What is Inbound Marketing?

My last post was about Inbound Marketing vs Traditional or Outbound Marketing, and it dawned on me that I should have taken the time to define Inbound Marketing. So here it is, better late than never, right?

Mail Box Full of Junk Mail_44 percent of Direct Mail is never openedIt used to be pretty easy to define marketing and advertising. The techniques or tactics varied depending on sales channel and customer base, but they all had one thing in common. Before the internet, all activities were centered around pushing information about products or services into the hands of the consumer through catalogs, television, radio, magazines, and newspapers.

Outside of turning off the television or asking to be removed from a mailing or telemarketing list, consumers had little to no control over the information they received about a product or service. I remember the days of filing away sales letters and brochures just in case a need for a particular product or service cropped up in the future. These days I tend to walk straight from the mailbox to the recycle bin. (according to the EPA 44% of Direct Mail is never opened)

When was the last time you filed a piece of marketing collateral away in a drawer for future reference? The closest thing to that today is that you might bookmark a website or pin something of interest to one of your Pinterest boards. Chances are you are one of the 88% of consumers that Google reports research products and services online before making a purchase.

According to Google’s research, the average online shopper checks 10.4 online sources before making a purchase. In a nutshell, that’s what Inbound Marketing is really about, it’s about creating and leveraging content (online sources) that compels a customer to choose you.

I’m not really a fan of the current definition of Inbound Marketing which is:

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  1. Attract traffic
  2. Convert visitors to leads
  3. Convert leads to sales
  4. Turn customers into repeat buyers
  5. Analyze for continuous improvement


In my opinion those are the 5 steps for outbound marketing as well. The goal of a catalog, print ad, or outbound sales call is to attract, convert, and retain customers; analysis for continuous improvement has been at the heart of successful marketing strategies for decades.

The major difference between inbound and outbound marketing lies in how marketing collateral, aka content,is distributed and way traffic is acquired.
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  • Inbound Marketing: You create, publish, and distribute content and consumers find you when they have a need for your product or service. There is a focus building relationships and genuine engagement, done correctly it’s goal is to start a conversation.
  • Outbound Marketing: You create, publish, and distribute content and contact prospects according to a marketing schedule and target audience. The communication is one way and does not focus on building non-revenue related engagement.


With both types of marketing you create content and distribute content that is relevant to your “audience.” In an outbound model, you find the people to market to based on predetermined criteria such as income level, gender, and purchase frequency.  The content/collateral is delivered to the consumer without knowing whether or not the timing of the communication will coincide with the need to buy.

In an inbound model, you implement a Content Strategy and publish valuable information on your website, blog, YouTube Channel, or other social networks and people find you at the various stages of a buying decision.

I think it’s also important to note that there’s a tie between inbound and outbound marketing strategies, while a consumer may not purchase from the catalog they receive, if done well, it may prompt them to click through to your content because they liked what they saw. Conversely, someone may find you online and be more inclined to do business with you through a follow up call or mailing if they find valuable information on your website or because you engaged with them on a social network.

Success doesn’t lie in picking one marketing strategy over another, but finding and implementing the right mix based on your customer’s preferences and behavior.

Next up, I’ll review some of the important components of Inbound Marketing, including how it relates to SEO.

What’s your definition of Inbound Marketing?

  • Great post Beth. Inbound is also about being available for your clients and prospects at a time that fits there schedules, on a platform that works for them. Thus, the need to know who your clients are, where they are and what their needs are, as you so rightly point out. The other role for inbound is creating brand advocates, even if they’ve not bought from you yet, by sharing your quality content with their communities.

    • Thanks so much Gordon!

      I love the point you bring up about creating brand advocates. The interesting thing to me is that brand advocates aren’t always customers, sometimes they’re colleagues.

      At the end of the day, it’s about creating relationships and doing things for the right reason. I feel we’re in an amazing window of opportunity, and the possibilities are endless 🙂

  • […] Inbound marketing and SEO go hand in hand. Inbound marketing has really been around for a long time, people have been finding and visiting websites from organic search results and social media for years now. In my mind it’s just a new term to describe an approach to marketing that is focused on customer engagement through creating and distributing content that provides value to prospective customers at every stage of the purchase. […]