Inbound Marketing? What Exactly IS That?

Posted on 31 August 2012 by John Britsios

Trying to wrap your mind around the term inbound marketing may give you a headache, so consider yourself warned. But to simplify it (a LOT), outbound marketing attempts to create a need or desire for what is offered, while inbound marketing attempts to satisfy an existing need or desire.

Examples of Outbound Marketing:

  • You’re sitting down to dinner with invited guests, and precisely at the dinner hour, an annoyingly persistent telemarketer calls, and begins reciting his 714 page script, ignoring all your attempts to express a total lack of interest;
  • You walk into an appliance store, curious to see how much a new washing machine would cost you. Before your body clears the entrance, a herd of sales associates leap to their feet, and rush you like the front four of the Green Bay Packers. The first one to make eye contact claims you as his prey, and two others move past you to block the exit;
  • Stepping outside to your mailbox, you find 17 pieces of junk mail with your name as addressee, peddling anything from lawn service to plumbing repair.

You have just been outbound marketed. The possible variations are endless, of course, and can occur face to face or via virtually any media. Every marketer has his own shtick, and some are more intrusive than others. What they all have in common is that they were unsolicited.

Examples of Inbound Marketing:

  • After filling out an entry for a prize drawing at your local hardware store, you receive a notification in the mail of an upcoming “Gigantic Clearance Sale” the following weekend;
  • After recently purchasing a new car, you begin receiving personally addressed ads for auto insurance, bad-credit/no-credit loans and extended warranty packages;
  • After visiting a friend’s photography web site, you find that every time you view a YouTube video, the popup ads are pushing cameras, film, accessories and photography services at you.

In these instances, you have been inbound marketed. In some fashion, however innocently, you made your identity and presumed interest known, and it is being taken full advantage of. The companies behind these marketing efforts will usually characterize your targeting as having been solicited.

There are also much more subtle examples of inbound marketing, which may be driven by exposure within a niche, a word-of-mouth recommendation or simply being in the right place at the right time. Blogging, Social Media or PPC advertising could all fall into this category.

But Why is it Called Inbound?

That’s a question that’s been argued on many fronts, sometimes amicably, sometimes heatedly. To me, it makes no sense. It seems to just compartmentalize several aspects of internet marketing into a new bundle and apply a meaningless new name to it.

One explanation offered by those that don’t see the necessity for yet another name for what marketers do, is that the name was simply created because it was a zero-competition term for which they could optimize and rank, if it caught on. That’s certainly a possibility – it’s been done before.

Of course, defenders of the term claim they were simply trying to bring clarity to what they do. I’m sorry, but I’m afraid that just doesn’t hold water. Installing an unknown and ambiguous term doesn’t bring clarity, it brings confusion.

Face it – if it brings confusion to a large number of professional internet marketers, imagine how much clarity it won’t bring to the people that are already puzzled by the inner workings of Internet Marketing!

It seems to me that rather than creating new terms to identify old practices, it would make more sense to concentrate on educating people about what the old terms address. Muddying the waters is just counterproductive.

Will it Stick?

That remains to be seen. A couple of prominent names started using it, and their friends and followers naturally followed suit. So it has become a fairly common term to see, at least within the Internet Marketing industry.

In all probability, those that are already using it will continue to do so, and those of us that prefer a more obvious and transparent name for what we do will stick with the terms that are more widely understood, even if less trendy.

Author: John Britsios

Founder and Chief Information Officer (CIO) of SEO Workers and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Webnauts Net, a qualified Forensic SEO & Social Semantic Web Consultant, specializing in Semantic, Forensic & Technical Predictive Search Engine Optimization, Content Marketing, Web Content Accessibility, Usability Testing, Social Semantic Web based Responsive Web Design & Ecommerce Development, Conversion Rate Optimization.

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