The Real Power of Inbound Marketing

The real reason inbound marketing is so powerful is not cost savings. Not that there aren’t cost savings as explained in this thoughtful post by inbound marketeer Kim Kolb. No more buying costly TV schedules or expensive print campaigns. That’s largely true, but the trade-off is a substantial time investment. And it’s not the real power of inbound marketing.

 Inbound Marketing:
     A marketing strategy that focuses on getting found by customers.

With inbound marketing, businesses “earn their way in” the customer’s mind by publishing helpful information on a blog or social media, and also by creating online tools and assets that attract an inbound flow of leads that can be converted to customers. The term was made popular by the marketing software company, Hubspot. The company’s founders even wrote the book on how to do it, called… Inbound Marketing, in which authors Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah say,

“People shop and learn in a whole new way compared to just a few years ago, so marketers need to adapt or risk extinction.”

This is mostly true (albeit somewhat dramatic), however, that’s not the power of inbound marketing. Because the above statement has always been true. 10 years from now, we will shop and learn differently than we do today. There’s always a shift in how we do business: the fax machine, overnight delivery, the cell phone. Granted, the internet is probably the most substantial shift, but be assured there will be others.

Digging deeper into the book, Halligan and Dharmesh also tell us that,

“The true power of inbound marketing lies in its ability to not only stretch the top of your sales funnel (and pull more people in), but also stretch the middle (get more to convert).”

This is getting closer, but I think you have to go a little deeper than that. And I’m not sure that conversion ratio is the real answer. I was in advertising sales for several years and a full practitioner of “outbound marketing.” My conversion rate was pretty high and I made a pretty good living. You can also point to outbound marketing companies like Apple, who do a pretty good job at converting people to the iPhone, and now the iPad.

The Real Power of Inbound Marketing

Alright, enough suspense. The real power is not getting found, the real power is that customers initiate the search. And I have personal experience that bears this out.

Two and half years ago I was at a major crossroads in my company. I had to shut down one of my businesses and reassess my future. (You can read the details here: Are You Breaking The Law of Focus? Learn From My Mistake) My surviving business, The Marketing Spot, was six years old. During that summer of introspection I did a thorough evaluation of all my current and past clients. I found that I could place all clients into two groups based on the length of our relationship. There were clients with which I had long-term relationships, lasting years and there were short term relationships, lasting only a few months. Why was that? The answer was inbound marketing.

What I found was striking. In all cases of long-term relationships, the client found me, I did not find them. My very first client in the winter of 2001, was a car dealership that came to me through a referral. An upscale restaurant came to me after they were a guest on my wine and food radio show (and my first experimentation with podcasting). Then a local newspaper rep introduced me to a medical clinic. A Chiropractor came to one of my seminars.

The true power of inbound marketing is the mindset of that customer that found you. With inbound marketing the customer has made the decision to find you and seek you out. Therefore, they believe it’s their idea that they found you. With outbound, or interruption marketing, the customer may learn about you, but they cannot take personal responsibility for the discovery, and consequently the sale is tougher and the possibility of buyer’s remorse is greater. With outbound marketing, you are selling to the customers, with inbound marketing, customers are selling themselves.

So, I’ll disagree with Halligan and Dharmesh, in that you will not face extinction if you continue to use outbound marketing as your primary strategy. But I will agree with them in that inbound marketing is the strategy of choice if you want to convert leads into long-term satisfied customers. What’s your experience?

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