Inbound Marketing: A Complete Guide (2024)

Monday, May 20th
Content Manager

Mark Wilson

Inbound marketing is a holistic marketing approach practiced by thousands of companies, and it could be the key to your company’s sustained success in marketing.

Sound promising? Hopefully so. But we don’t want to overpromise, so I feel obligated to say that a good inbound marketing strategy isn’t easy to execute. You don't need to be a major corporation; small businesses can consider inbound marketing as well (and often have the most to gain from it!). But it still requires a lot of work.

However, there’s a reason it’s still a lightning rod for new strategies, techniques and technologies, even decades after it was initially coined and refined. And that reason is that it’s an excellent way to generate consistent trust, brand equity, leads and revenue for your brand.

I owe a large portion of my career to inbound marketing. It’s become something I’m passionate about, and something I’m confident consulting on and executing for professional or personal projects. Many of Leadflask’s clients benefit from inbound marketing efforts as a result, bringing in millions in revenue each year.

If that sounds like something you’d like to explore, read on.

What is Inbound Marketing?

The clue is in the name. Inbound marketing brings potential leads to you through engaging content that you create and distribute on your website or other communications channels.

This is a strategy about attracting people to you organically. Think about brands that you actively seek out. It might be a website you have bookmarked, or a Youtube channel where you make sure to catch the weekly upload.

What makes you come back to these individuals or brands regularly? Chances are, it’s because their content is interesting, entertaining, educational, or all of those wrapped into one!

This is the core of inbound marketing: consistent, engaging content that attracts leads to you, building trust and brand equity by providing tangible value to potential customers before they ever do business with you.

Hubspot is often considered to be the major pioneer of inbound marketing, and the company continues to be an industry leader in the space. They’re far from the only high-level practitioners of inbound marketing in the modern digital era, but have helped to define and refine it over the past 20+ years.

Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Content Marketing

Content marketing focuses on the content itself, usually on a website, that generates traffic, engagement, shares and leads. Inbound marketing is a more holistic term that includes other strategies related to lead capture, lead nurturing and numerous communications channels.

Content marketing can be thought of as a subset of inbound marketing. In practice, they’re often used quite similarly, and good content marketing is a prerequisite for use in effective inbound marketing tactics.

It’s also worth noting that because these terms have shifted throughout the years, the paragraph above isn’t universally agreed upon by marketers. Rather, it represents the majority of marketer sentiment in the industry. Regardless, for your purposes as a marketer or business owner, we’re touching on a bit of both.

Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is any marketing type, usually paid, where you put your brand in places where your prospects will be. Banners, sponsorships, digital ads and more qualify as outbound. Inbound attracts customers to you through more permanent, unpaid forms of media such as social media campaigns and website content.

The difference here is more clear. It’s incorrect to suggest that inbound marketing is free, but you aren’t paying for a website blog or social media post in the same way that you have to continually pay for leads from, say, Google Local Services or athletic team sponsorships.

It’s also wrong to suggest that one of these can replace the other. Some businesses are more focused on inbound marketing or vice versa, but inbound doesn’t replace outbound efforts.

What it can do, though, is allow you to spend less money on outbound marketing, and to be more selective in which outbound channels you invest in. The two strategies can also work together to bring in more leads than either one could do on its own.

What is the Inbound Flywheel?

Hey everyone, the traditional sales funnel is dead. Now it’s the flywheel!

Ok, so that might be a bit of an exaggeration. It’s also a quintessential, tired marketing practice to declare that some tried & tested methodology has been replaced by a shiny new thing, when in fact it hasn’t.

The flywheel, though, has been around for quite a while now as well. And it’s been adopted by thousands of organizations as a philosophy of customer engagement.

The sales funnel still has lots of uses. It’s far from dead. But particularly in an inbound marketing model, the flywheel can be a useful approach to understanding how best to attract, close and retain customers long-term.

Simply put, the flywheel is based on three broad steps: Attract, Engage, and Delight. Each relates to one of several goals for your audience, and also includes several types of actions companies can take to accomplish each. Because the model is extremely content-focused, each step also includes content types that make the most sense.


You want to attract customers, right? So how do you do that? Some ideas:

  • Education blog articles that rank highly for search terms relevant to your ideal customer
  • Case studies, reviews or testimonials
  • Traditional marketing channels (this is where your outbound marketing efforts can help!)

The purpose is to get your “foot in the door,” so to speak. This is when inbound marketing really takes over.


Now that you have a prospect’s attention, how do you keep them engaged? This is where your content efforts come to the forefront:

  • Podcasts, with topics that are of interest to your audience and aren’t just about your business
  • Educational article or video content
  • Social media campaigns designed to inform or entertain
  • Email marketing with similarly relevant content that’s useful to your audience. Think about a corporate email you anticipate getting and don’t just delete when it arrives (maybe you don’t have one of these, but they definitely exist!)
  • This is also where your customer experience comes into play, and this can include in-store experience, phone calling experience, and more. If you’ve ever sat on hold for 20 minutes to talk to a representative, you have a good idea of what not to do.


By this step, you already have the sale. So what’s left? A lot, it turns out.

Will this customer become a repeat customer? Will they tell their friends and family about your company? And if they do, will it be a positive retelling?

These things matter a ton. And you can execute strategies to help ensure that they happen more often.

  • Loyalty programs
  • Discounts on future purchases
  • Referrals bonuses
  • Continuing educational communications on industry topics
  • Opportunities to be highlighted in case studies or testimonials

“Delight” is a deliberately broad term. If you can think of an idea that would surprise and delight your customers, it doesn’t have to be one of those bullet points above. It can be anything!

The end goal is a positive brand image across your customer base and increased brand awareness, which will help you grow through word-of-mouth and similarly organic methods.

Flywheel vs. Traditional Sales Funnel

The biggest difference is that the marketing funnel focuses mainly on customer acquisition, while the flywheel also emphasizes retention.

The “delight” phase is entirely missing from traditional, funnel-based sales models.

In some business models, retention or repeat business won’t be as important. But for most, it is. Your sales team should already intrinsically realize this fact.

I’d personally point out that I don’t actually think the two models are incompatible. The funnel-based sales cycle can still help you cater communications to prospects at different stages of their journey. These phases didn’t stop existing just because the flywheel came along.

Additionally, I’d argue that the retention phase of sales was present to some degree for decades before the flywheel (or centuries? None of these tactics are new, technically speaking). It just wasn’t always explicitly stated like it is in the flywheel.

However, calling attention to the “delight” phase of sales is still very important, because it can focus your company on these efforts in ways that might be lackluster otherwise.

Inbound Content Types

We’ve already name-dropped several content types that are typical within an inbound marketing model, but here is a more comprehensive list that you can consider. Very few businesses should be generating every single type below, but several are needed to create a rounded content marketing approach:

  • Blog posts, articles, and other written content
  • Short-form video
  • Long-form DIY or educational videos
  • Social media posts and campaigns
  • Infographics
  • Downloadable content such as eBooks and white papers
  • Demos and webinars
  • Podcasts
  • Email campaigns
  • First-party research papers within your field

The types that you’ll want to focus on depend on your industry, business and customers, which we’ll talk more about shortly. It's also reductionist to list each of these as though they're all equivalent. Good social media marketing, for instance, can be a deep rabbit hole unto itself, as can most of the items listed above. The point of the list, though, is to give you a sense of where you could be focusing your efforts, not to explain each of those content types in detail.

Inbound Marketing Strategy

Here’s the part where we break down some inbound marketing strategies and processes. For clarity, each of these steps can include sub-steps and can also be a lot of work.

At minimum, you’ll need someone whose job it is to create and execute a plan like this. For larger corporations, there will be entire teams - plural - each devoted to a different subset of inbound marketing.

So this is an overview, not a step-by-step guide. But it can also inform more granular plans at your company.

Know Your Customer

Time to create some content, right? Well, hold up just a minute.

First, you need to know your customer. Like, really well. What communication channels do they prefer? How old do they tend to be? What social media platforms are they on? What’s their income range? What pop culture figures are they most likely to follow?

Creating detailed customer personas (also known as a buyer persona) is something we’ve talked about before, and is a necessary step to an excellent inbound strategy. Appealing a ton to a specific customer type is, in many ways, better than reaching a broad audience with content that none of them love.

Create Your Content

Creating content for an inbound marketing model isn’t just a one-time project, but an ongoing process.

It's also predicated on creating great content. If it's simply content to meet a quota, you'll never see the success you envision. The good news is, search engine optimization (SEO) is easiest when you're creating valuable content anyway, so this should incentivize you to not cut corners as you create your content.

You need a pipeline of topics, subject-matter experts to act as interviewees if the subject is technical or complicated, resources, staff and time to complete the work, and execution processes.

Additionally, you need to know what channels you’re activating, and by whom. Are you going to tackle email marketing campaigns? Social media campaigns? A DIY video series? Each of these will need the processes and plans built out.

Creating a Content Calendar

Regularly releasing content is one of the keys to successful inbound strategy. You may only have the corporate bandwidth for one piece of content per week. But if this is the case, you still have to be consistent with it.

For reference, one piece per week is not enough to see sustained growth for most companies. The exact quota you should be aiming for will depend on the scope of your business and resources, but each will still need to be scheduled and consistent.

At one of my previous companies, for instance, our content writer had a quota of three articles per week, and our videographer was releasing two videos per week, for a total of five pieces of content every week.

We’d then take this content and repurpose it on social media, weave it into monthly email sends to target customers, and find ways on the website to highlight the most useful or engaging content.

The result was sustained growth over a number of years, totaling millions is website traffic and a large leap in leads and revenue. But we only got there because we had a detailed calendar that we adhered to at all times.

Segmenting Audiences

Particularly once your audience size is quite large, your audience isn’t going to be identical. This means they’ll want different things from your brand depending on how they interact with you.

This is where segmentation comes into play. Every piece of content should NOT make its way to every existing or potential customer. It’s more important that they receive the right pieces of content.

How do you determine this? Segmentation. You might split audiences by age, geographic region, or based on the product(s) or service they purchased from you. In this way, you can deliver relevant content to people rather than simply being scattershot in your content strategy.

Measuring Inbound Success

Next, you have to understand what’s working, what isn’t, and how to improve. Here are some of the metrics you might consider tracking, from among many others:

  • Website traffic
  • Form fills on the website
  • Conversion rate for traffic to the site
  • User dwell time on the website
  • Share rates on social posts
  • Open rates on emails
  • Clickthrough rates on emails
  • Landing page visits (from a website call-to-action)
  • Attributable revenue to any trackable communication channel
  • Email subscription rate increase
  • Unsubscribe rate from your email list
  • Number of downloads of key resources

Each of these is only useful if you also follow it up with strategies to improve them. The scope of this article means I can’t get into how to improve your email clickthrough rates, for example, but each of these has tangible strategies that can be considered and implemented for sustained growth.

Scaling Your Inbound Efforts

You’ll hear a lot about AI and marketing automation tools in regard to scaling your marketing efforts, and these suggestions aren’t wrong.

To send 1,000 emails, for instance, you can’t manually send each one. You’ll need automated tools that can scale you to 1,000, 100,000 or 10 million per month!

Others can help with tracking, analytics, content creation and more.

A brief word of warning, though: the hype surrounding AI currently means that the field is ripe for half-truths, lies, and grifts. There’s plenty of potential in these technologies, for clarity. But make sure you’re doing your due diligence on tools to actually assess whether or not they’re improving your bottom line. Search engines are increasingly promoting AI content, for instance, but Google has also recently cracked down on abuse of AI-generated content.

Many automation tools can be great, AI or otherwise, and will be a boon to your efforts. But many won’t, and are banking on either lack of knowledge or excitement at the prospect of their potential to gloss over such flaws.

Additionally, the core of inbound marketing is the value that you’re providing for consumers that is unique to your brand. If that value disappears because you’re simply creating content for its own sake, and it doesn’t reflect your personal values and expertise in your industry, your customers will disappear as well.

Why Inbound Marketing Works

Authenticity. If I had to boil it down to a single word, that would be it.

Because it’s easy to get lost in the churn of content and think that Content = Success.

It only does if the content is legitimately useful, interesting, entertaining, and valuable to your ideal audience.

If you hit the wrong target audience, you’ll fail. If you pump out generic, derivative content, you'll fail. If you’re not consistent with your efforts, you’ll fail.

Do everything well, though, and the upper limit on your brand’s potential is almost nonexistent because it’s so high.

The company I mentioned earlier - the one with five pieces of content per week and related communications campaigns - started as a local organization with about 10,000 visitors to the website per year.

Two years into our inbound experiment, the website was generating over one million in traffic per year.

Were we doing everything we could to convert those leads? No, frankly, we weren’t. There was still a lot of room for improvement. But the authenticity of our digital presence fueled that growth and led to good things for the business.

Inbound Marketing Resources and Training

I hope this is a useful guide, but it’s not a step-by-step, how-to guide on inbound marketing. For that, you’re going to need to branch out a bit.

Fortunately, numerous resources exist to help you in your journey.

I mentioned Hubspot earlier, and they offer free courses in inbound marketing (and other marketing disciplines). That can be a great way to learn the processes from the people who have been practicing inbound marketing as long (and as well) as anyone.

There are also books on inbound marketing, including one simply called Inbound Marketing by the co-founders of Hubspot. Another popular title is They Ask, You Answer, a personal favorite of mine that encapsulates an inbound methodology that I’ve used heavily in my marketing efforts.

These books and resources, and others like them, will naturally lead you toward other resources. Coaching groups exist to aid your business in implementing inbound strategies, and other training tools exist - both free and paid - that can hone your inbound skills and knowledge.

Sales, Revenue and Your Bottom Line with Inbound Marketing

So what does all of this mean? That you should switch your marketing model immediately to an inbound one?

Not necessarily. Unless that’s exactly what is called for and you’re willing to commit to these strategies enough to see them succeed.

Because they will succeed if you’re diligent. The continued success and proliferation of inbound philosophy within marketing is a testament to this. The technologies that support your efforts will change, but the strategies themselves have remained largely consistent for decades, and indeed harken back to pre-internet marketing strategies that are far older but still rely on authentic value and trust-building through education and entertainment.

At Leadflask, we’ve helped to implement inbound strategies with our clients, from consulting on content rollouts to fully managing and executing the strategies ourselves. If these services - and others within digital marketing and web design that support inbound efforts - would be of use to you, contact us today for a free chat about your business, its goals, and how we can best aid your growth!

Additional Resources

Let's set up a call