What Is Inbound Marketing? – Definition, Guidelines, Strategy + Tools

Would you like to be found by your customers instead of investing in advertising or struggling with cold calling? Inbound marketing is the solution for that. In the following article, you will find out how inbound marketing works, which instruments are used and how software can support the entire process.

Inbound Marketing: The 4 Most Important Questions at a Glance

Inbound marketing is all the rage, which is why you’ve probably heard of it. The following four questions provide you with the most important information on this topic in a nutshell: 

  • What is inbound marketing? It offers Internet users useful content in search of problem solutions and thus draws attention to the company’s offers.
  • What is the difference to outbound marketing? With outbound marketing, the company goes out to people to find customers, while inbound marketing aims for customers to find the company.
  • What are the main types of inbound marketing? There are various instruments that must be used together. This includes content marketing, social media marketing and SEO .
  • What are the best tools for inbound marketing? The market leader is HubSpot. The marketing automation software is available in three different versions.

Find out in the following section what the differences between inbound and outbound marketing are and what advantages and disadvantages are associated with inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound marketing

Outbound marketing confronts people with the brand or the company’s offers on a daily basis in order to draw their attention to them. This includes classic measures such as TV advertising, print and online advertisements or cold calling. However, many people are already blind to advertising and no longer notice these actions or find them disturbing. Good outbound marketing can still be successful, but this is becoming increasingly difficult and places high demands on creativity.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is based on the fact that Internet users find the company’s offers on their own in search of a solution. They are attracted by useful content that they find via search engines, social media or influencers. While outbound marketing wants to push people to something, inbound marketing attracts them (pull). Inbound marketing is, for example, when companies attract attention through advice articles or videos and then use various measures to promote the conversion of prospects to customers.

Inbound marketing is trendy, which is also due to the fact that most customers today do their research on the Internet before they buy something. It has the following advantages over outbound marketing : 

  • Addressing people who are genuinely interested
  • lower wastage (effort to reach people outside the target group)
  • Increase in reach, awareness and reputation, also by sharing the content
  • increasing independence from outbound marketing

In order to assess whether inbound marketing is worthwhile for you, you also need to consider any disadvantages. These points could speak against it:

  • Initial effort for the organization and implementation of the inbound marketing process
  • Costs for creating and maintaining the content
  • works in the medium to long term

For inbound marketing, it is not enough to just produce good content. This includes several measures that you will learn about in the following section.

Measures in inbound marketing

The first goal in inbound marketing is to get the right people’s attention. But that alone is not enough. Other methods are used to turn prospects into customers. Success depends on how well these instruments work together.

Content marketing

If a company regularly publishes advice articles, videos, online tools or similar useful content that is related to its offers, it is called content marketing. The main goals are to acquire new customers and to retain them. Content that offers potential customers a benefit is the basis for inbound marketing.

The landing pages are of particular importance. These are the pages that internet users get to in search of a specific problem solution, mostly via search engines. These not only have to provide the expected information, but also draw the attention of interested parties to the company. 

  • Target group: interested internet users, customers
  • Effectiveness: high (most important basis for inbound marketing)
  • Costs: 3 to 5-digit sum per month, depending on the type and scope of the content

Search engine optimization

If you are looking for a specific solution to a problem, you will usually first use a search engine. So that your effort is worthwhile in the context of content marketing and interested parties can find your content with suitable search queries, you must not neglect search engine optimization. This includes various measures, from keyword optimization and design of the content to technical questions and linking.

SEO is all the more important, the higher your competition on the Internet. Because only a good ranking on the search results pages motivates interested parties to call up your page.

  • Target group: Internet users with a special interest
  • Effectiveness: high (interested parties mostly use search engines)
  • Costs: one-off start-up costs from $ 1,500 and running costs from $ 500 per month via external service providers

Read the following guide about SEO:

The ABCs of Search Engine Optimization: What You Should Know About SEO

public relations

PR activities support inbound marketing, both online and offline. Public relations can draw the attention of interested parties to the company and contribute to customer acquisition, even if that is not the primary goal of public relations.

For example, media coverage of your company increases the likelihood that prospects will search for it and find your published content. Because you also strengthen your brand in this way. You can achieve a similar effect if an influencer important to your target group recommends your informative company blog or YouTube channel.

  • Target group: general public (not just on the internet)
  • Effectiveness: has a supportive effect, very effective when cooperating with the right influencers
  • Costs: depending on the type and scope, with agency support usually several thousand dollars per campaign

Social media marketing

Social networks offer excellent opportunities to increase the reach of your own content and thus reach even more interested parties. When users share your posts, it often acts like a recommendation. Some particularly interesting posts may even go viral.

In the context of inbound marketing, social media make a major contribution to ensuring that you are found by interested parties. You should therefore also analyze which social networks your target group primarily uses and regularly share your content there. Advertisements via social media can also support inbound marketing, but only as part of lead nurturing (see next point).

  • Target group: interested internet users, customers
  • Effectiveness: high
  • Costs: with the support of an agency, between $ 2,000 and $ 5,000 per month for small and medium-sized companies

Lead nurturing

As soon as visitors to your landing pages have left their email address or other contact details, they become leads. This means that they haven’t bought anything yet, but they are basically interested in your offers. You need to take special care of these leads so that your company is not forgotten again.

Measures to achieve this goal are known as lead nurturing. It is important to address interested parties with exactly the information that is relevant to them at the time. For this purpose, sending personalized emails, provided that consent has been given. There is special marketing automation software available to help you with this task.

  • Target audience: leads
  • Effectiveness: high when targeted at the right time
  • Costs: depending on the software used, function is part of complete solutions for marketing automation

Email Marketing

Once your leads have turned into customers, you need to keep engaging with them. Basically, the requirements for this are similar to those for lead nurturing.

Send e-mails at the right times with the most precisely fitting content that is geared towards the individual interests of the customers. This can also be done with software support. You have more data available for this than with leads. On the basis of completed purchases you can submit cross-selling offers.

  • Target group: customers
  • Effectiveness: high with appropriate quality and individualization of the mails
  • Costs: see Lead Nurturing

Customer Relationship Management

Inbound marketing isn’t just about getting customers. Another challenge is to keep them and motivate them to make more purchases. The already mentioned email marketing is an instrument for maintaining existing customers.

In addition, individual customer support, high service quality and targeted marketing measures are also generally important. These are the goals of customer relationship management. CRM systems support companies in these tasks by enabling the central storage of contact data, orders, conversation results and similar information and by supporting analyzes.

  • Target group: customers
  • Effectiveness: high by improving customer approach and simplifying many work steps
  • Costs: for a CRM system per user and month between 0 and about 300 $

All of the methods presented here are used in different phases of inbound marketing. The following section deals more intensively with the generation and management of leads.

Lead generation & marketing automation in inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is often used to generate leads, especially from companies with more complex or explanatory products or services. This is the case, for example, when a financial consultancy regularly publishes specialist articles on a blog and motivates visitors to enter their data in a contact form for further information when they leave the website. Or an IT service provider offers a free whitepaper to download and asks for data in this context using a form. Please note the data protection regulations in this context.

The lead nurturing and the maintenance of existing customers can be supported by special software for marketing automation. For each new lead, this creates a user profile where data about the prospect is collected, your own details, visited websites (tracking), opened e-mails and later also data from orders. Algorithms evaluate the existing data and suggest actions on this basis or carry them out automatically like sending a specific email. The aim is to provide the interested party with the right information at the right time.

Read the following article about content marketing tools:

Content Marketing Tools 2021: What Are Some Content Marketing Tools

Inbound marketing step by step

Inbound marketing is a concept in which several steps build on one another. Good planning is a prerequisite for the efficiency of these measures. Develop your strategy according to the following pattern:

  1. Define Buyer Persona :
    Analyze the characteristics of your typical buyers, profession, age, hobby and others. Depending on the type of company, it can also make sense to define several buyer personas.
  2. Planning content :
    What kind of content appeals to the buyer personas and which channels are suitable for publication? Also plan the time, human and financial resources.
  3. Create content : Make sure you create content for prospects at every stage of the customer journey. This includes people who have only just become aware of their problem as well as those who are specifically looking for a solution or who have already found options and have to make a decision.
  4. Search engine optimization :
    Consider SEO requirements when planning the website and when creating the content.
  5. Include contact form :
    Include a contact form at a suitable point for lead generation, a good example of a contact form is when visitors want to leave your site.
  6. Seeding :
    Interested parties can find your content not only through search engines, but also through other channels. Actively spread it via social media, guest articles or influencers.
  7. Lead Nurturing :
    Use the possibilities of marketing automation so that leads become customers. However, you should continue to work towards your existing customers.
  8. Analyze and optimize :
    Is your inbound marketing successful or can you possibly improve something?

Professional inbound marketing requires the support of suitable software. Get to know the most popular tool for this in the following section.

Read the following article about the basics of SEO:

What is SEO: The Basics Guide to Search Engine Optimization [2021]

HubSpot – the tool for successful inbound marketing

HubSpot is a software that, with the three components Marketing Hub, Sales Hub and Service Hub, offers extensive automated support in these areas that build on one another. The modules can also be used individually, whereby the functions of the Marketing Hub are the focus for inbound marketing.

HubSpot provides some marketing tools for free, such for e-mail marketing, contact management as well as traffic and conversion analysis. The Marketing Hub is also available in three paid versions:

  • Starter :
    The offer for small businesses is limited to 1,000 contacts and can be used from $ 50 per month. The functions include tools for capturing and converting leads, tracking a contact’s website activity, and retargeting.
  • Professional :
    This version can also be used for 1,000 contacts and costs at least $ 780 per month. Among other things, other tools for marketing automation and personalization, for SEO and social media marketing as well as for optimizing conversion rates are included.
  • Enterprise :
    The solution for large companies costs around $ 3,250 per month and enables the management of 10,000 contacts. This version supports the organization of teamwork and offers detailed analysis options.

If you want to use HubSpot, you can buy the desired solution directly there or you can contact a HubSpot partner agency. They will advise you on the selection of the version, support you with the implementation and provide you with advice and additional services for the entire inbound marketing. You will incur additional costs for this. However, you benefit from the extensive experience of the partners and can get the best out of the software.

Examples of successful inbound marketing

The two companies presented below have used HubSpot to organize their inbound marketing. Find out what successes you have achieved with it.


TrekkSoft is a Swiss software company whose customers include travel and other activity providers. The decision in favor of inbound marketing with HubSpot followed in 2014 as the company grew and new demands were made on the marketing strategy.

In addition to blog posts, the company also publishes e-books, webinars and checklists as content. In the period from 2015 to 2016, the number of new leads rose by 109% and that of marketing qualified leads (level in lead scoring) by 92%. Within four months, organic traffic has doubled and social media contacts have increased 12-fold.

Thought Leader Systems

You can see from the examples presented that with well-planned and professional inbound marketing, considerable success in lead and customer acquisition is possible. Please also note the following tips:

  • Proceed strategically :
    It is not enough to just offer good content. You should also take care of the acquisition and management of leads, following your previously defined strategy.
  • Keep an eye on the target group : When planning and creating the content, keep in mind who you want to reach with it. Also make sure that you provide interesting content for all stages of the customer journey.
  • Skilfully plan lead capture :
    Think carefully when you show lead forms and how you design them. They should motivate those interested to fill out, but not press or annoy them.
  • Use lead scoring :
    The lead score is also used by marketing automation tools such as HubSpot in order to be able to align lead management individually. For certain actions, the download of certain content or the subscription or cancellation of the newsletter points are added or deducted.
  • Recommendation Marketing stimulate:
    Involve your existing customers in the inbound marketing by this caller. Motivate to share your content or recommend your company.

Remember to regularly review your activities and measure the results. Do not expect success too quickly, because inbound marketing only has an impact in the medium term.

Conclusion: effective alternative to classic marketing methods

Inbound marketing will not completely replace traditional methods. However, it has gained significantly in importance and is now mainly used in many companies to acquire new customers.

The most important basis for this is the regular publication of high-quality content. However, the subsequent process of lead nurturing is just as important and demanding. Software-supported marketing automation supports this task and promotes success.

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