Is inbound marketing still a thing? Is it fulfilling its promise to continuously drive qualified leads into the sales funnel? Or is it a cul-de-sac, as are so many other flashy trends in digital marketing? More importantly, is it an ROI-positive strategy, or should you cut your losses and move on?
What Is Inbound Marketing
In the quicksands of digital marketing, some tactics quickly become outdated, while others turn out to be the holy grail of success. The concept of inbound marketing has gone a long way since its first introduction.
Inbound Marketing Definition
Back in 2006, Hubspot introduced the term ‘inbound marketing’ as a business methodology that would break the mold of traditional (outbound) marketing.
Inbound marketing shifted the focus from the sellers to their prospective customers and marketers’ mindsets switched from push to pull. Instead of broadcasting ads at people who might not be aware of your brand or even interested in your services, inbound marketing suggested you create conditions for the customer to come to you.
Inbound is all about attracting and educating your potential customers way before they have any buyer intent. A brand would nurture its audience with free, useful, and high-quality resources focused on the prospects’ needs and goals, and not on its products or services. The customer-centered inbound marketing method had 3 essential aspects:
The Updated Inbound Marketing Definition
Online marketing, search engines, and user behavior have changed significantly since 2006, though. Is inbound marketing a fading buzzword?
If you take a look at Google Trends, the answer is clear.
It turns out that the term inbound marketing has been steadily increasing in popularity. It encompasses the rise of:
- search engine optimization
- social media
- content marketing
- user experience
In 2020, the inbound marketing approach is a way of generating qualified leads by building brand bias. In effect, inbound is closely related to content marketing. It assists your audience to dive deep into the marketing funnel and provides a custom-tailored buying experience using various marketing channels.
Inbound Marketing Examples
When it comes to inbound marketing, you let the audience make the connection with your brand. It is the users who have an active role. Your marketing efforts should align with their intention, providing the information they are looking for online.
Explore some inbound examples to add to your online mix:
- Video series
- Online training
- Case studies
Our best advice is to invest in crafting a solid inbound strategy. By creating buyer personas and mapping out the user journey, you’ll be able to plan your efforts and apply your resources strategically in the digital marathon of inbound marketing.
What About Outbound Marketing
For a long while, outbound marketing was the only known kind of marketing. The inbound marketing approach developed as an alternative. However, businesses haven’t ceased to use outbound tactics, even when going digital. What makes it so appealing?
Offline Outbound Marketing
Outbound marketing playgrounds have traditionally been print and mainstream media, cold outreach, and other direct customer approaches. With outbound, brands are taking the role of conversation starters. Some classic examples of outbound tactics are:
- Newspaper and magazine ads
- TV commercials
- Radio advertising
- Trade shows
- Door-to-door sales
Yet online communications have brought further complexity to outbound marketing tactics.
Outbound as a Digital Marketing Tool
In a way, outbound marketing on the web still resembles a seller stopping you on the street. The difference is that search engine AI and social media algorithms help the street vendor in identifying the right person to approach.
Google, YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Apple Search Ads come with different options for audience targeting. Compared to cold calls, digital advertising has a better way to filter users with commercial intent. See a few outbound tactics you may encounter online:
- Email marketing
- Display ads
- YouTube video ads
- Facebook ads
- Apple search ads
You could argue, for instance, that pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns are an inbound technique, while display ads are an outbound method. PPC ads appear for particular searches, and companies pay only for the clicks that led users to their website. Because the user intentionally chooses to click on the ad, this tactic can be considered part of the inbound marketing toolbox.
Display ads, on the other hand, appear on the various websites in the Google Display Network and aim at high exposure. They do not always relate to what users search for, hence they can be classified as an outbound approach. Yet, the two types of ads do not target users randomly – clicks and visits are the triggers.
Inbound Marketing and the Marketing Funnel
The case that inbound marketing makes is that it can continuously attract new customers and nurture them all the way down your marketing funnel.
By implementing an inbound marketing strategy, you identify and attract the types of customers you’re looking for through fresh, targeted, and useful content, tailor-made for each funnel stage. The inbound marketing methodology has 4 stages – attract, convert, close, and delight. At each stage, different styles and types of content can help to push your prospects further along the funnel and the sales process.
Yet what happens with this model, if you remove the concept of a linear user journey?
Marketing Funnel Stages: The AIDA Model
The traditional marketing funnel is following the linear customer journey – from a prospect to a loyal customer. Advertisers and marketers used to favor the Attention-Interest-Desire-Action model:
- Attention (Awareness) – Marketers are introducing the brand to an audience.
- Interest – They engage prospects and can move on to showcasing the brand’s value proposition.
- Desire – The marketing activities address prospects’ needs and wants.
- Action – The sweet spot where prospects become customers.
The AIDA model resembles a marathon where all runners start the distance together, but only a few cross the finish line. However, little does it reveal about the prospects who dropped halfway. New interpretations of the funnel appeared to suggest an answer.
The See-Think-Do-Care Model
The See-Think-Do-Care (STDC) framework takes into account the “messy middle” of the customer journey. Here’s an overview:
- See – The largest addressable audience with no commercial intent.
- Think – The largest addressable qualified audience with weak commercial intent.
- Do – The largest qualified addressable audience with strong commercial intent.
- Care – Current customers. Brand loyalty and client retention.
Thanks to Avinash Kaushik, many businesses adopted this model, which recognizes that a user can enter the buyer journey directly in the “Do” stage, or leave it at “See” and come back months later at “Think” or ‘Do’ stages.
STDC framework takes into consideration the fact that the purchasing journey is non-linear, with a lot of touchpoints, dropping off and coming back, comparing competitor offers, and constant noise and distractions along the way.
Surprisingly, inbound marketing methods work with a non-linear user journey just as well as they fit with the classic marketing funnel. How? Because inbound marketing done right is based on satisfying the searcher’s intent.
Inbound Marketing and Search Intent
Search intent is the why behind a search query. The 4 most common types of search intent are informational, navigational, commercial investigation, and transactional. The role of inbound marketing is to satisfy the search intent – whatever it is and at any stage of the journey.
Informational intent and commercial investigation intent are the usual playfields for inbound marketing staples, such as ‘How-tos’, tutorials, listicles, head-to-head comparisons, blog articles, and whitepapers. Transactional intent is usually addressed with ads campaigns and landing pages.
Indeed, your brand can discover plenty of new ways to identify and nurture the most wanted audience and their search intent. But what if you have to choose between inbound and outbound marketing to fit in a budget?
The ‘Neverending Battle’: Inbound vs. Outbound
There have been a lot of discussions on the ‘Inbound vs. Outbound’ topic. Which marketing strategy performs better?
Inbound has its role in long-term campaign planning, while outbound can bring quick results.
With cold outreach, for example, the sales team usually knows the outcome at the end of the call. Cold outreach is not only still useful, but it has also developed at a fascinating speed.
Brands invest in outbound strategies because email campaigns and cold calling are becoming highly automated, cheap, and very efficient.
Businesses can measure the two different approaches and see which gets them a higher return in investment. In the long run, though, inbound and outbound marketing work best combined.
Inbound and Outbound Marketing Aligned
Inspired by SLMA
Using both inbound and outbound marketing methods could definitely bring you the best results, but how to stretch the budget to accommodate both? Brands should apply the right mix at the right time to make the most of their resources.
Perhaps a look back at the See-Think-Do-Care framework holds the answer. With potential buyers entering and exiting the purchase journey at different stages, digital marketing should respond with agile thinking and rigorous monitoring.
Let’s say a brand offers online training and wants more leads to convert. It is the ‘Do’ stage where potential customers become hot leads. What if they receive a sales call at this point? The sales reps can provide a free consultation and seal more deals than chasing after cold leads.
Audience insights from inbound marketing efforts can be used to create look-alike audiences for “outbound” ads. Remarketing to leads that dropped with a new offer can bring them back to your brand.
Developing a Wholesome Inbound and Outbound Strategy
To marry the inbound and outbound marketing successfully, you’d want to start by re-evaluating your current strategy and align it with your ultimate business goal.
Is your focus on generating a higher volume of qualified leads? You can manage this with outbound, but then you have to start nurturing the leads with inbound strategies. Marketing automation comes in handy, so you don’t risk losing the leads you’ve already attracted.
Is growing traffic what you need right now? You’d need to match different tactics to be successful, such as link-building, SEO, and content marketing.
Keep an eye out for what your competitors are doing. They might have already tried inbound and outbound techniques to achieve a stable return on investment.
Don’t leave your marketing stagnant for long – stay tuned to the newest trends and be active in implementing and testing them. Measure results, optimize, and repeat the cycle. There are no shortcuts to moving the needle, but you can always follow us for more advice.