If there’s one thing marketers love, it’s a good buzz word¹. Some buzz words represent something completely new, while others are simply new words to represent something that’s been practiced for a long time. For example, inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is not all that new; what’s changed are the channels and tactics that make it work. But before we get into that, what is inbound marketing anyway?
What is inbound marketing?
We’ll start with a definition. According to Hubspot, inbound marketing is “a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t want, inbound marketing forms connections they’re looking for and solves problems they already have.”
Put into simple terms, inbound marketing is the practice of drawing customers to your brand through channels and tactics that are not traditional advertising.
So what’s it got to do with bees? If you’re in marketing, you’ve probably heard this analogy before, and for good reason, it makes sense. For the purpose of this analogy, let’s forget the actual habits of bees and focus on the expression, “like bees to a hive.” The expression is saying that bees come to a hive because it has something that they find attractive – honey.
In a good inbound marketing program, your company will create a “hive” and make sure it has something interesting or helpful enough to attract the bee (aka your customer).
Is inbound marketing new?
No, it is not. At least not based on its core definition. Channels that are included in the inbound bucket have been working under different titles and definitions for decades. For example, let’s look at PR.
At its core, corporate PR (or media relations) is the practice of telling your story through third party mediums. A brand pitches its story to media and if the media thinks their readers will like it they write a story. That story gets published and the public reads it and learns something about that brand.
If the brand has done its job well, that medium was very well targeted because their customers read it, and they have controlled their messaging so closely that they are convincing their customer their product or service has value – and since they did it through a third party, it also has an implied, non-biased endorsement from the media.
So, in the end, when one of the brand’s customers reads that story and then buys their product or service, they are not only influenced, they are being lured into a brand to make a purchase. They arrive from an inbound channel.
The key is that they are being pulled in. Pulled in a manner that doesn’t feel like advertising. It feels organic and authentic.
Circling back to bees, PR people worked through the press to pull its bees towards its hive.
Now, let’s look at how inbound marketing works today.
Today, there are numerous ways a brand can lure inbound traffic and customers. They can write a blog, build a website or landing page, work on SEO, create an email program, social media and combinations of all the above and other methods not mentioned. Technology has made the options seem endless.
Using the blog example, a brand thinks of stories that might attract, engage and delight their customers. They write that story, use SEO to make sure it appears in the customer’s Google search, and publish it on their own blog. Then they promote it using the tools they have available, many of which are inbound channels — social media and email marketing, for example.
When a customer sees that story in a Google search, from their perspective, there’s no difference from the PR example above. They still got the info they needed, regardless of how they found it.
Both the blog and the PR are inbound marketing; however, the blog example has one significant advantage – the brand owns the medium. They decide what gets published and control the entire message.
Not that long ago, blogs, social media, email marketing and other similar channels simply didn’t exist.
The storytelling is not new, it’s the same end result as the PR example. What’s new(ish) are the tools that make it work. Inbound marketing is not new, it’s just evolved and matured from the marketing tactics you’ve used for years.
The hive and the methods it uses to pull the bees in its direction got more complicated through technology, but essentially it’s the same process.
Will inbound marketing help your business?
This question is far more complicated. As a content and inbound marketer, I argue that inbound marketing can help nearly all businesses. However, the caveats for that statement are long and complicated. For example, it can help in many ways but probably not if you need it to make a sale tomorrow. And not if you don’t know why you’re doing it.
Inbound marketing is a strategic initiative that deserves serious thought before you dive in. If you’re still reading, and find yourself fascinated, I recommend thinking about these seven things as you evaluate whether inbound marketing is a good idea for your business:
- What business problem are you looking to solve?
- If you fixed the problem in #1, what would that success look like?
- What have you done so far to solve that problem? What worked and what didn’t?
- What resources (time, money, etc.) are you able to put toward fixing the problem?
- What are the most common questions your customers ask when deciding to buy your product or service?
- How much time are you willing to put into inbound marketing and how immediately do you need results?
- Based on all of that, what is the ‘honey’ you can use to drive bees towards your hive? In other words, what type of content could you create that would pull customers to your product or service?
Still interested in learning more? Think inbound marketing might be a fit for your business? What do you do next?
Build a strategy and an implementation calendar.
I have some really good news for you – the answers to those seven questions are a fantastic start – but that’s for another article, or perhaps a chat. If you want to chat more or have additional questions, click here and drop me a line.