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Inbound marketing is one of the biggest buzzwords in the marketing world at present. But just because we’ve heard the term before doesn’t mean we’ve taken it on board and know how to apply it to our businesses!  Sometimes the more noise there is the less we hear.

bees buzzing

From speaking with my clients I think the term Inbound Marketing is still drawing blanks for some business owners. In fact you could say their definition of Inbound marketing is more fuzzy than buzzy!  There’s a general understanding that ‘Inbound’ offers an alternative to traditional ‘Outbound’ marketing strategies and a vague sense that it’s something to do with the internet. But for many people that’s as far as it goes.

If this sounds like you then you’ve come to the right (non judgemental) place!  In this article I’m going back to basics to explain exactly what the difference is between Inbound Marketing and the Traditional ‘Outbound’ Marketing methodology.

Take a few minutes to read this article and you’ll be able to break through the fuzz and join in the buzz!

What is Traditional ‘Outbound’ Marketing?

Traditional outbound marketing is rooted in the sales advertising model. It’s all about sending messages to your customers by putting your brand right in front of them.

Think of the countless TV or magazine ads that promote an aspirational lifestyle by association with their product or service. Think about the old school sales pitch of a used car salesman on a radio ad. Think about the leaflet for your local Chinese take-away waiting for you on your doormat when you arrive home hungry and tired from work!

In 2017 we’re being bombarded with an average of 2,000 outbound sales messages per day!  From a business perspective this makes it harder and harder to compete. The sheer volume of communications out there means that people are less susceptible to advertising. They are even taking practical measures to block them from their path. For example, ‘No Junk Mail’ signs,  spam filters, Caller ID, Ad Blockers, Netflix to watch movies and shows uninterrupted by advertising.

Of course this doesn’t mean that people have stopped shopping and making brand affiliations!  There’s just a new trend in consumer patterns which harnesses the internet to shift the buyer journey into an inbound marketing model.

What is Inbound Marketing? 

The internet has created a search culture. Where previously we waited for goods and services to find us, we now take an active role in finding them.  We have specific questions we want answered and are willing to trawl through heaps of information before we make a buying decision.

Many businesses have come to recognise this trend and are optimising their online presence to attract rather than pursue customers.

Inbound marketing is the strategy of getting your business found.  It’s about attracting users to your website by providing relevant content that they find valuable and then converting them into leads and ultimately into customers.

‘Content marketing’ which is a buzzword in itself is a subcategory of Inbound marketing.  It teaches and helps customers to solve problems as a means of building a trustworthy brand reputation and prestige.  You will all be familiar with ‘How to…’ articles or ‘the Top 5…’ etc..  You might be thinking this very article fits the category of content marketing, and indeed you would be right.

Let’s look at some of the key differences between Inbound marketing and traditional marketing. Oh fancy that – there are 5!

The 5 Big Differences Between Traditional and Inbound Marketing
#1: If Outbound is Push, Inbound is Pull

Traditional marketing in the form of advertising is directly promotional. It’s telling customers why to buy your product or service.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, takes a softer approach. It’s about ‘selling less’. The idea is to build a reputation as a trustworthy brand in order to persuade customers to choose your product or service.

An effective Inbound Marketing technique would therefore be to provide content that helps consumers make the right purchasing decision for them without overtly promoting your own offering. Giving away useful and objective insights about your industry draws customers to your website and gains you a reputation as a credible brand and thought leader.

In this way it is useful to think of Inbound Marketing as a magnetic force and Outbound Marketing as a spray.

#2 :  Traditional Marketing is Brand-Focused, Inbound Marketing is Customer-Focused

In traditional marketing, advertising companies attempt to grab some mind space and sell regardless of whether the customer is ready to buy or not. The more often a brand is put in front of audiences the better. But just because we want a certain product doesn’t necessarily mean we can have it. We’ve all known that disappointment!

The point here is that even if n ad appeals to audiences they may not buy the product for the simple fact that they can’t afford it or just don’t need it. For example, If you’ve recently bought a fridge then you don’t need another and so on…


Wouldn’t it be better to focus on people who are actively seeking the products and services that you sell? In other words, connecting  with someone when they’re looking for a fridge rather than after they’ve bought one?

Inbound marketing is set up to cater for the buyer’s journey and is focused on the customer’s needs. The potential buyer only comes looking for information when they are ready to begin thinking about a purchase. Inbound marketeers can be clever about the content they supply by making sure to answer questions that cater to the various different stages a buyer will go through from initial product awareness to decision making.

Hubspot, who are largely responsible for coining the term “Inbound Marketing” and popularising the Inbound methodology distinguish 3 key stages of the buyer’s journey:

1. Awareness Stage: The buyer realises they have a problem.

2. Consideration Stage: The buyer defines their problem and researches options to solve it.

3. Decision Stage: The buyer chooses a solution.

#3:. Traditional Marketing is Interruptive, Inbound Marketing is Supportive 

After a long day working in the office a young professional kicks back in her Dublin City Centre apartment to watch her favourite TV show.  Let’s say it’s House of Cards and OK let’s say it’s me! 🙂 The ad break interrupts her viewing with an ad promoting a new lawnmower that cuts mowing time in half. What’s wrong with this?

Well, firstly, it’s interruptive and catching me at a time when I’m not set up to make an active buying decision. Secondly, and most importantly, I have zero interest in lawnmowers because I don’t have a garden!

‘Spray & Pray’ advertising techniques need a lot of investment in order to reach enough potential customers. Granted, media purchasing can be targeted to certain audiences. Nevertheless you’ll still hit on a whole lot of people who simply don’t want or even need your product.

The Inbound marketing alternative here would be for the lawnmower company to host an online blog with helpful information about all things lawn mowing.  This will attract targeted customers with this specific interest and those searching to resolve lawn mowing problems.

Ta Da!  The target customer buzzes into the sales funnel all on their own accord. The lawnmower brand rather than pestering their customers with sales messages can shift its position to helping and educating their customers.

#4: Traditional Marketing has a One-way Flow of Communication, Inbound Marketing is a Conversation 

One of the most important aspects of the online marketing channel is the opportunity it provides to interact with potential customers. Crucially, rather than sending out a sales message and hoping it went down well, Online marketing allows businesses to open a conversation with their customers.  This serves both parties better.  Businesses can learn more about what their customers want. Conversely, customers have their say and therefore feel empowered.

A recent Forbes survey reports that 62% of millennials say that if a brand engages with them on social networks they’re more likely to become a loyal customer. Of the same group of people, only 1% said they would trust what a brand tells them in a commercial advertisement alone. Clearly people want to interact with a company and not just be sold a product or service.

#:. Quick Wins Versus Long-term Strategy

Traditional marketing tends to be campaign based and there is no denying the fact the results will be quicker. Inbound marketing is a long-term process that will take time to build momentum.  If you’re going to focus on giving customers valuable information through content marketing strategies then you need to think along the lines of slow and steady wins the race!

I like to think of it like the story of the Tortoise and the Hare.  You can read more about this concept in my article”why Content Marketing is a Tortoise in Disguise”.

Content Marketing Tprtpose versus the Pay Per Click Advertising Hare

Is Traditional Marketing over?

Definitely not!  Inbound marketing is a whole new way of doing business that works really well for certain businesses.  Traditional marketing still has a massive impact for others. However, what’s important is to know which model works best for your business or how to combine aspects of each model together to best effect.

Some products and services are all about impulsive consumer behaviours or self-imposed rule-breaking.  I’ll give you a personal example. I would probably never try and solve the problem of identifying the most sugar-packed double iced lemon curd donut in Dublin. On the contrary, I’d be more likely to search for something like ‘ways to beat sugar cravings’. Yet I might still fall prey to a poster in a donut shop window as I idle pass and decide to throw all caution to the sugar storm wind and buy/scoff a donut.

Equally, there are many brands whereby brand awareness and association are part of the sell. These brands need plenty of touchstones to stay top of the mind and so will combine traditional campaign style marketing with other digital strategies.

My advice for business owners then is to know your audience and what they want and need. Inbound marketing is the right fit for lots of businesses and it can make a major impact if done correctly.

I hope you’ve found this article useful and are coming out of it a lot less fuzzy about Inbound marketing than when you came in. If you have any questions or comments on this or related topics please feel free to leave a reply below.

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Sinead Gillett

Creative Director @ CONKER