Before considering the advantages and disadvantages of inbound marketing a definition is perhaps appropriate. According to Wikipedia ‘Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospect’s attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content’
Outbound marketing, by its very nature interrupts the prospect and that undoubtedly causes friction. We have all been there rushing around the office getting everything together for a meeting or concentrating hard on the latest spreadsheet when it comes the telephone call from someone pitching for something we did not ask for or prepare for. Does that call leave a good impression of the caller and their business or not? – answers on a postcard please.
Inbound marketing assumes the prospect searches out the information they need when they are ready. It assumes useful, engaging content is placed where the prospect may find it and it leads them down a path to ultimate conversion. Easy to say, not so easy to achieve – as discussed below.
Inbound Marketing Builds Authority
In the above example it was noted how outbound can leave the prospect with a bad impression of the company. Inbound is the opposite, it builds authority and credibility. Assuming content is of high quality and published on a regular basis then prospects develop the impression the company is real, in good shape, knows what they are doing and moving forward.
Builds Long Term Relationships
Most (not all) outbound marketing is a one hit wonder. It often relies on the prospect taking whatever action is required upon delivery of a single telephone call, Email, advertisement or piece of direct mail. If you have a limited potential customer base it is simply not practical to burn through your list to achieve only a few results.
Inbound is based on ongoing delivery of information over an extended period of time to build trust and a relationship to the point the prospect is ready, and comfortable, to buy.
Lends Itself To A Process
Particularly in B2B markets decisions are made by a team rather than just one person. All components of that team need to be engaged and all have different needs and information requirements.
Building an outbound process to engage all decision makers can be difficult but with inbound information (content) can be tailored to their particular needs. It can be delivered to the point it is most likely to be read and bring the prospect back to a point (the website) where they can find out more.
With a plan and appropriate content in place a process can be built with many steps leading ultimately to a conversion.
It Takes Time
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of them all. 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 where it will take 3 months absolute minimum from starting the process to see any meaningful returns.
Inbound marketing is more expensive than outbound
There is plenty of information online to state that on average an inbound lead costs significantly less than an outbound lead but sorry, I don’t buy it. There is no doubt any inbound marketing campaign is labour intensive. Content creation takes time, reformatting existing content takes time, publishing the content takes time. There needs to be a content manager and a solid plan. A wide variety of skills sets are required (see below) and all of this comes at a cost.
Inbound Skill Set Requirements
With outbound having well-honed skills in one or two disciplines may suffice but not for inbound. To succeed in inbound marketing requires skills in website development, blogging, social media, content creation / sourcing and SEO to name but a few. For one person to have all these skills is a big ask hence either more people are required or the process needs to be outsourced and automated.
As inbound marketing is predominately digital marketing based it should, in principle, be relatively simple to measure the ROI. Unfortunately, relating activity to leads generated is not that easy. It is possible to measure results at many stages in the process (clicks, downloads, follows etc.) and to fine tune the process accordingly but to obtain a direct relationship to leads generated can be more of a challenge.
There is a mass of false information and myths online. There is little doubt that inbound marketing has some real advantages but it is also important to understand the disadvantages that many seek to gloss over. What really delivers the best results is the appropriate mix of inbound and outbound activities that generates the required outcome regardless of the situation a business may find itself in.