Inbound marketing has a reputation for buzzwords, from Aida to Zeitgeist the marketing world naturally creates niches within itself, replete with its own language and cachet.  

Demand generators look down on lead gen specialists, whereas growth hackers are the new hipsters.

But what really is the difference, and, for small businesses, does it really matter??

The short answer is yes and no. 

Yes, because it’s important to apply the right tools to the right problem.

No, because we have to be able to jump from one mindset to the next as required. 

Inbound marketing has the potential to drive growth faster and at a lower cost than traditional sales activities or outbound marketing, but has become a complex field with lots of subtle flavours.

Growing your business fast requires an understanding of these flavours, and which ones are right for your business now. 

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing

The umbrella term for this is inbound marketing, which is business methodology aimed at attracting the attention of individuals with a level of interest in a particular subject through content and experience that they will value and enjoy. 

Demand generation inbound marketing

It’s the opposite of the invasive sales and operations led approaches like spam emails, mass, untreated advertising and cold calling. Tools which are being progressively legislated out of existence.

Inbound marketing puts control in the hands of the consumer, and asks their permission to receive information, whether through explicit opt-in statements or by making consumers actively decide to view the content. 

The first soap operas are a great example of inbound marketing. The messages were clear, "our products are an essential part of the modern domestic lifestyle’, but the media was more subtle and in a form that viewers enjoyed consuming.

Nowadays this has become search marketing, content marketing, social media, all of which require the audience to find and consume the media to receive the message. 

Whilst this may seem an expensive and risky communication strategy, the payoff is much better engagement, offering greater influence and higher conversion.

However, it needs to tie together and have a clear focus on the endpoint of repeat sales, rather than pure brand awareness.

The importance of the inbound marketing funnel.

The inbound marketing funnel is a great tool for two reasons:

  1. It acknowledges that there are different audiences out there with varying degrees of interest and motivation
  2. It recognises that a percentage of these audiences can be motivated to move towards an end goal with the right process

What this means is that we need to link together a series of relevant marketing tools to migrate people through to an endpoint. 

Inbound marketing
Marketing funnel

We start with educational, informative and engaging content to reinforce interest in a problem attracting a wide audience and gaining their permission to communicate with.  

This is classic demand generation, which raises the profile of the problem, not it’s solutions, placing the need top of mind for consumers, priming the pump and creating the demand.

This leads to more specific, connected and solutions-focused content to guide users to narrow their solution set. 

Finally, relevant and timely content on how our specific product and provider are the solution of choice leads to one to one communication, creating an opportunity to sell.

This level uses valuable calls to action to either create a conversation, or prompt buyer behaviour and is modern lead generation.

The funnel also recognises that the customer has to buy into the process. They need to engage and want to take the relationship further, so marketing becomes more about influence than interruption, asking people to opt-in, rather than trapping them into a relationship. 

This means it needs to be subtle, add value as part of a product and consistent with the company’s ability to deliver on promises made.

Inbound marketing people are engineers

Marketing is complex. It uses a wide range of tools to accomplish different tasks, using well thought out messages to influence its audience in multiple ways. 

Large enterprises and small start-ups have disparate needs, objectives and resources, which also require different skill sets. Growth hacking and Viral marketing emerged from the need for startups to achieve rapid scalable growth with little or no resources and championed the inclusion of marketing in the product itself. 

Growth hacking inbound marketing

Linkedin’s email upload which allowed you to invite all of your contacts to join Linkedin or Hotmail's inclusion of a subscription link on each of its users' emails being obvious examples. 

In this respect, marketing has become like engineering. It’s not about inventing something new each time, but measuring performance and making small iterative improvements using a range of specialist tools. In fact, part of the original definition of growth hacking included the ability to code and create products, not just market them. 

So where does that leave me?

As a small business owner looking to expand their marketing activities with limited resources, getting the right strategy is key and should dictate the skills and competencies you want to recruit.

If you have an original, easily amendable product or service with a freemium option and little money, then growth hacking will fit your purpose, as it’s the focus is on creating a viral product, instead of a viral message.

If you struggle to gain traction for your product because the problem it solves is not a high priority, or the solution too complex to explain, demand generation is where you need to look, as you need to raise the profile of the issue and build authority and credibility before you can sell the solution.

If you’re operating in a mature market and looking to build market share, your focus will be on creative positioning and promoting conversations, hence lead generation is the key priority, although you may need to incorporate other approaches to give you an edge.

Even if you're not in a position to hack your product to make it viral, Growth hacking's marketing approaches and focus on growth are still worth looking at. It acts as a type of lean marketing which and can drive fast growth and create cut through, so definitely worth a look.

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