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Nathan Van Zyl   |   29 Mar 2019   |   Inbound Marketing

What is inbound marketing?

The Hero’s journey is well documented.

In the beginning we get to know our Hero, their life story, and what defines them. Our Hero then sets off, faces a great conflict, which they overcome, and returns to their life victorious.



Inevitably along this journey our Hero meets a mentor.

It’s a crucial turning point.

The mentor gives the Hero something they need to be successful on their quest. It could be an object of great importance, insight into the dilemma they face, advice, practical training or encouragement. 

Whatever it is, it is essential for the Hero to be successful on their journey.

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In the context of inbound marketing, your customer is the Hero and you are the mentor.

The foundation of inbound marketing is being a helpful resource for your potential customers. Educational guidance builds trust and long-term growth for both you and your prospect.

Great content is your voice.

It allows you to have one-on-one conversations with the thousands of people looking for answers and insights to their biggest problems on a regular basis.

Your content exists to empower your customers’ growth. It is the “object of great importance” the Hero needs to succeed.

Like the Hero returning from their journey and sharing their stories, the result of your inbound efforts should be customers who evangelise your products and services.

In this blog post, we will outline the inbound marketing methodology, discuss the differences between inbound marketing and outbound marketing, and go over the fundamental elements of inbound marketing.

The inbound methodology

Inbound is a customer-centric digital marketing methodology that focuses on attracting, engaging, and delighting customers.

It starts by creating relevant and helpful content that attracts visitors to your website and blog.

Visitors are then engaged in conversations through tools, like bots, live chat, and email. From here they are nurtured through their buyer’s journey with content relevant to their needs until they become customers.

Throughout the process, the focus is on delivering an exceptional experience that delights and turns your customers into advocates for your business.

Inbound vs outbound

Outbound marketing refers to all mass marketing approaches, one-to-many. TV ads, radio ads, trade shows,  newspaper and magazine inserts, billboards, and cold calling are all examples of outbound marketing.

Outbound channels deliver a generic message to a generic audience in the hope that the right customer is watching. It focuses on pushing a message on a large audience.

Inbound marketing attracts a relevant audience through helpful content. It then delivers a personalised experience and starts conversations with individuals, one-to-one.

Unlike outbound marketing, with inbound marketing, you don’t need to fight for your potential customers’ attention. By creating content designed to address the problems and needs of your ideal customers, you attract qualified prospects and build trust and credibility for your business.

Outbound marketing

Inbound marketing





Generic message

Personalised message

Mass market

Targeted audience

Inbound marketing fundamentals

Buyer personas

Before you can personalise messages and create mind-blowing content you first need to know who you are speaking to.

At the centre of any inbound campaign is your buyer persona.

A buyer persona is a semi-fictional representation of your ideal customer based on real data and some select educated speculation about demographics, behaviours, motivations, and goals.

The most important aspect of your buyer persona is understanding the problems they are trying to solve.

It is around those needs that you will focus your content creation efforts.

Let’s look at an example:

You work for a B2B SaaS company that specialises in HR software. Your typical buyer persona might look something like this:

Name: HR Harriot

Title: HR Manager

Age: 34 - 45

Sex: Female

Family: Married with two young kids

Location: Major city like Cape Town, Pretoria, Johannesburg, Durban, East London or Bloemfontein

Company size: SME with 10 - 50 employees

Turnover: R 10 million - R 25 million

Challenges: Reduce employee turnover, improve employee engagement, improve productivity, build a strong culture.

Buyer’s Journey

The buyer’s journey is the active research process someone goes through leading up to a purchase.

It consists of 3 main stages: Awareness, Consideration, and Decision.

Awareness Stage: During the awareness stage, prospects are typically expressing symptoms of a problem they are trying to solve. They spend most of their time doing educational research to clearly understand and frame their problem.

Let’s take a look at our example again:

During the awareness stage HR Harriot will search topics based on some of the symptoms her department is experiencing  i.e “high employee turnover”, “what causes employee absenteeism?”, or “low employee morale”.

These topics are broad and her intent is to find resources to help her understand the problems she is trying to solve.

Blogs, ebooks, and research papers are great for her stage of the buyer’s journey.

Consideration Stage: During the consideration stage, prospects shift their focus to finding solutions for the problems they have now defined. Typically their research will now focus on understanding and evaluating the different solutions for their problems.

Back to our example:

HR Harriot’s search will now evolve to focus on the solutions to the challenges she is facing: “how to improve company culture?”, “ideas for improving teamwork”, “how to provide effective employee feedback?”.

In this phase content should take a more practical approach: tutorials, guides, templates, workshops, and webinars are all great for the consideration stage.

Decision Stage: During the decision stage, prospects have defined the problem and selected their preferred solution. They now start looking at vendors and products they can implement the solution they have chosen. In their research, they will whittle down their list and ultimately make their final purchase decision.

HR Harriot is now ready to make her purchase. Her search will revolve around evaluating vendors and comparing their products and services.

Product demos, free trials, and case studies are great for this phase of the buyer’s journey. Your persona is going to want to “kick the tires” before they make their purchase, so let them.  


The inbound equation is simple:


High value, relevant content is the foundation of any inbound marketing campaign. When it is combined with a detailed buyer persona and an understanding of the buyer’s journey, it is an exceptionally powerful tool.

Inbound marketing strategies usually include different types of content at different phases of the buyer’s journey specifically designed to cater to the prospects changing intent.

Helpful relevant content helps you engage with potential customers long before they make their buying decision, giving you an opportunity to build trust and create value early on in their process.

Lead nurturing

Lead nurturing is the way you guide prospects through their buyer’s journey. It focuses on listening to the needs of your prospects and providing the information and answers they need, when they need it.

This forms part of marketing automation.

Prospects arrive at your website, download one of your content offers, and are then nurtured with content relevant to their initial engagement.

As your prospects needs change and their understanding of their problem develops, they will need different information.

Lead nurturing allows you to provide your prospects with a personalised journey based on their intent and puts them in control of what content they see when.


Inbound marketing attracts customers with helpful, relevant content, based on their needs and intent. It is a combination of content and context.

Prospects are offered personalised journeys with the goal of creating an exceptional experience that turns them into customers.

Much like the Hero’s journey, inbound marketing creates an opportunity for businesses to equip their customers long before they face their biggest challenges.

content marketing strategy template

Nathan Van Zyl

I spend most of my time defending my lunch from seagulls. The rest of my time is spent behind the scenes, figuring out ways to grow our agency and better serve the people we work with.