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The Ultimate Introduction to Inbound Marketing

Recently I gave a presentation on Inbound Marketing to the New York Inbound Marketing Professionals Meetup. It was well received and has led to requests for speaking at other events, so I have converted it into an article for your reading.

What is Inbound Marketing?

When I went to look for the consensus definition of Inbound Marketing, I ran into many varied interpretations. Here is a sampling of what leading providers have to say:

  • “Any marketing tactic that relies on earning people’s interest instead of buying it” Hubspot
  • “Earning attention organically without interrupting anyone’s path”Moz
  • “The process of helping potential customers find your company – often before they are even looking to make a purchase – and then turning that early awareness into brand preference and, ultimately, into leads and revenue.” Marketo
  • “Marketing focused on being found through the recommendation of others and delighting everyone that finds you” Babcock & Jenkins

What is common to all these definitions is a customer centric approach to marketing – almost down to the one-to-one level. The attitude is “how do I create value with the client” instead of the more traditional “how do I sell at a profit.” Since value is subjective, only the client can perceive it and reward it – thus you have to be customer centric to build a sustainable business.

What is common also is the concept of earning attention by causing actions when found in an organic manner. The origins of Inbound Marketing, as we will discuss below, was in Search Engine Optimization and being found in the organic (natural) search results. So this continues to be a main vein in the practice.

I am not clever with the definitions, so I will leave that to the reader to choose one of the above or invent their own…however, later I will attempt to summarize the characteristics of Inbound Marketing.

Inbound Marketing Tactics

But first, lets talk about the tactics. All the tactics considered part of Inbound Marketing (these are still hotly debated), help marketers earn attention organically. Inbound.org, a new social blog created by Hubspot and Moz, lists the general categories of tactics as:

  • SEO (Search Engine Optimization) – making web pages accessible, conducting keyword research and optimizing web content to better appear in major search engines such as Google, Bing, Baidu and Yandex. Note, that some people would also include Paid Search as part of Inbound Marketing – arguing that the contextual related searches gives implicit permission to market and carefully crafted ads earn attention.
  • Social Media Marketing – participating and contributing to networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, YouTube and the long tail of social sites, blog communities and discussion forums on the web in such a way that earns the attention of a relevant audience. Social ads that interrupt the newsfeed are not generally considered part of Inbound Marketing.
  • Content Marketing – creating and promoting web content in any form (blogs, videos, presentations, infographics, photography, etc) to earn awareness, traffic, branding and mindshare.
  • CRO (Conversion Rate Optimization) – the practice of iterative improvements and tests to build a better marketing funnel promoting use of your ideas, products or services.

However, I would add to that the general categories of

  • Public Relations/Media Relations – working with media for the purpose of presenting an organization to the public in a positive, consistent and credible manner. The goal is to maximize positive coverage in the media without paying for it directly through advertising.
  • Engagement Marketing – also known as Event Marketing, this is the practice of directly engaging prospective clients through live participation in events such as conferences, public speaking, networking, and seminars (webinars).

Below are two infographics that provide different sets of tactics (click to enlarge).


(The second image is no longer available.)

Origins of Inbound Marketing

So how did a whole new customer-centric approach to marketing arise? It is not actually all that new, but I will start with the recent history which began with Yahoo.

  • In 1995 Yahoo directory launched and soon thereafter people discovered that “keyword seasoning” helps get better positions in Yahoo. By late 1996, papers were appearing on data mining and text matching. An industry was born and it became known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
  • In 1998, Google and DMOZ launched and by 2000 become the prime engines for SEO. Search Engines also start fighting back and seeking ways to making manipulating results difficult or penalizing sites involved in destructive practices.
  • In the mid 2000s, Social Media became hot, first with Myspace and Friendster, then Facebook, Twitter, and finally Google+. Not only does Social Media Marketing drive leads directly, but social signals are incorporated into search engines to drive search engine positioning.
  • In 2006, driven by the development of an integrated website management and marketing platform, Brian Halligan CEO of Hubspot coined the term “Inbound Marketing”…“Rather than doing outbound marketing to the masses of people who are trying to block you out, I advocate doing ‘inbound marketing’ where you help yourself ‘get found’ by people already learning about and shopping in your industry.”Their platform incorporates SEO, Social Media, Email and CRO management tools amongst others.
  • However, Hubspot was concerned still primarily with being found. Who put the “earned” in “earned attention” was Seth Godin, a top marketing consultant. In 2008 Seth Godin coined the term “Permission Marketing”…“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them… Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.”
  • 2013 SEOMoz become MOZ, and also jointly launches inbound.org with Hubspot. Many SEO tool makers are joining the trend to consolidate under the industry term Inbound Marketing.
  • April 2013 – Joseph Franklyn McElroy, Mike Zittel, and Rich Jachetti form the New York Inbound Marketing Professionals Meetup and now New York City is in the game!

But Origins Go Way Back

30-marketing-post-imageNow obviously I left a whole lot out and many other concurrent developments, and as I mentioned, customer centric marketing goes way back in time. The marketing patriarch of the 1950s and 1960s, Peter F. Druker, wrote about it. And Druker even referenced a guy from the 1850s named Cyrus Hall McCormick, Sr. who was an American inventor and founder of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, which became part of International Harvester Company in 1902. He is credited with inventing the Mechanical Wheat Reaper which revolutionized farming. He also revolutionized marketing with inbound tactics[src]:

  • Extensive use of Testimonials and Word-of-Mouth
  • Written assembly instructions that were simple and aided by numbers painted on parts.
  • Having local merchants act as sub-agents to sell, service and collect debt.
  • Fast after-sales service, since any delay could ruin crops.
  • Training farmers to take care of their machines properly so they would operate well for a long time.
  • Coupling advertising with a push for product articles that were picked up by other newspapers.
  • Publishing his own magazine with the latest expert advice on farming.
  • Participation in contests against competitors’ products, in front of large crowds.
  • After church Sunday demonstrations to get both the decision makers (husband and wife) at a social gathering where the men could talk each other into buying and the women could gossip and approve.McCormick’s lesson is to think of the market from the customer’s viewpoint and how every aspect of the total offer can be improved.

Why Now?



So why are we talking about Inbound Marketing as a separate practice and strategic approach to marketing now?

  • Well of course the growth of the Internet and Web over the last 30+ years has created a communications system capable of reaching prospective clients on a one-to-one basis on scale never before historically possible. It is financially achievable to consider reaching every individual prospective customer with a custom message and interaction.
  • The growing sophistication of information and media consumers have allowed them to discover many ways to tune out advertising – from using Tivo and On Demand to remove commercials to utilizing ad blockers and cookie removers on web browsers. This has lead to a growing Scarcity of Attention, meaning Attention is increasingly harder to “buy” and must be “earned.”
  • Before there were only a few TV channels, now there are 1000s. Traditional Outbound (or Interruption) Marketing depends on identifying an Audience and reaching it affordably. With the increasing fragmentation of the media audience, it is becoming increasingly difficult and very expensive to find your target. With Inbound Marketing you can identify a Community that contains your audience and go about earning attention. Statistics are showing dramatic differences in lead costs between the two, with Outbound costing twice as much.
  • Shelly Palmer, a media consultant and guru, recent wrote a post on the rise of Conscious Capitalism – which is when a company takes on an altruistic cause, charity or practice and applies revenue to that endeavor. This is not the usual giving to charity for a good cause type effort – almost every brand does that now. It is building a business model around the cause. Like Tom’s Shoes which built its business on the concept “Buy a pair of shoes and we will send a pair to someone in the developing world who needs them” … this kind of proposition and commitment needs a close connection to the community to explain it and make it believable. Palmer believes this is prevailing wind of Capitalism and I believe him.
  • In 2000, a researcher named Richard Putman wrote a book called Bowling Alone where he stated that American Social Capital (the ties that keep us together and trust each other) had dramatically diminished. But this was before the growth of Social Media. More recent research (Bowling Online) indicates that Social Capital is growing again. Especially a new form of Social Capital based upon historical relationships. It used to be that when we left a community (moving from hometown) we essentially lost of the ability to influence and be influenced by the community. However, with Social Media, we now can be in daily contact with former members of our social circle – and still be influenced by them. With the increasing dependence of search engines on social signals, I can foresee that who you know and whom you have known will have an increasing influence on your purchase patterns.

Some Statistics


Characteristics of Inbound Marketing

33-marketing-post-imageSo let me conclude with the characteristics of Inbound Marketing as I promised. These are deduced from the definitions and writings of many fine experts, plus my own long history of Internet Development and Marketing.

  • You have to Earn the Attention of the prospect with good content.
  • You have to target and nurture prospects through the entire Purchase Process, not just when they are immediately ready to buy, but from initial awareness of a need to the happiness with the results.
  • You target Communities containing your Audience and respect all members of the Community.
  • One of the original reasons the Internet was a good advertising media – you could measure and test everything. This is true for Inbound Marketing – Measure, Test and Optimize constantly.
  • As I mentioned, the happiness of the customer after a purchase is important. Especially if you can connect customers to prospects and get them to communicate their Satisfaction (Delight). Nothing closes a sale better.
  • You cannot be false or misleading – you have to be transparent in your marketing and community development. People will always figure out scams and falsehoods, and you will be pillared by the Internet.Thanks for hearing me out. Our next meetup is about Rolling out an Inbound Marketing Strategy. If you would like to see the video of the first meetup click here. If you would like to download a slide set, click here.
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