Online marketing is very different today than what it was even five years ago. Today, the cutting edge of online marketing is now called inbound marketing. In the beginning, if you set up a website with nice graphics and a few simple pages, that was online marketing. In a traditional sense, it was a virtual store front. Some innovative websites took it a step further and even let you buy things right on their website - through a shopping cart! Back then, you hoped people walked by ('surfed'), looked in your store window (landed on your site), saw something that interested them in the window (home page) and walked in (viewed ALL of your pages). Does anybody remember at the very beginning of browser technology with Netscape? Netscape changed everything about how we gather and share information. IBM came out with OS/2 Warp and promoted it with this funny video. Okay, it was funny at the time but it was SO hot!
E-commerce was born. That was so awesome and it was fun while it lasted until the tech boom went bust! Does anybody remember the tech crash of 2000? My wallet still has nightmares about it.
To help people surf more intelligently, search engines were developed to help organize and sort through the growing mountain of websites and information. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for your website became important so that you could be found more easily by people looking for your 'store'.
Online directories emerged like Alta Vista, Yahoo, Google - and my favorite Dogpile - that became popular because for a low cost, you could list your website on it. Since these directories aggressively drove visitors to their sites, they could effectively sell these listings since few websites could generate that kind of traffic by themselves. The notion of inbound links became important.
Later, email marketing became important as a way to promote your website and encourage people to visit your store. Email marketing replaced direct mail and it was great because delivery was immediate and so much more cost-effective compared to traditional direct mail (no printing, letter stock, distribution, postage or fulfillment costs).
Online marketing was used to complement traditional or “outbound” marketing strategies. What is outbound marketing? Outbound marketing is a strategy that focuses on finding customers and building brand awareness through advertising and promotion that does not effectively differentiate a company from its competitors in today’s buying environment, especially in a crowded marketplace.
As B2B marketers, we knew that the internet was going to be an important part of the marketing mix, but HOW and WHEN? We generally paid lip service to it. We built our websites, we listed our websites on industry directories and we sent out email blasts. It seemed that internet marketing was more for the B2C guys. They could sell their products online and in doing so generate leads to sell more of their products. They also had the budgets to spend on doing some really cool things. This was their domain - or so we thought.
A funny thing happened. The internet caused the world to become flat. Access to personal computers and by extension the internet became commonplace. Access to information we never dreamed possible became easy; access to very specific information we wanted became the norm. This freedom to get whatever information we wanted whenever we wanted made us grow more impatient. The world was flat now. With tablets and smart phones with data plans, we could communicate 24/7. Immediate email responding is now standard practice. Why aren't they responding to my email that I sent two minutes ago?
We no longer want to be interrupted and inconvenienced because we are doing our thing. Phone (cold) calls, mail and email, tv and radio commercials we never asked for and don't want can be ignored. Voice mail, spam blockers and personal video recorders allow us to do that.
Marketing and selling is so much harder now. Not only is there so much more competition in every industry, we can be ignored and blocked. A disruptive innovation is needed in how we conduct business.
That disruptive innovation is inbound marketing. What is inbound marketing you ask? Inbound marketing is defined as a marketing strategy that focuses on getting found by customers; in a sense, creating a relationship with customers and earning their trust, thus creating a brand and differentiating a company from its competitors.
The key elements of an inbound marketing plan are:
Optimizing your website to get found though creating a keyword strategy for your business
Creating a blog and other content to convert website traffic to leads
Promote your content through social media
Use lead nurturing email marketing to convert leads in to customers
Analyze your results and refine your strategies
These elements have been around for some time individually. The innovation is in how these elements are integrated into one closed-loop marketing strategy that will help you achieve your marketing and sales goals. If you can master these elements and integrate them effectively, then you are well on your way to transforming your business.