What is Inbound Marketing? A Beginner's Guide

Estee Hall | 24 April 2020

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a dynamic buyer-centric solution that's focused on the consumer's needs, desires and buying journey. What it's not is an expensive solution that serves the seller.

The methodology identifies a fitting buyer persona's pain points and aims to provide a solution through enticing engagement. Its various steps account for the different stages of a buyer's journey. Through these steps, tailored content is served to targeted buyers in order to attract, convert, nurture and delight them throughout their buying lifecycle.

The inbound methodology places emphasis on a content/context understanding. Ideally, you should be focusing on creating content that's fully optimised for search and social media, and that attracts your relevant prospects. Context refers to understanding which content is most engaging to prospects and what is most likely going to pull them through your sales funnel – that context should be understood and mastered to personalise messages, emails and various other promotions.

What are the benefits of Inbound Marketing?

Inbound is focused on attracting the correct customers, nurturing them to a conversion and then continually delighting them. Traditional marketing is outdated and doesn't attract the modern buyer anymore. This is where and why inbound marketing has stepped up and filled the gap.

The idea of sales without selling is based on promoting your knowledge of your services, products and industry. But how do you grow your sales without selling then? By growing your brand, establishing yourself as a thought-leader/industry authority, and thereby curating those accurate leads.

Effective inbound marketing looks at holistic marketing and is focused on delivering tailored content to target buyer personas at the right time, equipping them to make informed, educated decisions without feeling pressured to make a purchase.


The Inbound Marketing Philosophy

Advertising is interruptive. There, we said it.

While it's still one of the most widespread media landscapes; televised, broadcast and print advertising is largely a noisy channel. We are bombarded by advertising everywhere we look and everywhere we go. As such, we've become accustomed to tuning out the noise and filtering it into the background.

Consumers have also become jaded by so many false claims, resulting in a lot more research being done before making a purchase, regardless of what flashy advertising promises. Coupled with a disinterest in noisy advertising, technology has helped consumers to evade intrusive advertising with tools like Caller ID, Spam Filters, Ad Blockers, etc.

Technology has also helped the modern buyer to seek out their solutions, and to research products and services that they're interested in.

Inbound marketing exists to serve these modern buyers. The philosophy aims to reward their time and energy spent searching, with helpful and valuable information, and to guide them into an action (depending on where they are in their buyer's journey) through the use of engaging content. The inbound marketing process aligns this content with buyer's interests to appeal to the right types of customers who are most likely to become customers. It also weeds out buyers who are not ready to purchase yet, and enriches them with further lead nurturing, until they are ready to convert.

What are the differences between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing?

Simply put, inbound marketing is "buyer-centric". This shift is due to information becoming more and more available to consumers who can make their own, informed purchasing decisions. Inbound is a focus away from the traditional WHAT that a company sells and focuses on who the company is, and WHY it sells.

Traditional marketing is "seller-centric" – it focuses on what the seller sells and the features of its products or services. The most significant shift between the two is that inbound marketing businesses reach out with information and content, proving themselves to be thought-leaders and innovators in their industry. The inbound approach is both patient and active, never aggressive and never trying to force a sale – inbound businesses are more concerned with solving a buyer's problem and building a relationship.

Through traditional marketing's barrage of advertising, it costs a great deal to acquire a new customer in comparison to inbound marketing's more organic methodology. Inbound's focus on creativity, talent, effort and putting you in touch with knowledgeable people, stands in contrast to traditional marketing's focus on budget and repetition through bulk, impersonal advertising.

Inbound vs outbound marketing


The Inbound Marketing Methodology

The inbound methodology moves the buyer through, not a funnel, but a flywheel.

Your inbound marketing tactics and channels attract prospects and customers to your website. Then, you continue to help, support and empower them at every step of the engagement: from first-touch to well after they have become a customer. This positive relationship will, in turn, attract new visitors and accelerate the conversion to customers through referrals or earned marketing.  The focus is always on how to help existing and potential customers.

The flywheel consists of three stages: Attract, Engage and Delight, which helps your business grow. 

inbound methodology flywheel

The Inbound Marketing Strategy

Every methodology has strategies in place needed to carry out each step. Inbound marketing is no different.

The simple and transparent strategy sees strangers attracted to your brand with useful, appealing content, aimed at building brand awareness and reaching new audiences. There are very specific means of attracting these prospects, and very specific tools to drawing them through the sales funnel, namely…

1. Creating Buyer Personas & Target Market

Tools to marketing to your buyers is just one aspect of inbound marketing, formulating just who those buyers are is one of the most integral steps to Inbound.

Marketing research dictates who you wish to sell to with traditional marketing focused on developing a target market list. This list is made up of a set of buyers who all share common needs or characteristics. Remember though, that with inbound marketing, you're not trying to market to everyone and so, casting such a wide net is a waste.

Inbound marketers refine their target market using demographic, geographic, psychographic and behavioural characteristics. A target market might include information on:

buyer persona elements

Inbound marketers further utilise this information to formulate buyer personas. These personas are used to streamline your marketing approach and help you to group your target customers based on actual statistics by creating semi-fictional characters that better affect your approach to marketing.

What Are The Benefits Of Using Buyer Personas?

Buyer personas help you form a semi-fictional identity of your ideal customers. If an accurate description is set up, you should be able to determine exactly where to focus your time, encourage and guide product development, and create better integration through different business functions. This information is necessary for the creation of engaging content. Setting up personas helps you understand your buyers better, aids you in anticipating certain behaviour and helps you create targeted content that draws in the people you want to be talking to.

How To Draw Up A Buyer Persona?

Creating a persona profile is just a matter of asking the right questions that lead to the most accurate description of your buyer persona. The more in-depth your questions, the more accurate a persona you can draw up.

Your questions should be directed at actual people made up of either customers, prospects, referrals or third-party networks who closely resemble your ideal customer. Incentivise these interviewees in order to get accurate and honest responses. A good group-size to interview is around 3 – 4 people per buyer profile. Once you can start predicting what your interviewee's answer might be, you've succeeded in creating an accurate buyer persona profile.

If on the other hand, you are not able to conduct interviews, seek out alternative methods of reaching out to potential persona guides. These include compiling surveys which may be posted on their company websites or interviewing your internal sales people and supplementing your results with sufficient research. Reaching out through social media is a valuable means of gaining persona insight, use LinkedIn to do some accurate buyer persona research.

What Questions Should You Be Asking When Conducting Research?

There are at least seven categories you need information on, be sure to highlight these and get enough information for each:

  • What's your job role and title?
  • What does a typical work day look like?
  • What skills are required to do your job?
  • What knowledge and tools do you use in your job?
  • Who do you report to and who reports to you?
  • Which industries does your company work within?
  • What is the size of your company, revenue, employees, etc.?
  • What are you responsible for?
  • What quantifies success / What does it mean to be successful in your role?
  • What are your biggest challenges?
  • What are your businesses' biggest challenges?
  • What are your industry's biggest challenges?
Personal Background
  • Describe your personal demographics – how old are you, are your married, do you have children?
  • What's your educational background? What is your completed level of education? What schools did you attend and what did you study there?
  • Provide information about your career – how did you end up where you are today?
Shopping Preferences
  • Describe your purchasing habits – what do you consider before making a purchase, what's your evaluation process, how do you decide to purchase a product?
  • Do you use the internet to research vendors and products? If so, how do you search information?
  • What is your preferred method of interaction with vendors – email, phone, face-to-face?
Watering Holes
  • What publications or blogs do you read?
  • What social networks or groups do you participate in?
  • How do you gather new information about your job or industry?
  • What's your source of information about latest trends in your industry?

With information from all of these categories, you can begin to create a picture of what your buyer persona looks like, and start to identify what their specific pain points are. Source an image (you could search Shutterstock for a picture) of what your buyer persona might look like, so your team can have a visual representation. Then draw up a template with all the information you have gathered.

Lastly, name your buyer persona appropriately – such as Marketing Mark, Finance Manager Francis, Owner-Manager Owen, etc. - to clearly depict who you are targeting and what role they fulfil.

2. Analytics

There's no point going ahead with planning and preparation without monitoring your success and failures. Analytics help to measure your growth and reveals where you can improve efforts and emphasise optimisation. Google Analytics is the most popular source for accurate reporting. Some CRMs, like HubSpot, allow you to include tracking codes on buttons and links so you can measure your entire marketing funnel from acquisition to close.

Beware of bot traffic which may skew your data and results – follow this handy guide on how to detect bots, and successfully exclude them from your reporting.

3. Targeted Content

Creating targeted content with intent and purpose is the quiver in your inbound marketing arrow. It guides content, leading it straight to the right user, and provides them with a solution.

Follow the Content Marketing approach to make sure that you're targeting's on point.

4. Focus On Rank

What's better than being number 1? Being number 0, of course! 

Welcome Ta A New Ranking System - The Featured Snippet Category

A featured snippet is the small box above the top rank of your search (called Rank #0), this space is very often occupied by the number 1 search result – effectively giving more click-through potential to that specific page – but it's not always the case.

Does Rank #0 Affect CTR?

Short answer, yes! HubSpot's February 2016 study uncovered that high-volume keywords ranking #0 showed a CTR increase of 114%, even though they already held the #1 position organically. This research, like much others are anecdotal, but reflects that Rank #0 does indeed affect click-through rate.

So, How Do I Rank #0?

Now that you know that you can score yourself a featured snippet position – how exactly do you go about getting there?

First up, you'll obviously need to be ranking organically on the first page of search results. Next, your content needs to directly, and effectively, answer a targeted question.

What you don't need, is to be ranked #1 for the question – although that certainly helps your chances of a Rank #0. Here you can see the percentage of featured snippets as they occur by ranking position on the first page:

impact of rank on featured snippets

Although there are opportunities across all of Page 1, they predominantly come from the first position, which makes sense considering that Rank #0 involves a solution that fully satisfies a search. A differentiating factor often boils down to relevance rather than ranking/authority, making a Featured Snippet, a very welcome SEO shortcut if you're looking to dominate a search but are struggling to rank first.

So, Rank #0 relates specifically to inbound, as marketing is solely aimed at providing users with the best solution to their problems. Being the most accurate solution to a customer's pain point is what Rank #0 is summed up as, and gives inbound marketing teams another factor to look at when considering how best to reach the right personas.

5. Inbound-ready Website

To get great inbound results, you need to ensure that your website is inbound-ready. Every page and every internal link should be designed to lead a visitor through to some conversion point. Whether it be through landing pages and forms, or email subscriptions, your website should entice each and every visitor to keep coming back for more. Follow the Growth-Driven Design principle to ensure that your website is inbound marketing ready.

6. Inbound Sales

Now that you've attracted the right personas with your targeted, performance-driven marketing, how do you go about moving them through the sales funnel and identifying a quality Sales Qualified Lead (SQL) from a Marketing Qualified Lead (MQL)?

This is where inbound sales comes in. Follow our Sales Enablement Guide to get your sales and marketing teams working in tandem, and getting the most out of your inbound sales effort. 

Isn't this just Digital Marketing?

What is Digital Marketing?

One definition is that digital marketing is concerned with the isolated tactics which you can use to reach your user. These digital marketing tactics may be comprised of page banner creation, designing logos, various branding, optimised site pages, etc. Another definition is that digital marketing is the encapsulating term for all your company's online marketing efforts.

Why Digital Marketing?

We've mentioned that cold-calling and bulk advertising are outdated methods of engagement, and so digital marketing, as a component of inbound marketing is largely about maintaining your online presence. Marketing, especially inbound marketing, is all about making a connection with the right customer. With people increasing the amount of time they spend on the Internet and most of us using our smartphones for pretty much everything, it makes sense that to make that connection, your approach has to be a digital one.

What's the difference between Inbound Marketing and Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a component of an overall inbound marketing strategy. 

Digital marketing doesn't differentiate between inbound or traditional, outbound marketing tactics. Digital marketing may be employed to serve both these principles with outbound focused on getting its message across to as many people as possible, regardless of whether it's relevant or welcome. Inbound differs in that its digital marketing is more tailored and precisely aimed.

Examples of an outbound approach would be online flashing banner ads. Inbound marketing's digital approach is divided into owned, earned and paid media. By separating your digital inbound approach into these three categories, you can segment your channels and streamline different tools across your digital marketing framework.

Owned Media

Owned media refers to all the elements, content and resources created by you and your team. These may be used and leveraged at your discretion, and you are free to distribute it as needed. Examples of owned media is:

  • Your blog
  • Your website
  • Your branding
  • Your social media profiles
  • Email/newsletters
  • Authored content (eBooks, whitepapers)

Earned Media

Simply put, earned media is word-of-mouth exposure. It is the coverage you receive from interaction with others within your industry and throughout. Earned media has both a positive and negative impact on your business: a bad review, for example, could prove hazardous to your brand, whereas great customers service feedback my boost your appeal to potential customers. Examples of earned media include:

  • Online reviews and ratings
  • Social media posts from users sharing your content
  • Contributor articles to other websites
  • Your social media profiles
  • Email/newsletter
  • Media coverage of your products or services (such as press releases)

Paid Media

Paid media refers to the tactics you've paid for. It generally revolves around "rented space" on a platform, like a banner ad (Display advertising) on a website that's popular with your targeted users. By using Google Ads' Pay-per-click functionality, you could potentially appear at the top of Google search results, whether you rank well for a specific keyword or not. Paid marketing assets are:

  • Pay-per-click (PPC)
  • Boosting social media posts
  • Contributor articles to other websites
  • Native advertising – your ad fits the corresponding user journey (e.g. car insurance ad on a motoring website.)
  • Digital advertising (display ads, banners, etc.)

Media Convergence

Media convergence refers to pooling your resources and getting your paid, owned and earned media working together. What is known in marketing circles as hitting the trifecta, is when you take a converged POEM (Paid/Owned/Earned marketing) approach. 

converged media

Inbound Marketing Tactics

With inbound marketing techniques being more of a strategic and well-planned methodology, your inbound toolkit is highly specified to target your buyer persona and keep them engaged. Use these tactics to highlight and target your ideal personas and lead them through each of the Attract, Engage and Delight stages.

tools for each stage of the inbound flywheel

Attract Tools

  • Ads - Use Search Engine Marketing (SEM) and Paid Social Marketing to attract visitors to your website. Your ads should be highly targeted to your personas to ensure they show to and attract the right people to your website. 
  • Blogging – Using your blogging platform is one of the most effective ways to attract new users and potential leads. To get found by your targeted lead, make sure your content answers the kind of questions you know that your buyer persona might be asking.
  • Video - Use different video types and formats to get new visitors to your website. You can create product explainer videos, how-to videos, or thought leader pieces. Any video can be share don social media or through video tools and get seen by the right people. Add CTAs in your videos to drive traffic back to your website. 
  • Social Publishing – Once you've created your very precise content, you have to make sure it gets distributed so these users can find the valuable information. Social publishing is more than just ameans of sharing contact though – it allows you to personalise your brand and engage with prospects face-to-face (as it were).
  • SEO – Like Social Publishing, Search Engine Optimisation is a means of getting your message out to prospects and vital for getting your content noticed on the net. Conduct research, choose the right keywords and optimise your content, pages and links accordingly. SEO ensures that your content gains prominence over other brands in Page ranking, and answering your persona's questions first.
  • Pages – Once the right crowd is attracted to your website, keep them there by showcasing helpful, onsite content, to further appeal to these buyers. You want these visitors to gain value from visiting your site, and encourage them to keep coming back.

Engage Tools

  • Standard and Pop-up Forms – Found on the landing page, standard forms are an important tool in the lead generation and conversion process. It's essential that your standard forms are fully optimised to make this process as simple as possible so the contact may be accurately recorded. Pop-up forms are very similar. You have the option to have the form pop-up in the middle of the page, slide in from either side, or slide down from the top of the screen. These forms should be created to be highly interactive and to elicit engagement from your visitor. The goal of these forms is also to convert your visitor to contact - and to provide them with useful information or tools to help and educate them. 
  • Lead Management – Your centralised marketing database aids in having all your data and contacts in one place. Contacts are the leads you're converting, and your database helps you keep track of where each one is in their buying journey. Your marketing database helps to record all your interactions with each contact (emails, landing pages, etc.) and shows how you could optimise your future interactions.
  • Email marketing - emails will be just as important to use to engage and communicate with your contacts. Ensure your emails are highly personal and highly relevant to the contact and you're all set. 
  • Marketing Automation - an extension of your email marketing and lead management: your marketing automation is your ticket to effectiveness. Us your workflows to automate your email marketing efforts and assist in relationship building by delivering the right content to your contacts at the right time. 
  • Conversational Marketing - use live chat and chatbots on your website to spark a conversation or feed a relationship. Communication is key in both and chat functions give you the tools to do so effectively and timely.

Delight Tools

  • Smart Content – Smart Content allows you to tailor your messaging to different leads based on where they are in their lifecycle stage, which country they are in or even based on custom questions. This is a great way to keep delighting your customers and personalising your approach. This tool allows you to offer tailored content to a customer post-sale. You're able to appeal to their specific interests and may even help them achieve new goals. Proving to still be a valuable source for information, your smart text could lead to repeat business and is an outlet to introduce new products, services, events, features or offers.
  • Surveys – Conducting a survey is not only good for market research, but also reminds your customer that you are always thinking about them. It's a behind the scenes peek into how your customer perceives your value, and how you may further marketing services to them.
  • Social Feedback – Want to know exactly what your customers are looking for? Just ask! Social monitoring helps to keep track of what customers are searching for and provides an avenue for you to reach out with relevant content.
  • Conversations Inbox – direct your live chat, chatbot, shared inbox and form submission to your Conversations Inbox to manage your conversations and relationship more effectively and efficiently. Working from a centralised inbox means nothing gets missed and everyone on your team has oversight into what is going on with a specific customer and can pick up where you left off. 
  • Attribution Reporting - Your reporting should take all of the touchpoints that your customer had with your company on the way to becoming a customer, into consideration. This insight will help you optimise your tactics and channels to further improve your marketing, sales and service to get to your right-fit customer.

Inbound Marketing Tools

The value of inbound marketing tools extends beyond just simple automation. The right tools allow you the best means of targeting your reach and improving your content strategy implementation.

These tools simplify your efforts when focusing on distribution (social or other), lead recording and management, and measuring your ROI. An effective Content Management System (CMS) lets you curate and schedule your content, distribute across social channels and set up your company blogs or newsletters. Here are a list of the most important inbound marketing tools, and what they do:

Your Analytics Tools


Moz, a great tool for inbound marketing and analytics has shifted away from inbound tools, to rather focus on SEO. They now provide amazing optimisation insights to business intent on broadening their "search-optimisation" horizon.


Google Analytics

Free from Google, Google Analytics lets you track various website metrics, such as duration of visits, bounce rate, the number of visits and pages per visit. These categories may be tracked by geography, platform and more.

Your Social Tools


The partially free to use social media management tool, Hootsuite allows you to neatly arrange all of your social media channels under one easy to manage hub. From here you can compile, compose and schedule your posts with its handy automation features. Spending a little extra gets you reporting efficiently, with Hootsuite's analytics tools.


While not a direct social media management tool, BuzzSumo may be leveraged to gain insights into the content and context of your social media messaging. When used as a tool to measure the most shared content and key influencers, BuzzSumo is handy in helping you create targeted messaging that works, as well as giving you enough data to build your content around.

Your Email and Newsletter Tools


A free to use Newsletter Program (provided you have under 500 subscribers), MailChimp is a great way to reach out to prospects and implement your delight phase with regular, informative mails. Best of all the handy program reports back with analytics which measures bounce rates, clicks and more.


A great all-around tool for checking everything from forms, and CTA's to analytics. The strength of Optimizely lies in its A/B testing ability allowing you to measure iterate and improve. Run multivariate testing on your websites, landing pages and mailers to help your chances of improved conversion rates.

Your Content Management System (CMS) Tools


A free content management system, WordPress powers over 44% of the world's websites. The straightforward layout and functionality allow you to modify themes and plugins to suit your website needs. A great tool for small to medium-sized businesses, most WordPress plugins are free and most themes are designed to be mobile-friendly.


The HubSpot CRM and CMS have been cemented as the go-to platforms for your marketing, sales, service and website needs. Integrated and used as a central platform, you can create exceptional experiences for your visitors, prospects and customers. They've recently launched their CMS Hub, making website management easy to do for your marketers, and giving your developers a powerful platform to create web apps or tools. 

HubSpot's workflow functionality is regarded as one of the most powerful inbound tools, allowing you to create granular workflows or broader lead nurturing programs. What differentiates it from other workflow tools is its focus on personalisation. With the use of Smart Content elements, you can create that one-on-one experience in emails and communication tools that virtually reaches out to your reader.

The platform lets you create pages with relative ease and full tracking capability. It's a competent SEO tool, as well as offers expert videos and tutorials on how to use the software. All this while being one of the most affordable options on the market.

While many tools, including HubSpot, may cost you; the investment is a fraction of what traditional marketing might set you back. Being a HubSpot Diamond-Partner, we can help you get set up with HubSpot. Chat to us, if you're looking to implement HubSpot for your Sales, Marketing and Customer Service alignment. 

The Struto Approach

With successful inbound marketing campaigns being more of a strategic and well-planned methodology, your inbound toolkit is highly specified to target your buyer persona and keep them engaged. Use these tactics to highlight and target your ideal personas and lead them through each of the Flywheel stages.

What is HubSpot Software?

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