In our last blog on Inbound and Digital Marketing, we asked a fundamental question about digital marketing in general - what is it for? We went on to discuss how, over the past two decades, the rise of digital media has resulted in a shift in the purpose and focus of marketing, from more or less explicitly pushing sales messages out to an audience, to trying instead to attract attention through high quality content.
A shift, in other words, from predominantly ‘outbound’ activities where marketers take the brand to the consumer, to ‘inbound’ strategies where the emphasis is on encouraging audiences come to you.
So what do these marketing strategies look like, and what are the benefits to a brand?
Examples of Inbound Activities
A good starting place for examples of inbound marketing is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). Search engines account for up to two thirds of all website traffic. For so called ‘organic’ search, where web users type a query into a search engine and choose a site based on the results rankings, visibility is the key for businesses. SEO is all about creating the right conditions (i.e. a high search ranking) for potential customers to find a brand online, so acts as an inbound marketing mechanism.
SEO then branches off into lots of other activities which have become part of the inbound marketer’s toolkit. Website design and development are crucial. The aim is to build websites which satisfy the search engine algorithm’s criteria for quality and usability, for examples in areas like page speed and navigation. But these are not just important for keeping the Google bots happy - you also want visitors to find your site engaging, appealing and easy to use so they come back again.
The same idea applies to blogs and other so-called ‘content marketing’ approaches. Again, blogs have become a must-have for practically every business website because of their impact on SEO - they ensure content is regularly updated and fresh, and they satisfy the algorithms preference for informative and helpful content, rather than simply sales oriented. As with good web design, quality, informative, regularly updated content is likely to keep visitors coming back.
A third main pillar of inbound is social media. Although Facebook, Twitter and Instagram support advertising, that is not the point of running a social media account in itself. Social media allows brands to engage with audiences directly, to drive traffic to their website and promote themselves, but also to talk to potential customers and audiences. People use social media to talk and share, and are drawn to brands which tune in on the same level.
Brand Benefits of Inbound Marketing
The advantages of digital marketing over more traditional approaches can be summed up in two words - trust and loyalty.
In the first instance, inbound marketing is driven by a practical need created by the rise of the internet - with so many sites competing for attention, you have to create the right conditions for customers to find you (e.g. through SEO, link building and social media promotion).
But once people have found you, the key is to keep them coming back. With so much choice on offer, it is very easy for audiences to take their attention, and their potential custom, elsewhere if they don’t find what they are looking for. So inbound marketing is also about capturing attention, building engagement, creating that trust and loyalty in the brand which will hopefully drive repeat custom. That is where the quality of content, and how well you play the social game, comes into its own.
Once you have the attention of your audience, then of course the objective is to move them down the funnel - ‘inbound conversion’ is a discipline in its own right, with a new set of promotional tactics in response to the new conditions created by digital media. But inbound marketing is primarily about grabbing and then holding attention in the first place, using SEO, content marketing and social media to make a brand stand out amongst the brightest stars in the online universe.