You’re driving down a busy street, when you pass by a billboard. “Pauline’s Pet Supplies!” it says. “Best Dog Chew Toys in Town!” But you don’t have any pets, much less a dog, so you ignore it.
A few miles later, you pass by a bus bench. “Ralph’s Real Estate!” proclaims the ad on the side, with a picture of Ralph beside it, smiling warmly. But you’re not looking to sell your house right now, or buy one, so you keep driving and don’t give it a second thought.
Finally, you pass by another billboard with a brilliantly white smile plastered across it, and the words “Dazzling White Toothpaste” in large letters. As it happens, you have been looking for a new brand of toothpaste lately. But you’ve passed by so many ads already today that you’ve stopped paying attention. The gleaming teeth barely register, and by the time you get to the next stoplight you’ve forgotten about it.
This is the essence of outbound marketing, also called traditional marketing. It’s how advertisers have reached their audiences since marketing was first born. You put your message out into the world for everyone to see, in the hope that “everyone” includes the people who can actually use your product or service. In times past, this broad, inexact method was the only way to reach a target audience, short of going up to them in the street to deliver the message personally (which is part of a method called “direct marketing.” It’s closer to door-to-door sales than marketing, and reactions vary).
But then came the Internet. There are websites geared toward every imaginable interest and search engines to help you find them. For the first time, people with a specific need, or looking for a specific product, can be located in specific places and targeted directly. So marketers got to work. They found the sites where their potential customers were congregating and started putting up billboards—banner ads, pop-up ads, flash video ads and more. They’d collect people’s e-mail addresses and spam their inboxes with ads for home refinancing and Viagra knockoffs. And of course, these ads were all universally loathed. Internet browsers began offering pop-up blockers and general ad blockers, while email providers introduced spam filters so that users could avoid these constant intrusions on their web surfing experience.
A new tactic was clearly necessary for marketers to reach their target audiences. And then the solution was discovered. Instead of inundating audiences with ads they didn’t want, why not find out what they DID want and give it to them? After all, while marketers were struggling to reach people with their products, potential customers were actively searching for those products on Google.
Thus inbound marketing was born: a completely new paradigm in brand promotion. Instead of bombarding the entire world with a message most of them don’t want, be the company your customers are searching for. Provide not just ads, but real content that they’ll find useful. Find the search terms people are googling and include those as part of your content, so that people searching for products in your field will find your company. Establish a presence on social media and amass a whole block of followers who have specifically requested to hear updates from your brand.
This is the new marketing. It’s not about accosting people with messages. It’s about connecting with people. It’s not about overtly selling. It’s about being the brand they trust—the brand they WANT to buy from. It’s inbound marketing. And it’s the future of brand promotion.