Written by Iana Starostovich
Various scholars share the view that Internet marketing is shifting from being merely a firm’s monologue towards a more interactive approach with customers on the Internet. Recent findings have shown that the increase in customers’ power along with the rise of social media has altered the traditional concepts of marketing (e.g. Lusch & Vargo, 2009, Gensler et al, 2013, Gagnon, 2014a).
In response to those changes, a new approach has been introduced - that is, Inbound Marketing. It involves organizations to publish useful information for customers, which leads them contact the companies and, ultimately become their clients. Although this may sound a utopia for marketing specialist, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah reckon that inbound marketing is going to be the future of Internet marketing. According to the two, inbound marketing is a cost-effective and well-reasoned path for organizations to follow in order to attract the number of loyal customers.
In today’s business environment, inbound marketing is not a superfluous practice, but is the sine-qua-non for companies to be competitive and succeed. State of Inbound Marketing Annual Report 2013 illustrates the reduction of individuals’ susceptibility to direct and interruptive methods of advertising. Supporters of the inbound marketing approach claim that it does not have a negative impact on individuals’ susceptibility, as customers do not feel constantly bothered. By implementing this innovative method, not only firms advertise their products, but they also provide customers with useful content. Its quality influences customers’ perception of the company and directs their purchasing choices.
The highest interest in inbound marketing was demonstrated by the b2b sector. Two are the explanatory factors: First and foremost, firms operating in such sector generally dispose of a constrained marketing budget, and inbound marketing is fairly cost-effective. Second, the complexity of products and services, which features the b2b sector, serves as a basis for the creation of good contents. This is a much more demanding task to accomplish in the b2c sector as less material for product’s contents is available due to their simplicity.
Inbound Marketing – new era of marketing and why it is better?
Halligan and Shah (2010) argue that customers should be perceived as partners and value co- creators, who work in tandem with the firm. This is particularly relevant for the b2b sector where the company and clients have a closer relationship. Furthermore, Lusch and Vargo (2009) define inbound marketing as to “co- produced marketing”. This best discerns inbound marketing from the traditional marketing methods. The authors notice that the time during which customers were playing a passive role and the market was driven by the goods-dominant logic is outdated.
In more depth, the goods- dominant logic implies a major focus on firms’ manufacturing capacity rather than the value of the output produced to the customers. The contemporary trend of involving customers in the business processes is widely regarded as being driven by service-dominant logic (Lusch and Vargo, 2009). This is viewed as a co-producing value as it includes both the company and its stakeholders. Similarly, inbound marketing engages the customers in the value co-creation by exchanging knowledge and professional discussions, which serves over time to strengthen trustworthiness and reliability.
Key elements of inbound marketing. What makes the method work?
Inbound marketing is built upon three key elements(Halligan and Shah, 2010):
- Publishing useful content,
- Increasing the searchability on the web,
- Establishing an interaction between the firm and its customers on social media.
Inbound marketing is a customer- centric approach therefore it is important to deliver value to customers. It may be done in the form of providing them with the information they are seeking, or developing the platform where they may contact field experts to resolve own issues (Halligan and Shah, 2010). The quality content plays a major role in this process (Holliman and Rowley, 2014). The b2b organizations implement blogs with constantly renewed material such as white papers, latest researches and infield advices (Gagnon, 2014b).
According to Caragher (2013), 82% of marketing teams, which update their blogs on a daily basis as a result, acquire customers who read the shared content on the blog. In addition, higher valued offers – webinars and eBooks – help build the base of potential customers due to their availability only through the call-to-action buttons where users submit their data. This kind of base differs from the traditional base for email notifications that marketing departments have. The content these visitors sign up for is highly targeted and reflects the segment of customers whose needs are clearly visible.
However, in order to attract highly educated customers, who are most likely to use the services of the company, the presented material should, in turn, be high- quality and relevant. Thus, Caragher (2013) advises to hire individuals with strong writing skills and involve field- experts in the creation of content. Holliman and Rowley (2014, p.285) define the b2b digital content marketing as to the creation and distribution of “relevant, compelling and timely content”, which engages and motivates customers to select the same company for future purchases.
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is the second pillar of the inbound marketing approach. Halligan and Shah (2010) compare the frequent circumstance of not having the corporate website on the first pages of Google search to a situation where curtains cover the products on the shelves in supermarkets. Besides, the authors notice that 89% of users stop their search by choosing the links appearing on the very first page of Google. Hence, it is vitally important for organizations to be aware of Google algorithms in order to be found by prospective customers.
Google analyses the extent to which keywords match the content as well as the amount of the web- sites linking to the corporate website or blog. The authority of the corporate web -site as well as the referencing ones also plays a role. Even though Google constantly introduces new algorithms, firms have to adjust their content to them otherwise the efforts will be not rewarded (Berman & Katona, 2013).
Social Media is considered to be the third pillar of inbound marketing. Katona & Sarvary (2014) argue that b2b social media may be an effective tool in improving relationships between organizations and customers. In formal terms, social media enhance brand awareness and industry influence, which, in turn, impacts positively on profitability. Likewise, Chompis et al (2012) underline the importance of the close relationships between the company-provider of the service and the company-consumer. There are employees standing behind the companies. Social media is the way of establishing the contact with the real people operating in the companies, which eventually might have an impact on the purchase decision.
One of the core principles of inbound marketing views the company’s web platform as being the place of useful learning (Holliman & Rowley, 2014). Social media is the unique opportunity for the b2b company not only to deliver useful information to the prospect customers but also to get it from them. Thus, the exchange of the information generates the value the company is striving to create (Chompis et al, 2012).
Despite the described opportunities in social media, the benefits of the b2b companies are arguable. Matties (2012) claims that firms working in the b2b sector should focus on the development of the corporate website rather than on the exploration of social media. He believes that the target audience will not be interested in seeking industrial or manufacturing information on social media, which are designed for peer-to-peer interaction. Moreover, he points out the low degree of control which b2b company has in social media. For example, if management empowers employees publish the information about the organization on personal pages, the risks of publication the content violating the corporate reputation might be high.
In case when the company uses social media for the promotion of the blog posts, it is critical to approach this with full responsibility. It means to control the published material, including the grammar and language as well as the references and the trustworthiness of the information (Halligan & Shah, 2010). Steenburgh et al (2011) stress the significance of time the firm is ready to spend in social media, as the inbound marketing requires much of it.
To summarize, Figure 1 is constructed to show the three pillars of the inbound marketing and the main points, which should be considered for the successful implementation of the inbound marketing within the b2b sector.
Figure 1. Three pillars of b2b inbound marketing