Definition: Inbound marketing refers to the process of naturally attracting visitors to a website or storefront, as opposed to seeking out customers with advertisement campaigns and similar methods. Inbound marketing is based on the notion that informative, creative and all around exceptional content can unlock the door to creating a lasting impression and attracting customers.

A brief history

Though inbound marketing strategies are said to have existed well before the 1900s, Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO at Hubspot, is credited with officially coining the term in 2005. Since then, the marketing website - and many other entities - have provided countless discussions about the buzzworthy topic.

What classifies as inbound marketing?

Though this marketing process encompasses a number of different strategies, some of the most popular include:

  • Blog posts
  • Vlogs - or video blogs
  • E-books
  • White papers
  • Infographics
  • Podcasts
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Inbound vs. outbound marketing

Whereas inbound marketing revolves around the idea that an audience can be earned organically, outbound marketing centers around putting its message in front of the public through paid marketing campaigns. Such promotions might include billboards, press releases or print, television and radio advertisements.

These are other key differences between the two methods:

  • Subtle: for many promoters, inbound marketing feels less like marketing in that it takes on a soft, subtle approach. More traditional methods such as cold-calling, direct mail and street campaigns, however, can come off as aggressive and abrasive.
  • Print campaigns and other outbound marketing efforts can come with a hefty price tag. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is known for its ability to deliver maximum results at little to no cost.
  • One way street: while inbound marketing takes on an interactive, two-way approach, outbound marketing is considered to be more of a one-way avenue. Consequently, the former is said to attract more attentive and interested audience members who are more likely to make a purchase, increasing a company's ROI.
  • Adaptable: inbound marketing is adaptable enough to work for the marketer who is not enthusiastic about selling to customers. Given that this method revolves heavily around producing content, campaign creators can focus on being helpful and providing value; outbound marketing campaigns rarely do either.
  • Outbound's decreasing effectiveness: many digital marketers agree outbound marketing is on the decline as a result of changing consumer behavior. Today's buyers wants control over what information they're exposed to, and outbound marketing aims to do the opposite.

How can ecommerce businesses take advantage of inbound marketing?

Though inbound marketing can prove successful for most companies, there are a few precursors to achieving desired results.

Promoters interested in implementing this type of marketing should be willing to take risks and encourage creative thinking from their team. Doing so will lead to content that better stands out in a cluttered marketplace.

One such example exists in the form of Kate Spade's "The Waiting Game" promotional videos, which featured a bored but fashionable Anna Kendrick locked outside of her apartment. The lifestyle brand released the first part of the ad miniseries in late 2014 with subsequent videos following in 2015. Digital marketers praised the company for its engaging, episodic content and ability to bring a direct shopping experience to an otherwise one-dimensional video.

It's worth noting, however, that large video crews aren't necessarily needed for an effective promotion. Inbound marketing is an especially great option for newer enterprises and smaller businesses with little to no budget.

Like any promotional strategy, successful inbound marketing is a result of carefully considered planning. Whether that means formulating an editorial calendar or recording podcasts months in advance, companies that have a clear strategy and vision are more likely to achieve results - and boost revenue - with inbound marketing.

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