What is inbound marketing?A quick intro to the hottest topic in B2B

What is inbound?


Frankly, a word that tends to cause more confusion than it explains. A word that is often seen as the complete opposite of outbound. What if the inbound definition looked like this:


"Any marketing activity that gets your audience actively coming to you and in the process shifts their mental dial at least some way from ‘I don’t give a monkeys’ towards ‘I’d love to know more’."


This means the audience are making the initial choice of whether to engage with you as a brand. But what would that mean about outbound? Is it the opposite?




We believe there is greater value in speaking predominantly in these terms when looking at the customer journey, that joins inbound and outbound and connects them into one seamless journey. Think of it like this:



So, how do you get people ‘in’?


  • Through marketing that effectively marries deep audience understanding with market insight
  • Is not constrained by channel norms
  • And starts with “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?”


Fundamentally it’s about doing great marketing. Much of the debate around inbound focuses on channel strategies but our belief is it’s wrong to lead with channels. Lead with a core strategy that answers a business challenge and marries this with deep audience insight. How you use channels should ladder back up to this core strategy.


So who is doing it really well? Here’s one of our favourite examples:


IBM: “Let’s Build a Smarter Planet”


IBM no longer wanted to be seen purely as a large blue-chip tech organisation but as an innovator. Smarter Planet unified this ambition, highlighting how businesses, governments and society can capture the potential of smarter systems to achieve huge gains (both economic and societal). Here, inbound is being used as part of, not independent of, a core strategy.


Why I like it:

  1. It was a single unified idea (core strategy) which everything filtered down from
  2. It is not constrained by B2B environments. IBM recognised that to become synonymous with innovation, they needed to be ‘famous’ for it
  3. They haven’t forgotten that to be seen as an innovative brand, they also need to behave innovatively. They are in the ‘traditional’ inbound environments (e.g. strong search presence) but they pepper disruptive communications that actively bring people in. A great example of this is their use of Watson. IBM Watson is a tech platform that uses natural language processing and machine learning to reveal insights from large amounts of unstructured data (source: IBM.com). From instigating a 1-2-1 with Bob Dylan to test his conversational skills to putting Watson head-to-head with gameshow contestants, these unusual and compelling scenarios draw users in and trigger new conversations in the art of the possible. These hooks were followed up with tangible examples via Watson at Work which highlighted how Watson could be applied in environments such as Finance and Healthcare


What you can learn from it:

  1. Focus on one core strategy, not individual channel strategies
  2. It’s a perfect example of ‘show, don’t tell’ communications. If you want people to ‘feel’ a certain way about your brand, telling them to do so is just not going to cut it
  3. Don’t be constrained by channel norms. Combine a strong core strategy with audience insight and almost any channel can be used to deliver your objectives. You may even find a new ‘channel’, e.g. what if Watson infiltrated dating websites with his own profile? “I’m Watson, a great conversationalist and listener”
  4. Don’t forget business decision-makers are people too. They consume mass media and if something is compelling enough, they will end up hearing about it
  5. Think about longer-term gains. This example would have taken time to build. I am sure they continued short-term tactics but they recognised that in order to deliver substantial growth, they needed to think longer term



The IBM example shows brilliantly that inbound marketing is not just digital. Fundamentally, inbound is a way of bringing people in to your brand by earning their interest. This could just as easily be an event stand as it could a sponsored update on LinkedIn.


Interested in finding out more? Join us for our Sales & Marketing Forum where we will be discussing inbound and the many questions that surround it.


By Rachael Clark | June 14, 2016

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