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Inbound marketing was once neatly described by dot com millionaire Seth Godin, as “permission marketing”. It is based on tactics that pull potential customers in to the business, rather than ones that push to get in front of them.
The easiest way to think of it, is like this - if potential buyers find a business, it’s inbound marketing. On the other hand, if a business finds the clients, it’s outbound marketing.
“Permission marketing: Turning strangers into friends and friends into customers”, Seth Godin
The reason inbound marketing is such a big deal and its use has been steadily on the rise, is the major shift that has been seen in customer behavior.
As usual, consumers were first to start changing their habits. This can be seen, for example, in the growth of social media and how it is used and the popularity of e-commerce. In the B2B world, things have been a little slower to progress but buyer behavior has also evolved. Modern buyers will head online, use social media platforms and research all sources open to them, to find the information they need.
Which has led many marketers to question whether outbound tactics are actually necessary, or should just be skipped altogether. But rather than worrying about whether an activity falls under the umbrella of inbound or outbound, it’s better to consider them both and work out which will be best for marketing your particular goods and services.
When are inbound methods most effective?
Inbound marketing methods can be summarized as:
- Content marketing - any content you produce that is meant for potential buyers
- SEO – used to help people find your content
- Social media – use to help spread your content
Compared to outbound tactics, these techniques generally cost less to do. They can also be more accurately targeted, meaning they should result in a better return on investment.
A certain level of investment will still need to be made upfront, such as to fund the creation of high quality content. That doesn’t come cheap, but once created the content will become a lasting asset that can be used again and again.
Now compare this with a print ad placed in a trade magazine. Once the ad has run and the next issue is out, its impact is over.
Inbound tactics are particularly useful for businesses who:
- have a lot of information to share
- have lower marketing budgets (obviously, if you have bigger budgets you will profit even more)
- are looking for higher quality leads
- want to establish themselves as experts or thought leaders within their industry sector
Another benefit of inbound marketing, is that you can be up and running fast. It can be as simple as setting up a company blog, uploading some interesting content and sharing it via social media. Plus helping it get found on search engines with a little SEO push, or some sponsored social media posts.
The whole process isn’t particularly hard to implement and in the long run, there is a lot more you can do. For example, you could start building a database by encouraging website visitors to hand over their email address in exchange for downloading some interesting and valuable content. This information can then be used for future email marketing campaigns and the process of nurturing contacts along and turning them into prospects.
One of the biggest benefits of inbound versus outbound marketing, lies in the analytics. It is much easier and a lot more accurate to monitor and measure inbound marketing tactics. Of course, some outbound methods, such as digital ads, can also provide good stats. But in general, if an activity isn’t conducted online it is almost impossible to know with any accuracy what its impact has been.
In summary, inbound is basically a completely different way of marketing. It is about informing, educating (and sometimes just entertaining) a target audience - one you’d like to form a relationship with, stay in touch with and see returning to your content, time and time again. Check out our free Essential Guide to Getting Started with Content Marketing for more information.
Which outbound methods no longer work as well?
While print ads, billboards, banner ads, TV and radio ads, print direct-mail, email blasts, event sponsorships and big trade shows were traditionally all mainstays of a business marketing plan, they are no longer as effective as they once were.
Remember the Yellow Pages? The concept worked at the time because it was the only place where people could quickly and easily access a wide range of business details. The books no longer exist, because thanks to the internet, we don’t need them. All the information we want and more, is now available online.
People are still looking for the products and services they need, just in different places. The key challenge for marketers, is how to make them find you.
There are a couple of hybrids, which blur the boundaries between inbound and outbound marketing and can work really well if used in the right circumstances:
Pay-per-click advertising shows ads to people browsing the web, who express a specific interest, or meet a stipulated demographic. The key to using these types of ads effectively, is to be very targeted. One issue to bear in mind however, is that it is getting more and more difficult to generate results, with tools such as ad blockers getting in the way.
Account based marketing (ABM)
Account based marketing is about pushing messages out, but in a well-researched and highly targeted way. In fact, the messages are so well targeted that the content is produced purely for the intended recipient.
It will be developed for a specific, target account and then distributed across various channels, with the aim of getting it in front of them. Again, if used intelligently this can work well, particularly when the target is a larger corporation.
How to choose between inbound and outbound
The main thing to recognize, is that the buyer journey is no longer linear and marketers need to stay on top of the new trends and developments.
We all encounter different brand messages all the time, which reach us via a variety of channels. It will take multiple touchpoints with a potential customer before a sale is made.
Start by looking at your marketing mix with an open mind, a calculator and some common sense. Use the methods that fit best with your culture, your business model and most importantly, which will attract the clients you want to work with.
When using inbound marketing tactics, you will typically work with a far smaller audience than for outbound and your success will come down to the quality of your content. It is how you will attract quality leads, who you then turn into quality customers.
Less is always more, so focus on the quality of your methods to attract the clients you really want.