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Inbound Marketing


DisciplinesMarketing > Strategy > Inbound Marketing

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



The purpose of inbound marketing is to understand markets and potential customers in sufficient detail to be able to shape the design of profitable products and services.

Inbound marketing is largely based in research and is used to identify and determine what customers to serve and what products and services should be developed. It answers questions such as:

  • In which markets should we be active?
  • What customer segments are likely to be profitable?
  • What sorts of things are we good at producing and selling?
  • What needs are there out there that we could address?
  • How can we divide up the market into groups of customers we could serve with different offerings?
  • What features should each product/service have?
  • Who would be the competition and how would they compete against us?
  • Could we make a decent profit doing this?

Ways of identifying new products include:

  • Studying possible customers to determine needs.
  • Asking customers what they want.
  • Improving current products, 'building a better mousetrap'.
  • Widening the portfolio, building more sophisticated or cheaper products.
  • Studying competitors' offerings and building products to match or beat them.
  • Dreaming up brilliant new ideas.

Inbound marketing is, in many ways, a matching process, where customer needs, product ideas and possible profit are balance with the cost and internal ability to design, build, sell and deliver.

Creating new products is expensive and requires the time, talent and budget to do this. An alternative to designing the product oneself is to involve third parties in anything from design support to manufacturing.


An inbound marketing group use a range of survey and research methods to understand a possible new market for cheaper versions of existing products. Potentially profitable segments are identified. Outsourcing is selected for manufacture to reduce product costs. A marketing strategy is outlined to show how the product will be sold and the product development project is approved.

A small company marketer gets regular comments from sales people that they could sell a smaller, more portable device. The marketer visits a number of customers and holds some focus groups to find more from the customers themselves. They also look at competing products and spare internal capacity, and conclude that there is scope for a profitable hand-held machine. They convince the CEO of this and a research project is started.


When people think about marketing they usually mean outbound marketing, which includes promotions and so on. But marketing as a discipline is not just about the selling end of the business. Marketing people are, to some extent, the customers' representatives within the business and should be engaged right from the very beginning, shaping products and services through a deeper understanding of customers and their needs.

Customer research is a distinct discipline that is quite different to promotional activity. It requires a scientific and analytical approach. Return on research can be significant, for example when it reveals counter-intuitive facts. Research can also be costly and reveal little, which is why it needs to be managed carefully.

It is also important to choose profitable markets and segments to target. This requires further analysis including about the potential competition and general business environment.                                                  

In many companies what is called 'research' is in fact quite limited and may simply be asking a few key customers what they would like. It can also be problematic when it is used simply to support biased decisions that have already been made. In larger companies it is a significant and often statistical activity, with internal specialists and externally-commissioned studies.

The 'product' that is created may actually be a mix of physical items, software, service, experience and so on. Sometime this is referred to as 'product/service' or, more generically, 'offering'. When the focus is on solving problems, it may called a 'solution'. For simplicity, 'product' is often still used as a broad descriptor.

The decision about what products to develop and sell can be very difficult. Giving customers what they ask for is a 'safe' option yet still does not guarantee success. The greatest wins come from bold innovation and vision.

Overall product choice is a risk choice. Risks cannot be avoided and risk-minimization will constrain profits. Yet taking risks can result in great loss as well as great profit. Any significantly new product will need plenty of ongoing support and a powerful executive champion can be very helpful in this.

Another big decision in product planning is the 'make or buy' choice about what should be kept in-house and what should be outsourced. In a pure brand/marketing company, all design and manufacture is outsourced. In other companies outsourcing is used to compensate for lack of internal capability or the inability to invest in this. Outsourcing can give greater flexibility, although it can also lead to a loss of control as you are now dependent on others to deliver.

The term 'Inbound Marketing' is sometimes used to describe the creation of customer pull (as opposed to traditional push). This activity of creating desire and demand is considered here under Outbound Marketing.

See also

Outbound Marketing, Social Research


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