Are you headed inbound or outbound?

I’ve lived in Boston for nearly 15 years, and it took me a while to understand the subtleties behind the subway.  Quincy Market is not in Quincy.  The Silver Line is not a subway.  I *love* public transportation and as such, I’ve ridden the subway in many cities, both in the US and abroad.  None of them are organized the way Boston’s is organized.

In Boston, you don’t take the subway North or South, you either go “Inbound” or “Outbound”, that is, you are either going towards the city center or away from it.  So in the morning, I get on at Park Street and go “Outbound” to Alewife.  At night I get on at Kendall and go “Inbound” to Park Street.

The weird thing about this is that if you are at any terminus, you go “Inbound”.  Both the trains going North and the ones going South are going “Inbound” until they hit the center, then they are both going “Outbound.”

It’s weird.

I bring all of this up, because “Inbound” and “Outbound” are also marketing terms that can be equally confusing, depending on what direction you are facing.

Classically, outbound marketing is what you think of when you think of marketing – sending messages, documents, advertisement OUT to the market.  Inbound marketing was the function that communicated from product management back into engineering; inbound marketers wrote things like marketing requirement documents. They faced IN towards the product developers.

But marketing has changed a lot in the past decade – fueled mostly by the Internet.  We all know this, but to net it out: customers are significantly more educated than they used to be.  In fact, they’re 57% of the way through the buying cycle by the time they reach out to us for information.

So some would say that the traditional outbound marketing is dead.  While rumors of its death may have been exaggerated, there is a new trend emerging – “inbound marketing.”  This inbound marketing isn’t the inbound marketing that communicates with engineering, it’s called inbound marketing because it’s purpose is to generate inbound interest in a product or company.

The idea behind inbound marketing is that today’s customers are educated, Internet-savvy researchers.  (When’s the last time you bought something for more than $50 without reading a review?)  So the types of information customers are looking for is different, the location of that information is not just on one’s website, and the other channels that customers look to for information need to be fed from marketing as well.

Outbound model

Inbound model

Type of information

Product specs, benefits, compatibility guides, technical documentation, whitepaper

Where is the product positioned in the industry?

How are my peers using it?

What’s the user experience like?

Location of information

Vendor website, magazine review, reseller channel

Third party sites, Twitter, blogs, online magazines, user communities

If customers are nearly 60% through their buying process by the time they come to our site, then we need to ensure that when they go to Twitter, or read a third-party review, or participate in a user community, that they are hearing (good things!) about us.  This is what marketing is about today – interacting with influencers, partnering with communities, providing resources for self-education about ourselves.

I think all of this is really good for customers.  It puts a lot more pressure on us to release a good product, if there is a large community component to successful marketing.

And, I don’t think outbound marketing is dead.  We still need solution briefs and whitepapers and tools that help customers understand the packaging, pricing, ROI, and purchasing options around the product.  In fact, content is central to the new inbound marketing model.  There’s just a new additional layer that ensures that the content speaks to the audience the right way and is in the right places for customers to find it.

Oh, and as for the old definition of “inbound marketing” – I have no idea what people call that now.  Maybe it’s just considered part of Product Management.

If you are not from Boston – take yourself for a ride on the subway – the “T” – next time you are here – just don’t go to Jamaica Plain without an extra nickel.

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