What is inbound marketing?

Energy Marketing 93 - Inbound Marketing

You may have heard this term.  It has become ever more popular in the marketing world over the last decade due to the rise of the Internet and social media.  Inbound marketing is a term coined by the CEO of HubSpot, Brian Halligan, in 2006.  However, it is synonymous with the works of an American marketer and author Seth Godin who came up with the concept of Permission Marketing and wrote a book called Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends, and Friends into Customers (published in 1999).

Permission Marketing

Godin asserted that traditional marketing was not based on permission or consent, meaning the marketing was interruptive.  Think, watching a programme on ITV – every 16/17 minutes you are interrupted by advertising.  Think, reading a newspaper such as The Times.  You buy the newspaper to read the news and in-depth articles.  Again, you are interrupted by on the page advertising.

Traditional marketing is based on promoting solutions to viewers or readers that you believe are right (target audience) for your product or service by advertising in the places you believe your target audience spends time.  So, if you are looking to reach Financial Directors, you may choose to advertise in the Financial Times newspaper or the Financial Times online, or in both outlets.

Godin felt that marketing which interrupted may become less effective as the world moved on.  Was he right?  Well, on average, we now see thousands of advertisements every day.  Today, the human brain processes over 30GB of information per day, this includes over 100,000 words per day and a vast number of images¹.  It is estimated that a city dweller, such as someone living in London, will see as many as 5,000 advertisements per day.

Permission marketing, Godin found, should be based on the following three elements:


Customers anticipated the promotion.


The promotion directly relates to the customer.


The promotion will be interesting/relevant to the customer.

Inbound marketing

This leads to how inbound works.  Inbound uses the internet to supply information to the customer when they are actively searching for answers or solutions.  If you do a Google search on ‘why is my boiler not working?’ you will get 5.3million search results.  The top two are:

  1. Boiler not working? Try these 5 fixes before calling an engineer…

British Gas https://www.britishgas.co.uk/the-source/your-home/improving/boiler-breakdown

  1. My boiler is not working! 24/7 home rescue/appliance cover

24/7 Home Rescue https://www.247homerescue.co.uk/my-boiler-is-not-working/

NB- The results meet Godin’s three principles.

Inbound as you can see from the above example allows customers to get what they need or want.  Content such as blogs and infographics are a fantastic way of getting your information directly into the hands or eyes of your target audience.

Inbound tactics include distributing content such as blogs, case studies, eBooks, infographics etc.  The aim is to place the information where it is needed (searched for).  Using social media has also become a wonderful way to distribute content and comment.  Telling your LinkedIn followers (who have accepted your friendship thus given permission) about your new product launch or a recent case study is not only powerful but relatively cheap in comparison to traditional marketing and advertising.

Finally, inbound includes search engine optimisation (SEO).  As with the example above about the boiler, to get your blog or promotion into the hands of the searcher (customer) you really need to aim to be ranking highly in the listed search results on Google and other search engines.

Benefits of inbound marketing

Inbound, as opposed to traditional or outbound marketing, puts you in control.  You become the publisher, taking control of all the content and how it looks (not true with PR), and when it is published.

Inbound is much lower in cost than TV, billboard or print advertising.  Social media is free, the only cost is the time you put into creating content and managing its distribution.

You can also develop a much deeper and longer lasting relationship by using social media and sending email updates or newsletters, to customers who have ‘opted-in’.

Segmentation/Personalisation also allows you to target customers using very specific parameters i.e. geography, age, seniority (if B2B), gender etc.

If done well, inbound marketing will get better engagement because you have followed Godin’s three principles: anticipated, personal and relevant.

Energise Marketing 93 specialises in helping energy businesses with inbound marketing campaigns.  Contact us today if you need help.

1 Data from 2009 study report by Roger Bon at the University of California-San Diego.

NB – You can buy Godin’s book using Google Books here or using another service with the ISBN 0-684-85636-0