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Can Inbound Marketing Apply to Customer Marketing?

Written by Julie Dietz on November 7, 2016 at 8:30 AM

Your customer marketing plan should use inbound principles.

According to The State of Inbound 2016 report, only 18% of outbound marketers consider their strategy effective. Compare that to 81% of inbound marketers and you have a compelling idea of just how well inbound works.

Those statistics represented marketers from over 130 countries. Inbound has spread around the world and has evolved from a marketing strategy focused on attracting new visitors to a business philosophy and growth plan.

But despite its evolution, inbound is still primarily a customer acquisition model. It's centered around attracting complete strangers, turning them into leads, and then converting those leads into customers. The journey often ends there.

It shouldn't.

Your company's current customers are a massive opportunity area that could play a big role in your business's growth. Research from Gartner Group even shows that effectively marketing to and engaging with your current customers could help increase your revenue by up to 20%.

As a customer marketer, you already know this. You know how valuable your current customers are and you're likely familiar with the success of inbound marketing as well. The question is whether you can combine those two ideas to make your tactics even more effective.

Can the inbound marketing that's so successful in attracting prospects be applied to customer marketing?

To answer that question, we have to take a hard look at what inbound marketing really is and how it could influence your relationship with existing customers.

What is Inbound?

In short, inbound is a business growth strategy that focuses on attracting people to your organization through helpful content. These are its three main pillars.

Pillar #1) Inbound Includes Personalized Experiences

In the past, the same sales and marketing messages were broadcast to mass audiences. Everyone received the same offers at the same time. But a single message will never resonate with everyone because each individual has their own interests and concerns. Inbound takes this into account by providing different content for people with different problems. A sales manager would receive sales-based messages, for instance, while a CFO might receive finance-oriented content.

Pillar #2) Inbound is Helpful

Traditional marketing and advertising messages are company-centric. They focus on businesses and their products, but do little to help customers solve their problems. Inbound takes the opposite approach, focusing on customers and prospects. Every piece of inbound material is educational, helping people understand their own interests, concerns, or problems, then leads them toward a solution.

Pillar #3) Inbound Doesn't Interrupt. It Attracts.

Advertisements on your favorite YouTube video interrupt. Radio commercials interrupt. Inbound doesn't. Inbound puts helpful content into the world that draws people in by providing the information they need and solutions to their problems. People come to you, not the other way around.

Does Inbound Work in Customer Marketing?

Inbound isn't a comprehensive solution that works for every part of every business, but it can apply to customer marketing. It's efficacy, however, will depend on the type of business you're running: transactional or relationship-based.

Transactional Businesses

A transactional business is built on one-time purchases. Retail stores like Walmart and TJ Maxx typically fall into this category. While transaction-based organizations would love for customers to come back over and over again, it's not critical. As long as someone comes in the store and makes a purchase, it's not critical that they know who that person is or if they're coming back.

Businesses Based on Ongoing Relationships

Instead of making their money from one-off sales, relationship-based businesses depend on repeated transactions. They derive a significant portion of their revenue from current customer purchases, which means building a loyal customer base that comes back multiple times is a priority. Agencies and B2B businesses often use this model and employ land-and-expand strategies that encourage the same people to continue buying.

Where Inbound Fits In

Even in terms of new customer acquisition, inbound is a relationship-building technique. It attracts new customers through content such as blog posts and emails, using multiple touch points to help prospects build a relationship with businesses before they make a purchase. Inbound works in a similar way for customer marketing, so it will be most effective for relationship-based companies that put an emphasis on repeat business.

How to Apply Inbound to Customer Marketing

Customer marketing has different goals than prospect marketing. Unlike prospects, your existing customers already know about your business, so getting found takes a backseat in customer marketing. Instead, the focus shifts to getting customers involved in your business in ways that help you grow. Your existing customers could get involved by making additional purchases or by joining your referral and loyalty rewards programs, for instance.

To achieve these new goals, inbound uses the same mentality as it does in prospect marketing. In customer marketing, inbound helps you by:

Holding Customers' Attention

By creating content that educates your customers on their current problems or the products they've already purchased from you, your business commands their attention. You stay top of mind.

Building Trust

Sales pitches have never been endearing. When your company uses inbound marketing to provide information that existing customers need, you establish yourself as a thought leader that they can trust for advice and products.

Creating Community

People have always wanted to be a part of something bigger than themselves. Create a community of customers, experts, and company representatives that share tips and tricks, exclusive content, and best practices to make your customers feel like they belong.

Increasing Relevancy

Show customers that your business and its offers are still useful, even after they've made a purchase. You can do this by using inbound techniques and content to teach your customers how to improve their professional or personal lives by using your products more efficiently or purchasing additional services.

Encouraging Action

Also known as conversions, you want your current customers to take the same types of actions as prospects, including viewing your website, reading a blog, or making a purchase. Create content that drives existing customers to these actions.

Customer Marketing Takeaway

For relationship-based businesses, existing customers often hold the key to sustainable growth. Inbound, which has already proven to be effective, can help. By incorporating inbound into your customer marketing, you provide personalized, helpful content that will hold customers' attention and increase the likelihood that they'll make additional purchases.

You'll also start building a community of individuals and organizations that are loyal to your business. As you interact with your community over time, you'll build stronger relationships with customers, encouraging repeat business and referrals that grow your organization.

Learn how B2B Marketers can create and leverage personas.

Topics: Customer Communities, Marketing Automation, Online Community

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