I can’t begin to tell you the number of conversations I’ve had over the past year about inbound marketing versus outbound marketing. And I mean “versus,” because at least 50 percent of the time the distinction made between the two becomes, in my opinion, a bit too black and white. Sure, many of us have witnessed a steady shift over the past few years from outbound marketing efforts to more inbound marketing efforts. The budgets invested in content and social media marketing along with other forms of inbound marketing continue to grow considerably while most outbound channels and approaches are on the decline. But does that necessarily translate to outbound marketing being dead or useless? That’s nonsense.
So why do many marketers see the distinction so sharply? Why so black and white? No room for gray? I like gray. Gray is good. Sometimes gray is a beautiful place for marketers to be.
Well, perhaps it’s the language we use to describe “traditional” outbound marketing that has something to do with it – sometimes referred to as interruption marketing, disruption marketing or even nonpermissive marketing. Interrupting or disrupting someone? Yeah, that sounds fairly discourteous. Nonpermissive? Wow, not having permission and then doing it anyway? Sounds like my kids after I pick them up from being with my parents for two days straight.
Embrace the Gray
Language aside, I think the primary reason some of my conversations about inbound marketing versus outbound marketing went a little sideways was mostly because of an inability to embrace the gray. Much of this is explained by the simple psycho-sensory fact that people’s minds are “difference engines.” We make sense of the world by contrasting things … looking at and for differences. Comparing black with white. The gray is simply an overlap that exists between the two approaches and is included in a buyer’s journey.
For example, many marketers would say that pay-per-click ads fall under the domain of inbound marketing. Those ads are there in a targeted way because people are searching for an aspect of what that product or service represents. So, paid media like retargeting and PPC are helpful, right? Not at all intrusive, correct? The answer is, sometimes. Because those ads can be interpreted as helpful and informative to some and intrusive or annoying to another. It’s gray. And there’s plenty more of that gray to go around when marketers attempt to make too sharp of a distinction between inbound and outbound.
So, whether or not marketers choose to embrace the gray, there’s still the issue of inbound versus outbound being the preferred approach for a brand when looking to maximize its marketing spend. Again, it’s just not that black and white. Plenty of room for some delightful gray. Sure, there may be examples where a large brand can only do outbound marketing or inbound marketing and be incredibly successful, but it would be a rare case indeed. Rather, it’s quite often a mixture of both inbound and outbound methods for brands. After all, mass media advertising is still a multibillion dollar industry and will remain so, I suspect, for many years to come.
But Really, It’s About Inbound
Full disclosure: I’m an inbound marketing fan, believer and practitioner. So, what was all that talk about gray, you ask?
As a long-time marketing guy, I’ve watched with fascination and great enthusiasm as inbound marketing has come on like a hurricane over the past few years and started to take a considerable bite out of traditional outbound marketing budgets. Now, I’m not just an inbound marketing believer because its methodologies have become so popular and I’ve drunk the inbound Kool-Aid (although I have, and it’s delicious, my friends). I’m a believer because, as marketers, we’d be nincompoops to simply ignore the massive changes in consumer behavior over the past several years and, in turn, change nothing in how we market to those consumers. What changes, you ask?
Inbound marketing was designed for a buying model that is being seized by the Internet. Increasingly, people are going straight to the Web to research products and services before they engage with a business or make a purchase. In fact, many recent studies have shown that as much as 93 percent of buying cycles start with an online search. That’s huge! People are also reaching out to their friends on social media for recommendations. They’re reading reviews and providing their own feedback about a product or experience they had. They’re fast-forwarding past commercials with their DVRs, streaming more commercial-free content on devices, and growing their ability to ignore advertising that doesn’t appeal to them.
Inbound … We Have a Problem
There’s a great quote from Guy Kawasaki, former chief evangelist at Apple and current chief evangelist at Canva (not to be mistaken with Robert Kiyosaki, author of “Rich Dad Poor Dad”):
Your Customers as Seen Through Their Cognitive Biases and Predilections
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“If you have more money than brains, you should focus on outbound marketing. If you have more brains than money, you should focus on inbound marketing.”
Guy Kawasaki, “Making a Case for Inbound Marketing”
At first blush, this might sound a little harsh, but the message is certainly clear. However, there is an underlying issue with inbound marketing that all the smiling specialists of the practice both celebrate and bemoan on a daily basis: It’s freakin’ hard!
Results from inbound marketing don’t just happen overnight. This is a long-term play. It takes some trial and error to develop a solid recipe for success and it would pointless if, from the onset, you attempted to predict just how long that will take. You have to be patient, strategic and attentive. Your aim is to educate and inspire your audience to click and convert. Inbound marketing guides your customer into the sales funnel by offering solutions to their problems. And it’s done on their terms – at times and places that best fit their needs. Piece of cake, right? Yeah, not so easy.
However, once you’ve refined your recipe for success using inbound marketing – when you’ve got steady traffic coming to your site and other landing pages, when you’ve carefully crafted just the right content, served up unique offers and precisely targeted incentives to generate beautifully qualified leads that convert to sales – you then have a highly scalable inbound marketing machine! But like any complex machine with many moving parts, it takes time to build.
Inbound Is Worth the Effort
If inbound marketing is so hard and takes so much time, what’s the ROI?
These days there is a litany of examples and stats you can find. But here are 15 of my favorite top inbound marketing stats that help make a compelling case for the shift:
- Inbound marketing costs 62 percent less per lead than traditional outbound marketing. (HubSpot)
- B2B customers conduct 12 searches on average before checking a specific brand’s website. (Kapost)
- On average, blogs give websites 434 percent more indexed pages and 97 percent more indexed links. (InboundWriter)
- Three out of four inbound marketing channels cost less than any outbound channel. (HubSpot)
- 80 percent of business decision-makers favor getting brand information via an article series more than ads. (Content Marketing Institute)
- 77 percent of buyers are more likely to buy from a company if its CEO uses social media. (War of Words: Myth-Busting Social Media, SEO and Content Marketing)
- 200 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on the FTC’s “Do Not Call” list. (HubSpot)
- Properly executed inbound marketing tactics are 10 times more effective for lead conversion compared to outbound methods. (Gartner)
- 86 percent of people skip television ads. (MarketingSherpa)
- 67 percent of surveyed B2B companies rated inbound marketing as a top three or very high priority component of their overall marketing strategy for 2015. (Kapost)
- Email marketing has more than double the ROI than cold-calling, networking or trade shows. (Custom Content Council)
- 78 percent of CMOs think custom content is the future of marketing. (HubSpot)
- B2B companies that blog only one or two times per month generate up to 70 percent more leads than those that don’t. (Jupiter Research)
- Nurtured leads make 47 percent larger purchases than non-nurtured leads. (The ANNUITAS Group)
- Leads generated with SEO were more than seven times more likely to close than outbound-sourced leads. (HubSpot)
If you or your company are new to inbound marketing, no worries. In fact, you should be excited! OK, maybe moderately encouraged? Because it means there is plenty of room for improving your online marketing. But it also means starting from scratch – and that can lead to feeling overwhelmed and downright frustrated at times.
As you begin that journey (or continue, in other cases), remember that inbound is still about generating and converting leads into customers. But it’s also about creating long-term customers and brand loyalty through various channels like social media, blogging, SEO, etc. Inbound is a compelling marketing strategy that takes an active, very personal approach to drawing customers into your company, as opposed to interrupting them with messages and then hoping for results. Is inbound marketing the only approach you should take to grow your brand, generate qualified leads and happy customers? No. Embrace the gray. And maybe a tad bit of outbound.