What is Inbound Marketing?
I’ll be the first one to admit it: I can’t stand buzzwords. I still don’t know what “synergy” actually means, and if I hear about something going “viral” one more time, I think it might actually make me sick.
If you don’t know much about it, you could easily assume that “inbound marketing” is just another one of these buzzwords. These days, it seems like you can’t read your LinkedIn feed without stumbling across another article about how inbound marketing is the greatest thing since sliced bread.
But inbound marketing is so much more than a passing fad: it’s a serious challenge to traditional outbound marketing efforts, and it’s popular because it works.
Not convinced? We’ll let the statistics speak for themselves. 68 percent of inbound marketers say their marketing strategy is effective, but only 48 percent of outbound marketers—less than half!—would say the same.
Consider this piece your one-stop shop for everything inbound.
We’ll go over the essentials of what you need to know to make inbound marketing a reality for your business. Ready? Buckle your seatbelt and let’s get started.
The Definition of Inbound Marketing
If you’re here because you just typed “what is inbound marketing” into Google, then you should know two things.
First, the fact that you’ve found us is already a sign that our own inbound marketing efforts here at IMPACT are working. So that’s great!
Second, you’re probably looking for a quick and simple definition of inbound marketing, so let’s cut to the chase.
Inbound marketing is a digital marketing strategy that organically attracts leads and buyers to your company when they’re looking for solutions, rather than competing for their attention.
Before we go in-depth on what exactly this entails, however, we’ll need a quick history lesson on inbound’s counterpart: outbound marketing.
What is Outbound Marketing?
“Outbound” marketing is what most people probably think of when you tell them you work in marketing.
This means all the traditional forms of getting your message out there:
- Radio and print advertisements
- Cold calls
- etc. etc.
In the pre-internet era, when people didn’t have instant access to the world’s information at their fingertips, outbound marketing was de rigueur. Times have changed, though, and a lot of your customer base now finds outbound marketing a little too aggressive, in-your-face, and pushy.
Drawbacks of Outbound Marketing
- Difficult to Segment/Target
- Difficult to Analyze
- Not Aligned with Modern Buyer Behavior
Believe me, the last thing you want is to come off as desperate to your customers (“buy my product? Please?”).
That’s not to mention outbound marketing is expensive. You need to make a big up-front capital investment, and the return on that investment can be questionable. Even if you create an amazing ad for your burger restaurant, it won’t help increase revenue if it’s on a billboard outside a vegan commune.
The impersonal nature of many outbound marketing strategies, the inability to target certain market segments or analyze how a campaign is performing—all of these are big reasons why outbound is struggling to adapt in the 21st century.
While some people are rushing to proclaim outbound marketing “obsolete” and “dead” in the quest for clicks and attention, however, we think that’s a little bit premature.
In fact, companies who use an inbound-driven strategy combined with smart outbound tactics can bring about even more success than those who use only inbound.
How is Inbound Marketing Different?
Inbound marketing is all about flipping the script on traditional conceptions of marketing, like outbound.
It’s an incredibly disruptive idea, but also intuitive and obvious, despite coming into the mainstream only in the last couple of decades.
That’s because inbound simply couldn’t have existed on a large scale 30 years ago; it heavily relies on technologies like the internet that make it easier to connect people and companies.
The basic idea behind inbound is this:
Rather than putting your audience on blast and demanding they pay attention to your message, you create high-quality content and experiences that your customers actually want to seek out and that they can find when they want and need it.
Whether they find you via search engines, Facebook, YouTube, or a million other possible channels, your prospects initiate interactions with you because on some level, they were interested or in need of what your company had to offer.
People chose or opted in to receiving your marketing messages. They aren’t just forced to see them as they’re driving down the highway or flipping through a magazine.
Obviously, this fact already gives inbound a giant leg up over outbound.
With outbound, your company is the one starting the conversation with your prospects. With inbound, however, it’s exactly the opposite; customers are first to contact you.
This simple reversal completely changes the dynamic of the sales process: what you know about the people on the other end of the line, and how you plan to convert them into paying customers.
One reason why inbound has been so successful in recent years is because it aligns with how people are naturally consuming content these days. Modern buyers are spending more time plugged in than ever before.
According to a 2016 Nielsen survey, U.S. adults spend an average of 10 hours a day in front of a digital screen: computers, smartphones, tablets, and more. When people have questions and concerns, Google and Siri are just a click away.
Meanwhile, people are also getting better and better at tuning out advertisements and other traditional outbound marketing techniques. Tools like the DVR or OnDemand let TV viewers fast-forward through ads at their leisure, while streaming services like Netflix eliminate ads entirely.
The situation is even more dire for outbound marketing when we consider the state of online advertising.
The average click-through rate for online display ads (think 90s banner ads) is a shockingly low 0.07 percent.
Actually, maybe this isn’t so shocking after all, in light of the fact that 86 percent of internet users apparently have “banner blindness.”
The vast majority of people have already learned to unconsciously filter out banner ads on websites because they’re usually “annoying,” “distracting,” or “irrelevant.” As a result, half of internet users report that they’ve never clicked on such an ad.
Of course, all this is only relevant if you can get your ads in front of people in the first place, which is becoming more and more difficult with the growth of ad blocking technologies. 18 percent of U.S. internet users say that they use an ad blocker on their computer.
If you’re hoping that the growth in mobile will save you from the ad-blocking scourge, think again. Worldwide, 380 million mobile devices now have ad-blocking technology installed.
In light of these challenges, we need a new paradigm that reflects users’ changing behavior. This paradigm should work with users, instead of pushing them away with intrusive, impersonal ads that become more and more obnoxious in a desperate race to the bottom for clicks.
For many, many businesses, inbound marketing is that paradigm. It’s the natural progression of marketing strategy, updated for the modern age.
But just because people are coming to you now doesn’t mean you can sit back with a piña colada in your hand, letting them throw themselves at your doorstep. Trust us when we say that good inbound marketing isn’t easy:
- First, you have to put in advance effort, creating targeted content that your audience will find appealing and personally relevant.
- Next, you have to work to convince potential customers that yes, your offerings are exactly what they were looking for when they made that Google search at 2 a.m.
- Finally, you have to provide products and services that continually delight people, so that they continue to return to your business.
Just like outbound marketing, inbound is only a way to break the ice and start talking. You still have to prove yourself in order to get people to convert, usually using content.
Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing
We’ve been talking a lot about “content” when it comes to inbound, so let’s pause for a minute to clear one thing up.
Although a lot of companies treat inbound marketing and content marketing as synonymous, they’re not quite the same thing at all.
In fact, most people would probably say that content marketing is a strict subset of inbound—a highly important part of it, but not telling the full story.
Content marketing is exactly what it sounds like: creating high-quality, valuable online content that improves your relationship with a targeted audience.
This content can take the form of blog articles, long-form content, social media posts, infographics, eBooks, podcasts, videos, or any other format that you think will be relevant to the people you’re trying to reach.
Different types of content are used to guide people toward a purchase. Your content may address a wide range of pain points and concerns, based on people’s mindsets and their positions in their buyer’s journey. This content will “nurture” them through the sales funnel toward the final decision to buy.
In inbound, content is separated into three categories based on how likely the intended audience is to make a purchase: top-of-the-funnel, middle-of-the-funnel, and bottom-of-the-funnel.
TOFU content is usually intended for the awareness/convert stage, and usually comes in the form of blog articles that readers discover via search engines, social media, or email marketing.
This content should be addressed to the widest audience possible in order to encourage the highest number of conversions (in other words, the largest number of people entering the funnel).
It typically gets attention by addressing a particular question or pain point that your audience commonly faces. Since you’re just looking to get readers to convert, you should avoid overt sales pitches at this stage.
MOFU content is intended for leads who have already converted but aren’t immediately ready to buy yet. Some of the most valuable types of MOFU content are educational resources such as webinars and e-books.
This content can get more technical and go a little deeper into the benefits of your product, with a more obvious sales pitch. Because of the large diversity of leads at this stage, MOFU content may also borrow from TOFU and BOFU content.
BOFU content is what companies use when leads are teetering on the edge of closing, but haven’t yet done so. At this stage, you can feel comfortable with throwing nearly anything and everything at them: case studies, spec sheets, and demos and free trials.
Now that we’ve discussed content marketing, let’s go back to inbound. Although inbound marketing should almost certainly include insightful and impactful content, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Along with the content described above, Inbound encompasses a variety of strategies designed to attract your prospects’ attention and convert them into paying customers. inbound relies heavily on tools such as:
- Calls-to-action: Text and images that encourage your audience to take action or contact your company after interacting with your content.
- Landing pages: Web pages that persuade users to download or sign up for content offers such as eBooks and guides.
- Forms: Obtaining users’ contact data, such as their name, email address, job title, and interests in exchange for content or something else of value.
- Website analytics: Software platforms that capture information about the visitors to your website, in order to track user behavior and measure the performance of your content.
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software: Systems that help you store and manage your interactions with prospects and customers across the sales lifecycle.
The Inbound Marketing Methodology
It’s no exaggeration that the internet has drastically changed buyer behavior—and companies have adapted to these changes with new strategies like inbound marketing.
Even brick-and-mortar stores have had to deal with the disruptive effects of digital tech. One study by Google, for example, found that 82 percent of smartphone owners use their device to look up products while they’re shopping. Crazy, right?
Inbound Marketing vs. the Value Journey Canvas
The four-step framework we’ve outlined above will turn complete strangers into passionate defenders of your brand, if you do it right. It’s a powerful and effective methodology, but it’s just one way that companies conceive of the inbound marketing process.
Thanks to the team at DigitalMarketer, we also have an alternative way to think about inbound that we turn to at IMPACT, the Value Journey Canvas.
The Benefits of Inbound Marketing
The most important benefit of inbound marketing is that it aligns better with real, modern buyers, both in terms of their behavior and their psychology.
Buyer todays want to feel like they’re in control of their own destiny. They like the convenience and speed of finding the answers to their questions and pain points online. They don’t like being force-fed sales pitches.
How Do You Execute Inbound Marketing?
When it comes to the internet, Bill Gates said it best when he wrote his 1996 essay: “Content is king.”
Incredibly (or maybe not so incredibly—it is Bill Gates, after all), he was able to predict that content would be the driving force of the internet in the coming years.
Who Should Use Inbound Marketing?
Although we’d like the answer to this question to be “anyone,” there are simply too many variables in play to say that your company should use inbound marketing without knowing more.
Fortunately, most anyone should be able to plan and execute a successful inbound marketing campaign.
Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing
Here at IMPACT, we're passionate defenders of the inbound approach. We also know, though, that it's always a question of best fit, and never a question of which strategy beats the other.
The difference between inbound and outbound marketing is like the difference between two different life philosophies.
What Does Inbound Marketing Cost?
The first answer that comes to mind is: “As much, or as little, as you want it to.” Although there’s undoubtedly a correlation between bigger budgets and more leads, the relationship isn’t quite as proportional as it might be with outbound marketing.
If you hire an expert to write a 5,000-word article that becomes the world’s leading resource on yoga mats, then that content could sit at the top of Google’s search results for years, with an ROI orders of magnitude greater than the initial expense.
If we’ve done our job right so far, then we should have left you practically breathless, just waiting to get started on your first inbound marketing campaign. Before you run off drafting brilliant content and sketching website mockups, however, there are a few things you should know. These tips are crucial if you want to have a lengthy and successful career in inbound marketing.
How to Learn Inbound Marketing
Although we’d like to think that this article has taught you everything you need to know about inbound marketing, the truth is that we’re just getting started. (One way to spot a marketer: we love the sound of our own voice.)
Inbound Marketing Careers and Salaries
To make your inbound marketing vision a reality, you also need to know the realities of the field in the present day: what kind of jobs await you, and what kind of salary you can expect.