If you’re tired of fighting for new customers, inbound marketing is your new best friend. Unlike old-fashioned outbound ads, inbound marketing comes across as welcome, helpful, and relevant to customers’ lives. People enjoy inbound marketing messages.

In this intro to inbound marketing, we’ll cover the basic definitions, compare it to outbound marketing, share some surprising statistics, and discuss how inbound messages can work effectively for your business.

Outbound vs. Inbound

First, let’s define exactly what inbound marketing means. Inbound marketing is basically a technique that draws people in to your brand, rather than pushing messages out and hoping for the best. If outbound marketing is shouting into a crowd, inbound marketing is luring people in with a seductive whisper.

Outbound messages are found in traditional advertising: TV commercials, radio spots, print ads, telemarketing, billboards, and so forth.

Inbound messages include things like: blogs, social networking, ebooks, SEO web text, webinars, and viral videos.

What are the differences between the outbound and inbound messages listed above? Well, it’s obvious that outbound messages are clearly-defined as advertising. When someone encounters a TV ad, they perceive it as a marketing message and feel slightly irritated by the interruption. A telemarketing phone call will always feel like exactly what it is: a grab for your attention.

Inbound messages are more subtle. Rather than coming across as ads, they give off a friendly and educational vibe. When someone comes across an interesting blog post shared on Facebook, they tend to be appreciative. In a world of chaos, they came across something relevant.

Outbound messages are also – in most cases – internally-focused on the advertiser: Look at us. See how great we are? By contrast, inbound messages are focused on the customer: Check this out. Is it helpful to you?

Inbound marketing isn’t just a tactic; it’s a philosophy. It’s a departure from the mainstream thinking of traditional marketers, backed up by solid research. Hubspot summarizes it in these four words: attract, convert, close, delight.

The Power of Permission

Inbound marketing addresses the critical issue of consumer consent – whether or not a message is welcomed into a customer’s life. Inbound messages are, in most cases, welcome. Outbound messages generally arrive as unwelcome surprises.

This point was famously proven by the online magazine Ars Technica, which sits in the U.S. top 400 in terms of website traffic. As an experiment, they launched a program that made their entire site invisible to everyone using ad-blocking software for 12 hours. During this period, they tracked how many visitors were blocking ads, aka outbound messages.

Ars Technica’s goal was to show the widespread use of ad blocking software, but in a way it backfired on them. Ad blocking was so common, people just got mad at the whole experiment. Of course they were blocking ads. Of course they hate outbound marketing.

The experiment highlights the superpower of inbound marketing: permission. When people give their permission to interact with content, they are more inclined to absorb it, remember it, and feel positively toward the source of it. They’re also more likely to seek out similar content in the future.

Effectiveness and Time Investment

Inbound marketing gives reliable results for companies that use it. Let’s look at some statistics about its proven effectiveness.

But wait – there’s more. Here are a few additional stats to consider. As you read through these, take note of the difference between doing a little inbound marketing and a lot of inbound marketing.

  • 47% of buyers viewed at least 3 to 5 pieces of a company’s content before engaging with the brand.
  • The average company sees 45% growth in traffic when increasing its site’s total blog posts from 11-20 to 21-50.
  • When companies publish 16 or more blog posts per month, they get 3.5 times more traffic than when they only publish 0-4 posts.
  • Posting on social media once or twice month has almost no noticeable effect. But with a time investment of six hours per week, 66% of marketers see significant lead generation benefits from sharing on social sites.

Best Practices for Inbound Marketing

If inbound marketing is starting to sound like a good fit for your company, it’s time to review the right ways to make happen. Producing inbound messages incorrectly can actually damage your business.

Just ask McDonald’s, which launched an infamous Twitter battle with its competitors by bragging that it would start using fresh beef by the end of 2018. Wendy’s, which uses the slogan “fresh, never frozen beef,” immediately fired off funny replies like, “So you’ll still use frozen beef in MOST of your burgers in ALL of your restaurants? Asking for a friend.”

More than 180,000 people saw Wendy’s reply within minutes, but McDonald’s couldn’t manage a response for hours afterward. In the following days, Wendy’s continued to taunt McDonald’s across marketing channels. Major news sites picked up the story and gave Wendy’s a huge amount of free publicity. McDonald’s quickly learned that their competitor was on top of the inbound marketing game.

Here are some best practices to keep in mind as you launch an inbound marketing plan:

Build your basic anatomy first. Hubspot says no inbound marketing plan can function without 5 essential elements: An optimized homepage, ongoing blog posts, helpful landing pages, effective emails, and highly-monitored social media.

Invest in key players. Make sure your company embraces inbound marketing as a strategy and either employs an inbound marketing expert or contracts with one from an outside company. These key players must also be on board: IT manager, social media staff, customer service managers and reps.

Don’t kill your inbound with outbound. A carefully-built inbound marketing plan can be totally destroyed by bad outbound marketing. Or, to put it another way, don’t tempt people in with interesting blog posts and then turn them off with annoying pop-up ads. Four out of five people will abandon you for doing that.

Get real about your “dream client.” For almost every company, the dream client has lots of money to spend and lots of time to spend on their products. But in reality, most customers are short on money and time. Spend inbound marketing dollars wisely by zoning in on your best prospects. Instead of creating content for everyone in the world to enjoy, focus on a very specific type of audience.

Use inbound marketing tools. Take advantage of some of the hundreds of tools that can help you build an inbound marketing plan. Here’s a good online list to get you started, or consult with an inbound marketing expert to see what would be most effective for your business.

Start A/B testing. An A/B test is basically just an experiment where you run two versions of an inbound campaign at the same time, and see which one works best. This allows you to hone your strategy and can boost your bottom line by 5 to 20% over time.

Study lead nurturing. Familiarize yourself with the concept of lead nurturing – using multiple contacts to convert interested people into customers. It’s the crucial part of inbound marketing that brings in real dollars and sets your company up for long-term success.

The Bottom Line for Inbound Marketing

When your company excels at inbound marketing, customers welcome your messages, interact with your brand numerous times, and become long-term loyal fans. You can see the results right in your bottom line. And your competitors no longer seem like a big deal.

Keep in mind the example of Wendy’s vs. McDonalds. Once upon a time, McDonald’s was the biggest name in burgers. But in 2018, Wendy’s took them down with one snarky Twitter post. That’s the magic of inbound marketing. 

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Jeff Elder

Jeff Elder

Jeff is the former co-founder of Bald Head Creative, which was formed in 2008. In 2016, Jeff transitioned out of Bald Head Creative and started his own company, Sync Three, an inbound agency. Sync Three works with business consulting firms to help them generate more website traffic, leads, and sales. Jeff's passion is helping organizations become more authentic as a brand and in how they market and sell. Jeff firmly believes that authenticity is the key to continued growth today and in the years to come.

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