Folks who live and breathe inbound marketing are all too familiar with the complexities involved in formulating a full-fledged inbound marketing strategy.
Inbound marketing demands that you be more than a jack-of-all-trades handyman. Instead, you need to be a pro at dozens of specific skills - content writing, search engine optimization, social media, website design, conversion rate optimization, pay-per-click, email marketing, the list goes on.
As a result, when we assist marketers with inbound marketing strategy, the conversation often evolves into a discussion about building a marketing plan – how to prioritize, what to do, what not to do, what works best for specific business models and how to implement the proper infrastructure to facilitate inbound lead generation.
Whether you’re launching a new startup company or looking for quick ways to revamp your enterprise marketing activities, a solid plan can make the difference between treading water and achieving exponential growth.
Following this guide will help you put the proper inbound marketing plan in place for your organization, prioritize each aspect of your strategy and focus on what drives the best results. In a world of instant gratification there isn’t much time for planning so this guide is designed to help you really hit the ground running.
How to Create a Comprehensive Inbound Marketing Plan
Define Your Buyer Personas
Outline Your Marketing Triggers
Create a List of Keywords
Set Your Inbound Marketing Goals
Outline Your Content Strategy
Design Your Lead Nurturing Process
Create a Conversion-Focused Blogging Strategy
Implement an Inbound Marketing Platform
Recruit a Team of Inbound Marketing Experts
1. Define Your Buyer Personas
Buyer personas are the foundation of all things inbound marketing. Understanding exactly who you are marketing to, what makes them tick and how they communicate will help you craft messaging that truly resonates with your ideal customers.
For those of you who are not familiar with the concept of a buyer persona, they are a fictional representation of your ideal customers. For instance, within your target market there are likely numerous types of buyers. Your product or service may frequently be purchased by CEOs, Marketing Managers and Directors of Sales.
Buyers in each of these roles have very different interests, priorities and goals. Taking the time to define and understand the characteristic of each of your buyer personas will help you focus your content creation on topics that attract ideal customers.
2. Outline Your Marketing Triggers
Once you have identified who your ideal customers are and what makes their world go round, the next step is to identify the events and pain points that cause them to search for information about your product, service or industry. These events are known more formally as marketing triggers. Trigger-based marketing aims to meet potential customers at a point of need by being reactive, and targeted, rather than arbitrarily pushing out messages to big audiences.
Let’s consider the marketing triggers for an office furniture company. Office furniture is most often purchased by organizations that experience rapid company growth, geographic expansion, are undergoing building renovations, currently have outdated office furniture or just have the desire to stay up with new trends in office interior decor.
Companies that experience any of these events may identify the need for new office furniture and begin to conduct research online. This is the perfect point in the purchase decision to provide a potential customer with a top-of-funnel offer that speaks to their needs and introduces the value of your product or service.
3. Create a List of Keywords
Now that you understand who your buyer personas are and what causes them to search for information, the next step is to figure out how people are searching for information about your product or service.
Keyword research allows you to see the estimated search volume by location, how difficult it is to rank for certain keywords and estimate of the cost of purchasing search traffic through pay-per-click advertising. When creating a list of target keywords try to choose search terms with relatively high monthly search volume and a medium to low competition level. Google’s Keyword Planner is a great resource to quickly generate a list of relevant keywords and identify search terms that are in your sweet spot of competition and search volume.
Through this research you can create a list of key terms and phrases to create content about. Crafting keyword rich content that speaks to the common questions that your buyer personas have when they encounter a marketing trigger ensures you are attracting the right people, at the right time, to your website.
4. Set Your Inbound Marketing Goals
The first step towards measuring the return on investment of your inbound marketing activity is identifying exactly what you want to achieve and when you expect to see the results. As outlined in the SMART Goal Framework, goals should be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and timely.
To set your inbound marketing goals, begin by assessing your website’s current ability to attract traffic, convert leads and close business. Some of the key performance indicators may include:
Monthly unique website visitors
Number of inbound leads / month
Sources of traffic - PPC, SEO, Blogging, Social Media, Email
It can be helpful to create a series of scenarios and calculate the results for a number of potential outcomes. The following is a hypothetical example.
Visitor-to-Lead Conversion Rate
Lead-to-customer Conversion Rate
Tip: For a quick competitive analysis put your website and your key competitors into Marketing Grader. This tool reveals how your site stacks up against the competition in terms of filling the top-of-funnel with qualified leads and nurturing them into customers.
5. Outline Your Content Strategy
As we break down the inbound funnel you can see that leads typically fall into one of three stages:
Top-of-funnelAwareness: leads at the top of funnel are typically searching for general information about a subject
Middle-of-funnel Evaluation: leads in the middle of funnel need to be introduced to your brand and learn what it is like to do business with you
Bottom-of-funnelPurchase Decision: leads at the bottom of funnel are most often looking for information that communicates the functionality and benefits of your product/service
The goal of top-of-funnel content is to attract as much awareness as possible and convert those visitors into leads. Social media, blog posts, videos, infographics and SlideShare presentations are all examples of top-of-funnel content that can easily spread amongst a large audience.
Middle-of-funnel content begins to position your product/service. Branded webinars, case studies, free samples, catalogs, FAQ sheets, spec sheets or brochures can be used to effectively introduce your brand while providing value to the viewer.
Leads at the bottom-of-funnel have shown signs that they are specifically evaluating your product/service. Sometimes these leads just need a little taste of what it is you have to offer - this might be a free trial, a live product demo, a discount or a complimentary assessment, consultation or estimate.
If you have great top-of-funnel content but you have nothing to offer leads in the middle and bottom of funnel you won’t be very efficient at moving leads through the sales cycle. To identify where you may have obvious gaps in your content begin by evaluating your existing content and mapping it to each stage of the inbound funnel.
Do your buyer personas have all the information they need at each point of the buying cycle?
Understanding the questions, concerns and objections that each of your buyer personas have during the three stages of the inbound funnel will help your content strategy take shape.
6. Design Your Lead Nurturing Process
Some leads reach a decision to purchase a product or service much quicker than others. This can happen for a variety of reasons, but often the primary reason for a lead to stall in the sales process is a lack of information. If a lead has unanswered questions, they are likely not ready to progress down the marketing funnel.
The best way to reach out to leads and answer their questions is through a series of automated emails. Email automation gives leads a little nudge or reminder that you have valuable content available at their disposal. This encourages leads to re-engage with your content and move further down the inbound funnel.
The emails that you send to top-of-funnel leads should answer the most common questions that arise during your sales process. Once you have proactively reached out to answer these common questions, your leads will be better informed, more qualified and more receptive to accessing further information about your product or service.
As leads progress to the middle of funnel you can begin to position your product or service by delivering brand specific information. This might include a series of emails that address common questions and concerns about your business.
Once a lead has acted on a bottom-of-funnel offer they are considered to be sales qualified. At this point leads should be handed over to your sales team to be contacted directly and closed into paying customers.
7. Create a Conversion-Focused Blogging Strategy
Conversion-focused blogging strategies are designed to attract highly relevant traffic to your website with the goal of converting traffic into qualified leads. Each blog post supports an exclusive content offer by answering your buyer personas common questions and encouraging them to access your exclusive content.
For instance, let’s think about our office furniture example. If you write a top-on-funnel whitepaper about “The 10 Benefits of Open Concept Offices” you would then write a series of closely related blog posts that help attract traffic to that exclusive offer. These might include:
Is Your Office Environment Crushing Creativity?
4 Companies Leading the Open Concept Office Trend
5 Design Trends Changing the Work Environment
Within each of the blog posts you would feature a call-to-action to download “The 10 Benefits of Open Concept Offices” whitepaper.
To help you craft a conversion focused blogging strategy we have created this content calendar template which can be downloaded here.
8. Implement an Inbound Marketing Platform
While the bulk of the work in crafting an inbound marketing plan is routed in strategy and content creation, the technology that facilitates inbound lead generation should not be overlooked.
When considering infrastructure to facilitate inbound marketing choose platforms and approaches that will let you focus on your business, rather than the nuts-and-bolts of connecting disparate systems.
9. Recruit a Team of Inbound Marketing Experts
As we previously mentioned, inbound marketing requires a very diverse, yet specific skill set. Depending on your in-house expertise, capacity for additional work and the size of your budget it might make sense to hire for specific roles or outsource certain aspects of your inbound marketing execution.
A well-rounded inbound marketing team will have access to all of these skill sets:
Inbound marketing strategy
Web analytics / data analysis
Front & back end web development
Search engine optimization
Conversion rate optimization
Social media / community management
Making the switch from traditional, outbound-dominated marketing programs to inbound-dominated marketing investments can seem like a leap of faith, but the benefits are indisputable. The sooner you can put this plan into action, the sooner you will be reaping the rewards of inbound marketing - more leads, at a lower cost, generated by a completely scaleable strategy.
Originally published Mar 14, 2014 10:00:00 AM, updated October 02 2023