This is a question I get asked a lot – so here’s the short answer…
Inbound Marketing is designed to harness the three most powerful elements of Internet marketing into a single, connected, trackable process. The starting point is to create and publish high-quality content, either in words, pictures, audio or video. Next, you need to optimise this content for search engines, so that it appears in natural (i.e. free) search. Finally, you need to share the content via social networks such as Twitter, flickr, Facebook, YouTube and LinkedIn, to stimulate the viral spread of your content. The theory is, if you’ve done all three steps correctly, customers will come to you; hence the term “inbound marketing”.
What’s so special about Inbound Marketing?
You might think we’ve been publishing, optimising and sharing content for years – so what’s so special about Inbound Marketing? Well, to date most companies have focused their marketing budget on a combination of traditional “interruption” marketing (i.e. advertising) and SEO. The content on most corporate websites has been less than interesting (aka boring) and most business blogs are little better. In terms of sharing content, most companies have only dabbled with social media in a piecemeal way, often without truly understanding it and usually relying on external resources to help them (as an interesting aside, there are 2.3 million search results for the term “social media guru” on Google).
What’s different about Inbound Marketing is that it requires an end-to-end approach to online marketing. It requires us to put thought into creating interesting, valuable and remarkable content that inspires word-of-mouth referrals. It forces us to optimise everything we publish and then devise workable social media strategies to ensure it reaches as many receptive individuals as possible.
It requires us to monitor the results of the campaign not just in financial terms, but also in reach, share of conversation, new contacts, influence and positive sentiment towards your brand. These are the currency of the social media age.
Examples of Inbound Marketing Success
So the big question is: does Inbound Marketing work? Well, 2009 report from US-based inbound marketing company Hubspot states that, even after you take into consideration the time and effort of creating, optimising and sharing valuable content, leads generated via inbound marketing cost less than 50% of those generated via outbound marketing (see chart below).
Possibly the best example is the famous Blendtec iPhone video (who wouldn’t want to see an iPhone blended?) which attracted over 6,000 inbound links resulting in a top ten ranking on Google for the word “blender” and a 500% increase in sales.
Another great example is Bill Marriott’s blog. Building on his celebrity as the CEO of Marriott Hotels, Bill’s blog provides an interesting, personal view of the hotel chain. It has thousands of regular readers and posts regularly attract 30 or more comments. Having built up trust and loyalty, Bill only needs to recommend a particular hotel for it’s bookings to increase dramatically. Marriott estimates to make $4 million per annum from the blog.
But you don’t need to make money. The “Pink Glove Dance” video (below) featuring the staff of St Vincent’s Medical Center in Portland, Oregon has been live for just 2 weeks (at the time of writing), yet it’s received over 1 million views on YouTube, 2,200 comments and 2,800 favourites. Their goal was awareness and boy have they got it. It’s a runaway success and a prime example of how a very low budget video can achieve phenomenal results in a short space of time – given a little thought and some prodding via social media.
Why is Inbound Marketing so effective?
In my view there are five key reasons why Inbound Marketing works so well:
- It’s targeted. The people that click through to your site have already self-selected themselves as potential customers and are therefore more likely to buy. In marketing terms, you’re reaching “prospects” rather than “suspects”.
- It’s permission-based. When people subscribe (RSS, YouTube, Slideshare), follow you (on Twitter) or connect with you (Facebook/LinkedIn), they are opting in to receive your news and content. There’s no issue with spam or privacy, because people can unsubscribe at any time.
- It’s viral. The beauty of social networks is that as soon as someone expresses an interest in your content, their friends are invited to do the same. Inbound Marketing is designed to exploit this model.
- It’s word of mouth. Because your content is shared between friends (albeit often passively), it’s effectively a word of mouth recommendation. WOM remains the most powerful form of marketing.
- It’s free. Since most of the online services you need are free, Inbound Marketing does not cost involve direct costs. It simply requires knowledge, creativity and hard work.
How can I get started with Inbound Marketing?
So, this is a brief introduction to Inbound Marketing and I’ll be digging further into the mechanics of planning and starting an inbound marketing campaign, as well as monitoring the results, on this blog over the coming months. I’ve also recently set up the London Inbound Marketing Meetup and my friend Murray Newlands is starting an inbound marketing blog.
Our Social Times will be running some training events on Inbound Marketing in London during 2010. If you would like to attend one of these join our mailing list and we’ll send you an invitation.