Inbound marketing has taken over the marketing world. In a four-part series of blogs, we’ll run through everything you need to know about inbound and the different ways it can help to transform your approach to marketing.
An Introduction to Inbound
Instituting ‘inbound marketing’ methods is a fundamental shift in customer relations. It’s more than marketing. It’s a comprehensive approach that stretches from the first contact, to selling, all the way to retention and customer service.
When implemented well, inbound can help you to attract more people. It can increase engagement and improve the relationships you’re forming with customers and clients. It has something to offer to basically any enterprise, big or small, for profit or not-for-profit, in business-to-business or consumer marketing.
In this series of blogs, we will introduce inbound marketing and its essential parts. By the time we’re done, you should be able to see how it could work for you, and, if you’re already doing inbound, whether there are things you could be doing better.
But First, Outbound Marketing
Let’s start by taking a look at inbound’s forerunner, outbound marketing.
Outbound is the name inbound gave to what we’ve been doing for a long time. As its name suggests, it’s marketing in an outward sense. The company is an island, marketing is like sending up a flare, calling for people to come and check out what they’ve got.
Outbound has strategies to home in on specific audiences, but it’s still a scattershot approach. They target an audience, they send their message, and then hope some of those people take an interest.
With outbound, this first interaction is an interruption. An interruption while reading the news, while on social media, while watching TV, and so on. From there it’s up to the customer to decide if what they were exposed to appeals to them, and whether they want to take the next step and start engaging.
If they do, what follows is generally a disjointed experience. The customer buys in, the sale is made, then everybody moves on. Little effort is put into establishing a two-way connection between company and customer. The largely coincidental link of ‘person needs thing, we sell thing’ is more or less the extent of the relationship.
That’s not to say outbound isn’t effective; to some degree, it is. It’s useful for recognition, for establishing brand identity, and for reaching diverse audiences. Supposedly dated tactics can still be immensely beneficial. Outbound is by no means irrelevant, but inbound is taking centre stage.
Audiences today have ad-blockers and filters, they have streaming video – they can avoid ads. They’re less captive, and even when they’re reached by advertising, there’s research to suggest it’s less effective.
We’re living in an advertisement-saturated environment. Potential customers are harder to impress, more discerning, and generally just sick of advertising.
When they want something, they have places they can go to find the best; the best reviewed, the least expensive. They have the advice of friends and family, but also of experts or other customers online. They trust the sources they find themselves more than anything they have shoved at them.
Buyers have more power – that’s a big factor in outbound marketing going out of fashion.
So, What About Inbound?
Inbound flips the model on its head. It puts a focus on being a force of attraction by producing quality content and having a thoughtful presence in key spaces. Once people come, it’s about engaging with them in a helpful and authentic way. When you gain a customer’s trust and they opt-in to whatever you’re offering, it turns to keeping them around and keeping them happy.
This means an organisation’s marketing becomes part of its customer service and vice versa.
There are three key stages, attract, engage, delight, and inbound marketers add three guiding principles to these stages:
Be human; because the customer is unique, with different wants and needs, and they should be treated that way.
Be helpful; because whatever you’re offering should be of actual value.
Be holistic; because what you offer should be comprehensive, cohesive, and lasting. No one part of the process is isolated from another, and the principles on which the process is based should be present throughout.
Inbound bills itself as a more respectful and more human approach to marketing. It’s also effective, and has already had a huge impact on how we conduct business.
Coming Up, Attracting Strangers
In part two, we’ll start breaking down those key stages, beginning with attracting people. Inbound tackles that by looking at a company and its customers, and through creating quality content and a presence in key spaces.