First let’s define the basis of our conversation: the comparison of two models of marketing: inbound and outbound. Inbound marketing is a new online marketing model that uses website structure and high quality content to draw potential customers to it through search engines. This model is quickly replacing the old outbound marketing model. Lets compare the benefits and drawbacks of the two models:

Traditional “Outbound” Marketing
is the kind of marketing that we all grew up with. It is essentially advertising and is based on quantity. You choose your message and then pay certain media outlets, newspaper, TV, radio, in your market area, to carry that message to potential clients. The more that you pay the more exposure you get.

This model had and still has many benefits; most notably it allows the advertiser to present a consistent brand with very little chance for criticism or feedback (you can’t effectively talk back to a television ad). It also allows for a very direct sales message. You present your brand and your value proposition and wait for inquiries to start coming in.

This model also has lots of disadvantages, most notably it depends on the strength of your chosen outside media outlet. This presents two problems; first, media buys are just that, it is the purchasing of space/time on someone else’s brand. The problem here is that all the capital that you spend on these outbound channels has a very short return on investment window. Once the issue of the paper or the round of TV advertising expires you’ll have no residual benefit aside from a small amount of brand recognition from your client base. All that money you have spent is gone and can no longer work for you.

The second, and perhaps more compelling problem, is this: paying for advertising through traditional marketing channels is based on the assumption that your customer base has limited channels for news and entertainment and thus the channel you have chosen has value to your customer base. You spend money with these outlets because you believe that these channels are where people in your area come for news and entertainment and thus your message will be seen.

This basic assumption of limited marketing channels is quickly changing. Twenty years ago a given market had a finite number of media outlets, it had its papers and its television stations and that was it. The population was totally dependent on these outlets for  information. Because of this limited number of channels, you could also get away with a relatively “hard sell” message. An extreme example of this would be Billy Mays’s infamous high impact product commercials, which were aggressive and totally based on the viewers investment in the media channel that they were watching. That paradigm is a thing of the past.

Today those traditional channels are only one of many options. Blogs, national news websites and online entertainment have released a torrent of information upon the population. This torrent has fundamentally changed the way people find and interact with information. The Billy Mays approach of pounding a message into an audience is no longer effective because the multiplicity of information sources has softened people’s tolerance for the hard sell. Now people want value instead of pitch.
Enter the “Inbound” marketing model. If the Outbound model is based on quantity then the inbound model is based on quality. Just as the outbound model grew out of the media that supported it, the inbound model is closely tied to the media from which it was conceived.

With the sheer mass of online information sources, people can pick and choose where they get their information and how they are entertained. The simplicity of the Google search page makes every user a pundit who can judge different information sources against each other and decide who to listen to and to send others to. This qualitative evaluation presents major challenges for any business or organization looking to attract attention to its message or brand.

The quality-based inbound model takes advantage of this individual punditry. In the old model a larger competitor with a larger marketing budget could drown out its competition. Now if a website and blog are well optimized and are the best source of information about their product or service, people are naturally going to come to them whether it be for widgets or world peace. The quality of a website and information will naturally draw people to it allowing them to make a decision on the message or value proposition based on the quality of the content. Because of the nature of online media individuals can then share their evaluation, whether positive or negative, with others.

The main challenge that this presents to any brand is the basic acceptance of the lack of control inherent in the Inbound marketing model. As the Outbound model allowed you to control your brand image and message the inbound model leaves you wide open to commentary and criticism from every angle.

Don’t let this fact frighten you away.  If you believe in your message and brand, there is nothing to fear from healthy conversation and constructive criticism. In fact criticism is great! It means people are interested. Getting a healthy dialogue going with your critics is a fantastic way to draw attention to your message.

Once you engage in this new model, a conversation will begin with your client base about the quality and validity of your brand. Quality and identity of your brand will be extended or snuffed out by this ensuing conversation.  The “quality” that this model is based on is not limited to the content generated by the brand. The content generated by the brand is ideally just a starting place for other people to add their own layers of meaning. This process will help you refine your brand and make it more pertinent to your client base. With this new model you can’t tell people what they need, instead you need to listen to them and adapt.

Essentially by building a solid web presence based on solid SEO structure that utilizes inbound principles and effectively engages in social media you can build a brand without spending a cent on traditional advertising.

The growth of your brand will most likely happen slowly at first, as it takes time to gain traction with Google. However, in this system your brand will be evaluated and improved as you communicate with your client base. In the outbound model a brand had to pay an advertising agency to conduct focus groups to find out what their target market wanted. Now all you have to do to get a pulse on your market is engage with the resources that you already have. By doing this your brand will be refined every step of the way by the very people that make up your market, for free.

Inbound Marketing Model concepts can be put into action by anyone with the attention of a few hours a week using an effective website, on-site blog and twitter account. Of course having these tools in not enough, the tools alone are useless, what gives them power is the skill and passion that the user brings to them. So dive into the flow. Start the conversation and  you will find that your brand will come alive with a more competitive stance and a community of supporters and critics that will drive you to improve your message and brand as your brand grows.