What do most of us do when we have a question?
If you're like me you turn to Google. Within minutes I can be halfway through a blog post or video giving me the information I'm looking for. Often I'll skim through several blogs to establish a quick knowledge base. Before I know it, and often subconsciously, I'm attaching value and trust to whomever is providing these answers. Now if we look at this process from the marketing side of things, I've just entered the inbound marketing funnel. So what will it take for me (a new lead) to take further actions and eventually make a purchase?
Before we take a look at each stage of the funnel, let’s first define Inbound Marketing.
What exactly is Inbound Marketing?
HubSpot, who coined the term, defines Inbound Marketing as:
“a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have.”
Inbound Marketing can include: blog posts tailored to customer needs, SEO (to reach your target audience through a Google search, as well as landing pages and link building), video, eBooks, whitepapers, email, landing pages, marketing automation and social media.
By providing tailor-made content for your customers on topics that solve the problems they're searching online for, you build credibility as an expert in your industry, trust with people reading and returning for your content, and ultimately welcome in new leads while fostering loyal long-term customers.
What does the Inbound Marketing Funnel look like?
The Inbound Marketing Funnel is essentially three stages of a "buyer's journey" which includes:
Top of Funnel — TOFU — (The Awareness Stage): These are first-time website visitors and first customer engagements that might be arriving from Google thanks to your SEO strategy. These are potential customers gathering info from your content (such as your awesome and easy to digest blogs) to solve their problem.
Middle of Funnel — MOFU — (Consideration Stage): Think of these customers as the shoppers. They now have the info to solve their problem (thanks to more in-depth blog content) and they're looking for more details while weighing options on who they ultimately want to purchase from.
Bottom of Funnel — BOFU — (Decision Stage): These are customers ready to take action and spend money on their solution, usually within a short time period to purchase (like day or week they're searching).
To recap, the inbound marketing approach works by introducing potential customers to your business through SEO and free and valuable content related to their needs (top of funnel). From there, potential customers continue getting comfortable with your brand as you deliver more value and build trust (middle of funnel). In the final stage, you’ve already proven you’re the expert and now your customers will feel good about making a transaction and moving forward with you (bottom of funnel).
How to Get Leads At Each Stage / Organic vs. Paid
Now let’s look at some ways you can get leads at each stage of the funnel from both an inbound/organic approach and through outbound/paid advertising. As you'll see, outbound strategies are focused on bottom of funnel leads vs. taking buyers through each stage:
Top of Funnel (Inbound): SEO, blogs, newsletters, etc can all attract new customers to your brand via the information and visibility they provide. This can all be achieved through organic reach.
Middle of Funnel (Inbound): This is where your customers are wanting to dive a little deeper. More in-depth content like eBooks, whitepapers, webinars, and landing pages (to invite customers to opt in for free resources) will start to solidify your brand as the expert and the solution. Think content, but more in depth. Also think that when someone is willing to fill out a form, or exchange their info for more information, they are considered to be MOFU leads. We also want to note, this entire process of creating landing pages with forms for downloading premium content offers is usually automated through a "marketing automation platform" such as HubSpot, Marketo or Pardot.
Bottom of Funnel (Inbound): This is where your customer will likely sign up for that free trial, request a consultation, or just click “buy now.”
Bottom of Funnel (Outbound): Paid leads come into your business through outbound marketing tactics from Pay-Per-Click search results (PPC), banner ads, print ads, TV/radio advertising, trade shows, event marketing and social media ads to name a few. These are designed to get you to make a decision and purchase on the spot. Language used in this type of marketing is usually, "buy today," "don't miss out on this offer," etc. and is designed to get people to purchase NOW.
As you can see with the above examples of a buyer's journey, inbound marketing allows you to interact with potential customers at each stage of their online research while outbound marketing only interacts with potential customers when they're immediately ready to purchase.
But, if you think about your own "buyer's journey" the last time you bought something online, you probably spent a lot of time in the research phase. Inbound marketing let's your brand interact and build trust with people before they're ready to purchase, ultimately leading to a higher likelihood that they'll buy from your business. Inbound marketing doesn’t rely on paid advertising to generate leads (which can often fizzle out as soon as you stop spending).
As a marketer, we think it's important to have budget and spend in both channels. Outbound marketing like PPC advertising allows you to bring in leads when you need them right away, while building your inbound marketing channel (since this is often more of a long-term play).
Certainly you can pay up front to cast a wide net for top of funnel leads or aim for bottom of funnel customers ready to purchase right away through advertising, but focusing on delivering helpful and pertinent content consistently over time will build trust and solidify your brand as THE answer for your customers.