If there is one thing that is always true about marketing, it is that this practice is in a constant state of evolution. While there are definitely techniques and strategies that work year after year, there are always people pushing for change to help improve the results they can obtain via marketing. If you want to be able to understand all of your options, keeping abreast of the latest marketing methods is definitely important to do. Though there are many different methods people are using right now, inbound marketing is certainly among the most widely practiced and there are a wealth of reasons for this. We want to look at inbound marketing today and find out what it is and how it came to be.
We are going to discover what makes it such an important form of marketing for those doing any kind of business online now as well as check out some of the many different variations of inbound marketing that are being practiced online today. We’ll investigate how it is used for by entrepreneurs as well as companies both large and small. By the time you’re done reading, you will definitely be well-informed on inbound marketing and all that it has to offer so you can decide whether or not this is a marketing style you should be embracing in your own business ventures.
The Definition of Inbound Marketing & Its History
The basic concept of inbound marketing is actually a fairly easy one to understand. It is rooted in the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. With outbound marketing, the purpose is to essentially get your marketing message in front of the consumer whether or not they want to see it and push them to make a purchase or otherwise recognize your brand. That form of marketing is more traditional and examples of it include direct mail sent to mailboxes unsolicited, cold calling via telemarketing, radio TV ads, flyers put on doors or inserted into publications, and other types of paid advertisements where the consumer essentially has no choice regarding whether or not they see the ad. This is sometimes known as ‘buying attention’ and it is a practice that has been performed for many years.
While outbound marketing was and continues to be a viable way to perform marketing today, inbound marketing does have differences which not only set it apart, but also make it superior in situations where outbound marketing might otherwise be seen as the only choice. What inbound marketing seeks to do is make sure that the potential customer actually wants to be marketed to. This eliminates the feeling of intrusion and places those doing the marketing in a much more positive light, also hopefully priming the prospect for the sale since they do not feel put upon. Instead, the prospect feels as if they are more in control of the situation and that often leads to more receptivity towards the marketer.
Marketers and inbound marketing
Prior to the rise in popularity of the web, inbound marketing was rarely practiced, but technology has changed this by empowering marketers to be able to more extensively test their own techniques and strategies at a faster rate as well as at a lower cost. Marketing legend Seth Godin coined the term ‘permission marketing‘ which is essentially the same thing as inbound marketing and helped this form of marketing become widely known as a truly viable alternative to the then popular outbound marketing. Instead of trying to seize the attention of those being marketed to, those doing marketing would now begin trying to earn that attention by giving the prospect something of value such as a free article or video on a topic that they were using a search engine to find information about. This approach fit so well for online marketers that it rapidly became the way they wanted to reach out to their audiences and, when they did, they were able to realize incredibly high profits without the kind of investment that outbound marketing would have required from them in the past.
The primary defining factor of inbound marketing is that it is an attempt to ‘get discovered’ by consumers who are already searching for what is being marketed. This has a very obvious connection to the popular aim of many marketers to create an ‘authority site‘ so that they become a leader in their niche. The main reason that inbound marketing continues to be such a popular way to go rests upon its effectiveness in so many different markets for so many different types of businesses.
Why Inbound Marketing is So Important in Today’s Online Climate?
In order to understand what makes inbound marketing so effective, we have to consider the state of consumer culture online today. Most people are exhausted by the constant flood of ads they see each and every day. Over time, they begin to tune out marketing messages they did not ask for and to feel put upon by marketers that continue to press their way into their lives, uninvited. Publicly available research shows that close to half of those who receive direct mail never open even a single envelope of it and over 85% of TV viewers tune out commercials. Those figures alone show just how much time, effort and money can be flat-out wasted trying to buy the attention of an audience that is not looking to be marketed to.
Instead, the success of search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo proves that people do indeed want to look for things to buy. When marketers stop trying to push their way in and begin, instead, to focus on positioning what they have to offer in front of those who are already looking for it, they begin to get better results. Even consumers who want to buy something they see via outbound marketing often do their own research online to learn more about their options when it comes to products or services designed to meet a need they have. In short, they go online and check out more information before they make a purchase decision and they will generally favor the marketer that did the best job of inbound marketing, giving them quality information and being there for them when they had a need. We live in an age where more and more consumers are starting to demand more respect and those marketers that do not give it to them will find themselves losing sales that would have been extremely easy to obtain with more sensible inbound marketing.
Another key advantage of inbound marketing is that it typically costs quite a bit less to do. Sites that have, for example, a blog or other source of fresh content relevant to what they sell often find that they spend a lot less trying to get people to come look at their offers. They don’t have to cajole and try to pull in the attention of prospects because they are already offering something prospects want. Instead of needing to rely solely on ads, they can let the content of their site do a lot of the heavy lifting for them. If they make particularly high quality, magnetic content and distribute it the right way, they can pull in customers for years and dramatically reduce the amount of outbound marketing they do.
Finally, a last but very crucial advantage that inbound marketing has to offer is tied directly into technology. Marketers can do split testing and use other methods to try out their various tactics, messages and design formats to see what it is that consumers actually respond to. They can ask for feedback on their marketing efforts and see what people have to say. They can do all of this very quickly and at such a low-cost that it enables them to fine tune their inbound marketing efforts without a large investment. Doing the same thing with broadcast media ads would be very pricey and take a lot longer to do. That’s why inbound marketing can work for so many different kinds of businesses.
What are Common Forms of Inbound Marketing Used Today?
While the basic concept of inbound marketing is the same across the many different forms of it practiced today, there are indeed key differences between these forms. Each will have pros and cons that marketers will need to weigh because the most important thing about choosing the right kind of inbound marketing to do is making sure that what you choose works for the kind of business you have and the kind of consumers you are trying to reach.
As an umbrella term, content marketing is what most of those engaged in inbound marketing will be practicing, one way or another. The process of search engine optimization (SEO) is tightly tied to this because organic search traffic is definitely something of an ‘ideal’ for most practitioners of inbound marketing. This is because these visitors where already looking for the content they the marketers have to offer. Contextual pay-per-click (PPC) ads are another method that can work for those who do not have the time nor the skill do proper SEO work, but PPC ads do require a significant budget to work in most instances. Either of these methods can be an ideal way to reach out to an audience, but they do not need to be the only form of inbound marketing you do.
Blogs are considered to be a strong choice for inbound marketing because they can benefit from SEO and be advertised with PPC ads, as well. With a blog, the attraction is that fresh content can be delivered on a regular basis and also that over time, the content which was posted a long time ago – assuming that it is of good quality and not out of date – will continue to pull in visitors and give them value. In many respects, this is an ideal form of inbound marketing since it is relatively low in cost and not too much of a hassle to perform. It also dovetails well with social media marketing so that blog posts can be shared widely and continue to bring in traffic. Blogs can be used to market nearly anything and so they remain a very good choice for marketers today.
Social media marketing is considered a form of inbound marketing because social media sites give their users quite a lot of control over who they can connect with and see marketing messages from. This means that marketers can actually become sources of information or even entertainment for their audiences and connect more deeply with them, promoting their brand in a way that builds strong relationships with audience members. Content of just about any kind can easily be distributed via social networks like Twitter, Facebook or YouTube and the costs of getting involved are quite low. Plus, the very best content can and does have a tendency to go viral which can result in a massive increase in audience size and more sales for those companies that succeed at producing such incredible content.
Regardless of whether you share it via social networks, post it on your company blog or some mixture of these two, video marketing can be a solid form of inbound marketing that brings in sales. Podcasts are the audio version of videos and they work in a similar way. You are giving your audience something of value, just like you would with a written article or ebook, but you are engaging more of their senses. Videos remain a very solid way to earn the attention of those looking for information on a subject related to what you are marketing or who simply want to be entertained. Obviously, videos can go viral and if that happens, you stand to get a very high level of exposure. At the same time, the best videos have a long life span and can continue getting a consistent number of views for years.
List marketing is another type of inbound marketing where the prospect voluntarily opts in to receive emails from the marketer. Usually, those with a list will need to advertise in order to get it a wide level of exposure, but some will use an existing blog or even social media accounts to encourage people to sign up for their email newsletter. This is similar to direct mail (yet digital in nature, of course) except that the consumer has asked to be sent the emails. As long as you make sure that you are regularly providing value to your subscribers, this can be a great way to bring in sales and keep your brand alive in the minds of your target audience members.
How Inbound Marketing Can Work for Personal Branding Entrepreneurs?
The advent of personal branding as a marketing technique for entrepreneurs has demanded something of a perspective shift in how marketing is done. Those doing marketing online find that incorporating their own identity into their marketing is a smart way to go because in this age of social media, it can help people make a more meaningful connection with them and the products or services they have to offer. Clearly, inbound marketing is a superior way to reach out to audiences when one is engaged in personal branding.
With inbound marketing you can create a lower pressure sales environment which is more conducive to building longer lasting relationships with prospective customers. This kind of marketing appeals to those customers and makes sure the person who represents their brand is placed in a positive light. By embracing the creation of quality content, marketers utilizing personal branding to their own advantage are able to establish themselves as trusted authorities in their given niche without needing to push their audience into listening to what they have to say. In recent times, this has become a very strong way to do marketing and for those that are hoping to reduce their costs to streamline their entrepreneurial efforts, this is a great way to go. It’s a strategy that has been used by many others with success and it is simple to begin doing on a modest budget, as well.
How Larger Companies Can Leverage Inbound Marketing?
The benefits of inbound marketing for larger companies are definitely easy to see and one of the areas that benefits will be noticed first is in how much cheaper it is to do inbound marketing than outbound marketing. Larger corporations generally have put a lot into developing their brand and they can use this to their advantage, authoring content that pulls in visitors from the web. They can also incorporate other kinds of advertising they do into their inbound marketing by aiming ads at blogs, mailing lists and other ways of building an audience that customers are usually going to embrace.
In addition to the helpful benefits in terms of lowering costs, there is the fact that larger brands which adopt inbound marketing techniques may be able to gain goodwill from their audience which is always a very good thing. Since they are providing value instead of hammering their prospects with advertising and hoping for a sale, the consumer may be less likely to tune out their marketing efforts. In high competition markets this can be a very strong advantage that can give a bigger company a real edge over their competitors.
Obviously, larger companies will either need to have a team dedicated to inbound marketing in-house or they will need to hire professional services to obtain the results they want. Plenty of huge companies already do inbound marketing and are not shy about touting how effective it has been for promoting their brand, often to expanded audiences compared with those audiences they were reaching with older methods.
Should You Do DIY Inbound Marketing or Hire Professionals?
There are many proponents of the DIY (Do It Yourself) approach to inbound marketing and a lot of that comes from how easy it has been to do. While this is still certainly a possibility, you should realize that SEO is not as easy or as low in cost as it once was, for example. As the web evolves, the barriers to entry for all forms of marketing are getting more pronounced and this is why it is a good idea to consider the advantages that go along with hiring professionals to perform your inbound marketing.
There are indeed courses and even one on one coaching programs you can get involved with that will teach you many of today’s hottest inbound marketing methods. These do cost money and they will require not just your time, but a focused and consistent effort. Failure is part of the growing process in learning these methods and how to implement them effectively in your own business so keep that in mind as you consider whether or not the DIY approach is what you want. Sometimes, it can be more cost-effective and a smarter business decision to outsource what you need done instead. That way, you can focus your time and energy on your core skill set that drives your business.
Hiring professional services, just like finding the right course or program to learn inbound marketing, requires that you do your due diligence. You want to work with a firm that has a solid track record for producing results and who understands your business, its philosophy and what it has to sell. As long as you really do research who you choose to work with, this can be a good way to take your business to the next level.
Small Businesses Can Really Blossom with Inbound Marketing
Some say that out of all the various types of marketing out there, inbound marketing is most beneficial for small businesses. The low-cost is definitely one part of why this is said, but there are other reasons, too. For one thing, it can help small businesses show off what they are good at. If they have expertise within their niche, it is going to be easy for them to create content that can draw in visitors who come to see them as a good source of information on certain topics. If they excel at customer service, then that is going to stand out in an inbound marketing situation where customers are more prone to make contact, ask questions and otherwise be more proactive in learning about the products and services being marketed.
Small businesses can also keep things more low-key and emphasize the people within the business who are their best assets. This means that consumers may feel more closely connected with the business similar to the way they respond to entrepreneurs who are using the personal branding strategy. When all of the different factors that make inbound marketing such a good choice are brought together, you can easily see why this is such a solid choice for businesses that are going to be keeping close tabs on their marketing efforts and which are more likely to take a direct hand in their own marketing, at least from time to time. Plus, the increased interaction that inbound marketing can encourage is bound to help small businesses get vital feedback that can help them improve the offers they make to their core audience.
All Inbound Marketing Requires Planning, Strategy & Staying the Course
This is essential to remember because with inbound marketing the temptation can be to do what you can when you can. While that is certainly smart for those who feel overloaded, and understandably sounds practical if the budget’s tight, do not underestimate the value of detailed planning. All marketing needs to be planned so that you can be sure you are putting forth a consistent image of your enterprise and what it offers. While it takes time and energy up front, well planned inbound marketing is far more likely to bring you the results you are seeking. When it does not, then you can make changes where you need to.
Strategy matters in inbound marketing because you need to make sure you are meeting the needs of your prospective prospects. Do research into your target audience and learn what they want. Go into forums, ask them on social networks – in short, do whatever you have to in order to find out their needs and desires. That is going to help you strategize wisely and do inbound marketing that really works. Make sure you stay consistent and hang in there even when it looks as if things aren’t working. inbound marketing takes time to really blossom so you should do your best to keep going until you have results you can measure and begin testing improved versions of your inbound marketing campaigns. That’s the way successful marketers do it.