In the effort to engage each customer, the inbound marketer must simultaneously be a thoughtful scientist, an imaginative artist and a skillful planner.

What’s the magic ingredient connecting each individual area these experts must master while using the inbound methodology? It’s content, of course!

What is the inbound marketing methodology?

The inbound marketing methodology is a multi step strategy for attracting new prospects, leading them to complete a purchase and encouraging them to continue interacting with your business. Truthfully, inbound marketing does not end with the acquisition and retention of an individual customer. Inbound techniques seek to create and deploy useful content that existing customers will want to share with their peers, through social media or other channels. In this way, inbound execution differs significantly from other marketing tactics.

Inbound vs. outbound methodology

Inbound marketing and outbound marketing serve complementary functions for many organizations.

Inbound vs outbound infographic

Traditional outbound marketing techniques, like advertising, can help businesses quickly reach a potential buyer and generate immediate awareness of the product or service. By promoting brand awareness, individuals may reach out to the company when the time is right for them.

Inbound techniques, like SEO and gated premium content, seek to attract new prospects by providing them with useful resources and support. Then, the business nurtures the future customer through each phase of the buyer’s journey.

This hand-in-hand framework seems to be verified by actual practices in the field. A recent marketing survey found that 33% of respondents said brand awareness and reach were the top goals for their paid advertising efforts. At the same time, total sales were the leading metric for assessing how successful content was.

4 stages of inbound marketing and how to implement them

An inbound marketing strategy is an intentional, long-term effort focused on growing the customer base by bringing the buyer to you and expanding on each new relationship.

To keep track of each step in this deliberate process, marketers often break the strategy into 4 distinct phases.

What are the 4 stages of the inbound methodology?

The 4 stages that constitute inbound marketing are:

  1. Attract.
  2. Convert.
  3. Close.
  4. Delight.

Next, we’ll explore each one of these stages in greater detail.

1. Attract

In the attract stage, marketers leverage content to get people to visit the brand’s webpage. SEO tactics help drive high-intent organic traffic to blog posts and landing pages over time. A successful social media presence can also help distribute useful content to a broad audience.

2. Convert

Once people are paying attention, they need a clear and incentivized CTA. This is the part of the strategy where content types like webinars and downloadable assets are most useful. With enticing, free content, you can direct individuals to sign up for emails, effectively turning website visitors and social media followers into leads.

3. Close

Going from the conversion phase to closing a deal with a new customer can be a little bit trickier. During the closing stage, marketing efforts frequently shift to email nurture campaigns, often including links to additional content before gradually introducing more direct sales pitches. Handing over a marketing-qualified lead to a sales representative can also be a productive tactic in certain industries.

4. Delight

The final phase in the cycle lasts as long as the customer life span, and this stage is intended to promote loyalty and advocacy among existing business relationships. Marketing doesn’t end when the deal is inked. Continued engagement with the customer through email newsletters and other touch points facilitates a partnership that’s built to last. Ideally, this phase will lead to future content shares and referrals, too.

What is the inbound marketing funnel?

The funnel is a prominent method for interpreting how marketing efforts can help facilitate the buyer’s journey.

The inbound marketing funnel maps the 4 stages we explored previously — attract, convert, close and delight — into a visual format. This concept will be immediately familiar to people who know about the conventional sales funnel or related concepts, like Brafton’s own content marketing funnel.

What is the inbound marketing flywheel?

The funnel is quickly and easily understood by a wide variety of sales and marketing professionals. However, this image may leave an erroneous impression. Once a prospect exits the funnel, the process isn’t over.

As an alternative to the funnel, inbound marketing trailblazer HubSpot uses a model they call the flywheel.

Source: HubSpot

The flywheel makes it easy to diagram how each element in the inbound process propels the organization continuously forward. As existing customers are delighted by your offerings, they use those pieces to further promote your company to people in your target audience whom you didn’t even know existed previously.

Both models have their benefits as long as businesses acknowledge that inbound strategies don’t terminate after the deal is closed.

How to leverage the inbound marketing methodology

To begin leveraging inbound marketing, companies should decide on a model for executing the strategy and integrate it within their existing marketing plans.

How do you use the inbound methodology in marketing?

Using the inbound methodology requires businesses to:

  • Automate processes wherever possible: Deploying these techniques at scale demands the use of digital marketing tools to streamline processes and workflows. These systems also help carry out complicated tasks like large, segmented email sends.
  • Collaborate internally across departments: To identify the characteristics of an ideal customer and determine the target audience, businesses have to work across departments, including with sales and operations, to create buyer personas.

How content marketing fits in

Creating a content plan for marketing can be accomplished internally or with the support of an agency. Ideally, this blueprint will connect the buyer’s journey to the different stages of an inbound plan for each buyer persona.

How can you implement each of the inbound marketing strategies?

You have to know where you’re going in order to get there, right?

It’s important to start with an outcome in mind and to develop a plan that leads effectively to the desired marketing result. For example, if the goal is to drive customer acquisition for a defined buyer persona, a concrete strategy might look like this:

  1. Conduct a content audit to discover new and existing opportunities for attracting visitors.
  2. Determine which assets would be most effective for converting that traffic, and use a CTA and form to gate the content.
  3. Work with the sales team to create an automated email nurture campaign or define how leads are qualified before being handed over for closing.
  4. Follow up with new customers over email or social media with new content for delighting them, leading these partners to advocate for the brand.

Importantly, companies can reuse, repurpose or slightly modify content for new audiences and to meet different stages of the inbound methodology. Not everything has to be created from scratch!

What companies benefit most from inbound marketing?

Given the complexity of inbound marketing, as well as its emphasis on fueling growth through buyer loyalty and advocacy, companies that have long sales cycles or long customer tenure may benefit most.

Value and benefits of the inbound methodology

Well-executed inbound strategies often produce better ROI and close rates than outbound efforts. This is because inbound marketing strategies focus on a specific target audience and effectively encourage the potential customer to engage with high-value content. As they do this, companies can demonstrate the brand’s integrity directly to individuals who have strong alignment with the business’s value proposition.

Examples of effective marketing using the inbound methodology are numerous. Here are just a couple of our favorites.

B2B excellence: CBRE shares top-quality research and commentary

CBRE describes itself as a “worldwide leader in real estate services.” Based on the quality of research that the enterprise constantly releases, it’s easy to believe such a claim of expertise.

In addition to annual reports and thorough research on topical concerns like COVID-19 and the path to reopening workplaces, the real estate giant hosts a regular long-form podcast called “The Weekly Take.” On this show, experts explore topics like affordable housing. CBRE associate and The Bachelor contestant Matt James even appeared on a recent episode.

B2C distinction: Intuit Mint and accessible financial information

Intuit Mint is the go-to personal finance app as well as a textbook study in how to nail the “Delight” stage of B2C inbound marketing.

Users of the app are obviously interested in improving their financial knowledge and understanding. The company supports its customers through a variety of different content formats, including blog posts about evergreen issues and trending topics alike. This tweet about nonfungible tokens (NFTs) has been liked more than 1,000 times. The post comes with a custom image that offers a handy definition of the new term while linking readers to a more in-depth article so they can learn more.

Funnel or inbound flywheel, the choice is up to you

Ultimately, inbound techniques can be effective tools for supporting an overall marketing strategy. The key isn’t to quibble about terminology. The most important step is to start with the goal of supporting your potential customers, no matter where they are in the sales cycle.

Molly Ploe is the Director of SEO & Demand Gen at Brafton. With a degree in journalism and 8+ years of marketing experience, she aims to help other marketers collect information and organize it in useful ways that help them achieve their goals.