Marketing that truly works is constantly evolving. We all know that the days of the door-to-door salesman are long gone. Those cold-calling, outbound marketing methods just don’t work the way they used to. Consumers have taken control of how they want to be marketed to, and in order to stay in front of them, the most successful brands have made the transition from outbound to inbound marketing.
Outbound Marketing: Defined
Outbound marketing is the method of finding customers by more intrusive means such as cold calling, television and online ads, handbills, or direct mail. Outbound marketing casts as wide a net as possible in the hopes that enough purchasing customers will be in that net, ready to buy. Outbound marketing efforts are easy to block or ignore with Do Not Call registrations, spam filters, ad blockers, and that most beloved ability to fast forward through TV commercials. At its core, outbound marketing seems less about what matters to the consumer and more about what the seller wants and needs:
“Hello! You there? Look at this product that I’m selling. Here’s how it will help you - are you ready to buy now? What? You’re not even thinking about a product like this right now? Oh. Well, you should be!”
Inbound Marketing: Defined
An inbound marketing strategy aims to earn the trust of consumers, often before they even consider becoming a customer. This method focuses on what they want and need. It does this by providing valuable information, free of charge, that is relevant to consumers, addresses their problems, and is delivered in the way that they wish to receive it. Inbound marketing campaigns may take the form of video tutorials, downloadable eBooks, blog posts, infographics, educational emails, or podcasts, to name a few. Inbound marketing says:
“Hi. Here is some information you may find useful about an area you seem to be interested in. No strings attached! Let me know if and when you’d like more. And oh, when you’re ready to make a purchase, I’m here. No pressure. Take your time.”
A primary reason why inbound marketing works is that the focus is on relationship building. When paired with a well-executed and maintained marketing strategy, you’ve set yourself up for long-term relationships with your customers. When you demonstrate that you truly understand your customer by sharing information with them that is interesting, timely, helpful, and educational, they will trust you, stay with you, and hopefully tell everyone they know about you.
As you can see, the fundamental difference between outbound and inbound marketing is that with outbound marketing, the brand seeks the customer. With inbound marketing, the customer seeks the brand.
Of course, the ultimate goal of an inbound marketing strategy is sales, and conversions are achieved by educating through useful content, not just selling, and by asking versus telling. That’s not a gimmick. It can’t be - because if your brand isn’t offering something of value, your audience will leave, and they won’t come back.
Does outbound marketing still matter? Sure it can. In fact, a recent Marketplace story discusses how snail mail marketing is on the rise again, because it’s an avenue that can’t be blocked as easily by consumers. Campaigns combining inbound elements with outbound marketing campaigns are often most effective. For example: I shop at a couple of grocery stores in my area, and I am part of the loyalty program for each. They are both billion dollar companies, so the following is a fair comparison:
Grocery Store A: Every week, this store sends out a paper circular advertising that week’s sales and specials. It arrives in the mail folded in with several other advertisements. I seldom see it, because that bunch of paper usually goes right into the recycling bin.
Grocery Store B: Two or three times a month, this store sends a package of coupons, addressed to me and based on my frequent and recent purchases. The coupons can be redeemed in their stores only. They often come as part of a larger, themed publication that may include recipes, menu planning ideas, or beauty tips. Last week, my 9-year-old learned how to do a fishtail braid after studying the illustrated tutorial that came with the shampoo coupons sent by this store. She is thrilled with herself, and she certainly wouldn’t have learned how to do that from me.
Guess which store I shop at more often? Grocery Store B, the store that not only sends me coupons for products I purchase on nearly a weekly basis, but provides other useful information to me, too.
If this sounds good, you may be wondering how to get started with inbound marketing. It’s not hard to make the decision to shift, but once you do, it takes a conscious effort to maintain your new way of thinking about marketing, and a commitment from your entire organization to implement your inbound marketing program. Here are some steps to get you rolling:
- Research your ideal customers
- Develop your personas
- Create a content strategy
- Organize deployment of that strategy
- Produce and deploy
- Analyze the activity of your audience (this is critical!) and make adjustments to better suit their needs
- Repeat steps 4 through 6, but not on auto pilot!
Consumers are calling the shots these days. They want control over how, when, or if they engage with brands. In order to win their loyalty, we need to give them what they want, when they want it. Nothing more, nothing less.
What kinds of inbound marketing strategies is your organization using? Have you had success combining inbound and outbound marketing methods? Tell us about it in the comments below.