Before going deep into the inbound marketing, it is interesting to speak about what it came from. For reminder, the inbound marketing concept appeared in 2006 and was really pushed forward by the company Hubspot and its two founders: Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah.
The direct ancestor of inbound marketing is the permission marketing. It was defined by Seth Godin (on the right), previous head of marketing at Yahoo, in his book « Permission Marketing » in 1999.
Back then, it was still the beginning of internet, when people and companies were switching from direct mail to email. And this is interesting to see how Seth Godin, already saw the swift in marketing methods needed to adapt to it.
Mr Godin noticed that direct marketing methods (mails, emails, cold callings, doors to doors, ads campaigns) were less and less effective. He explain this trend with two factors.
Indeed, medias are permanently cutting their content to show to their audience unexpected advertising. When mass-marketing appeared, there was very few ads. Each of them were an impact on people seeing it. But nowadays, we are exposed to thousands of promotional messages per day. Think about every ads which are on medias (tv, radio, magazine, street panels…), but also ads inside shops (hundreds in each shops), or just every logos you can see every day on almost every products. How can we be focused on every one of them? How can get the message that each of company would like to relay? The point is: we can’t. The more ads we see the less impact each of them have. And as brands are trying to interrupt us every single second of our day, each message have almost no chance to influence us (or it have to be displayed many times).
Though years, more and more channels appeared in our environment. When mass marketing started there was few radio stations, few TV channels, few magazines… Then more and more channels appears: we have now dozens of radios or TV channels, hundreds of magazines… If we are not satisfied by the content (including ads), we can switch very easily. Who don’t switch of radio stations when commercials start? Everybody! But this is true for almost all medias: TV, magazines, mails, emails, or even shops. There is so much of them, that we have no reason to stay with one of them when marketing is pushing too much.
In a nutshell:
Nowadays, ads are inefficient because they are too much of them, and because you can skip it very easily.
Let’s illustrate this with a parable.
Imagine yourself walking in small and quiet village somewhere in France. Suddenly, foreign visitors ask you where is the post office. It would be rude to ignore them, so you would probably spend one or two minutes to explain them how to go to the post office.
Now, imagine yourself on the Champs-Elysée in Paris. It is crowded! You walked 100 meters and you already has been interrupted by a guy who want you to sign a petition, a guy who ask you if you have a cigarette for him, a tourist who want you to take a picture of him, a guy who wanted to give you a flyer, and a guy who tried to make you enter in his shop… It is highly improbable that you are going to be kind and spent time to explain to another tourist how to go to the Eiffel Tower. And you won’t even feel bad, because, five people in front of you just skip them just as you’ve probably done. And in case you feel bad, there will be another guy who want something from you 20 meters forward.
The solution proposed by Seth Godin was the permission marketing. It relies on the idea of turning stranger into friends, then friends into customers. To reach this state the brand had to create a bait that would interest its market audience. To access to this bait, the potential prospect have to give the permission to the brand to contact him again. This permission might be explicit or implicit. Once this permission granted, the brand have to reach higher permission level step by step by following three essential rules in their communication with their leads:
To sum up the permission marketing, have a look at the table below.
|Interruption Marketing||Permission Marketing|
With these three critical parameters, and with a marketing highly focused on each prospect’ expectations, the brand communication is a way more effective as leads willing to consume the brand’ marketing.
The inbound marketing is widely inspired by permission marketing. It is less theoretical, and more concrete in the application. Inbound marketing can be summarized as a process on internet that follow the permission marketing concept.
When the book « Permission marketing » was released, it was the very beginning of the web: internet access was mainly for comfortable households, people and companies were switching slowly to emails, social networks and blogs didn’t exist yet, and Google wasn’t the uncontested leader it is today. Moreover the world wide web was most of the time a one way communication: static pages that show information without any way to interact with.
In 2008, Brian Halligan (on the right on the picture) and Dharmesh Shah (on the left), released their book: « Inbound marketing: Get found using Google, social media, and blogs ». In this book they promote tools, technologies, and interactivity of internet to create a process that can convert a random visitor into a profitable customer.
In first years of the world wide web, marketers tried to convert the ads, they were used to published on traditional channels, to the web. Internet was seen as another TV channel, in which companies would promote themselves as they were used to. But quickly, and with the fast increase of the internet speed in download and upload, internet became a two ways communications media. Most successful website are now collaborative, or at least involve the visitor: forums, blogs, socials networks, Wikipedia, comments, shares, customers reviews…
On internet, companies can’t reach consumers directly. At the opposite, consumers use internet to find products or information all of the time. The idea behind the inbound marketing is to be found easily when people are searching for information on subject related to the product we want to sell. This is in total opposition with interruption marketing which is based the capacity of being heard, seen, noticed wherever and whenever by any means necessary.
To be found, the company need to create relevant content in order to provide useful information to their potential clients. This will create awareness, build trust, and give to the firm an image of expert in its field of activity.
The inbound marketing is considered as a funnel. At the entrance (Top Of the FUnnel: TOFU) there are all visitors. Then according to their interaction and engagement, they move forward in the funnel (Middle Of the FUnnel: MOFU). Once they become customer they are in the bottom of the funnel (BOFU). They still can go further to become loyal customers, or even promoters of the brand.
To make the lead move forward in the funnel, the company will provide more and more value-added content in exchange for more and more engagement. In other words, the bait is quality content, and the permission is the engagement of the visitor.
Below is the chart that illustrate the inbound marketing methodology promoted by B. Halligan and D. Shah.
The general concept of inbound marketing:
« Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring leads in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospect’s attention. »
We see that this definition is totally in agreement with the permission marketing concept. Moreover, this sentence don’t specify any tools, and stay focused on the concept and don’t mention a specific process.
As « inbound marketing » term appears in 2006 with B. Halligan and D.Shah and their company, Hubspot, it was quickly assimilated with tools they promoted.
From this perspective, there is an obvious conflict of interest. They promote a method for which their company offers tools to perform it.
This is why I choose to keep the above definition, that stay general and explain the concept instead of a method.
However, the commonly accepted definition is:
» Inbound Marketing is the method of attracting strangers to your website and converting them into customers. »
While searching information about inbound marketing, this definition might sound more accurate. Indeed, it is commonly accepted that inbound marketing is an online based strategy. With this point of view , inbound marketing could be assimilated to web-marketing, e-marketing, or any other activity related to the promotion of an entity on the web.
It is frequent to find misuse of the « inbound marketing » term to express a side concept: the content marketing. This is why it is important to understand how they are linked to one another.
The definition of content marketing:
« The technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined target audience »
This definition is quite close to the previous one about inbound marketing, ant it explain the confusion with these terms.
Content marketing is limited to the creation and publication of content. It doesn’t involve any conversion of the audience, leads generation or lead nurturing process.
At the opposite, inbound marketing is a global process that start with content marketing to drive an audience but also handle all the rest of the sales funnel until gaining the loyalty of consumers.
The inbound marketing as presented by Hubspot founders is focused on internet presence. It means that the company have to create remarkable content and diffuse it on internet in order to convert its audience. Badly, it is not that easy to do. It needs a lot of different competencies, mainly technical ones, to master the visibility of the content (SEO, copywriting, PPC campaigns), conversion rates (landing pages, leads nurturing), and to measure efficiency of the whole inbound funnel (Google analytics, marketing automation tools). But, while the principles of inbound marketing is just about attract customers and convert them, the method described by in the 2009 book « Inbound marketing: Get found using Google, Social medias, and Blogs » never talk about a possible offline method. Moreover, the method shown in this book is very strict, and it is presented as the only one. This thesis is about keeping the initial principles of inbound marketing but discover methods that are actually done in BtoB businesses. This book is the reference of inbound marketing, but I will go further in the real process of integration, and adaptation which can be done to match BtoB market functioning and requirements.
2.2) Inbound marketing pattern and tools
2.2.1) Attract strangers
2.2.2) Convert onlookers
2.2.3) Close leads
2.2.4) Delight customers