7 Hang-ups About What Inbound Marketing Means

Tim Holdsworth
Posted by Tim Holdsworth on September 15, 2014
Inigo Montoya in a scene from The Princess Bride saying i do not think that means what you think it means.


Considering all the terminology that swirls around marketing, it shouldn’t be too surprising that “inbound marketing” can be a term that triggers misunderstanding. Oftentimes, when someone hears that term, they say “yeah, I know what that means.” But when they try to explain what inbound is, you find yourself wondering “how did they get hung up on that as a definition?”

While the range of responses you may hear will vary, the following are 7 common definitions of inbound marketing we've heard people get hung up on:

1. Inbound marketing = a set of technology tools


At a quick glance, it’s easy to confuse inbound marketing technology with inbound marketing as a strategy. These technology tools are often the shiny, easy-to-buy objects that catch our interest and attention – hey, it’s always fun to shop for and play with tools (think Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor). But while it’s easy to obsess over them, such tools are really only there to help build, implement, and measure your efforts. The real work of inbound marketing is in developing the strategy: analyzing your marketing situation, understanding and documenting your prospects' and customers’ wants, needs and interests, developing appropriate content and relevant offers and identifying steps of your marketing funnel.

2. Inbound marketing = social media

Social-mediaSetting up a company Facebook page, Twitter account or a company LinkedIn page, doesn’t mean you’re now doing inbound marketing. While using social media channels is an important element within an inbound strategy, it’s not the only part. Inbound marketing involves creating content, such as blog posts, ebooks, whitepapers, webinars and videos, and one of the ways that content is then shared is via social media channels. Inbound marketing is not another name for social media.

3. Inbound marketing = content marketing

Content-MarketingAlthough inbound marketing and content marketing are close siblings, they are not identical twins. Content, which is anything your company/organization creates and shares with prospects and customers, is just one element within an inbound strategy (usually the largest element). Inbound marketing needs content to keep it well fed and functioning; without it, an inbound strategy will starve. Content on the other hand needs inbound tactics to help it be found and to “socialize” properly with prospects and customers. An inbound strategy helps content stay focused on helpful and appropriate customer-persona targeted messaging. However, content marketing can – and sometimes does — go out and mingle without its inbound strategy (e.g., broadcasting “look at me” messages on social media or via email). The resulting relationships when this happens, however, are questionable.

4. Inbound marketing = replacing the sales team

SalesIf content and inbound marketing tactics are generating leads, then there’s not much left for sales to do. Marketing will essentially be taking over sales. Staff cost savings! Actually, no. There will always be a need for high-quality sales people. The goal of an inbound strategy is to push-start lead generation, ultimately producing leads that are warmer, of better quality and more receptive to hearing from sales. With a lot of the legwork out of the way, sales can be more productive, more efficient and can turn revenue more quickly. Heck, even the historically bad rivalry between marketing and sales departments may disappear because sales is receiving leads that are more actionable and closer to closing.

5. Inbound marketing = flip a switch and walk away

set-forgetInbound marketing is about automation, which means you can “set it and forget it,” right? Not exactly. While there are elements of automation within an inbound marketing strategy, ongoing effort into content development, offer creation, social media sharing and interactions, keyword research, reviewing analytics and more is needed. A one-time setup effort just won’t cut it … information changes, offers grow stale, customers’ needs shift. In addition, consistent effort needs to be put into aligning sales and marketing efforts in terms of lead generation and follow-up.

6. Inbound marketing = fewer people in the marketing department

Marketing-teamWhoa. While it may seem inbound marketing requires less marketing staff, due to all misperceived automation benefits, it actually requires some significant people power. Inbound marketing is about engaging with customers and prospects, so it requires an ongoing content creation, offer development, analysis and optimization, channel monitoring and thoughtful follow-up. Most companies will want some in-house staff to manage certain functions, but other functions may need to be outsourced. To get an idea of what you should consider in terms of staffing, take a look at Meg Hoppe’s post about the capabilities organizations need to execute inbound marketing.

7. Inbound marketing = replaces all outbound marketing

OutboundUtilizing an inbound strategy doesn’t have to mean you immediately get rid of all your outbound marketing activities. They can coexist, however, you will want to take a hard look at the ROI you are getting on the outbound tactics. For the ones you don’t feel you can let loose of just yet, you should evaluate how you can adapt them so they better dovetail with your inbound efforts. For example, if conference and trade events are relevant for your business you can promote your attendance through inbound-related tactics such as social media and email and work during the conference to collect prospect emails through a content offer that places those prospects into an automated lead nurturing campaign after the event. 

While we may never know how people become hung up on certain definitions of inbound marketing, knowing what some of the most common, incorrect definitions are can help you know how to bring them up to speed on the correct one.

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Topics: Inbound Marketing

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