Inbound marketing is advertising a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing. In contrast, buying attention,cold-calling, direct paper mail, radio, TV advertisements, sales flyers, spam, telemarketing and traditional advertising are considered “outbound marketing”. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.

A famous quote by David Meerman Scott recommends that marketers “earn their way in” (via publishing helpful information on a blog etc.) in contrast to outbound marketing where they “buy, beg, or bug their way in” (via paid advertisements, issuing press releases, or paying commissioned sales people, respectively).

The term is synonymous with the concept of permission marketing, which is the title of a book by Seth Godin. The inbound marketing term was coined by HubSpot’s Brian Halligan in 2005.

According to HubSpot, inbound marketing is especially effective for small businesses that deal with high values, long research cycles and knowledge-based products. In these areas prospects are more likely to get informed and hire someone who demonstrates expertise.

In one case inbound marketing was defined by three phases: Get found, Convert and Analyze. A newer model from Business2Community illustrates the concept in five stages

  • Attract traffic
  • Convert visitors to leads
  • Convert leads to sales
  • Turn customers into repeat higher margin customers
  • Analyse for continuous improvement

Complex inbound marketing practices target potential customers at various different levels of product/brand awareness.

The most scaled tactics attempt to funnel customers from semantically related market segments, who have no product awareness or intention to purchase. This is usually achieved by taking the customer through a structured informational path, that builds awareness and increases interest over time.