What Is Inbound Marketing?

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How to Be a Gentle Giant in Marketing

Inbound marketing is a less aggressive way to attract customers. If it had one, its mascot would be something broad but unassuming like The BFG.

Inbound marketings’ nemesis is outbound marketing, which interrupts customer experiences with promotional advertisements. Think pop-up messages, social ads and even flash-mob dances.

These snippets of frankly annoying content are less appealing to modern consumers, taking on the appearance of a yappy, annoying dog that packs a punch despite its small size.

Inbound marketing is much more subtle.

It’s a form of advertisement that plays it cool.

The thing that differentiates inbound marketing from outbound marketing is content. Content allows brands to be valuable to their customers, removing the need for a hard sell or any cheesy pick-up lines.

Sometimes inbound marketing is likened to a pull approach — the opposite of being pushy to make sales. In this sense, it’s a great way to bring your customers closer to you. Yet it does require a bit more groundwork.

Content such as blogs, articles, webinars, whitepapers, infographics, podcasts, ebooks, knowledge bases (such as the one you’re reading right now) and social media posts are all examples of inbound marketing.

This practice works for all types of companies. Seriously — any company.

Here are a few examples:

Sometimes we head over to Ben & Jerry’s blog just for a good old read during our tea break. Articles like What If You Dated Your Favourite Ben & Jerry’s Flavour? entertains us while posing some seriously disturbing questions about our sexuality. The post also cleverly reminds us of everything we love about the brand’s best flavours.

Screenshot of the Ben & Jerry's Date Your Flavour page

Pornhub. Yes, Pornhub uses inbound marketing to garner attention and we promise you can open up the next link without being fired at work. Each year the production company publish a “Year in Review” displaying stats and data about viewing habits. Pornhub’s 2019 Year in Review tells us more about global behaviour and cultural differences than some reputable news sources.

Infographic showing Pornhub's Year in Review

Image via pornhub.com

Before listening to Gio Compario’s singing in GoCompare’s relentless TV adverts, we thought we liked opera singing. At first thought, the comparison website might relate more to interruptive outbound marketing than valuable inbound content. But surprisingly, the brand does really well with creating insightful assets on relevant topics like offensive driving.

Screenshot of the Go Compare Offensive Driving page

Screenshot from gocompare.com

That said, inbound marketing doesn’t always have to be about polished, published content. A helpful sales team, live chat features and your willingness to reply to casual emails can also act as a soft sell.

Why Inbound Marketing Works (But Outbound Marketing Is Cool Too)

In terms of dating, inbound marketing is the equivalent of that person who grows on you and becomes more and more attractive the more time you spend around them.

This feeling might even grow into love.

Love is far better than a quick burst of lust that overcomes someone after a direct approach. This sensation will quickly wither away, forgotten once the moment is over.

However, just because we’re a fan of the inbound approach that makes for long-lasting relationships, this shouldn’t mean you should forget about outbound marketing altogether.

Every long-term relationship needs a little bit of spice.

Create careful, thoughtful content but don’t stop advertising.

What’s an Inbound Marketing Strategy? What Should It Include?

I know what you’re thinking — not another strategy.

Don’t worry, inbound marketing is something you should be aware of, yet it can afford to sit comfortably somewhere in your overall marketing strategy.

A great way to simplify your marketing plan is to colour code activities according to whether they are inbound or outbound. The two can often be used together in the same part of the strategy.

Take social media marketing, for example. Inbound marketing should fill your social feed with content that entertains, informs and engages users. However, you might want to inject some persuasive paid advertisements that act as the outbound part of this strategy. The two work well together like sweet and savoury foods — the popular ones, like PB and J, not so much pineapple on pizza.

Everyone is a fan of an inbound-outbound blend.

Other types of strategies will help to complement inbound activities, such as a solid SEO strategy. Without this, you’ll be blindly guessing what types of questions you need to answer for your customers.

SEO efforts scour the internet in search of the answers, digging deep into your target market’s psyche.

These practices also help give insight into:

  • Effective Market Research
  • Social Media Listening
  • Follow-Up Sales Calls
  • Online Feedback Forms
  • Meeting Customers at Events
  • Evaluating Popular Pages on Analytics

Remember, don’t get too caught up about where inbound marketing should fit into a strategy. Most of the time — like love — it will happen when and where it feels right.

Inbound marketing is more of an overarching marketing concept than a tangible activity.

As long as you’re aware that it exists, it will happen.

The Inbound Revolution

Has inbound marketing always been a thing?

As with the concept of a sales funnel, we didn’t start to formalise its existence until the digital age — although we can’t imagine a time where being helpful to others hasn’t been an attractive trait.

The introduction of digital marketing made brands, information and competitive shopping more accessible.

It was the classic start to an uprising where the powerless become empowered — thus, making way for more demanding and meticulous buyers.

These days, customers love to fact-check, profile and compare products before making concrete decisions. Content helps them do this.

You could say that customers have changed their consumption habits.

They no longer gobble up single ads but have instead become grazers, digesting small bits of content before cashing out.

Search engines have also noted this and began to change their menus. Web directories like Google are prioritising non-promotional, genuinely valuable content meaning companies must follow this approach to climb the ranks in search.

Even certain legislation now supports inbound theory such as GDPR, which limits the way a company can use and share personal data.

As a marketer, this makes more work for you. However, all your content creation isn’t in vain. Unlike short-term advertising campaigns, inbound content is often evergreen. A great blog post can continually attract leads months or even years after publication.

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