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Inbound Marketing: What You Need to Know

inbound marketing connected people graphicMuting TV advertisements
Fast forwarding the movie previews on DVDs
Turning a blind eye to online banner ads
Installing ad-blocking tools

We’ve been tuning out traditional marketing efforts in our media for a while now. As businesspeople, when thinking about our own marketing efforts, this thought can be troubling. When the appeal of investing in old-school advertising is losing its shine, where do we turn? You may find the answer in inbound marketing – but what exactly is it?

What is Inbound Marketing?

Where traditional marketing uses billboards, broadcast advertising, sales calls and email/postal mailouts out to grab attention (which is sometimes called outbound or “interruption” marketing because it interrupts someone’s activities to get attention), inbound marketing focuses on making your business “findable” by creating valuable content, working with SEO and pay per click ads, and generally providing value to your prospects; drawing them towards you organically and creating a relationship, rather than relying on marketing methods that some consider to be irritating.

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Examples of Inbound Marketing Methods

  • Blogging and content creation (videos, podcasts, case studies, etc.)
  • Search engine optimisation and pay per click advertising
  • Opt-in email lists
  • Offering lead magnets and free tools
  • Promoting your created content through social media and media sharing websites
  • In-person networking and public speaking
  • Instigating free events such as a live webinar or Q&A session over social media
  • Engaging with responses over social media or in comments sections on your own site
  • Generally building client relationships through social media and other professional channels

The Advantages

OK, so we know what’s involved, but what makes it so great?

  • In general, inbound marketing costs a lot less than traditional print and broadcast marketing, meaning a higher potential return on investment.
  • By providing useful information to your readers you’re helping them out whilst also proving your worth.
  • Many web users are quite cynical about being sold to, what with the state of prior, more pushy and sometimes deceptive online marketing efforts; so by sharing information and letting your guard down, you bypass this entirely.
  • Social sharing functionality allows for popular content to gain organic momentum. If someone likes your piece of content enough to share it with their followers, then that’s a whole new audience that is potentially now open to you.
  • By professionally engaging with people who have shown an interest through social channels, it builds trust; not only from the person being engaged with, but other users who witness this one on one treatment.
  • Engaging in discussions and building relationships in this fashion provides a human touch unheard of in most other kinds of marketing.
  • For those of us that love the analytical approach, many inbound marketing methods allow for thorough analysis and reporting. The parallels to key performance indicators are often more direct than with outbound methods.
  • People’s time and attention is generally more valuable than ever as we are becoming more time-poor and more in control of the information we access. Your readers are asking “what’s in it for me?” more than ever; so if you can provide useful, free information; that’s much more likely to resonate with them than a banner advertisement.
  • Though it is a type of marketing, it’s not seen as intrusive or pushy. In this way it’s more respectful of the prospect and their time.

The Disadvantages

Sounds great, right? Well, there are a few downsides…

  • Inbound marketing can involve more work. It may be cheaper financially, but if you’re looking to create content in-house it certainly won’t be cheaper time-wise.
  • Working on your social presence and embracing content marketing is a concerted, ongoing effort. You can’t just “set it and forget it” like a lot of traditional marketing.
  • As well as time spent creating content and engaging over social media, time also needs to be spent tracking and analysing your results so you know what’s working.
  • Inbound marketing often requires diverse skill sets, so some level of outsourcing may be required, especially for smaller organisations.
  • If you’re building an audience from scratch, you’ll need to put in time and effort for your follower count to accrue. By all means share your content but don’t be upset that it’s falling on deaf ears for a bit. It doesn’t help that your content and social posts can get lost in the constant online chatter. Sidenote: Keep ‘em peeled for a possible future article on building your audience from absolute zero!
  • Encouraging discussion is great and all, but there are no guarantees that all feedback will be positive. If you are looking to directly engage with individuals, it’s imperative that you have a policy in place for what happens if something does go sour online.
  • You’ve got to make sure you are creating content of the best possible quality that provides tangible value to your readers. Avoid pumping out any old content just for the sake of it, always look to answer a practical question. Good content takes time, planning, knowledge and research (which also takes us back to the points about time and skills required).

The Verdict

It’s important to be aware of the pitfalls of inbound marketing, but all businesses that want to be noticed online need to embrace it to some extent. Those who are more comfortable with traditional marketing methods may be glad to hear that the two schools of thought are not mutually exclusive so you can use elements of both simultaneously. Inbound marketing can provide an inexpensive boost to outbound marketing efforts, and outbound marketing can solve the issue of audience building when starting out from scratch with inbound marketing.

Those without the funds for old-school marketing efforts may find themselves in good company with inbound marketing, so take a good look at your current advertising efforts (not to mention your budget) and see what mix of the two can work for you.

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Where do you stand on the inbound versus outbound debate? Which approach gets you the best results? Please share your thoughts down in the comments.

Graphic attribution: Jack Moreh at FreeRangeStock.com.

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