What is Inbound Marketing: An Introduction

What is Inbound Marketing: An Introduction

Here’s what inbound marketing isn’t: a new fad or a rehashed way of doing things. Inbound marketing is a methodology that attracts strangers and converts them into customers and promoters of your business.

It’s based on the principle that people want to be helped, not sold to — and this fundamental human desire forms the foundation of inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing is a customer-centric approach that puts the needs of your target audience first.

It’s about creating valuable content that solves their problems and helps them achieve their goals.

It’s not about interruption or manipulation but rather about attraction and engagement.

And it’s this focus on providing value that sets inbound marketing apart from more traditional, outbound marketing strategies.

If you’re new to inbound marketing or just need a refresher, this guide will give you a crash course in all things inbound.

We’ll cover the basics of what inbound marketing is, how it works, and why it’s so effective.


What’s Inbound Marketing in Layman’s Language? 

What is Inbound Marketing: An Introduction

Inbound marketing is a bit like dating.

When you’re single and looking to mingle, you put your best self out there, hoping to attract someone special. You dress up for dates, try to be witty and charming, and above all, you listen to what your date has to say.

The goal is to connect and build relationships, not just score a one-time fling.

Now, let’s compare this dating scenario to the world of marketing.

With outbound marketing, you do all the asking (or selling). You buy ads, interrupt people with cold calls or emails, and hope that some of them will say yes.

It’s a lot like going up to someone in a bar and buying them a drink, even if they’re not interested.

Inbound marketing makes you the attractive person people want to date (or do business with). You attract strangers and turn them into leads by creating valuable content relevant to their needs.

Then, you nurture those leads until they’re ready to buy.

It’s a lot like being asked out on a date — and we all know how much better that feels.

So, to sum it up:

Inbound marketing is a customer-centric approach that uses attract → engage, → convert strategies to turn strangers into promoters of your business.

Outbound marketing is an interruption-based approach that uses tactics like buying ads or making cold calls in an attempt to force strangers into doing business with you.

Now that we’ve answered the question, “What is inbound marketing?” Let’s take a more detailed look at how it works.


How Does Inbound Marketing Work? 

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Inbound marketing is about attracting strangers and turning them into customers and promoters of your business.

But how, exactly, does it do that?

The answer lies in the inbound marketing methodology, which comprises four key stages: attract, engage, convert, and delight.

Let’s take a closer look at each stage.

Stage 1: Attract

As we said, inbound marketing is about making yourself attractive to strangers. And the first step in doing that is to position yourself where the right people can find you.

Think of being in a relationship with someone before you’ve even met them. Just like you might research someone before a date, your potential customers will do their own research before they buy from you.

And just like you want to ensure you’re putting your best foot forward, you want to ensure your business is, too.

There are a few different ways to do this:

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  • SEO: SEO, or search engine optimization, is the process of optimizing your website for Google’s search algorithms. When done right, it can help your website rank higher in search results, making it more visible to potential customers.
  • Content Marketing: Content marketing is about creating valuable, relevant content that attracts strangers and helps them solve their problems. That could be anything from blog posts and eBooks to infographics and webinars.
  • Social Media: social media is a great way to connect with potential customers and build relationships. By sharing valuable content on social media, you can attract strangers and get them interested in your business.
  • Paid Advertising: Paid advertising is a great way to get your content in front of a wider audience. With paid ads, you can target your ideal customer and put your content in front of them, even if they’ve never heard of your business.

Techniques Used

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Content Marketing
  • Social Media
  • Paid Advertising
  • Events

The idea is to get potential customers to come to you with methodologies that are geared towards:

  • Developing relationships
  • Building awareness
  • Building awareness

Stage 2: Engage

Now that you’ve attracted the right people, it’s time to engage with them.

Engagement is all about building relationships with potential customers and getting them interested in what you have to say.

There are a few different ways to do this:

  • Email Marketing: Email marketing is a great way to keep in touch with potential customers and nurture relationships. The idea is to send valuable, relevant content that helps them solve their problems.
  • Lead Nurturing: Lead nurturing is, as the name implies, about taking care of your leads and ensuring they have a positive experience with your business. That could be anything from sending personalized emails to providing live chat support.
  • Social Media: It’s hard to ignore social media marketing as it is one of the most commonly used platforms for engaging with customers. You can use social media to build relationships, share valuable content, and answer customers’ questions.

Techniques Used:

Stage 3: Convert

The next stage in the inbound marketing methodology is conversion.

Conversion is all about turning strangers into customers. And the best way to do that is by offering them something they can’t resist.

That is where lead magnets come in.

A lead magnet is an irresistible offer that gives potential customers something they want in exchange for their contact information.

For example, if you run a home security company, you could offer a free home security system as a lead magnet. Or, if you’re a web design company, your lead magnet could be a free eBook on web design.

The idea is to offer something valuable that potential customers will find hard to resist. And in exchange for this valuable offer, you’ll get their contact information that you can use to market to them in the future.

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Techniques used:

  • Sign-up forms
  • Call to action buttons (CTAs)
  • Incentivising newsletter signing up

Stage 4: Close

The final stage in the inbound marketing methodology is close.

At this stage, you’re ready to turn your leads into customers. And the best way to do that is by giving them what they want.

That could involve anything from providing a product or service that meets their needs to offering a discount or coupon code that helps them save money.

You close a deal by giving your customers what they want. And if you’ve done your job up to this point, they should be happy to give you business.

An effective way to initiate this stage is through automation. For example, you can send an automated email that encourages the customer to proceed with a purchase after they abandon an item in the cart.

Techniques Used:

  • Product pages
  • Checkout processes
  • Coupon codes/discounts
  • Landing pages

Stage 5: Delight

The final stage in the inbound marketing methodology is delighting.

That’s where you go above and beyond to exceed your customers’ expectations.

It could be as simple as sending a handwritten thank-you note after a purchase.

Whatever you do, your goal is to make your customers happy and keep them returning for more.

An important part of delighting your customers is staying in touch with them even after making a purchase. You can send them follow-up emails, asking for feedback or offering discounts on future purchases.

The goal is to create a customer for life. You’ll have a thriving business for many years if you can do that.

Techniques used:

  • Customer support
  • Follow-up emails
  • Customer feedback surveys
  • Discounts and coupons


Benefits of Inbound Marketing 

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There are many reasons why inbound marketing is so effective. Here are just a few:

  • Customer-centric: Inbound marketing puts the customer in the driver’s seat, connecting with them on their terms.
  • Data-driven: Inbound marketing relies on data and analytics to track results and optimize campaigns for maximum ROI.
  • Cost-effective: Inbound marketing is one of the most cost-effective marketing strategies, with a higher ROI than outbound marketing.
  • It’s Scalable: Inbound marketing can be scaled to reach as many people as you want without breaking the bank.
  • It’s Comprehensive: Inbound marketing covers the entire customer journey, from awareness to loyalty.
  • It’s an ongoing process: Inbound marketing is not a one-time campaign but rather an ongoing process that builds long-term relationships.
  • It’s flexible: Inbound marketing is flexible and can be adapted to any industry, product, or service.

Inbound marketing is the way to go if you’re looking for a comprehensive, customer-centric marketing strategy that delivers results.


Common Problems Inbound Marketing Can Help You Solve 

Inbound marketing is a long-term strategy, an investment that will pay off for years to come.

It’s not a quick fix, but it is an effective way to solve many common marketing problems.

Here are a few of the most common issues inbound marketing can help you solve:

I Want to Increase Brand Awareness: Studies show that 93% of buyers start their journey with an online search. If you can get your brand at the top of search engine results or make it active on social media, you’ll organically increase brand awareness.

You can achieve that by publishing high-quality content, optimizing your website for SEO, and using social media to reach a wider audience. You must ensure you have the right content, your message is on point, and you’re active where your target audience is spending their time.

I Have a Problem Improving My Brand Preference: By entertaining, educating, and providing value to your target audience, you’ll improve brand preference.

Your goal is to establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry. You can publish blog posts, eBooks, infographics, and other types of content that position you as an expert.

The idea is to build trust with your target audience and increase the likelihood that they’ll do business with you when they’re ready to buy.

I Want More Customers/Sales: Inbound marketing aims to attract, engage, and convert leads into customers.

You can create valuable content that speaks to your target audience’s needs and pain points. Once you have their attention, you must engage them with relevant and targeted content that moves them further down the sales funnel.

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The goal is to nurture your leads until they’re ready to buy and provide them with a seamless purchase experience.

I Want More Qualified Leads: The first step is to generate more traffic to your website with the help of SEO, social media, and other traffic-generation tactics.

Then, you must turn that traffic into leads with the help of lead-generation assets such as eBooks, webinars, and free trials.

Once you have a steady stream of leads, you can use lead nurturing to qualify them and move them further down the sales funnel.

I’m Not Sure I Have the Budget and Staff to Do Marketing: Inbound marketing is hard work. You have to toil hard to see results. But it doesn’t have to be expensive, and you don’t need a big team to start.

You can do a lot with a small team and a limited budget. And as your business grows, you can scale your inbound marketing efforts accordingly.

I’m Doing Inbound Marketing, but I do Not see Results: The most common reason is that inbound marketing takes time to show results.

It’s a long-term strategy, and you won’t see results overnight. It can take months, or even years, to see the full benefits of inbound marketing.

Another common reason is that most businesses don’t usually have a clear plan or strategy in place. They don’t know what they want or how they’re going to achieve it.

If you don’t see results from your inbound marketing efforts, it’s always good to take a step back and re-evaluate everything. Make sure you have a clear plan and strategy in place. And be patient — results will come in time.

Inbound marketing is a holistic and data-driven approach to marketing that attracts, engages, and converts your target audience into customers.

It’s the opposite of outbound marketing, which involves interrupting people with ads and hoping they’ll bite.

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Inbound marketing is about creating valuable content that draws people to your brand and provides them with a seamless purchase experience.


ROI of Inbound Marketing

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The ROI of inbound marketing can be difficult to calculate because it’s a long-term strategy.

However, some businesses have seen a 10X return on their investment within the first year of implementing an inbound marketing strategy.

Globally, 41% of marketers confirm that inbound delivers a measurable ROI, with 82% of businesses that run a blog reporting positive ROI from inbound marketing.

Why Inbound Marketing Works

Inbound marketing works because it aligns with how people shop and buy today.

Thanks to the internet, people are now controlling their purchase journey. They can research and compare products themselves without the need for salespeople.

They don’t need to be sold to; they just need to be helped,

Inbound marketing meets people in their purchase journey and provides them with the information and resources they need to make a buying decision.

That’s why inbound marketing generates 54% more leads than outbound marketing, and it’s also why inbound marketing has a higher ROI than outbound marketing.


ROI of a Successful Inbound Marketing Strategy

Let’s just say that inbound marketing can have an impressive ROI. It also has less upfront cost than traditional marketing tactics, making it a more attractive option for small businesses and startups.

A successful inbound marketing strategy will:

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Attract more high-quality leads to your website: Inbound generates 3X more leads per dollar spent than outbound marketing (Content Marketing Institute (CMI).

Convert more leads into customers: Inbound marketing generates 50% more sales-ready leads than traditional outbound marketing (Bristol Strategy).

Boost Web Traffic: Businesses with a content marketing strategy measure their campaign success by looking at their web traffic. 

And it’s no wonder—a blog gives your website something to share on social media, which can help increase your web traffic.

Get Found in Search Engines: SEO is a fundamental part of inbound marketing. Optimizing your website for search engines can increase your visibility and organic traffic.

Improve Lead Quality: Inbound leads are more likely to be qualified than outbound leads—84% of inbound marketers say they have closed at least one deal as a direct result of their blog (HubSpot, 2017)

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Reduce Cost Per Lead: Inbound marketing leads cost, on average, 61% less than outbound marketing leads.

Generate More Revenue: Businesses that use inbound marketing tactics generate 2X as much email traffic as companies that don’t (HubSpot 2012).

Isn’t Inbound Marketing the Same as Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is one part of inbound marketing.

Digital marketing is promoting products or brands using electronic channels, mainly on the internet. 

Inbound marketing is a holistic and data-driven approach to marketing that attracts, engages, and converts your target audience into customers.

Digital marketing focuses on getting your brand in front of people who are already online and looking for what you have to offer. 

Inbound marketing helps attract people to your brand and guides them through the purchase journey with personalized content.

Digital marketing is one part of your inbound marketing strategy, and it’s not only limited to inbound strategies. 

In fact, digital marketing encompasses all marketing efforts that use an electronic device or the internet.

That includes email marketing, social media marketing, SEO, and even online outbound strategies such as flashing banner ads, pop-ups, and cold-emailing.

While inbound marketing is mainly done online, that doesn’t mean it’s limited to the internet. It can be used offline as well. 

For example, you could use inbound marketing tactics at a trade show to attract people to your booth with freebies and then engage them with conversation starters.

You could also use inbound marketing to get people to sign up for your email list by offering a free eBook or white paper.


How to Get Started with Inbound Marketing

Getting started with inbound marketing is easier than you might think.

Inbound marketing is about creating valuable content your target audience will want to consume. 

At the core, inbound marketing provides value to your target audience and then guides them through the purchase journey with personalized content. 

It involves implementing three core pillars: content marketing, lead nurturing, and marketing automation.

  • Content Marketing

Content marketing is the process of creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action. 

When it comes to inbound marketing, content is king. Attracting strangers to your website is only half the battle. Once they’re there, you need to keep them engaged with valuable, relevant content. 

Think of your website as a funnel. The top of the funnel is where you attract strangers with your blog posts, eBooks, and other forms of content.

Your content may take the form of blog posts, eBooks, or even something as simple as a social media post. 

Later, you can graduate to more sophisticated content like webinars and whitepapers as you move them further down the funnel.

  • Lead Nurturing

Lead nurturing is the process of developing relationships with buyers at every stage of the sales funnel and through every step of the buyer’s journey. 

It’s about creating relevant and personalized content that helps guide your leads through their journey from stranger to customer. 

You can think of lead nurturing is the process of building a relationship with a person who may one day become your customer. 

It’s about providing them with the information they need when they need it and in a format that’s easy for them to consume. 

The goal is to build trust and credibility so that when they’re finally ready to buy, they’ll think of you first.

  • Marketing Automation

Marketing automation isn’t a software tool that will do your marketing for you. It’s an inbound marketing strategy that automates the process of attracting, engaging, and converting your leads into customers. 

It’s about using software to automate the repetitive tasks essential to any inbound marketing strategy, like email marketing, social media marketing, and lead nurturing. 

With marketing automation, you can free up your time to focus on other aspects of your business.

About the Author

Tom Koh

Tom is the CEO and Principal Consultant of MediaOne, a leading digital marketing agency. He has consulted for MNCs like Canon, Maybank, Capitaland, SingTel, ST Engineering, WWF, Cambridge University, as well as Government organisations like Enterprise Singapore, Ministry of Law, National Galleries, NTUC, e2i, SingHealth. His articles are published and referenced in CNA, Straits Times, MoneyFM, Financial Times, Yahoo! Finance, Hubspot, Zendesk, CIO Advisor.


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