If it isn’t too early for deep and meaningful questions, allow me to pose one - what is the purpose of marketing?
Not so long ago, you might have expected a typical answer to make at least some reference to driving sales of a product or service. After all, that is the whole purpose of business, right? If all other functions are not ancillary to creating revenue through sales, then what are they for?
If you Google the above question, top of the pile you get an answer quoted from smallbusiness.chron.com, which states: “The purpose of marketing is to attract attention and create interest.” No mention of sales anywhere, although you would assume that the purpose of attracting attention and generating interest would be to make money.
Turning Off Sales
This can be explained by a significant disruption marketing has undergone in the last decade or more. In brief, the ‘old’ approach to marketing was built around the idea that sales and marketing were quite closely aligned. The consensus was, if you make a brand visible enough to people, they will buy. So, through advertising, sponsorship, leafleting, direct mail and so on, marketing was largely built around pushing a brand to consumers with strong sales messages.
However, at some point or another, this stopped being so effective. People started to switch off during TV commercials. Direct mail might have gone straight in the bin, unopened. No one could prove that investing huge amounts in corporate sponsorship had any effect on sales.
This more or less coincided as digital media evolved into its second phase. Internet users realised they could start blocking those annoying pop up and banner ads. But more to the point, with so much choice of what to read, watch and interact with available online, they started to avoid anything too sales-orientated completely.
In the age of TV and print media, consumers were like captive audiences for the marketers to push their wares onto. Now, with the freedom of the internet to choose from, consumers held all the cards. They didn’t have to digest what the marketers wanted them to digest anymore. With the shoe firmly on the other foot, marketers now have to give them good reason to pay any attention.
Creating the Right Conditions
This broadly sums up the difference between what is now termed ‘outbound’ marketing - outbound in the sense that you push brand-focused messages ‘out’ to an audience - and inbound marketing, which is all about ‘drawing in’ audiences with good reasons to be interested in a brand.
Inbound marketing is closely linked to the concept of content marketing - both are built around the idea that if you make your marketing content good enough, people will come. Both are also predominantly used in digital marketing, again reflecting the sense that, online at least, consumers have the power. With so much choice available online, how can we make sure that potential customers remain engaged with your product and brand? They want excitement, entertainment and knowledge, something they would view or read for pleasure or interest, not because they happen to want to make a purchase.
You might sum it up as saying inbound marketing is about creating the conditions from which sales can then be made, by drawing in attention, creating a buzz around a brand and building trust and loyalty.
So rather than attempt to coerce customers, inbound marketing can be viewed as giving audiences good reason to ‘buy into’ a brand out of choice.
In the next post, we will look at what some of the strategies of inbound marketing are, and how they can benefit an overall brand strategy.