indicatorSales and Marketing

Use inbound marketing to bring customers directly to you

By ATB Financial 9 October 2020 6 min read

As the marketplace moves further away from brick-and-mortar to virtual, businesses are increasingly turning away from traditional forms of advertising to reach their audience. No longer is it necessary to spend lots of money for an expensive flyering or TV campaign when the majority of your customers are online.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing employs content creation to drive customer interest. Unlike advertising that directly engages with an audience by “pushing” messages out, an inward marketing approach entices customers to do the legwork. Social media posts, high search engine rankings and other pieces of content are crafted specifically to serve as digital breadcrumbs for a customer to follow.

First coined by the software company Hubspot, inbound marketing runs counter to traditional advertising models which rely on direct engagement, such as a mailing or telemarketing campaign for example, and pepper a carefully crafted pitch to a general audience.

With the advent of online shopping platforms and social media, such efforts are proving less attractive to small businesses facing budgetary constraints. Outward-bound marketing has significantly lessened in effectiveness with the sophistication of ad-blockers, spam filters, Do Not Call lists and just general disinterest from a consumer under constant bombardment.

An inexpensive, yet highly effective marketing solution

Most start-ups can’t hire a top class marketing agency to manage their brand relationships - they’re it. Inbound marketing provides an inexpensive solution for cost efficient companies, says marketing expert Dan Smith.

ATB’s Senior Content Marketing Manager, Smith has worked in “just about every type of marketing” for the organization, from product and social media to branding and advertising. He now oversees ATB’s Digital Marketing and Content Strategy Team.

Compared to traditional marketing methods, online content production, Smith says, is fairly hands-on but requires far less time and money to produce.

It takes 30 minutes on your lunch break to craft an Instagram post marketing your company that’s capable of driving ten times the interest as a conventional mailing campaign.

Another advantage inbound marketing provides for small business is the ability to easily track and analyze engagement, and other performance indicators. Customer online behaviour is easily tracked, making it easier to determine the effectiveness of a campaign with greater ease. Social media sites offer their own free analytical tools.

It’s easy to automate many inbound marketing processes. You can schedule daily tweets promoting your business. You can auto-send a daily newsletter to subscribers. There are many online software tools that allow you to centralize functions and customize content with a few clicks.

In looking for the right automated platform, make sure they have safeguards in place to guarantee your campaign doesn’t run afoul of anti-spam regulations, says Smith.

The flywheel effect

Inbound marketing can involve as little as an Instagram account regularly updated, or as much as a high-quality website integrated to an online shopping platform. Whatever the approach, the strategy remains the same: pique the customer’s interest in your brand (attract), win over their confidence in your product (engage) and eventually convince them to buy in (delight).

Using a popular marketing analogy, Smith expands on Hubspot’s flywheel methodology and how this can work for your business. Just as the mechanical device rotates and smoothes out incoming kinetic energy to safely distribute within an engine’s core, inbound marketing’s effect is to drive a regular source of original online content which attracts customer interest and loyalty. The success of the campaign hinges on new and updated content.

Maybe it’s a helpful blog post about a topic valued by the customer, that you can link from your company’s Twitter account. Or a social media campaign centred around a memorable hashtag. Or just placing highly in search engine rankings or user ratings. Whatever the vehicle of delivery, the key is to provide constant opportunities for customers to discover your brand.

“People are not searching specifically for your company”, says Smith. “They’re searching for solutions to their problems.”

Cultivating your digital ecosystem

In crafting an inbound marketing strategy, make careful consideration of where it fits in your company’s “digital ecosystem”: everywhere it has an online presence.

Not only should the strategy fit your customer demographic - a burger chain doesn’t suddenly introduce a promo for men’s galoshes - it should reflect your core identity as a business. Your marketing strategy needs to reflect who you are as a company, and your core objectives as a business, and maintain that identity.

None of this might make you money directly, but it could provide you with a loyal audience that values your efforts and elevates your brand. In the always-online world of social media it’s not easy to grab a users’ attention, much less hold it.

“You’re not just something they buy, you’re now a partner helping them achieve success,” says Smith. “How well they succeed reflects on how they view you and your brand.”


Crowdsourcing for advice

Expect that your initial digital campaigns won’t turn out as smoothly as hoped and take stock of what worked and what didn’t for future efforts. Try out new things and constantly analyze what’s working.

Smith also recommends new entrepreneurs network as a way to uncover or upgrade knowledge, utilizing the talents of a colleague, perhaps someone experienced with digital marketing, who can provide advice and support.

Organizations like the Alberta Chamber of Commerce offer regular “lunch ‘n learn” sessions, seminars to level up your skill set. ATB’s entrepreneur centres bring small business owners together to learn from others and create more avenues for networking.

“You might think you’re alone on this digital journey, but sometimes it’s just a matter of reaching out and learning from other people’s experiences,” says Smith.

Just asking for help can pay off in the long run. Many experts will be happy to lend their insight for little beyond the price of a coffee.

How Travel Alberta pivoted with inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is designed to be flexible and adaptable to world upheavals. Even at the best times, a company might need to pivot its marketing objectives.

Travel Alberta had a dilemma on its hands when its marketing campaign for the province’s $8.9 billion tourism industry had to be rethought because of the pandemic. With international visitors barred from entering the country, the agency turned to Albertans, themselves grounded, encouraging them to vacation in their own gorgeous surroundings.

As part of its Worth the Wait campaign, the agency repackaged old tourism footage to spotlight local attractions, coordinating directly with Alberta tourism operators hyperlocal marketing initiatives.

“It's really neat to see them make that shift to the point where they're actually working with local tour operators and creating content around their experiences,” says Smith. “And then they're able to measure their success based on how much online traffic they’re sending to the local operators.”

Travel Alberta continues to market the province to international audiences, stoking interest until it’s safe to resume travel.

Honing your online identity.

Let’s say you operate a storefront and want to maximize the walk-in traffic. You want to be easily discoverable on local search engine rankings so you develop an interesting and helpful social media persona that sparks engagement and interest. You use your influence to align with social causes, perhaps supporting an online hashtag campaign and assist a humanitarian effort.

Online engagement isn’t created overnight, it’s cultivated over time. Developing credibility isn’t just a one-time thing, you have to work at it. If you’re not regularly communicating your message, it gets quickly forgotten.

To maintain your digital identity, you need to occupy the places your consumers reside online, ready to provide them with a reliable source of information.

“We’re spending more of our discretionary time online,” says Smith. “As a business owner, you want to make sure you’re appearing there too.”

If you’re looking for a deep dive on everything you need to know around how to grow your business, our entrepreneur strategists are here to help you explore where you are with your business, where you want to be, and how to get there!


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