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If you’re running a business or a marketer, you’ve probably heard of the terms “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing”. You might think that these are just another categorization of marketing or just some buzzwords that marketers made up to sound cool.
While I won’t deny that having “Inbound Marketer” on my name card looks cooler than having “Normal Marketer” on it, we should really understand the distinction between these two marketing approaches and how they work in today’s digital age.
If you’re trying to expand the audience for your website, find new customers and grow your business, it’s likely that you’re going to have to invest in some sort of marketing campaigns in order to promote your brand or product or services.
Today, technology has changed how people obtain information and consequently, marketing has undergone a massive transformation. Outbound marketing tactics, like television and radio advertising, are not as effective as they once were. Now comes the age of inbound marketing, driven by the Internet and social media.
Think about it: today’s customers are really savvy. No one wants to sit through a sales pitch, and people today have become really good at avoiding them.
The bottom line is: Traditional advertising channels are just not getting the job done any more. Technology has advanced and marketing strategies and tactics have also evolved to keep up with it.
Outbound marketing is just another name for “traditional advertising methods”, it is devised to contrast with the newer “inbound marketing”. It includes television and radio advertising, print advertising, telemarketing, direct mail, and outdoor advertising.
The basic idea is that advertisers use mass media tools to push their message and products out to the public. The hope is that if enough people who are in your target audience hear the message, they will respond.
These marketing tactics used to be effective, but nowadays these ads are so saturated and so similar that people no longer pay attention to them.
Another problem with outbound marketing is that many people who are not in your target audience are also exposed to your message, which makes the cost of advertising on these mediums less effective.
Traditional marketing is interruptive. Commercials interrupt television shows. Door to door salesman and cold calls interrupt what people are doing to present a sales pitch. This push advertising worked in the mass media age, but modern communications technology has allowed people to escape and avoid these annoying interruptions.
Inbound marketing pulls visitors in, increase brand exposure, and creates brand authority through the creation of valuable content.
Question: If people are not responding to traditional marketing channels, then how are they getting information about the products and services that they need?
Answer: They are using the Internet. Let’s say a homeowner is interested in a lawn care service. How is he going to find such a service? In the past, he might have looked in the yellow pages, the newspaper or a direct mail piece. Today’s homeowner is going to get on his computer, go to his favorite search engine and type “lawn care near Chicago” and look for the best result.
This simple search will yield resources to begin vetting lawn care services. This search may lead him to some blog posts about lawn care in Chicago and he may even download a white paper for even more information.
If he needs further assistance, he may go to his Facebook or Twitter account and ask his connections for their recommendations. The lawn care service that can deploy online marketing assets that attract this homeowner will eventually win his business.
This new marketing strategy is called inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is slightly more complicated and indirect compared to outbound marketing, but it’s the more effective way of reaching your target audiences.
Below is an illustration of the process of an inbound marketing campaign:
In their most basic forms, outbound marketing uses push tactics while inbound marketing uses pull tactics.
A big part of inbound marketing relies on creating valuable content and attracting visitors with it. It relies on the development of modern communications technology like the Internet, mobile phones and social media to attract consumers. Instead of pushing a message out onto a large population, inbound marketing attracts specific audiences that are out there looking for information.
The goal is to pull interested people toward the marketing materials and attract them to the business with valuable information. This is done by setting up a wide variety of online marketing assets are ready and waiting for interested consumers to find.
These assets include blog posts, websites and paid advertising optimized for specific Internet searches, a dynamic social media presence, mobile apps and much more. When people are attracted to your marketing content, they readily give their permission to receive more information and promotional material from you.
|Inbound Marketing||Outbound Marketing|
|Pull tactics||Push tactics|
|Two-way communication||One-way communication|
|Marketers provide value||Marketers provide little to no value|
|Customers come to you||Customers are sought after|
|Channels: Search engines, referrals, social medias||Channels: Print ads, TV ads, radio, telemarketing…|
The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing is communication. Outbound marketing relies on mass media where communication is only one-way. The business shouts out a message about its brand, and that’s it. People can’t interact with the message or the brand even if they want to. They might even find ways to avoid it.
With inbound marketing, people can talk back and engage with the brand. They can send an email, leave a comment on a blog, post on social media, leave a review on a third-party site and engage your business in many ways. The Internet has returned power to the consumer. If your business’ advertising does not square with the actual services that you provide, people are going to find out and post about it online. Your business cannot hide behind a mass media campaign. If you don’t deliver on your promises, people are going to know.
The key to success in inbound marketing is transparency, honesty, and engagement. You must be transparent and honest about your products and services. And you have to engage with people who are talking about your brand even when the comments are negative.
This two-way communication might seem scary to businesses with heavy investments in traditional marketing, but it is really a boon. Direct connections with consumers not only create brand loyalty but they let you know what problems exist so you can solve them. In addition, your customers are empowered to become ambassadors for your business. They can write reviews, promote your content on social media and make referrals.
Online marketing revolves around a set of key activities, these are important techniques for a successful inbound marketing campaign. Here are a few elements that you will need to master if you are going to promote your business with inbound marketing.
Search engine optimization: We can’t stress enough how important SEO is to inbound marketing. SEO is a set of tactics that make your website attractive to search engines. It takes advantage of what we know about how search engines rank sites to boost the chances that your content will rank for specific keyword searches.
Content creation: Content can come in many forms, but the basic forms are website pages and blog posts. Search engines like sites with a lot of current content. But the main target of content is human visitors who want valuable information about a problem they are experiencing. The key is to position your business as a trusted expert through this content. Content also includes images and videos. Ebooks, white paper, webinars and other similar content offer more extensive information that is used to collect contact information from visitors.
Calls-to-action: Content is not complete without inviting the reader to act in some way. The action could be downloading an ebook in exchange for an email address. But it could also be to make a purchase now based on a discount offer. A call-to-action requires a landing page to further entice visitors to respond to an offer.
Social media: These platforms are ways to promote content. They make it possible for your content to go viral and reach a lot of people.
Emails: Emails are still a very effective tool to nurture an ongoing relationship with people who have expressed an interest in your products and services. You can send out an email newsletter with industry tips and best practices as well as great offers on your products.
Inbound marketing works, here are some of the stats that demonstrate how well inbound marketing works.
According to Hubspot’s report in 2013:
The best news is that inbound marketing is less expensive than traditional marketing. Outbound marketing is expensive because they are usually broadcast to a mass audience even if they aren’t in your target demographics. You have to buy expensive media exposure and keep repeating your message for it to work.
The cost per lead drops significantly for inbound marketing because online resource are significantly less expensive than mass media. You focus on a target audience that is already interested in your products. Inbound marketing results in a significant decrease in cost associated with lead generation.
A marketing strategy that works and is less expensive than the alternative: it seems like a no-brainer. Just look at the numbers below, according to a survey, 41% expressed that inbound marketing demonstrated positive ROI for their company.
If you are just getting started developing a marketing strategy for your business, then the path forward is clear. Inbound marketing is your best bet. It is more effective and will ultimately cost less. You might also invest in more targeted traditional marketing if there is real evidence that you can reach your audience, but there is no reason to invest in large mass media advertising campaigns. Any traditional marketing that you do should drive people to your online resources.
If you are heavily invested in traditional marketing, you are probably seeing a drop in the effectiveness of your efforts. It may be time to start investing some of your marketing budgets into inbound marketing. You can then align your traditional marketing campaigns with your online resources over time. As you move forward, you can shift more and more of your budget to inbound marketing.
The way people communicate is changing rapidly. Inbound marketing leverages these changes to more effectively promote your business. If you want to expand your audience, find new customers and grow, inbound marketing strategies are the way to go.
Here’s a great infographic done by Voltier Digital that sums it all up:
This post was originally written by Zhiyuan and published on Sep 23, 2015. It was most recently updated on Aug 3, 2018.
Updated: 20 March 2019