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Why Green Consumers are Leading the Inbound Marketing Revolution
June 20, 2012
It might not be fair to assume every reader is familiar with the difference between inbound and outbound marketing, so why don’t we start off with a quick definition in terms?
For the second half of the 20th century, outbound marketing reigned supreme. Outbound marketing evolved alongside the advent of radio and television as marketers began to find ways to take advantage of these new media. This form of marketing is referred to as ‘outbound’ as it traditionally involves pushing your message at your audience in order to interrupt them and seize their attention such as with television commercials or highway billboards. Some techniques that could be categorized under outbound marketing include telemarketing, direct mail, TV, radio, and print advertising. The TV show Mad Men, for example, depicts the rise and eventual heyday of outbound marketing. (In fact one could say that outbound marketing is the show’s theme, setting and main character!)
Inbound marketing (now in its adolescence) on the other hand has evolved to take advantage of the Internet. Rather than pushing your message at your audience, inbound marketing is about getting found by an audience that is actively searching for you online through search engines and through social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube. Inbound marketing techniques include search engine optimization, social media strategy, and creating remarkable, viral content that magnetically pulls your audience in.
So, what does either inbound or outbound marketing have to do with activating sustainability and inspiring a consumer’s commitment to greener, more ethical companies?
The standard argument for why outbound is quickly becoming outmoded is that audiences have become far better at avoiding interruption-based marketing strategies. Newer technologies such as TIVO, Netflix, and Internet Radio have allowed audiences to bypass commercial advertising and hastened outbound marketing’s decline. I dislike this argument not because it isn’t true to an extent, but because it completely ignores the human factor and the changing moral landscape of consumer audiences.
A standard argument for why inbound marketing is meeting with greater and greater success is that nowadays people shop in a whole new way: by gathering information and researching companies and products. Whereas outbound marketing often provided consumers with fantasies (think of Budweiser commercials or luxury car ads,) inbound marketing provides consumers with facts. People aren’t researching and gathering information on what fantasy a company is trying to sell them on, they are researching the efficacy of their products, and (with ever-growing regularity) the social and environmental policies of specific brands.
I hate to generalize, but it has by and large been outbound marketing that gave the term ‘consumer culture’ all its negative connotations. It’s no accident that Mad Men, (that epic catalogue of outbound marketing’s cultural side effects and consequences) depicts greed, environmental disregard, alcoholism, and strife between the sexes with such regularity. The corporate giants that benefitted from the outbound marketing revolution a half a century ago are not today’s sustainable brands. Contrast that to the companies today that are truly riding the inbound marketing wave. Companies Like TOMS, Patagonia, and Repair the World publish content to create shared values with their consumers and to inform them as to what they are doing to minimize environmental harm, practice sound corporate social responsibility, and pursue economic justice for those laboring in their supply chain.
Consumers haven’t become better at avoiding interruptive, outbound advertising simply because new technology has allowed them to do so. Audiences avoid outbound marketing because they have become less selfish, less self-indulgent, and less interested in what a product can do for them and them alone. Brands that honor this integrity in the new consumer will be rewarded by their loyalty, advocacy, and trust. As more and more brands begin to respect their consumers more provide them with the information they need to make truly informed decisions regarding their products social and environmental impact, than the term ‘consumer culture’ is going to begin to take on a far brighter meaning.