How to Get Started with Inbound Marketing

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Discover inbound marketing strategies, such as the use of lead magnets. Learn why inbound marketing is effective and its four stages

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What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing refers to strategies that marketers use to attract consumers to a business and keep them returning. Inbound marketing is centered around creating valuable experiences and interactions that build lasting relationships with customers. You can use many inbound strategies to get started, including social media, blogging, and signing up customers directly through your website.

To draw customers in, you must create experiences that support customers' goals and empower them to take action. Creating helpful content positions you as an expert, building trust, and allows consumers to experience what you offer before becoming customers.

Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing

In researching inbound marketing, you may come across the term outbound marketing. There are some key differences you'll need to know:

Inbound marketingOutbound marketing
Gives the consumer reasons to use your offer to solve their problem or fill a needAdvertises a message about your offer, in hopes that consumers will buy it
"Pulls" customers in"Pushes" a message out
Strategies include: creating engaging social media content, offering lead magnets, and writing blog posts that appear in internet search results pagesStrategies include: exhibiting at trade shows, advertising on websites or magazines, and cold calling

The stages of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing generally takes place over four stages. You'll use different methods and strategies to achieve results at each stage.

1. Attract 

The first stage is to attract customers by providing content that solves their immediate problems, empowers them, and compels them to learn more. This stage focuses on understanding your target audience, their needs, goals, and pain points, so that you can attract the people who are most likely to buy your products or services.

2. Convert

Once you attract your ideal consumer, you need to turn them into a customer. In the converting stage, you continue to provide value until they purchase your product or service. This could be capturing their information so you can add them to an email list or getting them to click on your landing page or social media profile. To encourage consumers to subscribe, you can offer:

  • A lead magnet, such as a free ebook, video, consultation, or other valuable resource

  • A link to a survey that consumers can complete to offer their feedback

  • A link to a quiz that consumers can take to learn more about themselves or your brand

3. Close 

Now that you have a way to contact your potential customers, you can take steps to close a sale. Closing tactics may involve communicating with customers directly, such as by conducting sales calls, sending personal emails, or tailoring product recommendations to individual customers. In addition, you can take the opportunity, during the closing phase, to address customers' remaining concerns or objections, so that they can make an informed purchasing decision. At this point, if they align with what you offer, they should be ready to buy from you. 

4. Delight

Once you close a sale and convert someone to a customer, your inbound marketing efforts should still continue. The purpose of this fourth stage is to leverage the trust you've built with customers and gain their loyalty. You can delight customers by continuing to engage with them, adding value, creating community, and providing them with more solutions to problems. Over time, satisfied customers may become enthusiastic promotors of your brand by sharing their positive experiences with others.

What are the benefits of inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is becoming a more popular option since outbound marketing can be intrusive to customers. Pop-ups, constant emails, and cold calls can bother potential customers. Inbound marketing has many benefits that trump outbound marketing, although that’s not to say that outbound marketing doesn’t have its place. 

1. Increased visibility.

Inbound marketing focuses on content creation that naturally attracts people to your brand and products. The content you create will be through several channels and, if effective, can lead to new customers. Therefore, your visibility increases as people engage with your content. 

2. Get more qualified leads.

Creating engaging content is essential, but as we’ve seen from the stages of inbound marketing, converting interested consumers into qualified leads is the next step. This happens through building relationships and demonstrating knowledge in your field that solves your audience's problem. 

Focus on the consumers you want to convert to customers with a targeted approach that solves their problems. This means you’re more likely to attract people interested in your offer. 

3. Bridge marketing and sales.

With inbound marketing, sales seem more natural as they result from customers believing in your brand and product and buying as a result of your value. It doesn’t appear pushy.

4. Reduce costs.

Big advertisements or ad campaigns for the mass market can be expensive. Inbound marketing means you can niche and target specific customers, build trust through compelling content, and have them come to you. While costs are still involved, it allows you to spread out your efforts rather than spending on mass marketing. 

Strategies to get started

Understanding the four stages of inbound marketing is vital in identifying effective strategies. The following strategies will fit into one of the four steps related to building testing relationships and adding value to convert interest into sales leads and loyal customers. 

Create a social media presence.

Using social media is part of stage one, attract. Social media is a great place to create content that gets noticed. If the content is good, readers will share it, and you’ll get organic views that may lead people to want to learn more. This is a great way to generate leads. Social media can be a teaser of your product and move people onto the next stage, where they read your blog or sign up for your newsletter. 

You can also use social media to run paid ads that target your audience. 

You may consider working with influencers in your niche to engage their followers in your target demographic. 

Create content.

Content in all forms is essential to inbound marketing. To attract customers, you need relevant content, such as social media posts, YouTube videos, blog articles, guest posts on other people’s websites, ebooks, and newsletters. 

Specific examples of content might include:

  • Checklists customers can use to complete a process, like creating a budget

  • Success stories about individual customers and the experience they have with your products

  • Tutorials that teach customers how to do something related to your offers

  • Product comparisons that show how your products stack up against those of your competitors

  • Interviews with subject-matter experts in your industry

Whatever content strategy you choose—ideally one that combines different types of content—it needs to engage your audience and position you as an expert in their eyes.  

Build a powerful website.

A powerful website is one that visitors can navigate easily, conveys your brand's message, and helps you convert and close. In addition to populating your site with excellent content, there are other tactics you can use, including:

  • Good UX and UI design on every landing page

  • Valuable lead magnets that consumers get for free when they enter their contact information into a sign-up form

  • Call-to-action (CTA) buttons that make it clear what consumers should do, such as clicking to another page, purchasing a product, or subscribing

Email signups are a great way to convert interested consumers into leads. Once they sign up for your email list, you can continue to market to them in personalized ways, eventually guiding them to make a purchase. 

Collect customer feedback.

To enable the fourth stage of inbound marketing, delight, it's helpful to get customers' opinion on the product or service they purchased and the customer experience you created. You can collect customer feedback through surveys, polls, or live Q&A sessions.

When gathering customer feedback, it's important to ask questions that will lead to meaningful and actionable insights. Here are some examples:

  • How did you first hear about our product or service?

  • Why did you choose our product or service over alternatives?

  • What do you like best about this product or service?

  • What would make this product or service better?

  • Would you recommend this product or service to others? Why or why not?

Two additional strategies for gathering customer feedback include:

  • Using social listening to monitor social media channels and gauge consumers' sentiments around your brand.  

  • Using customer service to find out where customers experience challenges with your products and the support they need to get more value from products. 

Learn more.

Taking online courses can be a great way to build skills, discover career opportunities, and improve your inbound marketing campaigns. Here are some options on Coursera, offered by industry leaders, Google, Meta, and Hubspot:

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