Inbound marketing vs. traditional advertising

I received this email a couple of days ago:

Hi Mr. Rossie,

I’m a grad student and I’m doing some research. Can I have your opinion?

1. Which type of advertising TV or Internet – is best at influencing consumer buying behavior?
2. Is there a difference in the motivational factors between TV and Internet advertising?


My first thought was: Why the emphasis on advertising? Why not inbound marketing? So I replied: 

Dear Grad Student:

Those are good questions. I hope you don’t mind if I change them a bit.

As a marketer, here are the questions I’m interested in:

What are the roles of TV, and other traditional advertising, versus information found on the web, including web ads? Which are more effective, and in what situations? I think these questions will provide the answers you’re really looking for.

Remember:  Marketing is a very human activity.  TV, Internet, events – they’re just tools. Understanding your customers and your market is crucial. You succeed by making a connection between your customer and your brand. Nothing is more important. Yes, you have to know the customer’s practical needs – features, sizes, colors. But it’s even more important to know their underlying feelings. Is it fear, joy, or other emotions? And what are those emotions attached to, specifically? Losing their jobs? Desire to be recognized or liked? Or joy of being associated with some group they admire (like a famous soccer team)? How can you address their concerns and make them feel great about buying from you?

Customer insight through research

So, ask a lot of questions. Ask experts in your company and outside it. And ask customers and prospects themselves. Ask customers of your competitors. A few examples:

  • Who are your customers? What are their circumstances, what are their common characteristics, if any?
  • What do your customers feel about you?
  • Why are some people who should be your customers, not your customers?
  • How do your customers feel about your competition, and why?  Why do people choose your competition instead of you?
  • How does the product make an impact in the customer’s life or work?

The sales funnel

Now think about their buying process, sometimes called the sales funnel. (Aside: I’ve talked to a few recent MBAs lately who have never heard of a sales funnel. Amazing.)A sales funnel is a graphic representation of the sales process for your product and customer

Your job is to maximize the flow of prospects through different levels of the funnel. So, how do prospects become aware of your products and services? How do they decide to consider a product? How do they decide to evaluate it, to buy it, to recommend it? You really, truly, positively, absolutely need to understand these things. While the sales funnel is not exactly the same for every product, you need to learn how to move customers through your funnel’s levels as efficiently as possible.

Web analytics is a great tool for this. Which brings us back to the question: traditional marketing or the Internet?

The Internet has changed the way people gather information

Advertising is less powerful than it once was, in most cases. Yet advertising remains essential for some brands. Think of the categories, and brands, you see advertised extensively in traditional media. Traditional advertising is key part of their strategy. The brands wouldn’t survive without it.

Or would they? Look at Geico and Progressive, the big auto insurance advertisers who advertise on TV and radio constantly. Now look at Amica and USAA. These insurers use far less media advertising, yet are recognized as among the top-rated brands with the highest level of loyalty. (I’ve been an Amica customer for 25 years.)

So maybe it’s possible that traditional marketing can be largely replaced by other methods, including extensive use of the Internet. In this scenario, advertising isn’t strategic, it’s tactical – for use in specific situations. For instance, Amica may buy ads to promote its sponsorship of a 10K race. That could be a smart component of a sponsorship strategy, but it’s a small part of the overall effort.

People need and want information. This information shapes their opinions and attitudes, but mostly their feelings.  And it’s hard to beat the Internet for providing information, whether in ads, in blog posts, in articles, in social media.

I’m a proponent of inbound marketing

I’m a fan of businesses creating reams of high-quality, relevant content; dominating important keywords in the search engines; and optimizing their website to support their sales funnel. And it’s all based on knowing what’s important to your customers.

But I don’t discount the power of TV, radio, print, direct mail and outdoor to make a big impact.

And yet, as much as things have shifted towards the Internet over the last 20 years, I don’t see the shift stopping now. How about you?


2 thoughts on “Inbound marketing vs. traditional advertising

  1. I am working on my Master’s thesis, and the topic is “Consumers attitudes toward Internet advertising vs. TV advertising. I was reading Mr. Rossie blog post on “What Type Of Advertising Has The Most Influence?” and wrote an email, asking him if I could incorporate his comments on my thesis and also if he could take some time and have a look at some of my research questions and also requested him to give his expert opinion and suggestions.
    He replied me every time I asked for his assistance. Kindly appreciate. His comments are suggestions helped me a lot. Thanks Mr. Rossie for taking all the time out for me. Thanks again.

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