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Inbound marketing unpacked

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‘Inbound marketing’ is all the craze these days. Let’s unpack this concept a little.

The terms ‘inbound marketing’ (coined by Brian Halligan) and ‘permission marketing’ (coined by Seth Godin) refer to various practices that brands can apply to build positive relationships with their intended audiences, particularly on-line. The term ‘content marketing’ is also very closely related, although it may have a slightly stronger connotation with off-line content, like customer magazines.

Inbound marketing or permission marketing is often pegged against ‘outbound marketing’ or ‘interruption marketing’, whereby the latter refer to such practices as cold-calling, direct mail, web and print advertisements, radio and TV commercials, sales flyers, email spam and telemarketing.

The difference in the two approaches is also generally framed as ‘pull’ versus ‘push’. There is a growing perception that ‘push’ marketing techniques are losing ground to ‘pull’ marketing in terms of effectiveness and cost-efficiency. Also, push marketing is traditionally more associated with ‘scattergun’ broadcasting, while pull marketing aims to be more targeted to individuals who are already dispositioned to perceive the brand as relevant.

Content is…

Inbound marketing involves creating and disseminating content that is informative and/or entertaining and thereby reinforces a positive perception of the brand, its products and services.

Such content can consist of journalism-style interviews, feature articles, columns and whitepapers. It can take the shape of web pages, blog posts, audio, video, slide presentations, ebooks, email newsletters, infographics and interactive animations.

Content is often published on owned media (e.g. the company’s website) and subsequently re-published or linked to on third-party platforms, including social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube, SlideShare, Medium, Instagram, Pinterest and discussion forums.

If the content is compelling or provoking enough, conversation and discussion may ensue via blog comments, and by amplification through social media as people may share, reply to, bookmark, recommend and favorite the message. When a message becomes very popular and widespread, it’s said to ‘go viral’.

…something to talk about.

When conversation ensues, from a public relations and marketing point of view it may be beneficial for a brand to have people engage in such on-line conversation on behalf of the brand.

Improved, positive brand visibility can be a stated aim of inbound marketing efforts. Another aim can be to attract audiences to the brand’s own web properties and convert qualified visitors into sales leads or even conduct on-line sales transactions.

Findability is another important aspect of inbound marketing. In addition to being found through social media and referral links on third-party websites, brands and their marketing content is also found through search engines.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the practice of producing content and describing content meta-data in such a way that search engines such as Google, Bing and Yahoo! will show the content in question in search results of relevant queries.

Some of it can be automated

Pertaining to larger brands, both B2C and B2B, an important trend to mention is that of marketing automation. In recent years, various automation platforms have come to market, aiming to integrate the production and dissemination of content to various on-line channels, to measure their reach across the Social Web, to follow and nurture leads throughout the sales funnel with email marketing and integrated CRM systems.

Some names in this category include Marketo, Oracle Eloqua, Salesforce Pardot, HubSpot and InfusionSoft. A less integrated approach may be to combine component-technologies, for example WordPress (extended with eCommerce, SEO, lead-generation, CRM and analysis plugins), MailChimp, Salesforce Radian6 / Marketing Cloud, Hootsuite, BufferApp and SugarCRM.

There is an art and a science to all of this. Yes, there are standard procedures and best practices to web publishing and SEO. By setting clear conversion goals and analysing web traffic, these practices can be improved over time. However, the creation of compelling content and the engagement in on-line conversation requires creativity, originality, integrity and a thorough sense of customer-value.

Photo by Carlos Muza on Unsplash.

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