Over the last decade, there have been considerable developments in technology and how people source the information they want, mainly via the Internet and social media, resulting in marketing going through a massive makeover. This has meant, any business, serious about expanding, growing their audience, and finding new customers, need to invest in digital marketing campaigns to promote the brand, product or services they offer.
Historically, marketers used outbound marketing or “traditional advertising” techniques, focusing on high conversion rates. Mass media tools such as TV, pay-per-click and print ads, outdoor advertising, cold-calling and direct mail,were used to pushthe messages and products out and garner as much brand exposure as possible to a large volume of people with non-specific targeting.The hope was, that if enough people heard the message, they would respond. While it provides the opportunity to get in front of a large audience quickly, build awareness and gain new customers within a short period, the results are more dependent on the money invested. Goodwin (2013) states that companies with more significant resources should not ignore the benefits of reaching a wider audience using outbound marketing.
In today’s climate, however, an argument can be made that these media toolsdo not carry the same persuasive power they did in the past. Think about it; TV ads can now be skipped, as favourite TV shows/movies can be recorded or live streamed. Digital music and satellite radio have taken a stronger foothold on listeners, providing the freedom to avoid advertising.We have seen how printed media, such as newspapers and books are also struggling as people are viewing more of this media online. Telemarketingtoo seems to be very much a thing of the past, while tactics like direct mailing and outdoor advertising are experiencing the knock-on effects due to the shift in people’s behaviour to source their information.
The Internet has made the “Buyer’s Journey” (the natural process a potential buyer goes through when searching for an online solution) start way before they buy a product or step into a store. The modern buyer, on average, will do 70% of their research to find out what products are best on their own before contacting a company.
They expect to be able to find all the answers they need quickly and easily. So where does this leave today’s marketer? It means businesses and marketers strategies and tactics have to evolve to keep up with the fast pacing changes of the online world and customer behaviours.
One means by which this can be accomplished is by implementing inbound marketing strategies, which are designed to pull potential customers in, while on this three-stage journey.
- Awareness Stage – Potential buyer, realises a want or need for a product and/or service. Most are seeking neutral information to answer questions or resolve issues they may have.
- Consideration Stage – Potential buyer has researched their problem, understands it, and is interested in learning what options are available to them.
- Decision Stage – Potential buyer researches companies who could fix their problem by looking through their websites, reading online reviews, watching videos and/or viewing their social media channels. They begin narrowing down and evaluating which company seems the most trustworthy, and can best solve their issue. At this stage, they are ready to talk and engage with the companies and get price estimates.
The goal of inbound marketingis to pulland attract customers, who are out there looking for the information, toward the marketing materials in a four-step process, helping to take them through the buyer’s journey.
- Attract visitors by creating memorablecontent aligned with keywords potential customers are using to search for solutions online.
- Connect with these prospects by offering high-value content.
- Engage with these leads on an on-going basis, providing them with useful information based on their actions and browsing behaviour, helping to move them along the Buyer’s Journey.
- Delight– Provide them with great content even long after they have become customers, so brand loyalty is built.
According to Smith and Chaffey (2013) content is a crucial component of inbound marketing techniques and as a ‘golden rule’ should focus 80% on the consumer’s information and education, with only 20% of the sales’ growth. By adapting content, which is both compelling and/or educational, thus focusing on the “buyer persona,” who came naturally and voluntarily to the company, it can convert strangers into customers and advocates of the business. Using these tactics on web pages, blogs, email marketing, SEO, or lead magnetsas well as dynamic rich media content, like videos, podcasts, and user-generated content from social media should help attract these potential customers discover the business in the early stages of the Buyer’s Journey, thus building trust throughout the process.
A big advantage to inbound marketing is it is significantly less expensive, with a much lower cost-per-lead than traditional marketing and allows the company to focus on a target audience that is already interested in their products/services. While there is a long-term ROI with inbound, it can require a higher upfront investment and results are slow in the beginning but is necessary if a company is to increase their presence online and rank higher on search engines.
Over time, digital assets like blog posts and premium offers can
increase at a higher rate than they cost to maintain or improve and generate leads years after they were initially created. The critical difference between inbound and outbound marketing is communication. Outbound relies on mass media where communication is only one-way (push tactics)and typically doesn’t consider the Buyer’s Journey. While inbound allows people to talk and engage with the brand (pull tactics) creating an element of transparency, honesty, and engagement, which in turn creates brand loyalty.
Before successfully ascertaining a target audience, however, every business needs to have a clear understanding of its values, purpose, and identity. As customers have a wide variety of needs, goals, and preferences, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always work.
A company needs to know who their buyer personas are because this then, will enable content that resonates with the relevant target group and help to develop a better understanding of their needs and expectations, allowing for content to be adjusted so that it solves their problems and fulfills their requirements.
As such, marketers need to understand that the entire world works on the basis of relationships. Buyers have to have trust to accept recommendations. They have to feel that the company has their best interests in mind.
Social listening can be a key player here in any business getting to know their potential customers and help produce the content required. By actively listening, a company can become familiar with the chatter of prospective customers, particularly their challenges and pain points.
By tracking particular terms or phrases, they can begin to solve the specific problems of the ideal consumers. This knowledge provides the business with the insight to write strategic content such as eBooks and guides that specifically address these issues of the potential customers. This process positions the company and their products and/or services as the solution they’ve been looking for. It also provides an opportunity for customers to talk back, so allows a business to know of any problems with products and/or services a competitor is providing. This fundamental insight offers the opportunity to reach out and influence new customers and pitch the business as the superior option. The business, in essence, becomes a part of the customer experience.
Van Praet (2014) says that ‘Influence is born by appealing to the emotions while overcoming rational restraints.’ For marketers, this means that by tapping into a target audience’s emotions they will subconsciously warm to and engage with the brand.
Personalising marketing materials such as addressing customers by name, or serving content relevant to past behaviours helps in building a relationship. However, while behaviourally targeted ads can have a positive effect on purchase intention, they can also create a psychological reactance, where the customer perceives a threat to their freedom and autonomy so this must be taken into consideration.
If the messages are intelligently personalised adverts, and recommendations can actively enhance customers’ positive emotions, they can lead to them returning and spending more. A multi-touch attribution model should take every stage of the customer’s journey to purchase into account.
There are businesses that have found tremendous success by exclusively using inbound marketing or outbound marketing. More often than not, the best strategy is a combination of both, while taking an inbound approach to both, i.e., measuring results accurately and aiming for long-term brand-building alongside short-term growth.Choosing the right mix depends not only on how well a given channel and tactic are for the KPIs a company wants to achieve but also the available budget. Striking a balance between efficacy and efficiency is crucial for a long-term, sustainable marketing strategy.