A New Definition for Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is a hot topic in B2B marketing. However, as more B2B marketers grab the inbound marketing flag, many will miss the two keys to making inbound marketing effective:

  • Be found through the recommendation of others.
  • Delight those that find you.

According to Hubspot, a leader in inbound marketing, the definition of inbound marketing is “marketing focused on getting found by your customers.” The most common functional definition of inbound marketing is the combination of search, social and content.

However, in a day when content mills and automated curation tools use content to drive search and social traffic, these common definitions of inbound marketing fall short. Here are other activities that can easily masquerade as inbound marketing:

  • Paid search? It definitely is “marketing focused on getting found by your customers,” and it is an effective marketing tactic, but it isn’t inbound marketing.
  • Social media? Collecting likes and followers to broadcast your content too can drive traffic through social channels, but it misses the heart of the social opportunity in inbound marketing.

Marketers today have layered so many activities under the inbound label that new inbound marketers may completely miss what made inbound effective in the first place!

The Solution: A New Definition of Inbound MarketingThe New Definition of Inbound Marketing

Michael Brenner (@brennermichael) took it a step farther when he labeled a marketer’s percentage of leads from inbound marketing as “a proxy for customer satisfaction with marketing.

Michael is right with his assessment, but only if we first redefine inbound marketing to strip away the outbound mindset that is beginning to pervade it.

Here is the inbound definition we need:

Inbound marketing is marketing focused on being found through the recommendation of others and delighting everyone that finds you. [Tweet This]

In 12 B2B Marketing Predictions for 2012, I predicted an increase in inbound marketing failures as B2B marketers jump on the inbound wagon. I believe marketers that focus on the definition above will be spared those failures.

Your Turn

Does this definition of inbound marketing capture the opportunity or do other elements need to be added? Share your perspective in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

This definition means changes! I will outline a new functional definition for inbound marketing, adding additional key components and expanding on the role of search and social in inbound marketing, in the next post on inbound.

Update: 5 Key Elements of Inbound Marketing, the followup, is posted here.

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  • Ken

    I like your thought process here.  We’ve been getting our inbound marketing strategy off the ground slowly but surely over the last several months.  And yes, it is easy to overlook the two keys you mentioned.  Thanks for the insight – and re-affirming what our core focus needs to be!

    • Ken, glad you liked it. I hope you will come back and share some of your initial inbound results! 

      One of the big challenges for B2B marketers is always the time it takes for inbound to ramp up, glad to hear you have been making the commitment to build and grow an inbound program over time.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  • I like that interpretation a lot. Definitely fits with “earning customers” rather than “buying them,” which is the core tenet I took away from the inbound marketing concept.

    • Thank you Rand, I appreciate the kind comment. I hope the concept of inbound doesn’t get a bad name by people that adopt “being found” without clearly focusing on the benefits of earning attention and delivering a great experience. (black hat SEO, for instance!)

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  • Hi Eric, I agree with your definition 100%. In fact I think it’s more of a call to arms than a definition. And for that I say thank you! I think I get where you are going with the paid search and social aspects, but not sure I’m totally on board with you…

    For me, I’m happy if more marketers simply get the business case for inbound. (Or if I wanted to be evil I would say I’m happy if they don’t – more engagement for me!!! But I’m not evil, at least not often enough)

    We define search and social as inbound because it is up to the audience to engage. And for paid search, you only pay for the clicks you earn. 

    But I get your point that if we use these channels as “Spam Cannons” then they are push. I also see marketers using paid search and social to “check the box” because they don’t get the real meaning of inbound which, again, you do a great job of defining here.

    So I think we can agree on the main point of your message: it is simply not enough to buy impressions, or place crappy content in social channels. You have to have content that helps people and it has to be amazing, at least sometimes. I’m with you. And I’m now carrying your version of the inbound marketing flag.

  • Eric, you make some very good points. Especially when it comes to content mills, although many of Google’s Panda changes last year addressed a lot of those problems.

    But the root issue remains with the need for a more refined definition. As a Duct Tape Marketing Consultant we define marketing as “getting someone who has a need for your product or service to know, like, and trust you.” The “how” one does that is through an effective marketing strategy incorporating both offline and online elements. 

    As with all definitions, the devil is in the details. I look forward to your functional definition in your next post.

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  • Eric,

    I found this through the recommendation of @TonyZambito and I was delighted by the clarity of the definition. I think I speak for everyone when I say, an excellent living proof.

    Bill Strawderman / @marketingbard

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  • sambredl

    I’m currently writing my BA thesis in Communications and just wanted to let you know that I found your definition of Inbound Marketing very helpful!

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