Inbound Marketing

Dear Doctor Digital - I thought marketing was supposed to be outgoing - ie marketing to the customers, what’s inbound marketing and how does it work?

Doctor Digital Says

In the digital age that is a two way conversation and often a one-to-many communication channel, the idea of pushing out marketing harks back to the days of Mad Men when advertisers told consumers what they wanted and consumers complied. Inbound marketing is a marketing methodology that is designed to draw visitors and potential customers in, rather than outwardly pushing a brand, product or service onto prospects in the hope of generating leads or customers.

In terms of digital marketing this means using a combination of marketing channels – most commonly content marketing, SEO and social media – in creative ways to attract people’s attention. The aim of a successful inbound marketing campaign is to increase reach, and drive quality traffic, engagement and conversions using ‘earned’ and ‘owned’ media.

Inbound marketing software provider HubSpot first coined the term inbound marketing. HubSpot grasped the virality of social and digital and the benefit that could have for advertisers when they became part of the ecosystem of the consumption of their products. HubSpot defines inbound marketing as the process of attracting, converting, closing and more generally delighting customers so they become brand advocates through their own channels, which creates links back to the original seller.

The differences between inbound and outbound marketing lie in the name. Inbound marketing focuses on drawing potential customers in, while outbound marketing is about outwardly pushing a business’s offering. Inbound marketing is about stimulating curiosity in a potential customer who is looking for a solution that your company provides and attracting them to your channels, while outbound marketing typically involves buying space and pushing marketing materials out to people.

Inbound marketing uses the idea of ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media when engaging with customers. Owned media are those channels that a business has control over. For example, your website, blog, brand social media profiles, and YouTube channel. You are in control of the content and its publishing schedule on these channels, and you are usually working them to create earned media. Earned media is the coverage you earn as a result your hard work on the social strategy front.

Offline, this includes traditional coverage in newspapers and magazines. Online, it’s things such as coverage on news sites often gained through digital PR, mentions on social media, use of a campaign hashtag, conversations in online forums, and online reviews. You have less control over earned media, but it should be a reward for the work you’ve put into your inbound marketing campaign and has the added authenticity of coming from a third party endorser.

All marketing is fundamentally about customer conversion. The journey to that conversion is radically shortened when you begin from a place where your potential customers are already interested in what you have to sell and are at the stage of discerning which of the competing products they want to buy.

Inbound marketing is all about giving potential customers the information they are looking for – even if they don’t know it – in a creative and engaging way. By using inbound marketing as a way to present your brand as a useful and reliable resource, the hope is they’ll come to you when the time to purchase does arise.

Like all marketing, there is a cost to creating your inbound marketing funnel, and the difficulty comes from understanding where the mentions and endorsements have come from in the marketing you created and paid for. It may be that you can’t track the number of leads generated as a direct result of your campaign, but you can track how many downloads your resource has had, the average duration people watched your video for, how many new social media followers you gained, etc.

When you’re planning your campaign, be clear about what it is you’re trying to achieve and measure that as closely as possible. Successful inbound marketing campaigns don’t happen overnight. They take time to plan, implement and refine. It can be labour-intensive too – you might need content creators, designers, developers, outreach specialists, social media marketers and a little bit of timing and luck. But once the bedrock of your brand is established in the right channels to touch your markets, you should have something that continues to provide value for the foreseeable future.

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