23. November, 2020

In-bound marketing, explained in 5 terms

By Lars Kruse

In-bound marketing, explained in 5 terms

IN in-bound marketing we believe that the direction from us to our relations, being customers, clients, partners, potential recruits alike, should be in-bound as opposed to out-bound. That is, they should seek us out - not the other way around. In-bound marketing is the art of making that happen - turn the direction around. Have them come to you.

In-bound marketing blog series

This is the the first piece in the In-bound marketing series. Going forward I will share some examples on how we played in-bound marketing out in real life, in the company I co-founded, and grew to 50 people in three countries before I sold it.

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In this blog post I’ll explain the concept of in-bound marketing, using five terms, which will each get their own section. It’s about:

  • “ZAMM”, and
  • “Seeing the Whole”
  • “Naked”
  • “Love”,
  • “Honey Pot”

Honey Pot

How do we do in-bound marketing? Well in theory it’s quite simple: We build quality in. We build it into whatever we do, and we believe, that if we succeed then it will work like a honey pot in the forest - all that animals will soon start to flock around it.

The flock around the honey pot should be seen as you, building a community of people who like what you expose, what you stand for, the way you do - whatever you do, and why you do it.

Simon Sinek and The golden CircleSimon Sineks pivots the normally pervieved diretion in how to tell a story

If you are in marketing, then you’ve probably already seen Simon Sinek’s famous TED talk from 2009, where he presents the The Golden Circle of Why, How, What. His message is: “It starts with Why - People don’t buy What you do - they buy Why you do it”.

What he says here is really based on a principle, that is quite well known to fiction authors and novelists - but less obvious to laymen and self-taught amateurs in communication.

It has to do with Aristotle’s three appeals - logos, ethos and pathos, “a message should have all three” Aristoteles said. Well yes, but that’s like saying that when you prepare a dish, it should contain salt, water and eggs. And that would then be true for probably more than half of all dishes - in the entire world. The statement still doesn’t help me much in becoming a good chef.

So here’s a rule of thumb, on how to mix the three ingredients in the honey pot when we do in-bound marketing.


Most importantly we tell stories filled with pathos. Pathos is the appeal to emotions. That makes it the storytelling ingredient. This is Simon’s “Why”. Examples are that we engage, show feelings, or we awake feelings, we make people laugh, we provoke, we tell stories where the audience can recognize themselves, we stand out, we take a stand, we call the bluff, we expose the truth - you get the drift right?


The main purpose of this entire in-bound marketing exercise is to build our ethos - the appeal to ethics, which will make us appear credible. In other words, the ethos is your brand, it’s what you are, your morale and position, your values, but also the story of how you became that brand. It’s Simon’s “How”. We can use sprinkles of ethos as a delicate ingredient in our in-bound marketing honey pot, but never to boost our ego, our message should have a scent of ethos, but the purpose of the entire in-bound marketing exercise is really to strengthen our ethos, not to claim or expose it - you see the difference?


Logos is the appeal to logic - it’s information, it’s facts and numbers. It’s Simon’s “What”. Usually logos it’s more useful when talking about the specific features of your product - where it may turn out to be decisive - but it’s not really useful in telling an engaging story. It doesn’t contribute much when trying to grow your ethos. So all in all, it’s usually not an important ingredient in the honey pot. This is the information that people should seek you out to get - after the in-bound direction is established.

The purpose of the Honey pot is not to sell your product, but to build a community and to strengthen your ethos. To conclude the Honey pot; we should have it constantly filled with good quality delicious honey.

So what is quality?


A story about quality.

Robert M. Persig and his sonRobert M. Persig and his son in 1968, ready to set out on the famous road trip.

A few years back I re-read “ZEN and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” (ZAMM). It’s not at all about motorcycles and not even much about Zen buddhism. It’s about a guy, probably the author Robert Pirsig himself, who travels on a motorcycle with his son and some friends from Minneapolis to San Francisco over mountains and through plain and desert. Soon the reader realizes that this guy has a dark past.

When the story begins, he has recently surfaced from a previous life as professor in rhetoric and philosophy. His research ended up driving him insane, literally. He was institutionalized in mental care and his recovery was based on hundreds of electroshock treatments.

Now, on this journey with his son on the back of a motorcycle, he is trying to get a glimpse back into his former self, the tormented self that was reset and wiped out by the electroshock treatments, but as he vaguely recalls, he was onto something really important.

Back then, as a professor, he was trying to define quality - His quest for the definition of quality was what turned him insane. We then follow him on his journey back, into the core definition of what quality is - and isn’t. It’s a book I highly recommend - you’ll know a lot more about what quality is(n’t) when you’re done.

My reference to ZAMM is just meant as a heads up; quality is not a tangible thing, it may not even be of this world, it may very well be a pre-existence force, that is the catalyst for subject and matter to interact and become the world as we know it (yep, I know, pretty wild stuff - read it!)

It’s indisputable that quality actually does exist, and even if we can’t easily define it, then it’s something that we all know of, and can sense - both when it’s present, and when it’s not.

Good = Quality

In order for us to become operational we need to elaborate a bit more on quality and come up with a more useful measure of quality than the somewhat fluffy “You’ll sense when it’s there and when it isn’t”.

Let’s turned to a famous quote by - or at least attributed to - Voltaire

Perfection is the enemy of Good.

If we strive for perfection, then we will end up spending so much time in the quest, that we will either waste our time, go too deep into the detail or end up insane - like Mr. Pirsig did.

Instead we should go for “Good enough”.

Really? Didn’t famous people like Steve Jobs and Alfred Bertram Guthrie say exactly the opposite? “‘Good enough’ is never good enough” Well it’s a funny play with words, but they were wrong.

Semantically “good” means “aaaaah, delicious, thank you, I like it” - it’s opposite to “bad”. Good could mean quality.

And “enough” means “Stop, we need no more, you have arrived” - it’s opposite to “incomplete”.

So you can say: “‘bad and incomplete’ is never good enough”. Which I believe is exactly what Jobs and Guthrie meant, leaning on the observation that the term “good enough” is sometimes used in such a deflated and devalued meaning, that it has become a synonym to “bad and incomplete” but that wasn’t what they said - semantically.

In my former company, where I worked as the acting CMO, we came up with another internal saying. Like Jobs and Guthrie we were playing with the term “good enough” as a self-reference - but leaning on it’s strict semantically meaning:

‘Good enough’ is good enough, by definition.

Build - Measure - Learn

Striving for “Good enough” is justified in the concept of Minimal Viable Products (MVP). A concept that was first introduced by Eric Rice in his book “The Lean Startup”. In the same book he also introduced the Build - Measure - Learn cycle. As Rice’s book title implies, these concepts are closely related to lean principles.

Eric Rice has an interesting concept that he repeats over and over: “We don’t develop products, we develop customers”. This is also in-bound marketing wisdom, where we strive to strengthen our relations, our community and our brand. Rice’s point is that it’s the feedback from our encounters with our audience or community that drives us. In a process based on the hamster wheel of Build - Measure - Learn iterations the cycle is this:

Learn - There’s something that we don’t actually know - we’re guessing or assuming. But we need to know - in order to become operational, precise and successful.

Measure - Consequently we need data to support our decisions in other words, we need measurements that can help us turn assumptions into knowledge.

Build - So we should build the minimum thing that will allow us to elicit these desired measurements, that will allow us to learn, so that we can pivot - turn direction - or persevere - keep it up.

So the need is Learn, Measure, Build - the implementation is Build, Measure, Learn.

Strictly speaking, Build - Measure - Learn cycles and MVP’s may not directly be related to in-bound marketing, but it’s all lean-related. And having a methodology for what “good enough” means, so we don’t get sloppy is helpful and now we do - the purpose is to learn - so we can decide to either pivot or persevere. When the thing will provide us with learnings, then it’s good enough.

At this point, it’s needless to say: If you haven’t read Eric Rice’s “The Lean Start-up” yet, then you must put it on your bucket list.

See the whole

Here’s a small die hard anecdote, you might have stumbled into already.

The bricklayer and the cathedral builder

A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am laying bricks.” He asked the second, “What are you doing?” and the man replied: “I am building a wall.” As he approached the third, he heard him humming a tune as he worked, and asked, “What are you doing?” The man stood, looked up at the sky, and smiled, “I am building a cathedral!”

The morale is, that in order to build something grand, you need a clear and ambitious vision. And even when that vision is crystal clear - to you. It’s imperative that you manage to share that vision with everyone who’s involved in the implementation. No one is ever just a brick layer - we’re all cathedral builders.

If we don’t manage to see the whole, then the chance of - coincidentally - building quality in is very slim. And worse: the bricklayers and even the wallbuilders of this world will have difficulties moving on if anything other than the expected happens, or when micro management instructions run out - simply because they have no sense of direction - when they don’t see the whole.

A friend threw me this one, which has exactly the same point, so you can choose your own favorite:

During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?” “Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping you put a man on the moon.”

So you can be a janitor that puts people on the moon or a bricklayer that builds cathedrals. You get the picture right? See the whole - embrace the vision!

The concept of seeing the whole is also an important discipline in lean thinking, where we’re striving - over time, through continuous improvements based on the methodology of Jidoka which is a simple way of ensuring that low quality products simply never leave the plant - to design an unhindered flow of built-in quality.

Seeing the whole is also related to the concept of The Value Stream, another important lean term, the core focus that allows us to identify and eliminate waste - essentially anything that doesn’t directly contribute to The Value Stream is excess. Finally, Seeing the whole is also related to The Value Proposition, which is in the center of the acclaimed and efficient Business Model Canvas methodology.

Seeing the whole emphasises what we’re hoping to achieve - this is what makes our build measure-learn cycles efficient.

You should always have a clear answer to the question: “What am I hoping to achieve?” If you can see the whole then you’ll always be able to answer that question. In in-bound marketing you should ask yourself that question every time you initiate a new task - or you will be nothing more than a janitor or a bricklayer.

Here’s what will happen if you start experimenting, before seeing the whole: When not seeing the whole, your experiments don’t have directions, they don’t have success criterias, you can not measure. You will be doing what in Design Thinking is referred to as Exploratory experiments or Stir the pot experiments; You stir the pot, you do something different than what you’re used to, hoping for different results than what you are used to.

“What am I hoping to achieve?”

“Something different!”

Right, but “different” does not necessarily equal “good” - and our quest is for quality, remember?

In Design Thinking, Exploratory experiments are considered good and effective for personal learning, but in lean context, they are not considered to contribute much to organisational learning. The problem with stir the pot experiments is that you’ll have to rely on your gut feeling to make sense of them:

“Hmmm? Do I like this new outcome? Or do I dislike it? Hmmmm… I think …I …eeeeee? …like it!”.

It’s not relevant what you think, it’s not even relevant to ask your audience what they think. Instead you should simply measure how they behave.

To conclude on seeing the whole, it’s obvious that we’re leaning heavily on lean principles, Although it’s not a widely spread term yet, there is actually such a thing as lean marketing and from a quadcopter view, it’s very much relying on the same principles as described here - which is also the case of one of the more vital and contemporary buzzes; growth hacking, which also belongs to the same lean, iterative, build - measure - learn, jidoka paradigm.


Quality is binary, you can’t fake it. People can sense quality. It’s either there - or it’s not.

You can not postulate quality - it would be like putting an empty honey pot in the forest. If the honey pot doesn’t have honey in it, then the animals will not likely flock around it - and even if you made a lot of noise, trying to attract them to the empty honey pot, it would probably only have the opposite effect. It would be noise, it would scare them off.

You would be lying.

Vanity Numbers

The proof is in the pudding. Well, more precisely It’s in the numbers, but not in the usual Vanity Numbers.

In in-bound marketing, We don’t care as much about clicks, impressions, likes and mentions as one would normally do in the contemporary SoMe buzz. Remember the direction; we’re trying to communicate with our relations - not to them, so in that sense the conventional SoMe buzz is still out-bound - and the reason why Social Medias are so noisy; Everyone is shouting.

Let’s revisit the old postulated wisdom in traditional out-bound shout-louder marketing:

You need to make a 1000 impressions to reach 100 who are interested in what you are saying, Still only 10 of them wanna talk to you and only one of them wants to buy from you.

I don’t know if these numbers are true, it’s not important, it’s the principle, it explains the underlying logic well enough.

The 1000 impressions and the 100 likes are merely Vanity Numbers. A term also coined by Eric Rice in “The Lean Startup”. The question being; is there an easier, less noisy and less Sysifos-like approach to cutting through the chase, and then having those 10 people who want to have a conversation with you, to actually reach out to you. Rather than you blindly shouting out into an empty void.

In In-bound marketing we believe that 10 is the only good number in the equation - the 1000 impressions and the 100 likes are unimportant - and the 10% convertible rate from dialog to an actual kill - sorry, sell - is disappointing and while the drop-off rate is probably fairly accurate, it’s only due to the fact, that out-bound marketing see selling as the main purpose. In-bound marketing doesn’t.

The purpose is that these 10 should fall in love with us - buying from us may be a desirable side effect. But having all these 10 people count as valuable relationships, and then have each of them recommend us to just one other friend - 10 in total, of which just one might want to buy from us, is even more desirable. Instead of having just one sell, we now have 20 relations and one sell.

We don’t want to mess with people, why just want them to love us?

In in-bound marketing you stand butt naked in front of your audience - lying is not an option. You have to be genuine.


The purpose of in-bound marketing is not to sell your goods and services. That’s the purpose of selling!

The purpose of in-bound marketing is to build relationships, with former, current and potential customers, partners, clients, employees.

Could you be loved?

When someone has a heart failure and you’re supposed to help with cardiac massage, then it’s important that you keep the right rhythm. There’s a really cute rule of thumb, that you should hum the Bee Gees tune “Stayin’ Alive” while you give the cardiac massage:

“Ha - ha - ha - ha - stayin’ - alive - stayin’ - alive”.

That’s the rhythm!

When engaged in in-bound marketing you should run around all day and hum the Bob Marley & the Wailers tune “Could you be loved” - Not only will it help you keep the rhythm, but go and check out the lyrics too - it’s definitely about being genuine. You can’t possibly be friends with everyone, and in-bound marketing is about connecting with the ones that are right for you.

We want them to love us. In fact we want them to love us so much, that these people, on their own initiative, contact us and ask if we can please find time to engage with them, to help them.

Our relations should get an identity boost simply by defining themselves as related to us. This implies that you would have to deliver so much quality in everything you do, that customers would want to become part of your world and recommend it to others.

The advantage of striving to be loved, as opposed to merely selling your goods is that you are building a brand, a community, the stories about you are being re-told and spread as a natural consequence of storytelling and by word of mouth, because what you do equals good quality.

Community building - through products

There are four levels of products that you’ll have to consider in your funnel, to enable the customer journey that will engage your customers to on-board easily - and to stick around.

Products that are free - not just S.W.A.Gs, but a genuine dip of the finger into the honey pot - something that let everyone taste what your world implies. Content is still king: Blog posts or video snippets that really helps, events that gather the crowd, a genuine and honest piece of advice, with no hidden agenda and with no cost. But also S.W.A.Gs, delicious design, stickers, T-shirts, things that allow people to identify themselves as part of your community.

Products for prospects - These are entry-level products, people who are aspiring to become part of your world, should get a chance to onboard - easily. But it’s important that this product is never inferior, even if it may be small or inexpensive. You are asking people to pay, to be let into the inner circle of your world. It could be a conference or seminar with a fee, a fixed price delivery with an attractive price tag.

Core product - this is the steady relationship where you deliver your core product. You customers should be happy to receive an invoice from you - because your product is good, you are generous, you undercommit and overdeliver. Customers don’t want the relationship with you to end.

Backend product - alas, circumstances change, and often that is what drives relationships to end. You’ve graduated, and after that you don’t see your fellow students anymore. You switch jobs and you now have new colleagues that you see, but the old ones diffuse slowly out of your world. Or is that really true? Don’t you still see friends from previous engagements? Most people do! - why? How did that happen? Well, most likely because you invested something in the relationship, you insisted on the relationship. Likewise you should make sure that the customers you have - that maybe don’t need your services or products any more - are offered a fair chance to stay connected. Offer them a desirable backend product.

In-bound marketing is about ZAMM and seeing the whole naked love, honey pot.

In one of the previous companies that I founded - as part of our growth strategy - I left the role as CTO and took on the role as Chief Marketing Officer and applied the concepts of in-bound marketing to everything we did and communicated.

I’m planning on a follow-up blog post, that will give lots of examples on what we did, and how that helped us build a brand, a community and a reputation so strong that a company of 50 highly skilled consultants spread across three countries could operate safely without anyone actually full time employed in sales.

Four years later I sold the company.

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