Inbound Marketing Explained in 6 Simple Analogies

Corey Wainwright
Corey Wainwright



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Have you ever had someone stare at you blankly when you say you're an inbound marketer?

If you've had trouble explaining the concept to friends, family, colleagues, or bosses, you're not alone. Inbound marketing concepts can be complicated for people to grasp if they're new to things like SEO, social media, blogging, marketing automation -- any kind of digital marketing, frankly.

So whenever we speak to people who aren't very well-versed in inbound marketing tactics, we like to break it down into more relatable terms. In fact, over the years, we like to think we've perfected some pretty apt analogies that liken inbound marketing to everyday things that everyone can understand. So we're using this blog post to share those inbound marketing analogies with you -- because we love inbound marketing, and we want to help more people understand it! Take a look at some of our favorite analogies we've used to explain inbound marketing concepts, and share your own in the comments.

Inbound marketing is like dating ...

You don't ask someone to marry you on the first date. People get kind of freaked out when you do that. You get to know each other first, then introduce the friends, then the family, and then, once you know the whole package looks good, you put a ring on it.

But if you're doing something like slapping 'Contact Us' as the only call-to-action on every page of your site, that's essentially what you're doing -- asking your leads to get too serious, too soon. Why would they commit to someone they just met? Play it cool, man. Let them get to know you first. Maybe through ohhh, I don't know ... an ebook? If they like the looks of you from your ebook, then they have a reason to actually want to get to know you better. That's when you can step it up a notch and offer them something a little more committed, like anything in that little blue circle in the diagram below. If it goes well -- you've been vouched for by some case studies, they have that warm, fuzzy feeling from your custom demo -- then ask them to put a ring on it. Or email an invoice ... you know what I mean ;-)

mapping marketing offers

Blogging is like jogging ...

You're going to see better results if you do it 30 minutes every other day than if you run like a total maniac just once a month.

We often hear people say they've tried blogging, but "it doesn't work." When we dig a little deeper, however, we find that they blogged three days in a row last January and then gave up when their site traffic didn't jump. Big shock. Business blogging requires consistent, long-term effort, not short sprints of intense activity. You'll see much better results blogging every other day for a year than blogging twice a day for two weeks, stopping, then starting again four months later. At that frequency, neither readers nor crawlers know when on earth to visit your site.

Keyword strategy is like applying to college ...

You're going to apply to reach, target, and safety schools. You might get into your reach school, your safety schools are a sure thing, and everything in between is what you're gunning for ... and with hard work, you'll probably get in, too.

Approach your keyword selection the same way. There are some really desirable keywords out there that you'd like to rank for, but they're also typically quite competitive -- think head terms like, say, "internet marketing." You should put some effort into ranking for these "ivy league" terms, sure, but you're going to see much quicker returns if you target some "community college" terms, or long-tail keywords. They still provide you great business results, but they're much easier to rank for.

And while you make quick work of ranking for those long-tail phrases , you can invest more effort into those "target school" keywords that fall somewhere in between long tail and head terms -- the ones that will be a boon for your business if you rank for them, take some serious work, but are still within the realm of possibility based on their search volume and competitiveness.

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You can actually apply the college application metaphor to SEO as a discipline. If you study hard and do your best work consistently while you're in school, you'll get into a great college, too. If you consistently create excellent content , your hard work will be similarly rewarded with excellent rankings in the SERPs -- for keywords of all difficulty levels.

The internet is like a popularity contest ...

The more people that vote for you, the more likely it is you'll make prom queen. Or class president. Or chess club secretary.

This analogy helps people understand how inbound links work. When content is really good, people want to link to it. That's how the "internet" knows your content is good -- lots of people have linked to, or "voted for" it. And since Google only wants to return the best results in the SERPs to make their searchers happy, the more times people have voted that your content is great via their inbound links, the more likely it is you'll show up in the top search results for a related term.

The conversion path is like a Discovery Channel documentary ...

Wait, what? Stay with me, this one's awesome. The conversion path is like a Discovery Channel documentary. You lure an animal in, capture it, tag it, then release it back into the wild.

The conversion path refers to the process that turns site visitors into leads and customers -- the call-to-action, landing page, form submission, and thank-you page. Here's how this Discovery Channel analogy breaks down:

  • Call-to-Action (The Bait): Lure them in with a compelling offer, promoted with some enticing messaging and an eye-catching design.
  • Landing Page (The Capture): You've got them in your grips! You just need to make sure they don't escape -- remove your navigation, write clear copy, make sure your landing page is well optimized -- before you're able to get the information you need. Which leads us to ...
  • Form (The Tag): They fill out their information so you know who they are. That way, when they leave your site to go back into that internet wild, you'll still be able to identify them among all the other visitors when they come back to your site.
  • Thank-You Page (The Release): Once you've captured your lead intelligence , you can release them to explore other elements of your site, or even off-site elements like your social media accounts.

Marketing automation is like air travel ...

You could get take three days to drive there in a car. Or you could hop on a plane and get there in 5 hours.

That's the value of automating your marketing -- where you can, at least. Let's consider email automation, for example. You could spend time crafting a personalized email message for everyone on your email list -- like, every one of the hundreds of thousands of people on your email list -- and then take the time to individually email every single one of those people with your message. One. by. one. Oh, and then you can do the follow-up for all of them, too!

Or, you might realize after writing your tenth email that you're saying basically the same thing in every email, with maybe just a few exceptions -- because they've all been properly segmented, so they all have one specific thing in common. So instead of spending days or weeks sending out those emails manually, you could simply segment out that list of people in your marketing automation tool , insert some dynamic fields in the content to personalize it, and then nurture them further down the road based on their response to that email ... all of which is documented in your CRM. Documented and followed-up with automatically , not manually.

Doesn't that seem like a better use of time? I think so.

What other analogies do you use to explain inbound marketing (or aspects of it) to newbies?

Image credit: busyPrinting

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