Is there a difference? You bet there is!
The relatively new terms of inbound marketing and marketing automation have confused veteran and new digital marketing practitioners alike. Some think inbound marketing and marketing automation are the same thing. Not so. While we’re at it, let’s throw another term in the mix: outbound marketing. Are you confused yet? Don’t worry, it will make sense here in a minute.
Traditionally, outbound marketing is what most business owners and sales and marketing professionals are familiar with. Examples include direct mail and making phone calls to set appointments. With the advent of the Internet and search engines, things got interesting. And just like that, we have digital “yellow pages” where customers can find you and reach out. At its most basic level, this is inbound marketing.
The Origin of Inbound Marketing
The term inbound marketing was coined by CEO and co-founder of Hubspot, the thought leader of inbound marketing. Most marketing practitioners think of Hubspot when they hear the term inbound marketing, which makes perfect sense. Ready for another term? Content marketing. You can look at content marketing as the fuel needed to make inbound marketing work. A simple example looks like this: a Google Ads campaign sends leads to a landing page with an offer. The offer is a free download of a white paper that should capture the interest of your target market. The catch is, your landing page visitor will need to trade their personal information for the content. BOOM. There it is. Content marketing in a nutshell. Consider it the cheese in the mousetrap. The thing about content marketing is it’s hard and requires a decent budget to continually generate high-value content. Not every business can afford a room full of content people like Hubspot, let alone one full-time person dedicated to the task. That’s where a specialized marketing agency comes in.
What is Marketing Automation?
So, we have established what outbound, inbound, and content marketing are at a very basic level. Where does marketing automation fit? One way to look at marketing automation is it’s the thing that connects and expands outbound, inbound, and content marketing. It is typically associated with a software solution of some kind and enables firms to scale mundane tasks. It takes the thinking out of execution, enforces discipline, and creates consistency. Each of the marketing approaches we are discussing require their strategies and tactics including marketing automation. In a way, marketing automation picks up where each of the above leaves off. In my article What is Marketing Automation? I explain some basics that I will expand upon here.
Going back to our inbound marketing example (Google Ads > Landing Page > Content Offer > Conversion) I’m going to extend that into a marketing automation campaign. Once the visitor converts to an identified lead, they go into the database and get “tagged.” We’ll call this tag “15-day.” Your marketing automation software, e.g. Infusionsoft by Keap, will poll the database and look for new entries tagged 15-day. Depending on your automation strategy or “recipe” several things can happen after that with various if/then, then/that forks in the road. In this case, we’ll immediately send an old school auto-reply. If they don’t open that, then we’ll send another one in a day to make sure they received it. If they open either one, in five days we’ll send an offer to join our newsletter. If they sign-up, then we’ll send them an offer three days later since they are engaging. And so on. If they continually show interest, a phone call is in order. If they don’t, the software will take them off the list.
Look at inbound/content marketing and outbound sales & marketing as lead generation campaigns. Once you have the lead that’s when marketing automation comes in and works especially well for sellers with longer sales cycles and buyers that take a long time to make a decision. A good marketing automation campaign will keep you top of mind with your prospects and even your customers when done right.
In conclusion, it isn’t so much Inbound Marketing vs Marketing Automation as much as it’s Inbound Marketing AND Marketing Automation. The Internet has changed marketing forever and it is fantastic!