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What is inbound marketing? How is it different?

Inbound marketing connects with people who are already searching

Inbound marketing is the opposite of outbound or interruptive marketing. It’s designed to reach people who are already looking for what you offer. And where do most people search for information, products or services these days? Online.

Let’s back up … marketing the old way

what is inbound marketing ... not interruptive marketingThere are many options within traditional, outbound marketing. Most are designed to interrupt or intrude on target audiences … to demand attention and entice interest from anyone and everyone who is seeing the message.

  • Advertising in the newspaper breaks up the articles you’re reading.
  • Television advertising interrupts the program you’re watching.
  • Billboards grab your attention from the road in front of you.
  • Radio advertising butts into the music you’re listening to.
  • Direct mail is calculated to entice your interest with the right message and offer.

Even online … banner ads try to distract you from what you’re viewing. Catalogs. Trade shows. Cold calling. Magazines … the list goes on. Interrupt. Intrude. Interfere. Break in. Grab your attention.

Look at me! Pay attention to what I’m offering!

This interruption requires people to shift what they’re doing to pay attention to something new, whether or not they’re thinking of buying. Sure, there are many people (I’m certainly one!) who respond to ads, catalogs, mailings and more. They end up buying, even though they didn’t think they were looking … because the message and story were enticing enough to draw them in. The product or service offered a benefit they were willing and able to pay for.

One could say the old way of marketing, even when targeted to specific audiences, still reaches a whole lot of people who aren’t ready to buy. And the job of that interruptive marketing is to get people to pay attention to something new, then “sell” them on why to buy.

People are resisting the interruption

Today there are so many choices, so many communication channels, and so much chaos in the world around us, most people are resisting interruption. They refuse to follow where marketers are trying to lead them. They’re no longer trusting advertising or sales people. Instead they’re turning to new sources of information … and more sources of information … to be more informed before they buy.

  • In 2010 consumers reviewed, on average, 5.3 sources of information before talking to anyone
  • In 2011 the number of sources had risen to 10.4
  • In 2012, consumers were looking at more than 16 sources–most of them online–before buying.

And what are those sources? Blogs, reviews, recommendations, multiple websites in the same category, social media and so much more … most of it online. 88% of internet users research online before buying.

What if you help people? If you offer information they’re already looking for? If you provide the answers to their questions?
… when they’re already searching for what you offer?

What is inbound marketing? It positions your organization and your website to be found by people who are already looking for what you offer … when they’re looking online. Deliver the answers they’re seeking, help them choose instead of interrupting and intruding.


Inbound marketing is today's marketing

Don’t get me wrong. There’s still lots of value in traditional advertising and marketing. It’s not going away. A great ad campaign can shift perceptions and increase awareness. A terrific catalog can generate new sales. Direct mail is still a powerful medium to encourage target audiences to look further. When you add in solid online support, those traditional media can be even more effective at a lower cost by sending readers online for more details, resources, videos, demos or to make the actual sale.

Back to the inbound marketing strategy

As the chart shows, the goal is to turn searchers into customers and promoters by attracting them, converting them to leads and capturing their information, followed by nurturing the relationship to close a new customer. Then, of course, keep that new customer happy.

What is inbound marketing? It’s a process requires ongoing attention, testing, analyzing and tuning, but it starts with these best practices:

  • Build your website with solid SEO, founded on who you are and what your niche is. Choose keywords and build content around that position. Remember, it’s not about you … it’s about what people are looking for that you provide. Their perceptions. Their questions. Their concerns.
  • Deliver content that is valuable, educational, informative and focused on the user. Content can be downloadable checklists, guides or white papers, or informative and entertaining videos, demos, free offers and more.
  • Use landing pages and calls to action to encourage interaction, and capture information from those who have expressed interest by filling out a landing page and/or downloading information.
  • Create multiple contacts and opportunities to invite visitors back through e-mail, lead nurturing, referring to your blog or special offers.
  • Build the relationship to help your interested visitor to become a committed buyer, providing help and support along the way, helping them to choose.
  • Use analytics to track what’s working, what visitors are responding to, how they’re finding you and what they’re doing on your website or blog. Use that information to continuously improve interactions and results.

There’s so much more … and so many options depending on your industry, your target audience and your niche in the market. It’s a process one must commit to. It’s not a short-term solution. But it is how marketing delivers results now … and in the future.

But really, doesn’t inbound make sense?

  • Connect with the people who are already searching for what you offer instead of intruding on everyone and hoping to get a few people to respond.
  • Provide what they’re looking for so you’re viewed as a helpful resource that answers questions and solves their problem.
  • Build a relationship that you can nurture over time, using your online tools.
  • Turn your website into a 24/7 marketing machine … because that’s where people are starting when they’re looking for what you offer.

You can also align your offline (traditional/print) marketing materials with your online presence to give both more power and impact. We have plenty of other ideas to share about inbound marketing and aligning the offline and online brand. You might like:


About the author

Jennifer Larsen Morrow

Jennifer's four decades of work in the industry, starting as a designer and adding marketing, copywriting and digital marketing, has generated response for clients since 1978.

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