, via email.

How to use email marketing to ‘Convert’ visitors to leads

Email marketing has a super-important role to play in converting your visitors into leads. That’s because an email address is the most vital piece of information you need from each visitor!

There are many ways to encourage website visitors to share their contact details with you. You can provide an incentive, make premium content exclusively available to subscribers, offer a free e-book, or something else.

Use your email marketing tools to capture contact info

To capture contact info you’ll need a good signup form, and a way to store the contact information you collect. And the easiest way to implement these features is to use the signup forms and database provided by your email marketing provider.

Mailrelay, and all the other popular email services, all provide a simple way to add forms to your web pages. And they store your leads’ contact data for you automatically.

So it’s a no-brainer – use your email marketing tools for inbound marketing too!

Your email campaign landing pages can help with inbound marketing too

Having the call to action in your email campaigns take leads to a special landing page is a popular technique. On these website landing pages, you can include highly focused content such as special deals.

But since these landing pages are published on the web, why not optimise them for search and use them in your inbound marketing activities, too? This way, they can help convert strangers too.

If you’re tracking analytics, you might need to create two different versions of the page – one for strangers who arrive via search, and another for leads arriving from your email campaign.

How email fits into the ‘Close’ stage of inbound marketing

During the ‘closing’ stage of your inbound marketing activity, you’re working with known leads. Which means you already have their email addresses, and you can start using the email marketing techniques you already know to convert them into customers.

For example:

– For new leads who’ve signed up with you but aren’t ready to buy yet, try using a series of educational emails that help the lead learn more about what you can offer.

– For leads who look at specific products but then don’t complete the purchase, consider following up with a reminder email or even a personalised offer on the product.

– Share your regular email campaigns with those who’ve opted in, to help you stay front-of-mind with leads.

This is the stage where email marketing can really shine. So use the kinds of campaign, design and subject line that you know work best for your business.

Using email to ‘Delight’ customers

So here we are at the final stage. You’ve used a combination of inbound and email marketing to turn a bunch of strangers at first into visitors, then into leads, and finally into your customers.

You’ve done the hard part. Now you just need to use your email marketing expertise to keep delighting these customers, so they keep coming back. Ideally, you also want customers to love your content so much that they share it with others – and become your promoters in the process.

Part of this job is simply to create content your customers are interested in. You can then share it via the web and email, and hope it gets shared again.

But you also need to listen to your customers. Their needs are bound to keep changing, and that means your content needs to evolve so you can stay relevant and keep customers’ attention. Here’s how you can use email to do just that.

Get customer feedback with surveys via email

Want to know how you can improve your content and win even more customers? Ask them.

There are lots of low-cost ways to survey customers online. And the best way to invite your customers to take part is through email. It’s a great way to engage your customers and stay ahead of the curve.

Collect more customer data so you can personalise their content

Earlier, I said the minimum information you need to turn a visitor into a lead is an email address. But that’s just the minimum.

What if you asked them more about what they’re interested in? With a few questions about their passions in your signup form, in the account section of your site, or in an email survey, you can know a lot more about them. Then you can segment and personalise the email campaigns you send to your customers, and really delight them.

Those are my tips for using email marketing as part of your inbound marketing techniques. Do these match up with your own methods? Let us know in the comments below!

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