active vs passive inbound marketingI know what you're thinking. Outbound marketing is active while inbound marketing is passive. Well, in some ways those are viable definitions, but they are limiting, too. Inbound marketing (like outbound) has degrees of strategy and scope that depend on the goals and circumstances. There are different tactics that apply better in some situations than others. Strictly defining what you "can" and "can't" do under inbound marketing, or any other marketing strategy, isn't always helpful. Let's look at some of the tactics commonly used and how they might be classified, but let's put aside the "good" or "bad" values and look at the big picture.

Shots Fired Across the Bow

Mike Volpe started an interesting conversation last week in his post "Is the Marketing Campaign Dead?" To paraphrase the post, today's community-oriented, content-driven approach to marketing eschews the old outbound marketing campaign and replaces it with a relationship building approach over time. The old concept of blasting out your message and hoping for a quick strike is dead. Of course, Mike's premise elicited a strong response, both in favor and opposed. I think these position-taking exercises are entertaining, but not overly instructive. They don't help the marketer on the street understand which tactics are better to use in a given scenario any more than "fire the people in Washington" helps to improve our government.

The truth is, all forms of marketing are valid (or invalid) in certain situations, and some are more effective than others depending on brand, market, persona, history and current events. The marketer's job is to understand each situation and choose combinations of tactics that are most likely to succeed—or at least test them to find the right "fit." Let's further define tactics by the actions taken by the marketer. If a marketer spends money or takes direct action to reach potential buyers—that's active. If a marketer simply publishes content on the various content marketing channels—that's passive. I think we can break this down into a few rules of thumb to help illustrate my point.

Case 1 - General Brand Awareness

The goal here is to find people who don't know about you but should, then give them a compelling reason to tune in. It's a daunting task, and a combination of active and passive tactics most often yield the best results.

Active: advertising (TV, radio, print, banners, PPC ads, social ads), email marketing, direct mail, telemarketing, tradeshows, events and event sponsorships

Passive: website, blogging, SEO, guest blogs, social media updates, videos, podcasts, webinars, published ebooks and whitepapers

Case 2 - Thought Leadership

This is more of an "earned" thing, accomplished by publishing great content and receiving substantial interest from the intended community—like Mike Volpe's post for example. Best results come from the passive voice.

Passive: website, blogging, guest blogs, social media updates, videos, podcasts, webinars, published ebooks and whitepapers

Case 3 - Marketing Campaigns

Although Mike says "the Marketing Campaign is dead," it clearly is not. Marketing campaigns are different from brand awareness and thought leadership. They are most often discrete, limited time offers that appeal to a certain market segment at a certain time. They are more like private conversations in that sense, and less like general statements. The most effective marketing campaigns first identify the "hangouts" of likely buyers and their interests. Content is crafted to reach and appeal to them to join your brand at the top of the sales funnel, then nurture them gradually into becoming loyal customers. This too is often best done with a blend of active and passive tactics.

First Stage: Active & Passive: advertising (TV, radio, print, banners, PPC ads, social ads), email marketing, direct mail, blogging, social media updates, calls-to-action

Second Stage: Passive: blogs, emails (to segmented, opted-in list), "smart content", "smart CTAs" and "smart forms"

Case 4 - Customer Retention

Marketing does not stop at the closing of a sale. One of its most important roles is in preventing churn and increasing customer lifetime value. You might argue this is the job of Customer Service, and I won't argue the point. I will say that marketing can help to keep the lines of communication open and help to keep customers engaged and happy. Once again, this is best accomplished through a combination of active and passive.

Active: newsletters, product updates, how-tos, best practices, customer success stories, forums, reviews, user group meetings

Passive: blogs, social media updates, social media customer channels, social media monitoring and response, published literature, public speaking events, keynotes

Action vs Definition

Hopefully this post illustrates some of the "gray areas" in marketing. It's interesting to think in terms of inbound or outbound, active or passive, but none of these definitions are instructive in terms of "how" to get the best results. To say that some tactics are more favorable than others in certain situations, or to postulate that marketers are trending in certain directions—sure, we can all buy that. Seldom, however, do successful marketers align themselves into exclusive camps for the purposes of differentiation or value.

It's just doesn't make sense to paint yourself into a corner when there are lots of ways to decorate a room.

Photo credit: Bernt Rostad


john mctigue blog photoWith over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via TwitterLinkedIn or follow John McTigue on Google Plus.


Topics: Inbound Marketing, Brand Awareness, inbound markerting strategy, john mctigue, marketing campaign

John McTigue
John McTigue
With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn, Twitter and Google Plus.
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