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What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing is a hot topic that continues to gain steam in the business community. It is especially being embraced today by marketers and small business owners as either a supplement or replacement to traditional marketing methods that are showing decreased effectiveness.

In this article, we will help define Inbound Marketing and explore some of the differences between inbound and outbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing – A Quick History Lesson

To understand Inbound Marketing, let's first take a look at where the concept comes from. At its core, the goal of any kind of marketing is to increase visibility and awareness of a product or service so that it can be sold to a customer. To support this goal of sales, many companies use a sales funnel to visualize the process of customer acquisition, from marketing dollars going out to revenue dollars coming in.

Inbound Marketing - A basic purchase funnel from outbound marketingThe standard sales funnel itself evolved from a model originally developed in 1898 by Elias St. Elmo Lewis. Lewis believed in advertising’s ability to “educate the public” and outlined the path an informed customer might take to arrive at a purchasing decision through the following four stages:

  • Awareness
  • Interest
  • Desire
  • Action

In this largely outbound model, a customer first becomes aware of a product or service through traditional marketing methods such as billboards or commercials. Continued visibility of advertising is expected to lead to a customer demonstrating interest in learning more about a specific vendor or item, with new knowledge turning interest into a genuine desire to acquire that item or work with that vendor. The final step in the process is the customer being shown enough marketing material and information to feel comfortable with taking action and making a purchase.

An alternative to standard advertising, content marketing traces its roots back to the same 1890s and pioneers like John Deere, Michelin and Jell-O. These brands believed that they could enhance their respective reputations not by shouting their names from the rooftops, but by creating and publishing informative content and media that benefited their target market. Ranging from a magazine offering farming advice to a guide filled with travel tips, these brands drove visibility and revenue by attaining top of mind status through a combination of quality information and quality impressions.

Inbound marketing is a derivative of content marketing, with proponents like David Meerman Scott, Brian Halligan and Hubspot driving interest and understanding in the method over the last decade. In its simplest form, inbound marketing can be defined as “marketing focused on getting found by customers.”

Inbound Marketing – What Sets it Apart

The main differentiator between inbound marketing and other content marketing methods is inbound’s focus on developing targeted content that is specifically aimed at a company’s ideal customer. That content is then delivered via the online platforms where customers are most frequently active. Inbound marketers know that consumer discovery increasingly takes place over the internet in the digital age, and they capitalize on that knowledge by matching distributed content to the interests and modern habits of their customers.

Compare the Inbound Methodology model created by HubSpot to the traditional sales funnel we covered above.


HubSpot's Inbound Marketing Model HubSpot's Inbound Methodology


In the Inbound model, targeted content distributed across a variety of platforms attracts self-selecting visitors to consider your product or service. Visitors choose to invite additional contact from vendors by exchanging contact information for additional information on your organization. This is where visitors convert to leads, creating the opportunity for your organization to engage in a dialogue and close new business through effective levels of communication. Once a new customer is acquired, the focus then shifts to the ultimate goal of Inbound Marketing: turning that customer into a promoter by going above and beyond with customer service and customer experience, creating a sense of delight that competitors can't match.

HubSpot calls this “Lifecycle Marketing”, an ongoing process of marketing that begins long before a prospective customer finds your company and continues long after a new customer is acquired. Implemented correctly, it turns the traditional concept of marketing on its head by encouraging companies to spend less money on advertising and more time on delighting and satisfying customers to the point that a loyal, delighted customer base becomes a well-earned component of the company's marketing reach.


Inbound Marketing Audience photo ©KeithSpiroPhoto Inbound Marketing - Your audience awaits you!


While there are major fundamental differences between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing, getting started with Inbound is easier than it seems. In fact, whether you’re a small business, a startup, or a major corporation, odds are you already utilize some of the key tools for inbound marketing whether you realize it or not. Do you have an active social media account, such as Facebook, Twitter or Google+? Do you write a blog, or use SEO to measure the impact of your website? If so, congratulations! You're already on the path to supplementing your existing visibility with a new model of marketing.

For the team at Kendall Press

Filed Under: marketing, digital marketing, Inbound Marketing
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