“Inbound marketing” is one of the terms our clients are encountering often these days. Many are curious about what it is and whether it’s just another temporary buzzword, and a few have picked up some common misconceptions about it.
So, in our eternal quest to be helpful, here’s an overview of what this practice is, along with some needed clarifications.
Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing
Inbound marketing is a broad term that includes lots of different digital marketing tactics. These practices all seek to bring consumers to a business’s website and then convert them into sales. Inbound marketing is about bringing in potential customers or clients of their own volition.
Some major inbound marketing categories include search engine optimization (SEO), content marketing, and social media marketing. Of course, these are also broad terms that consist of many individual strategies (for example, content marketing can include blogging, article marketing, podcasts, video marketing, e-books, e-newsletters, white papers, infographics, image galleries, and more).
This is in contrast to outbound marketing, when businesses send their marketing out into the world in the hopes it hooks some new customers. TV and print ads, mass mailings, flyers, billboards, telemarketing, cold calls, and spam are outbound marketing tactics. They are sometimes less flatteringly called “interruption marketing,” since they sort of butt in to get attention.
Inbound Marketing Isn’t One Thing
A main takeaway from above is that inbound marketing refers to numerous techniques. Many people think inbound marketing is just a newer term for SEO or content marketing, but this isn’t the case; both are single aspects of the much broader strategy of inbound marketing.
On a related note, only using one tactic doesn’t really qualify as inbound marketing. While blogging is part of it, for example, on its own it’s not enough to qualify as an inbound marketing strategy. Certainly blogging can be of benefit, but it takes a more encompassing, holistic approach to bring in significant numbers of site visitors and turn them into fans and paying customers.
Inbound Marketing Is Here to Stay
It’s easy to be dismissive of new terms, especially in the digital realm, where fads and buzzwords and memes come and go every day. But, although the term is new, the concept of inbound marketing isn’t.
After all, storefront window displays are inbound marketing in the brick-and-mortar world. And the essence of inbound marketing—providing consumers with value and earning their trust—certainly isn’t a novel idea.
While the specific practices will evolve, and some even fade away, inbound marketing will be around as long as people are selling goods and services.
Inbound Marketing Isn’t for Everyone
Any business, no matter how small or its industry, can sustainably adopt and benefit from at least one practice that falls under the umbrella of inbound marketing. But that’s not to say a significant inbound marketing strategy is practical for every enterprise.
To launch a multifaceted, long-term campaign (and it does need to be long term, because results and ROIs don’t manifest overnight), a business needs to commit time, a reasonable marketing budget, people, and possibly other resources.
A comprehensive inbound marketing strategy is best suited to businesses that sell high-cost products or services, where just a few additional sales can recoup expenditure.
Inbound Marketing Is a Group Effort
It’s typical in the digital marketing arena for business owners and leaders to think everything can be handled by one person. But because inbound marketing involves a variety of disciplines—social media, writing, SEO, audio and/or video work, web design, software applications, data analysis, and more—it’s rare that any individual on a team has all the necessary expertise (or time).
Inbound Marketing Is Always a Work in Progress
There are plenty of well-established best practices and common mistakes to learn about with every inbound marketing technique. But there’s no exact formula, no single checklist, no definitive how-to guide, or anything else that must be followed or that guarantees success.
Every industry, every brand, and every target market is different. Experimentation, close monitoring of results, and the flexibility to adapt to those results are essential to effective inbound marketing. With them, you’ll continue to learn from your mistakes and successes, tweak your approaches, and continually do better.