What is inbound marketing? Definition and meaning

Inbound marketing consists of promoting a company or organization with content that appeals to potential customers – podcasts, video, blogs, newsletter, social medial marketing, etc. – the aim is to gain interest and draw consumers toward the company. It is commonly part of a marketing campaign which involves inbound telemarketing.

Outbound marketing, on the other had – TV advertising, radio, direct paper mailshots, cold-calling, sending spam, and telemarketing – tries to reach potential customers through general media advertising and in-person contact.

Few Internet users find outbound marketing forms like embedded videos and banners engaging, in fact, most of them find them annoying. This is because they contain content the user has not chosen. Rather than interrupting the users with advertising, an inbound approach converts the ad into content itself.

inbound marketingInbound marketing contains material that you are interested in – you follow the breadcrumbs until you get to the company; it is like a magnet. Outbound marketing blasts you with unsolicited content – it aims to attract your attention.

Inbound marketing promotes the commercial enterprise with content that aligns to the needs of target customers – they find it appealing. It lures them in.

Content needs to be personalized to the targeted consumer, and be tailored to best meet them during the various stages of interaction with the company – through the different stages of the purchase funnel. The purchase funnel (purchasing funnel) refers to a consumer-focused marketing model that illustrates the theoretical customer journey towards the purchase of a good or service.



According to Your Dictionary, inbound marketing is:

“A Web-based sales technique that offers helpful material on a Web site in addition to information about the company’s products.”

“The approach is designed to keep visitors coming back to the site on a regular basis. Examples include white papers, blogs, videos, e-books, glossaries, podcasts and current news. The Web opened a world of opportunities for inbound marketing.”

breadcrumbs-inbound-marketing-approachExperts say that any marketer who ignores the inbound approach to marketing does so at his or her own peril. Too many Internet users today are unwilling to tolerate the traditional outbound marketing approach where their experience is being continually interrupted with unsolicited adverts.

How did inbound marketing emerge?

For a long time, businesses and other organizations have attempted to reach potential consumers on the Internet using traditional adverts, such as banners and embedded videos.

Thanks to the popularity of ad-blocking software and some other factors, these businesses have often failed to make an impact.



Ars Technica, an online technology magazine, ran an experiment six years ago. For twelve hours, its website administrators launched a program that would make content completely invisible to any reader using ad-blocking software.

Their experiment worked – any viewer who had ad-blocking software installed had blank pages when accessing Ars Technica articles.

The response to the experiment was mixed. Some readers were extremely annoyed and clicked away angrily while others lauded the effort. The Ars Technica management had to accept the fact that many online users simply hate ads.

Methods of advertising that have been around long before the Internet emerged – traditional advertising methods – have suffered on the Internet. We have become used to ad-free experiences. There is nothing many of us hate more than suddenly finding our nice online experience blocked by unsolicited ads.

outbound-marketing-versus-inbound-marketingWhich of these two extremes would you prefer? To be woken up by a coffee-maker’s town crier screaming through a megaphone, or by the smell of coffee, whose distributor has some interesting aroma forums.

A new strategy – inbound marketing – which connects with potential customers through experiences and material they find useful, is becoming progressively more popular. Using media like networking and blogs, marketing professionals aim to inform and entertain consumers with content they are currently seeking.

Inbound marketing engages with potential customers by presenting them with relevant and useful content through organic means, such as sharing links with friends and search engines. There is no way a banner ad can talk to a potential customer about a product like a skillfully-crafted blog can.

Inbound marketing can remain in touch with those who are in the later stages of the purchase funnel. Rather than placing banner ads where potential customers are assumed to be, inbound marketing provides useful and relevant content to those who are already actively seeking information about a product.

Imagine you are trying to get several chickens back into an enclosure. By laying down a trail of breadcrumbs or seeds – these chickens are seeking food – you can get them all to make their way back by following the food, which is something they want.

Dale Carnigie QuoteDale Carnegie (1888-1955), a developer of famous courses in self-improvement and salesmanship, was decades ahead of his time as far as marketing and sales were concerned. (Image: twitter.com/lidalecarnegie)

Inbound marketing – a popular strategy

The inbound approach is effective for a wide range of businesses and organizations in every field. Non-profit organizations (NPOs) and political parties have had enormous success with inbound marketing materials like viral videos and social media campaigns.

With this approach, NPOs can clearly present their cause to stakeholders. While effectively reaching individuals who are already interested in their cause, inbound marketing also provides easy-to-find information for others.

Virtually every political campaign today channels resources into inbound marketing. Local and national government election candidates have seen impressive results from social media, blogs and interactive online materials.

In 2008, more than $500 million was raised online during President Barack Obama’s election campaign, which was rich in inbound marketing elements.

Online users – especially younger ones – that have become used to the interactive content of the Internet, will instinctively find inbound materials more engaging and interesting.

Video – What is inbound marketing?

This HubSpot Academy video explains what the inbound approach is in marketing.