By: Kathleen Booth
Kathleen Booth

What Is Inbound Marketing?

inbound marketing

If you've ever read our blog, you know we talk a lot about inbound marketing. We've written about the top, middle and bottom of the sales funnel, lead scoring, and how companies in industries as diverse as technology and boating can use inbound marketing to crush the competition. Maybe you've read one or two of them, but do you actually know what inbound marketing is?

What Inbound Marketing Is NOT

Before I tell explain inbound marketing to you, I find it helpful to begin by explaining what inbound marketing is not. Many, many years ago, I got my MBA in marketing and in addition to the usual stuff on consumer insights, messaging, and branding, we were taught that marketing strategies included things like direct mail, email marketing, advertising, cold calling, etc. All of these marketing tactics involve "pushing" a message out to your audience and, in many cases, interrupting them.

Think about it. Television commercials interrupt your show, email spam interrupts the flow of your workday, cold calls interrupt whatever you happen to be doing at the time, pop up ads interrupt you while you are browsing the web, and radio ads interrupt your music. 

Advertising can be downright annoying. It's no wonder people are increasingly turning to solutions like do not call lists, DVR, satellite radio, spam filters, and pop up blockers to eliminate marketing messages from their lives. 

This traditional approach to marketing is often referred to as "outbound" marketing, and in recent years, it has become less and less effective while remaining surprisingly expensive.

Defining Inbound Marketing

If you Google "What is inbound marketing", you'll find a suprising lack of good definitions. My favorite non-definition is from Wikipedia...

Wikipedia Inbound Marketing

This is the dictionary version of answering a question with "it depends..."! No wonder people find this confusing!

In an effort to try and clear up some of this confusion, I offer the following definition:

Inbound marketing is a strategy that uses content to generate leads, convert them into customers, and strengthen customer loyalty.

In my humble opinion (or "IMHO" as my kids might say), this really is the essence of what inbound is all about. It's a little simpler than the explanation offered by inbound marketing software company HubSpot, which originally coined the term "inbound marketing". Their version looks something like this when represented graphically:

attract convert close delight1 resized 600While I agree 100% with how HubSpot depicts inbound marketing, I think a simpler definition would go pretty far in clearing up some of the confusion surrounding this topic. The definition I've offered above is really just a boiled down version of the graphic here.

The key to defining inbound really lies in the word "content". Historically, marketing was all about "messaging". The challenge for marketers was how to get their message to their target audience. If you think about it, this approach is really backwards. The focus is on convincing the audience that they have a need and not on solving their problems or answering their questions. It is more about "telling" than "listening." 

By contrast, inbound marketing is all about "listening." Good inbound marketers start by building detailed buyer personas and identifying what their information needs are at each stage of the sales funnel. Then, they create helpful content that responds to those information needs. If the content is really good, people will seek it out and even give you information about themselves (like their name and email address) in order to get it. In effect, they will ask you to market to them! And these will be the same people that are avoiding traditional, outbound marketing messages. Sounds like a much better approach, doesn't it?

Keep It Simple, Stu***!

I could go into SO much more detail here about what inbound marketing is, but the reality is that it could fill up an entire book. In fact, we recently collaborated with HubSpot on the development of just such a book - The ABCs of Inbound Marketing! This new book consolidates advice and tips from more than 26 inbound marketing experts and is a fantastic resource for anyone who wants to learn more about inbound. The book was just released today and you can be amongst the first to get a copy of it by clicking here! When you do, be sure to check out what it says about the letter "Z" [hint: we may have had something to do with that one - we like to think HubSpot saved the best for last!].

I hope you enjoy the new ebook. In the meantime, I'd love to hear your thoughts, comments and feedback on my definition for inbound marketing. And if you have your own, by all means, share it in the comments below!

The ABC's of Inbound