5 Cornerstones of Successful Inbound Marketing for Marketing Agencies
Inbound marketing agencies should be their own best case study. Here's how to set yourself up for success.
I have spent the better part of a decade (and my career for that matter), marketing for a marketing agency. How’s that for meta?
As a marketer, I can’t say this is what I originally saw myself doing and, frankly, in theory, it seems like it would be relatively easy — marketing marketing. But the truth is, inbound marketing for an inbound marketing agency presents its own unique set of challenges and hurdles to jump.
Many of the questions are the same with any audience. How can I best reach them? How can I get them to convert? But on top of this is the not-so-sweet cherry of knowing your audience may already be hip to your strategies.
All that being said, it can be done and it can be done creatively and effectively. For over a decade we have done this for ourselves successfully and helped agencies all over the world do so as well. In this article, I’ll help you understand how by diving into:
- Inbound marketing at a high level
- The cornerstones of inbound marketing strategy
- Examples of inbound marketing done well by inbound marketing agencies
Inbound marketing at a high level
Simply put, inbound marketing is a content-focused approach to digital marketing built on the idea that the internet has changed the way people buy.
When customers are thinking about making a purchase of any kind, they usually start by gathering information, and they don’t want to have to talk to a salesperson to do this.
Modern buyers aren’t as responsive to traditional or outbound marketing methods like billboards or print ads as they once were. We’ve all learned to tune them out. Today, we want to learn. We want to explore our options and come to a decision on our own, at our own pace.
Knowing this, it should come as no surprise to learn that Google found 59% of shoppers say they use Google to research a purchase they plan to make in-store or online at a later time.
More often than not, potential customers type questions into search bars and look for pages that answer those questions. They keep reading or watching until they feel fairly confident that they know what they need.
In fact, 60% of B2B consumers report consulting at least three pieces of online content before making a purchase.
If your business takes the time to create quality content that provides the answers your target market is looking for, that target market will begin to trust you as a helpful resource.
When they trust you, they are more likely to convert on the landing pages on your website, follow you on social media, engage with your email marketing — all important pieces of inbound marketing — and, ultimately, want to buy from you.
This is essentially the strategy behind most inbound marketing strategies. Provide complete, honest, and transparent answers and people will want to buy from you.
IMPACT partner and author Marcus Sheridan has built an entire framework around this premise in his book They Ask, You Answer, but what does this look like for an inbound agency?
If you’re a marketing agency, your target audience is looking for answers on how to generate leads and best market their business. They’re also likely subconsciously (or even consciously) evaluating how you market your own agency as an example of what you can do for them.
So, you need to put your best foot forward.
The cornerstones of an inbound marketing strategy
Ideally, here’s how inbound marketing works for your inbound marketing agency, or for any business really.
Through search engine optimization (or perhaps social media marketing), potential customers find your brand and website and consume your content.
From there, they eventually convert on a form or landing page, thereby entering your marketing funnel and enabling you to nurture them through email marketing with content catered to their specific needs and pain points until they feel comfortable and ready to speak to sales.
Great inbound marketing relies on several different mediums and tactics to be successful, but it all begins and is fueled by one thing — content.
Content marketing should answer universal buyer questions
When it comes to inbound marketing, at IMPACT we’ve found it’s most effective to start by creating content that answers the most pressing questions your buyer has in their purchase journey. Regardless of your product or industry, these questions tend to be the same.
For example, every customer usually wants to know about the cost of all of their options. They want to know how much they are going to spend and that they are making the right decision for themselves.
We group the most important content topics into a framework we call The Big 5:
- Cost: How much your solution costs (factors, considerations, what defines value, etc.).
- Problems: The negatives about, or issues with, your solution (that buyers tend to ask about).
- Comparisons: How your product or solution compares to other options.
- Reviews: Honest and unbiased opinions and observations about your product, solution, etc.
- Best of (or best in class): What the best solutions available are.
Because all buyers want answers to these same questions, these five categories can serve as the first structure of your inbound marketing strategy.
But remember it’s not just about writing articles
The content you use to attract buyers can take many forms — articles, videos, infographics, podcasts, and webinars, among many others. Today, buyers want their content to be as easy and convenient to consume as possible. For some, this might be a video. For others, it’s text.
An effective inbound marketing content strategy makes use of multiple digital marketing mediums, and what this will look like for your business will depend on your needs, staffing, industry, and of course, your buyers’ unique preferences.
Examples of inbound in action for an inbound marketing agency
Now that you know what inbound marketing entails for an inbound marketing agency, let’s take a look at some examples of great inbound marketing for a marketing agency. This can take many forms, so to guide our focus, let’s break down some examples that fall into The Big 5.
1. Cost: How much your solution costs (factors, considerations, what defines value, etc.)
Cost is a touchy subject for many businesses. They worry that if they list their prices they may scare people off. But the truth is, when you write about cost, you’ll only be deterring people who wouldn’t have bought from you in the first place.
Creating content around price or cost shows your audience that you are honest and upfront. You’re not trying to hide any information or trick someone into a phone call where they’re going to be subjected to an undesired sales pitch.
Yes, you may have fewer conversations, but the people you do speak to will be better informed about what they’re getting into and more likely to actually be ready and able to afford your product or services.
Inbound marketing agency Lean Labs does a great job of addressing cost/price creatively on their website with a pricing calculator.
With two simple questions, the agency is able to point the visitor to three packages with an approximate timeline, price tag, and brief description to help them gauge if this is a realistic option for them.
2. Problems: The negatives about, or issues with, your solution
Like cost, many inbound marketing agencies fear that discussing the problems or shortcomings of their offerings will also scare people off, and it makes sense. Why tell people the reasons not to buy from you? But once again, this comes back to trust and helping people make the best decisions for themselves.
Discussing the problems with your product or service ahead of entering a sales conversation avoids poor-fit customers signing on, as well as long-term disappointment after purchase that can lead to poor reviews or experiences.
In this example, Impulse Creative shares common pros and cons of working with an in-industry marketing agency.
This is a skillful way to discuss “negatives” because they are ultimately balanced out with the positives.
3-4. Comparisons: How your product or solution compares to other options
As buyers are evaluating their options, they often like to directly compare their top choices to see how they stack up against each other. That’s where comparison articles come in handy.
Impulse Creative once again does a great job with its inbound marketing efforts here, publishing a piece directly comparing working with an in-house marketing team and a marketing agency.
The agency zeroes in specifically on the team makeup and resources at your disposal with each option, but comparison articles can also go deeper into things like cost or specific features.
Another approach to a comparison article you can take is to directly compare products you sell versus their alternatives.
In this example from Salted Stone, we see the agency compare website hosting on HubSpot to WordPress.
You can check out more great examples of comparison content in action here.
5. Reviews: Honest and unbiased opinions and observations about your product, solution, etc.
According to TrustPilot, around 89% of consumers say they make the effort to read reviews before buying products online. So rather than letting them find that information on a competitor's or third-party website, you should be writing candid, thorough reviews on your website to rank and get found in search engines when prospects are looking for them.
Like comparisons, these can be about you, your competitors, the products you sell, or the alternatives to the products you sell.
Here at IMPACT, we published a detailed review of the HubSpot CRM.
As a HubSpot Elite Solutions partner, the HubSpot CRM is one of the tools we promote and encourage marketers to use. However, in this article, we put that bias aside to give people an honest reflection on the benefits and shortcomings of the tool.
6-7. Best of (or Best-in-class): What the best solutions available are
What are my best options? This is a common question that crosses someone’s mind when making an important purchase, and by creating content about the “bests” in your industry, you can grab their attention and trust with a helpful answer.
There are a few approaches to “best of” articles you can take. The first is a simple “top 10” list-style piece. In this article, inbound marketing agency Lean Labs discusses what it considers the top seven inbound marketing agencies (aside from themselves).
This builds trust by showing that the agency recognizes that they may not be the best match for everyone and by actually providing alternatives should you find yourself in the position of needing to hire an inbound marketing agency.
You can also create “best” content that shares examples for inspiration or education. Our friends at inbound marketing agency BluLeadz take that approach here, creating an article sharing great value proposition examples:
Inbound marketing agencies are inbound marketing companies
One of the biggest signs of integrity is practicing what you preach, and no one should understand that more than an inbound marketing agency.
Inbound marketing methodology, especially when paired with a sound strategic framework like They Ask, You Answer, is a powerful tool for driving traffic, generating leads, and filling your sales pipeline. But when your service is based on accomplishing this for others, you need to make sure you’ve mastered it for yourself first.
This is true whether you’re actively executing an inbound strategy for your clients or teaching them to do this on their own as a coach.
Here at IMPACT, we pride ourselves on coaching businesses to own their inbound marketing success, whether they build software, design boats, or fix roofs. Because They Ask, You Answer is a principle-based framework, it applies to a wide variety of industries.
Agencies who coach clients to They Ask, You Answer success, like us, can work with businesses of all kinds, and simultaneously become more efficient and profitable.
Interested in learning more about how to become one of them? Here are all the details on how to become a certified coach.
Want to get started? Talk to one of our advisors right now!