Having started my career in a direct marketing agency, I loved the immediate gratification that we were able to offer clients. We would define our goals, plan how to get the right message to the right person at the right time, test which offer would generate the best response, then track and analyse results to optimise the campaign.
When I started studying inbound marketing, I couldn’t help but wonder, “How is this any different to direct marketing? Is it just a new name for the same strategies?”
Yes and no. Let’s look at each, how they differ, and why you should consider using both to generate the best results.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing is a fairly new arrival in everyone’s marketing toolbox. Think of it as the evolution of Content Marketing. It involves attracting visitors to your business with valuable content, then nurturing those leads to convert them into customers and ultimately promoters of your business.
The key differentiator between this and other marketing tools is that with inbound marketing, your customers find you. You create content that people want then draw people to it using channels like search engines and social media.
Content could include educational blog posts, e-books, infographics or videos. When you post your content online you optimise it for search engines and distribute it over social media so that people can find it. Then when people come to your website you provide relevant offers, calls to action, and other tools to convert those visitors into leads and, eventually, customers.
Inbound marketing has been proven to work if you put the time and effort into practicing it. But there’s a lot of work required to create the content around your area of expertise, and it takes time to start rolling. You can’t just create content today and watch the leads come to you tomorrow.
What Is Direct Marketing?
Direct marketing is about approaching an individual or group of prospects with an offer and asking them to respond to your call to action. Traditional media includes television, direct mail, radio, email and the Internet.
At its core, direct marketing is about reaching out to a prospect with a tantalising offer. The primary benefit is that you’ll see results from your campaign very quickly, sometimes even in real time. Unlike inbound marketing, content marketing, social media marketing, and branding/awareness you don’t have to wait weeks, months or years to see the results of your efforts.
Direct marketers have long been trying to prove that it’s about more than ‘junk mail’. Unaddressed direct mail gave the marketing strategy a bad name, because it was often send to prospects that didn’t want the offer or was sent to them at the wrong time. Similarly, email marketing used to be extremely effective… then spammers got involved and ‘junk mail’ evolved again.
Email, landing pages, paid search ads – basically anything using the internet! – have long been a ‘grey area’ for outbound marketers. Are these direct response tools or not? There isn’t a simple answer to this. It all depends on what the offer and call to action are. And with inbound marketing on the scene, there’s even more crossover between these tools.
Can Inbound and Direct Marketing Work Together?
The short answer is: YES! Inbound marketing and direct marketing go together almost perfectly.
If you focus solely on inbound marketing it will take too long to get the results you need, whereas a direct marketing piece on its own might be too time-sensitive.
Here’s how a combined approach looks:
1. Create – Create valuable online content for your target audience. Every piece of information that you’ll put out there will count, so make sure you’ve gone beyond target market research and developed complete buyer personas that include lifecycle stages. (This would be inbound marketing’s contribution…)
2. Drive – Drive qualified traffic to your content. Get your traffic through inbound (search engine optimisation) and outbound direct marketing efforts (Google Adwords, direct mail, email, other direct response advertising).
3. Convert – Convert your traffic into leads and sales (inbound marketing and direct marketing both).
4. Nurture – Nurture your leads into loyal customers. Practices like permission-based email marketing (direct marketing) and social media marketing fall into this category.
How To Generate Results Using Both Inbound Marketing and Direct Marketing
When you use inbound marketing and direct marketing together, you get to build up your online equity while quickly learning what your prospects need and then adjusting your long term strategy accordingly. Valuable inbound marketing content will help establish you as a thought-leader in your industry, and using direct marketing to deliver relevant and timely offers to the right people will get you the responses you want.
Ultimately, both inbound and direct marketing are about knowing your customers. Every marketing technique becomes more effective when you can directly address your customers needs, wants and motivations.
Inbound marketing is pulling prospects to you, and effective direct marketing is BOTH pushing content to your customers and pulling them in with relevant offers. Working these strategies together and continuously tracking to optimise your campaigns will help you build your lead base and see your ROI grow.
Image credit: Phil Hearing via Flickr.