In addition to guest posting on the UpCity blog, Aspiration Marketing is featured as one of the Top Inbound Marketing Agencies in Columbus. Check out their profile here.

If you’re a small business owner or if you work for a startup or if you simply haven’t been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ve likely heard the buzz words “inbound marketing”. It’s hard to believe that inbound marketing is a relatively new marketing strategy because its popularity has grown exponentially since it was introduced. Almost everyone implements inbound marketing as part of their marketing strategy. Why? Simply put, because inbound marketing works. In a sea of marketing strategies, we’ve seen firsthand how inbound marketing rises to the top time after time.

'Simply put, inbound marketing works.' - Joachim Koch Click To Tweet

So inbound marketing must be a good fit for your business, too, right? The short answer is “yes.” The long answer is, “let’s talk about it.” Setting and managing expectations when it comes to inbound marketing is essential to your business’s success.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a people-centric approach to marketing. With inbound marketing, you draw people to you and your product or service by generating interesting and relevant content. Your content lets people find you when searching for mind-share or solutions, brings visitors in, and looks to convert them into leads by helping out and providing relevant perspectives and answers, often in exchange for an email or additional contact information to establish a learning relationship. Then, you continue to foster a rapport with your prospect base and seek to establish a trusting relationship.

The goal of inbound marketing, then, is to position your company as a reliable source of knowledge. That way, when potential customers are seeking answers and solutions, you are there as a trusted resource, able to help meet their needs.

Inbound is about pulling in your audience and creating customers for life by delighting them with your knowledge and service. This contrasts with outbound marketing, which is about pushing your products and offerings out to your customers using methods like cold calling or emailing, print advertising, TV ads, billboards, and other (often costly) strategies.

'Inbound is about pulling in your audience and creating customers for life by delighting them with your knowledge and service.' - Joachim Koch Click To Tweet

The Challenges of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is often also described as content marketing. In many instances, the two terms are used interchangeably. To be a successful inbound marketer, you have to be able to generate quality content. This can be a challenge. Why? Because content takes time and work, both to create it successfully and, in turn, to see results.

Before you even begin generating content, you need to have a plan in place. Having a strategy for curating your content requires a thorough understanding or your products or services and how they address your buyers’ needs. Before even beginning to generate content, ask yourself questions like: who is our ideal buyer? What do they like? Where do they get their information? Doing so will help you create a buyer persona and understand your buyer’s experience. You’ll also want to do the necessary keyword research to ensure that you not only know who you are targeting but you also know how best to reach them with your content.

Next, you need the people-power to actually generate the content. Once you’ve figured out what your content should look like, you have to determine who is going to create it. Do you have the capacity to take that on in-house? Or do you need a knowledgeable agency to assist you in managing that part of your marketing strategy?

After all that, perhaps the most challenging aspect of inbound marketing is that it’s not a quick fix. Inbound marketing takes time to see results.

Is Inbound Effective?

Yes, inbound marketing works. But you have to have a plan in place, the people to put the plan into action, and the patience to wait for the plan to unfold.

Let’s consider an example company, ABC.

ABC was looking to employ an inbound marketing strategy and build their brand by generating interesting and relevant content. They began in January of 2015 with a plan to publish two blog posts per week on their company blog. They consistently wrote two posts/week, working with a marketing agency for help creating and optimizing them. They included relevant keywords gained from market research and continual SEO work. In December 2015, the company’s organic search traffic had increased by 50%.

Slowly but surely, as their content was produced and shared with the world, more and more traffic arrived at ABC’s website. They were able to start converting this traffic, and they saw an uptick in their revenue.

Content marketing established traction with two blog posts per week. As time passed, ABC leveraged conversion opportunities using subscription options and landing pages. Organic search traffic “only doubled” in 2015. However, over the following years, the compounding effects of continued content generation were at play, continuing to facilitate exponential growth.

As this example illustrates, though, this growth and successful inbound marketing did not happen overnight. Even if you are writing great content and optimizing it effectively, it can take six to nine months before any sort of recognizable increase in traffic—and thus opportunity to make money—is realized.

Inbound Marketing KPIs

To understand the results of your inbound marketing efforts, you need to know what metrics you should use to track its effectiveness. Evaluating the content that you put out into the world to see if it is working or how it should be tweaked to generate the most return on your investment is an essential component to your content marketing success.

First and foremost, you will want to track your organic, or natural, search traffic. For inbound marketing, organic search traffic is the key purpose of your content. It follows that this is an important metric to track. Referencing the example above, ABC saw a 50% increase in organic search traffic in the first year of its inbound marketing efforts.

You need to attract traffic to your company website in order to drive sales. Taking this a step further, generated traffic alone is rather useless unless you convert it. Thus, the second metric to track is the lead conversion of a website page or an individual piece of content.

What is it that drives conversion? Figuring out what calls to action, landing pages, and downloadable content work is essential. You also want to learn who is on the website and how you should engage them. That way, you can convert them from anonymous traffic into leads.

But again, this takes time.

Will Inbound Marketing Drive Quick Wins?

Managing your expectations around inbound marketing is crucial to avoid being disappointed with the strategy, or worse, having to fight to stay afloat because you needed inbound to be a quick money maker and it’s not.

If you need to keep the lights on at your small business in the short term, then you need another plan in place while you produce valuable content, track your metrics, tweak your CTAs, and wait for your inbound marketing efforts pay off.

What should you do in the interim? You can use paid social media work, outbound campaigning, and paid advertisements. Maybe you have to make cold calls or establish personalized, multi-channel, and integrated social media and email campaigns.

While doing so, your inbound marketing content can continue to work for you.

It might not be generating a significant increase in organic search traffic and revenue yet, but it can be helpful to use the content you’re generating as a sort of extended business card.

After reaching out to potential investors or clients, follow up with an email and include a link to a blog post that also details what you’ve discussed or answers a question about your product or service. This, then, becomes another way to gain credibility with potential investors/clients/customers.

Knowing how to write well and being able to reuse content for downloadable white papers, deep-domain-expertise pillar pages, email campaigns, and sales-executive meeting follow-ups helps to accelerate the benefits you can obtain from inbound marketing. Eventually, the results will outweigh the initial investment by a long shot, and you will never look back.

Inbound Marketing Works

Yes, inbound marketing works. It’s a time-tested and proven strategy for long-term growth. But it isn’t going to produce overnight. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be doing inbound marketing. It means that you need to set your expectations accordingly, develop a plan, and get to work creating a marketing strategy that’s right for your company.

Joachim Koch

Joachim Koch is Chief Executive Officer of Aspiration Marketing Inc. with operations in Columbus, OH and Toronto, ON.

"My dad taught me to dream big and to work my butt off to make those dreams a reality. Building stuff and helping people succeed is what we are about. And if things don't work the first time, we try again differently. Growing bigger is one thing, growing better is what we aim for."