Before considering the advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing a definition is appropriate. According to David Meerman Scott ‘inbound marketing is about developing marketing activities that ‘pull’ people into your site, generally through compelling content creation, rather than those that go out and interrupt prospects with advertising messages.”
The Advantages Of Inbound Marketing
The four key advantages of inbound marketing are:
- Reduced friction.
- Increased credibility/authority.
- Builds long term relationships.
- It lends itself to an ongoing marketing process.
Let’s consider each of the benefits of inbound marketing in a little more detail.
Outbound marketing interrupts the prospect and that causes friction. We have all been there rushing around the office getting everything together for a meeting when in comes a telephone call from someone pitching something we did not ask for or prepare for.
Inbound marketing assumes the prospect searches out the information they need when they are ready. It assumes useful, engaging content placed where the prospect may find it and leads them down a path to ultimate conversion. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve – as discussed below.
Inbound Marketing Builds Credibility
The above example showed outbound marketing often leaves the prospect with a bad impression of the company reaching out to them. Inbound is the opposite, it builds authority and credibility.
Assuming content is relevant, solves a problem, and is of high quality. Then prospects perceive the company is real, in good shape, and on top of their business, product or service offering.
Inbound Marketing Builds Long Term Relationships
Most outbound marketing tends to be a one-hit-wonder. It is often campaign driven and relies on the prospect taking action upon delivery of a single telephone call, Email, advertisement or piece of direct mail. The response rate to such outbound marketing is low. Typically, anything from 0.5% to 2% of those contacted may move to the next stage.
With a limited potential customer base, it is not practical to burn through a list to achieve only a few results. An inbound marketing process delivers relevant information over an extended period of time to build trust and a relationship. The ultimate aim is to stay relevant to the customer until the point they are ready, and comfortable, to buy.
Inbound marketing is not campaign driven but an ongoing, long term process and this may be one of its biggest advantages. With inbound marketing information (content) is delivered to the point it is most likely to be read. Its purpose is to bring the prospect back to a point (the website) where they can find out more.
From the above, it may appear that inbound marketing devalues the impact of sales. The reverse is actually true as a solid inbound marketing process brings sales and marketing closer together. Marketing must understand the information needs of the target market, and sales is best placed to provide that information.
Content may be used to target individuals within an identified customers decision-making team. This is Account Based Marketing which is similar, but different to inbound.
Disadvantages Of Inbound Marketing
The above all sounds positive but there is a downside. The problems with inbound marketing include:
- The time taken to deliver results
- The costs
- The extent of the inbound marketing toolkit
- The content marketing bubble
It Takes Time
With outbound, you may burn through a significant number of prospects to achieve one hit but results are possible within weeks. The same is not true of inbound marketing where it will take six months minimum from starting the process to see any meaningful returns.
Content creation takes time, reformatting existing content takes time, publishing the content takes time building an inbound marketing strategy takes time. The whole process is much more of a slow burn than outbound.
Channels of content distribution must be researched and built and audiences developed. if running the process in-house some re-training of existing personnel or hiring new people will be required. All of which takes more time and resources.
Inbound marketing requires a change in company culture (more on that below) and often re-organisation of sales and marketing operations and that is not something that can be achieved overnight.
Inbound marketing costs more than outbound
There is a widely held belief that on average an inbound lead costs significantly less than an outbound lead but sorry, I don’t buy it. It is true inbound marketing has a low cost of entry but that has only resulted in a mass of poorly planned and executed inbound marketing campaigns.
As discussed above inbound marketing takes time to implement and several months to start to deliver leads and time costs. There needs to be a content manager (or at least a content champion) and a solid plan. Inbound marketing requires a wide variety of skill sets (see below) and that comes at a cost. It is important to measure ROI on inbound marketing activity.
The Inbound Marketing Skill Set
To succeed in inbound marketing requires skills in website development, blogging, social media, content creation/sourcing and SEO to name but a few. Expecting one person (or even a small team) to have the full inbound skill set is a big ask. Either people must be trained or hired or the process needs to be outsourced and automated.
The solution for many is to hire an agency with all the required skills in-house but this approach has its problems. The agency can never understand your products and markets better than you. They can never know your customers and (in B2B) their decision making teams better than you. So who is best placed to understand (and produce) the content required for any successful inbound marketing process? You guessed it you are?
Who has the best understanding of the type of phrases your customers are likely to use to search for your products or services? Who has the best understanding of their pain points and common questions? Right again you do. My point is if you do hire an agency don’t expect it to be like the old days where you could engage and forget. You (and your team) will need to be actively involved in the process.
The Content Marketing Bubble
This is perhaps the main reason content marketing fails. Inbound marketing cannot be left to the marketing department (or an agency). It needs buy-in from the very top of the organisation. It needs to be given the time to deliver results. It often needs some reorganisation especially of how sales and marketing interact.
Yes, the marketing department can produce a variety of content but how do they know who they are targetting with that content? How do they know what type of content is needed for various stages in the sales cycle? That information comes from sales.
How can marketing know the typical questions customers may ask or their pain points? That information comes from customer services and sales.
How do they know which channels they should use to deliver content? Where do they obtain the technical information they may need to build their content? Marketing cannot be left in their own little bubble with no link to the real world.
Without matching content to the real concerns and information needs of members of the customer decision making team at various points in the sales process inbound marketing is destined to fail.
When evaluating the advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing you will find a mass of false information online. It is important to exploit the benefits of inbound marketing but it is also important to understand the disadvantages that too many seek to gloss over. What matters is the mix of inbound and outbound activities that generate the required outcome.
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