The concept of inbound marketing has been around for a long time, but as a buzzword, it's only sprouted in the last couple of decades, thanks primarily to HubSpot. They've transformed a seemingly mundane marketing methodology into one of the biggest trends of modern marketing. What HubSpot has done is a brilliant example of inbound marketing itself. They create content (blogs, webinars, workshops, courses, events) about the topic, consistently and strategically publishing them to the world. As a result, they've generated demand for such content, which we all try to supply with more content. Here's our article about inbound marketing strategy and when and how you can implement it in your overall marketing.
In this post, we'll talk more about inbound marketing and its advantages and disadvantages for various business types.
Inbound marketing for sole traders
Advantages for sole traders
It's relatively cheap
Inbound marketing includes activities like blogging, social media, and publishing other types of content that aim to educate and inform your audience. Most of these activities don't require you to spend heavily to set up. For instance, if you have a website already, you can easily create additional web pages on it. Most website providers also come with a complementary blogging option. Once you've enabled that, you'll only need to pay for the domain. You don't even need to be an expert: content creation tools nowadays are intuitive and easy-to-use.
A big hindrance in outbound marketing is that you need to collaborate with external vendors and third parties, such as PR agencies, designers, film and production agencies, and even outdoor advertising businesses to execute your campaign. The more people you introduce into your marketing plan, the more possibilities for delays and missed deadlines. Inbound marketing is mostly within your direct control, so you don't need to rely on other people to get your work done.
High success rate
If the world has learnt anything from HubSpot, it's that inbound marketing works. Sure, it might take a while for you to get to the first page of search engine results, but if you're consistently creating valuable content and implementing smart SEO practices, success is within reach.
Challenges sole traders face when implementing inbound strategies
It's not all free
One of the big benefits of inbound activities is that it's not as expensive as a billboard on the federal highway, but it isn't always free either. Even though you have more control than in outbound marketing, you still often need paid software or tools to help run your inbound activities. Additionally, if you're not comfortable handling these tools or or don't have time to run certain activities, you'll need to hire employees or freelancers to do so.
It can get overwhelming
Realistically, inbound marketing marketing is a combination of many little things. And even if you don't do everything, you'll need to at least have a consistent blog, an active social media presence, and some relevant web pages to get optimum returns. Managing all of this on top of your regular business responsibilities can get overwhelming for any individual. To combat this, many sole traders seek help from friends and family to manage inbound efforts in parts or whole.
Disadvantages for sole traders
It takes a long time
Inbound marketing is like the slow food movement: it's revolutionary only because it prioritises consistency and slow-building improvement. You can't expect results in a few months. It may take two-three years for you to harvest the fruit of your labour, so it can be tough to remain motivated all the way through.
You're never finished
When you run a television advertisement (an example of outbound marketing), you remain on the ad schedule for a few days or weeks. Afterwards, you can move on and focus on converting any leads you acquired through the ad. With inbound, however, you're never done. The essence of it is to create, analyse, and revise—and then to create some more.
It's not always enough
Your reach depends on your business and audience. Many businesses are hyper-localised and cater only to immediate communities. Others, though, are always looking to widen their reach. In that case, inbound marketing isn't enough on its own. You might need to engage in some outbound activities to complement your efforts. This doesn't necessarily mean a high-budget, high-vis ad; it can be as simple as dropping off leaflets into people's letter boxes.
Inbound marketing for small businesses
Advantages for small businesses
It puts you on the radar
Small businesses are highly community oriented. Just think about all your local businesses that thrive on social media. Inbound marketing is a great way to establish your brand in your region. The more relevant your content is to your community, the more prevalent you become, and your local community will happily recommend you to newer audience.
Builds your credibility
Everyone wants to love supporting their local industries. When you go the extra mile to create content that provides value, they trust you more. And the more your audience trusts you, the more business they bring you.
Helps retain customers
When you serve a local audience, your customers feel they know you. For instance, we know the owners of our local IGA store.Even if they don't talk to you on every visit, you're still recognised as a valuable member of your community. That sense of appreciation and trust is solidified each time IGA announces customer-focussed content such as an online shop, list of specials, or a promo on social media. And for that, we'll continue to support our IGAs.
Challenges that small businesses face with inbound marketing
Competition is fierce
There's a reason inbound marketing has become a trendy term in the business community: everyone's on to it. When you start out, you're up against established content creators and novices alike. It takes persistent effort and time to find your ground.
Lack of technical know-how and resources
Inbound relies heavily on creating content, and optimising it to perform well. Even though anyone can write content and apply basic SEO tactics, the nuances of content marketing and optimisation isn't a one-time setup. It often takes a professional (or a lot of research and learning) to do that job well, and not every business has the ideal employee time and skills.
Disadvantages for small businesses
Many things influence purchase
Consider a potential customer who's browsed through your content. They like what they see and appreciate the knowledgeable information you've shared. But they still don't purchase from you. There are many reasons for that—their current financial state, their requirements, or even conflicting values. An effective inbound strategy won't always lead to sales.
Your reach may be limited
One of the key differences between inbound and outbound is in your email list. In case of outbound, you send out cold emails—you buy a list of email addresses and blast them with promotional content. With inbound, however, your email list comprises only of people who opted in to hear from you. In most cases, these are also your customers, so your reach is generally limited to a small group.
Inbound marketing for larger companies
Advantages for larger companies
Bigger companies have more employees skilled in executing a successful inbound strategy. For instance, the marketing team in a large company usually includes a team of writers, a team of reviewers, SEO analysts, digital marketing professionals, email marketers, designers, video makers, and web developers who all work together to consistently produce content. With such a scale, you know you can invest in inbound even if it takes a long time to give you desired results.
Relatively high quality leads
When you have a team of people whose sole focus is content, it's easier to produce higher quality content. This means your audience will have a better understanding of what they need and how you can help them even before they sign up for your products or services. This in turn saves you the time of manually qualifying your leads.
Promotes internal collaboration
In a large company with dedicated sales and marketing departments, implementing an inbound strategy is most successful when both teams work together. Your sales representatives can offer valuable audience insight derived from personal interactions that your marketing team can use to segment and target your audience.
Increases owned assets
Owned assets in marketing refer to any material that your business owns. This includes your website, blogs, social media handles, podcasts, courses, and webinars. When you've invested in strengthening your owned assets, you don't have to depend on someone else to promote your content. The more owned media you have, the higher your credibility is.
If you're a bigger company, you generally have bigger budgets, so you're often in a favourable position to run large outbound campaigns. When you do so, your existing inbound material complements your branding efforts. For instance, Oatly does wall advertisements across Australia. When someone unfamiliar with the brand notices the ad and looks them up online, they land on the various content assets that Oatly has created. These help develop trust and recognition towards the brand.
Challenges larger companies face with inbound marketing
It takes special skills and dedication
Even if you have a team of 50, you'll still have a hard time if they're not the right type of marketers to pursue inbound marketing. Marketers must build a comprehensive strategy well before starting any activity. This strategy should encompass every aspect of your business's communication to the external world.
Requires executive buy-in
Inbound marketing is still a new concept. Older, bigger companies either largely or entirely prefer traditional, outbound methods to market their brands. Change doesn't come easily. In such a scenario, you'll need support from higher executives to undertake inbound activities. These decision makers need to understand the value of inbound, and that it usually doesn't give immediate returns.
Disadvantages for larger companies
Big companies can't afford slow reach
Though larger companies may have more freedom to experiment, they might still prefer faster results than an inbound strategy can offer. Especially in the case of public companies that have large governing bodies, every marketing activity needs to be accountable.
Inbound marketing is a great strategy for all kinds of business. Depending on the size of your business and industry, you might have a hard time getting its benefits. However, we see so many successful businesses achieving sustainable growth because of their inbound investments. It's well worth your time and energy. So even if you don't have a full-fledged team to take on bigger activities, consider starting small with a simply strategy for one social media channel. A small business with a highly-engaged Facebook group is probably doing better than a big brand on five different channels and no engagement.
Read next: The five principles of inbound marketing