The fact is today’s consumers expect to find your business online. Consumers research your company, your products, your services and past clients experiences with your company using search engines like Google, Bing, and Yahoo, in addition to using Facebook, Twitter and a variety of other sources like discussion forums.
When your company is difficult to find, your potential clients will find a company that fulfills their needs or might find information about your company’s products or services elsewhere (like a site that provides reviews written by the site’s visitors). Your company’s marketing efforts actually begin long before your potential clients think of your business: they begin when your potential clients realize they have a problem and want to know whether there’s a solution. An even better place to start is to identify a problem that a consumer isn’t currently aware of – in either case, this is where your inbound marketing campaign begins.
Inbound marketing is a variation of more traditional marketing, also known as outbound marketing. The focus of an outbound marketing campaign is on finding customers through brand awareness: your advertisements make consumers aware of your brand, featuring it prominently as the solution to their problem. There are two problems with outbound marketing: there’s a lot of it and consumer’s perception of products available on the market.
As you travel through most urban environments, chances are that you’re surrounded by advertising: billboards, signs, print ads in newspapers and magazines, commercials on TV and radio. This is the first problems with outbound marketing: advertisements have become so prevalent that many people incorporate them into forms of art, meaning, that many have resigned themselves to the annoyance of ads just about everywhere. Consumers have become good at ignoring ads, yet they pay attention often enough and long enough to make costly and long-running campaigns successful (assuming you measure the success of a campaign by sheer volume of inquiries or contacts by prospective clients – there are other, far more important measures that affect the outcome of a marketing campaign). While you can control your advertisements and their delivery channel, you cannot control the second problem with outbound marketing: consumer perception.
Consumer perception has changed a great deal during the past 10 years. A trait of a successful campaign – one that boosts sales – was based on scarcity. your potential clients would go to great lengths to find you and throw money in your direction as long as your ads’ messaging was that your business was the only one of its kind (or perhaps one of a few) that could solve a consumer’s problem. For example, if you think of a battery for your wireless mouse, chances are very high that you’ll think of a particular brand. You’re probably thinking of the brand because there really are just a few companies that manufacture batteries that work for longer than a day or two – this is scarcity at work. The problem is that consumers perception of the market is shifting from a unique product and services market to a market made up of parity products and services.
Parity products are a group of products or services in a particular category that are functionally equivalent as far as the consumer is concerned. A good example is in groceries – something like a tomato. Generally speaking, most people’s dinner plans are not affected when a particular grocery store runs out of tomatoes – most people will go down the street to another store for their tomatoes, or perhaps ask a neighbour for a few. The tomato is the same regardless of where it originates or where the consumer buys it from. Consumers perceive the overall market as a parity market, as a result, it doesn’t really make a difference how the consumer gets a product or service, nor does the product or service itself really factor into the consumer’s decision making process, as long as it meets the consumer’s need.
Both factors, consumers saturated with ads and consumers that essentially perceive almost all products and services as equivalent, contribute to making on-going outbound marketing difficult for smaller organizations, or when you want to, or perhaps need to, affect the market faster and reach more people.
Inbound marketing changes the focus of your marketing efforts from finding consumers to having consumers find you. Inbound marketing essentially reverses the trend that parity introduces – inbound marketing makes it easier for consumer to solve their problem by finding your company when searching for a solution. With the volumes of fast and free information available online, having your products or services, or even just your brand be a part of the information a consumer uses to make a purchase decision offers a variety of opportunities to market your brand long before consumers even think of contacting your company.
Many organizations base their internet marketing on simple, in-house strategies that are not proven and not measurable. A lot of organizations are misguided into believing that a web site is enough to attract thousands of visitors to provide a source of new business from online consumers. With consumers’ perception shifting towards a parity market, how can you distinguish your brand, products and services from other companies’ offerings?