What’s the Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Online Marketing?

So, what’s the difference between inbound marketing and online marketing? It’s an obvious question, but before you can move your business’ marketing plans forward, it is important to know exactly how these different terms are defined.

Simply put:

Inbound marketing is a marketing methodology with many moving pieces that ATTRACTS potential customers to your company’s online presence.

Online marketing (or internet marketing) is an umbrella term used to describe a collection of standalone marketing tactics to market TO your audience on the internet.

For a more comprehensive definition of inbound marketing we will turn to Hubspot.

“Inbound marketing is an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful — not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media.”

And to further define online marketing, I like the way webopedia.com defines it.

“Internet marketing, or online marketing, refers to advertising and marketing efforts that use the web and email to drive direct sales via electronic commerce, in addition to sales leads from websites or emails.”

Why the Distinction?

The differentiation might seem like splitting hairs but there are important reasons for the distinction.

  1. Online marketing can include “outbound” tactics (like Facebook ads or pop-ups). This in itself sets it apart from inbound marketing.
  2. Inbound marketing is a methodology, or a study of the methods and explanation of why we use the methods we use. Online marketing is not a methodology, rather it is the term used to describe the leveraging of web-based channels.
  3. Because online marketing is an overarching term used to describe many different marketing tactics, it is a less focused way of describing your marketing efforts.
  4. Defining this distinction can lead to a better understanding of which marketing efforts are working for your company and which ones are not.
  5. This distinction can also help internal communication by ensuring everyone is “speaking the same language.”

For example, to say your business is “doing online marketing” is actually not saying much at all. Does that mean you are paying for Google AdWords, or investing in banner ads on influential websites? Are you advertising on Youtube? Are you employing an email marketing campaign, or simply boosting Facebook posts to achieve a further reach?

The list of possibilities is nearly endless, and this ambiguity can muddy the waters when it comes to reporting success and ROI.

On the other hand, to say your business is “doing inbound marketing” is a far more clear and precise statement. This means you are creating content on your website that aims to inform, help or entertain the personas of which you have identified as a large part of your target market. You are then enticing these visitors to dig deeper into your website until they are invited to give a bit of information about themselves in order to receive the content they want. This is called “lead capturing” and it is the pinnacle on which inbound marketing stands.

By Their Forces Combined…

In no way does this mean online marketing is a poor decision, and you may even be wondering, “Can I do both inbound and online marketing?” Of course! In fact, here at AHA Factory we urge you to do both. Using well planned, well maintained and thoughtful online marketing tactics to aid in your inbound marketing efforts is an incredibly powerful way to maximize your success. As the internet continues to get noisier, one could even say it is vital.

However, note the use of the words “well planned” and “thoughtful”. Not all online marketing tactics will work equally well across all industries, or even from company to company! This is where your research (or ours) into your target audience and personas will guide you. One of the greatest side-effects of inbound marketing is that it forces you to always keep a finger on the pulse of your industry and the personas that you are aiming to attract.

For more in-depth information on inbound marketing, we have a very comprehensive blog article series entitled “Inbound Marketing Deep Dive.” I highly recommend reading this 4 article series to get a better understanding of what inbound marketing is and how it can help your company attract leads, contacts and close more sales in 2017.

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