Definition

inbound marketing

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era
Contributor(s): Tim Ehrens

Inbound marketing is a strategy that focuses on attracting customers, or leads, via company-created Internet content, thereby having potential customers come to the company rather than marketers vying for their attention. This type of marketing tries to make it easier for customers, who are already actively looking for goods or services via the Internet, to find what a company offers.

Examples of inbound marketing content and tactics include blog posts, photos, infographics, videos, podcasts, presentations, e-books, whitepapers, e-newsletters, e-zines, webinars, search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing. The term was coined by HubSpot in 2005.

Inbound marketing targets customers through online platforms such as blogs, social media and search engines and is intended to create content that shows up in these places in order to drive organic traffic (rather than advertising-driven traffic) to a company's website. A main way in which traffic is generated is through the use of inbound links that maximizes the visibility of content on search engines and other websites by boosting its ranking in search results.

Inbound marketing can save companies money because they depend less on interruptive outbound marketing techniques -- such as cold-calling, cold-emailing, direct mail, or TV and radio advertisements -- to procure leads. Most platforms that help share content, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and various blogging websites, are free to use and sign up for, which further offsets costs. Since inbound marketing is cheaper to execute, smaller businesses are able to compete for leads on the Internet on a level playing field with bigger companies. SEO on content can replace some advertising spending since content is made more visible on search engines and other customer-facing channels.

Since inbound marketing content is promoted by companies on social media, it can spread through word-of-mouth and have a long-term effect on prospects by reaching them on multiple social channels. Older pieces of content can attract more leads over time as the ranking increases, giving a company fresh leads without spending time or effort on creating a new piece of content. Feedback is easily obtained through leads leaving comments or initiating conversations on social media.

The disadvantage of inbound marketing is that only the prospects that have chosen to view the message are reached, therefore limiting a campaign's audience. The wealth of various kinds of inbound marketing content might overwhelm a prospect and cause a company's content to get lost in the shuffle. Companies have less control over what a potential lead sees since he can look on the company website and may miss an opt-in offer that the company is trying to target him with. It takes longer to determine return on investment since prospects that come in might not be sales-ready at the time and will need additional nurturing to become customers. The two-way communication aspect can also backfire, with the spread of negative comments or bad reviews of a company, product or service.

This was last updated in December 2014

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What kind of inbound marketing efforts work best for your company and why?
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How-tos are the best inbound marketing materials for B2C companies I work with. Depending on the subject matter, this might take the form of a blog post or one graphic shared on social media. These kinds of posts show off the company’s products in a new context and provide many opportunities for relevant linking to points of sale when listing supplies or ingredients. This type of content is only effective if the How-to is high quality. An empty excuse to share a link will alienate customers.
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Videos and social media solutions. Meaning sharing videos about solving a problem and posting social media updates that point to those problem-solving videos. Second best are blog posts and general social media updates.
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Covered this a little in a comment I made earlier, but this is, in my opinion, an empty strategy if there's not some degree of outbound marketing taking place. Good content will draw attention to your company, but there has to be in place some strategic calls to action, promises of service and information that matches the queries of those who are 'pulled' in by your inbound efforts.
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