Remind Me What Inbound Marketing Is

inboundmarketingFor a concept that’s so important to modern business development operations, inbound marketing doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Don’t feel bad if you’re one of the many business owners and decision makers whose grasp of inbound marketing remains shaky at best. Inbound marketing tactics didn’t really factor into most companies’ business development plans until the mid-2000s, and they’ve changed a great deal since then. Let’s take a moment to review what exactly inbound marketing is and where it can take your company.

Inbound and Outbound: The Yin and Yang of Business Development

If there was no need to set inbound marketing apart, we’d simply call it “marketing.” Of course, it’s not the only game in town. Outbound marketing, its counterpart, actually has a far longer and more illustrious pedigree. For much of history, outbound marketing was marketing: There was no need to distinguish it from an “other.”

That’s no longer the case, but where exactly does the distinction lie? Outbound marketing is the set of “traditional” marketing techniques that require active outreach to audiences that generally aren’t captive. Here’s a quick roundup of the most common outbound marketing methods:

  • TV advertising
  • Print ads
  • Cold calling
  • Direct mail
  • Trade shows
  • Cold email blasts using bought lists or other non-selective tactics

All of these tactics require prospects to make an active choice to reach out and contact your company. The success of each tactic is measured by the rate at which it compels prospects to enter your sales funnel in this manner.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, describes marketing techniques that speak to prospects who are already searching for the products and services your company offers. By piquing these prospects’ interest and drawing them into your sales funnel, inbound marketing creates higher quality leads than less focused forms of outbound marketing. Examples of inbound marketing techniques include:

  • Search engine optimization for blogs, website content and landing pages
  • Content marketing via white papers, e-books and other high-level, thought-leadership content on your website or third-party websites
  • Social media
  • Search engine marketing

All of these techniques provide your prospects with rich content that they find useful, not annoying or disruptive.

A Shifting Landscape

For a long time, outbound marketing worked just fine. You could argue that companies didn’t really have an alternative, but that’s a whole other story. The Internet’s maturation as a business development tool has created that alternative, and you’d be missing out on a huge opportunity if you didn’t take advantage of it.

Evidence of the shift in the general public’s interaction with outbound marketing abounds. A recent HubSpot report uncovered some intriguing data points:

  • About two in three Americans are on the national “do not call” list.
  • Nearly half of all direct mail is left unopened.
  • Nine in 10 email users opt out of unsolicited email lists.
  • About 85 percent of viewers ignore TV ads or use a DVR to skip through them.

These figures all point in the same direction: Consumers, purchasing managers and corporate decision-makers have learned how to tune out traditional outbound signals.

Why Inbound Marketing?

Can’t people just tune out inbound marketing signals as well? They certainly can, but why would they want to? Properly executed inbound marketing holds a powerful trump card: Unlike outbound techniques that bombard consumers with unwanted, often aggressive sales messages, inbound marketing provides useful information and compelling selling points that recipients are actually interested in. It’s called inbound marketing, after all, because it draws in prospects who are already on the hunt for information to aid and inform their buying decisions.

 …But How?

A well balanced inbound marketing plan keeps a few key points in mind as it pursues the techniques described above:

  •  Inbound marketing content must be useful, engaging and easily shared via social media by prospects and strangers alike.
  • Successful marketing is a multi-step process that utilizes different strategies for each step of the sales funnel.
  • Prospects must have multiple, non-competitive inbound marketing channels from which to choose.
  • Each inbound channel must be constantly measured and tweaked using available analytic tools.

If your company has a Web presence, it’s engaged in, or at least primed for, inbound marketing. You can’t set up an actionable, conversion-centric inbound marketing plan overnight, but that’s no excuse to delay. Your competitors certainly aren’t waiting to create content-driving inbound marketing plans of their own.