What is Inbound Marketing and What Do I Need to Know?

Surely you’ve heard the term inbound marketing.  You see it everywhere now – white papers, videos, books, blog articles (this one being no exception).  Recently, a good friend of mine who is in the process of opening up a new business was asking for some marketing advice.  My advice included the term inbound marketing, of which he asked for further clarification.  It occurred to me that while most of us understand different inbound marketing tactics, we may not be familiar with the actual definition of inbound marketing and the differences in strategy.

Outbound Marketing

To clarify inbound marketing, it probably helps to define outbound marketing first.  Outbound marketing is the traditional marketing most of us are used to where a company broadcasts its message “out” to an audience.  The conversation between the consumer and the company is initiated by the company.  You are blasted with all kinds of outbound marketing on a daily basis – television commercials, radio commercials, newspaper ads, e-mails and telemarketing phone calls (which still haven’t completely disappeared despite the Do Not Call list).

Outbound marketing techniques have been used for decades because it was the best way to reach a wide audience.  Two-way communication was either not possible or extremely difficult and costly.  The Internet has changed that and many businesses are starting to see a decline in their marketing results.  Despite being effective for as long as it has, outbound marketing is not without its drawbacks.

Drawbacks to Outbound Marketing

First, outbound marketing, such as radio commercials, is hard to track and therefore calculate an exact return on investment (ROI).  A radio station may have a reach of 50,000 people, but it’s difficult to know exactly how many of those are listening at any given moment.  Even if you could track how many of those listeners were “tuned in,” it’s not possible to quantify how many actually heard the message or how many would even find the message applicable.

Second, it’s much easier to block out the unwanted noise now.  We add our phone numbers to the Do Not Call list to reduce telemarketing calls, we listen to services like Pandora and Spotify for commercial free radio, we use DVRs to record television shows and fast forward through commercials, and we subscribe to services like Netflix and Hulu to watch commercial free movies and TV.  Even Google added tabs to Gmail, making it easier to filter marketing e-mails out of your primary inbox.  We, the consumer, are in control and can filter out anything we don’t want.

Finally, it’s difficult to customize the message.  A company can run a commercial during the Superbowl, but everyone watching sees the same commercial.  That same company may choose to segment by market (i.e. a different ad plays in New York from the one in Chicago), but it’s still the same message to a large group of consumers.

Technology has changed the way business and consumers can interact, leading to more companies adopting an inbound marketing strategy.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is about helping customers find you.  Instead of blasting marketing messages to the masses and hoping to find new customers, inbound marketing is about crafting content useful to customers so they can find you.  In other words, giving people what they are searching for.

Technology has revolutionized the way consumers shop – now we search before we buy.  What’s the best electric razor?  Where’s the nearest Home Depot based on my current location?  What’s the best place to eat in South Beach?

An inbound marketing strategy involves finding the things you do well and what problem or problems you can solve for customers.  Then, using a variety of tactics, making sure you show up in the search results when people are looking for the solution to a problem you can solve.

Inbound Marketing Tactics

The definition is simple enough, but how do you implement an inbound marketing strategy?  There are numerous books, whitepapers, videos and tutorials available on this subject and we couldn’t possibly hope to cover enough detail in just one article.  However, here are a few simple tactics you can use to increase your exposure:

  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
    Search engine optimization is the science of crafting content on your website to match keywords that people are actually using to search for your product or service.  SEO is at the heart of a good inbound strategy because it permeates every other tactic you use – blogging, whitepapers – you name it.
  • Blogging
    According to a study by Ignitespot, 61% of U.S. consumers have made a purchase based on a blog post.  The same study also states that 70% of consumers learn about a company through articles rather than ads and companies that blog have 97% more inbound links.  If you’re blogging you’re creating content and when that content is indexed by search engines, it helps your customers find you.
  • Social Media
    Did you know that YouTube reaches more adults aged 18-34 than any cable network?  While you may have heard that Twitter is one of the fastest growing social media platforms around, did you know the fastest growing demographic on Twitter is the 55-64 year age bracket?  So what does that mean?  It means your customers are already out there using a variety of social media platforms.  Are you talking to them?
  • Whitepapers
    Content is the key to a good inbound marketing strategy and white papers serve as great content to generate awareness about a product, service, and/or company.  They’re usually easy to generate (based on previous company research and development findings), easy to distribute, and highly regarded.  Editors are far more likely to include quotes from whitepapers because they’re not seen as advertising and they provide a great way to get your company name and information in front of more people.


We’ll include some more articles on in-depth tactics for using an inbound strategy, but hopefully this article helped to clear up any confusion about the term.  Also, I should mention that while many outbound marketing tactics are showing declines, they are not dead.  There are still ways to craft an effective outbound strategy but that, too, we’ll save for another day! What Inbound Marketing tactics work best for you?