One of the areas that I consistently get asked about from clients is the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Marketers and communicators have difficulties differentiating between the two concepts and how to take advantage of inbound marketing .
So lets start with outbound. Essentially outbound marketing is based on on what we know and understand as traditional media. Marketers create carefully crafted messages and communications that they then distribute to an ‘audience’ through media channels. Think TV, Radio, Outdoor but also direct response physical mail or online mediums such as Display advertising. Its characterised by one-way communications, little interaction with the media itself, in the case of broadcast the message is ‘broad’ by its nature as the media is expensive therefore making niche messaging not affordable or feasible.
An example of outbound for instance, might be a company who buys up a contact list, then creates a physical print pack to distribute through physical mail to these contacts, with a direct response hook that will hopefully be triggered by the receiver. Think of a new chain of restaurants in a city sending out a marketing pack to a bought list of HR managers, notifying them of the launch of the restaurants and the running of a competition or aimed at employees. The hope is that the HR manager will distribute the offer/competition to the employees and they can voluntarily respond to the stated offer – win a meal for your work group – that type of thing. The problem with this outbound marketing is that there are a lot of points of friction along the way. The marketers have to buy the list, create the print pack, send it out via physical mail and then, fingers crossed, the HR manager distributes to the work colleagues and then they go and respond to the specific offer. Way too many potential points of failure. I’ve seen this type of marketing fail spectacularly.
Whereas Inbound marketing is characterised by businesses understanding that these days they need to produce rich content on a range of different digital platforms where their prospects are active, and then use this content to attract these prospects’ attention inwards to their business. At the heart of inbound is content marketing. And by content we are not talking ads, we’re talking content that prospects find useful, helpful, amusing, engaging to some degree. So when a business thinks of inbound they need to understand in order to gain the benefits of it, they must be producing regularly updated content on platforms such as their website, blog, social media, regular useful emails, webinars etc… The idea is that this content is being seen and shared by prospects and customers on platforms of their preference (think Twitter, Facebook, Slideshare.net, Website, Blog, etc..) , its useful to them (not always in a massively significant way – but they are happy to receive the information) think Lidl Facebook post – with this weeks special offers – people want this information and they have an affinity with it. And it also keeps the company top of mind and hopefully the customer engages and purchases at some point. Inbound distribution platforms are essentially controlled by the companies themselves – website, blog, social – there can be a paid media element but not 100% necessary – the main cost is the resources required to produce the content. This is where we see this model of owned media coming to the fore.
So lets take an example, imagine you are a health food expert and nutritionist. And you are thinking what kind of content can you produce online that will demonstrate your expertise in your area but also be very helpful to potential client base. If they become exposed to your ideas there is a strong chance that a percentage of these will at some point contact you and convert to a patient etc.. . What would the health nutritionist produce online to achieve both ends? Well, they could regularly provide online information on topics such as family diet plans, celiac dietary considerations, how to manage diabetes in young children, behavioural spectrum dietary responses, realistic healthy diets for working professionals etc. This information is being published on the blog or website , and snippets are being shared on the likes Facebook and Twitter. They could also produce self-interviews on specific topics that they share on Youtube (topical issues of the week, reports that have been released in the media and make comment on these etc.) – then take the video form YouTube and publish on their blog or other social channels. Maybe they do a talk at a conference on managing child obesity and then share the slides on Slideshare.net and again share the link with some small comment on twitter and Facebook. They could possibly release the audio recording that went with the talk as an audio file on their blog or upload to iTunes for download – the scope is endless.
The idea with all this information is that your prospects are seeing your content online, they feel they know you and trust you as they read your work, and then when if necessary they require your services, they think of you first, or refer you to someone they know (word of mouth). Google is also indexing all this content and hopefully the keywords you are trying to be found for on search engines are being used in this content, so when someone searches for your services online using these anticipated words – you come up number 1 and reap the benefits of this. Also, by producing content online and being active in conversations and forums you are building your platform as a professional, which means that you maybe asked to speak at conferences, engage in media debates – all of which generates more awareness of you.
The scope of opportunities for inbound marketing are great. The advantage for the business is that they can control this content and produce as much or as little as they want. The most important thing is quality. As long as the content being produced is of quality and your prospects find it so, that will be the measure of your success. Because if prospects like what you are producing, business will flow Inbound as a result. We are all inbound marketers today whether we know it or not. We are all going to have embrace it because Customers Find Businesses Online Today (but the reality is they don’t, the good businesses Make themselves Findable online, the bad ones don’t and don’t even realise it).