What is Inbound Marketing?

When it comes to digital marketing, there’s no shortage of jargon—earned media, owned media, inbound marketing, content marketing. And don’t even get us started on the acronyms! Unfortunately, in order to effectively and efficiently reach your target audience you do need to know what options are out there. In other words, you will need, at least a brief, vocabulary lesson. Let’s start with inbound marketing, and more specifically what is inbound marketing.

Inbound marketing—when did that become a thing?

According to AdAge, the first newspaper advertisement ran in 1704. In comparison to that, the inbound methodology is a baby in the marketing industry. It’s been around for just 15 years.

The term “inbound marketing” was first coined by the marketing SaaS HubSpot in 2006.

HubSpot answers what is inbound marketing with the following definition “a process of attracting, converting, closing, and delighting consumers through various types of content at different stages of the buying cycle.”

Well, that clears that up! Right?

Oh, not quite? Let’s take a deeper look.

What is inbound marketing—a definition.

Cutting through all the industry jargon, the answer to what is inbound marketing is, at its core, simply luring potential customers to you by creating valuable content and experiences. This can mean attracting potential customers to either your website, social media profiles, or your brick and mortar location.

Inbound marketing encourages potential customers to make the first move—pulling them to your business versus pushing your business and it’s products and services on them.

Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing—a comparison.

Understanding what is inbound marketing may actually be easier if you also understand outbound marketing.

In contrast to inbound marketing, outbound marketing employs push techniques. A business pushes content (ads) upon potential customers, whether they want said content or not. Think about ads that follow you around, from site to site, or unsolicited sponsored emails. These ads are shown to the individual regardless of what he or she is looking for or consuming at that time.

For example, a potential customer may be reading an article about how to file taxes and you hit him or her with an ad for your restaurant because they visited your website last week. That ad is interrupting that individual’s experience.

That isn’t to say that outbound marketing is bad. It isn’t to say that the individual wouldn’t love to take a break from slogging through taxes and order something yummy from your restaurant. However, it is disrupting what they were engaged in.

In addition, since outbound marketing tends to be paid ads, when the budget runs out so does the marketing.

Inbound marketing is built around providing potential customers content they need when they need it to answer their questions and solve their problems. (And that isn’t to say that all inbound marketing is merely educational … maybe the problem your potential customer has is that they are bored!)

While inbound marketing may not require an ad spend, it is not entirely free. It tends to require a bigger time investment than outbound marketing and it can take longer to both get off the ground and deliver results. That’s why St. Gregory usually recommends a combination of outbound and inbound marketing for most clients.

To sum it up, inbound marketing uses pull techniques and outbound marketing uses push techniques. Inbound marketing typically requires more time but little to no ad spend whereas outbound marketing can usually get off the ground pretty quickly but will require a budget, and when that budget runs out the ads go dark.

What is inbound marketing—the tactics.

So, what is inbound marketing in terms of the tactics that make up the methodology? Great question. Inbound marketing can encompass a variety of different pull tactics. The most common are:

  • Content marketing
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media (specifically, non-paid social media)

Inbound marketing—an example.

Just to make sure we’re all clear on what inbound marketing is, let’s look at an example. This comes from Mazzella Companies, which has a fantastic piece of content marketing they are using for inbound marketing.

The piece of content answers the question “what is the cost of an overhead crane system.” The content includes specific factors, examples, and figures, which provides value. Often, when it comes to the sensitive topic of cost, companies tend to waffle and provide nothing but vague abstractions. In addition, the content includes a video, specific calls to action, and a downloadable quote tool to further pull the potential customer in!

Mazzella Companies offers a great example of what is inbound marketing with their content marketing piece

This is a fantastic example of content being used to provide value to a potential customer.

Inbound marketing—it isn’t all marketing!

Attracting potential customers through valuable content and experiences is critical to inbound marketing, but it’s important to note that despite the name, inbound marketing is not all marketing. Sales and customer service must be involved with this methodology as well.

While the content and promise of experiences can attract potential customers, how those potential customers feel after interacting with your business will play a big role in determining if they actually become customers.

And by the way, your website is part of your sales and customer service team! Make sure you provide easy ways to contact your company, get answers to questions, and move through the sales process.

If you want to learn more about inbound marketing (and other digital marketing tactics) and how they can help your business, contact St. Gregory today. Our entire digital marketing team is HubSpot Inbound Marketing certified and would love to talk more with you about using this marketing option for your business.