Indirect marketing is marketing where you are not explicitly trying to sell a product or service.
Instead, it focuses on activities that generate brand awareness, build relationships with potential customers and nurture them to eventually buy from you.
Indirect marketing relies on the assumption that potential customers will not buy your product or service immediately, but over time.
And if we look at our buying behavior, that’s probably true. For example, if we need a new pair of headphones, we’ll probably do some online research, browse forums, ask our friends, and familiarize ourselves with available brands and models—all before making a purchase.
In contrast, direct marketing is marketing where you are explicitly trying to get potential customers to buy right now. Channels include cold email, direct mail, and advertising.
Here are some types of indirect marketing:
1. Public relations (PR)
PR is the practice of positively influencing a brand’s perception by managing communications with the media and the general public.
Ahrefs was for example featured on TechCrunch in 2022.
This was possible because we:
- A newsworthy event (“we’re making a search engine”).
- Relationships with the right people (all thanks to the hard work of my colleague, Daria Samokish).
2. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website and its pages to rank higher in search engines like Google. You want to make sure your important pages show up on Google for relevant keywords. For example, if someone searches for your brand, your website should appear:
But no one will search for your brand if they don’t know it exists. So on optimizing your homepageyou should also target keywords that your customers are searching for.
At Ahrefs, we create content targeting problems that our potential customers have. For example, 14,000 people a month search for “link building” in the US
That’s a problem our toolkit helps with, so we’ve created a piece of content target that topic.
Whenever someone searches for that keyword on Google, they will discover our content and, in the process, our product and brand.
Repeat it to infinity and you’ll expose hundreds, if not thousands, of people to your brand (in our case, an estimated 3.4 million).
Recommended reading: SEO: The Complete Guide for Beginners
3. Social media
Creating valuable content that gets people to follow you on social media platforms like Twitter and TikTok is a great way to generate brand awareness and build relationships with your audience.
For example, we Twitter account has 128,000 followers, and we regularly share SEO and marketing tips with our audience:
Should you invest in indirect marketing? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
Here are the benefits of indirect marketing.
1. Indirect marketing builds demand and awareness
Why is it important to build brand awareness and demand?
Simple: There is only so many people who are now ready to buy. Most of your potential customers are still unaware that they have a problem, unaware of solutions, or unaware of your specific product or service.
So if you use direct marketing, you only focus on a small pool of people. Not only that, but you could actually only reach out to people who already are prepared to buy in the first place.
Ultimately, you’ll still need a way to open up a pool of potential customers. And you can do this with indirect marketing tactics.
2. Indirect marketing is less intrusive and non-intrusive
Prospects intentionally seek out content that helps them solve problems. Not only that, but indirect marketing tactics also rarely involve reaching out to people.
Here are some disadvantages of indirect marketing.
1. Indirect marketing takes time
You can’t build a brand overnight. You also can’t gather 100,000 followers in one day. Relationships with journalists take time to build. And ranking on Google also takes time.
Recognizing that customers need time to buy also means recognizing that nurturing the relationship takes time.
2. Indirect marketing is less traceable
Life gets in everyone’s way. You must have had the experience of looking for something to buy, only to give it up for a few years before suddenly returning to buy it. Your customers are also the same.
As a result, it can be difficult to determine exactly which indirect marketing tactics contributed to the success. But that doesn’t mean indirect marketing doesn’t work, just that it isn’t attributable.
Direct Marketing: Pros and Cons
Should you invest in direct marketing? Here are the pros and cons.
What are some advantages of direct marketing?
1. Direct marketing is measurable
Direct marketing tactics are usually trackable—how many opens, how many clicks, how many conversions, and so on. You can see these statistics on advertising platforms and email marketing software.
2. Direct marketing is fast
Since they are intended to elicit a response or purchase, direct marketing tactics can have an immediate impact on a business’s bottom line.
Direct marketing is not all sunshine and roses. There are some disadvantages.
1. Direct marketing is invasive
Direct marketing tactics such as cold email and advertising are generally considered disruptive. This is because the prospect did not request it and is still being served a sales message.
2. Direct marketing has a smaller reach
As mentioned earlier, there are only so many people ready and willing to buy. Direct marketing simply converts these people, but it cannot generate purchases among people who do not even know you exist.
3. Direct marketing can be blocked
CAN-SPAM, GDPR, ad blockers—they exist to prevent unwanted sales messages from reaching consumers.
Looking for successful examples of how companies have used indirect marketing? Here are three to be inspired by.
1. Ahrefs – Blog
The main marketing type we use is SEO driven content marketing. It can be summed up in one sentence:
We create and maintain high-quality, search-focused content on topics with business potential, search traffic potential and ranking potential.
To break it down:
- We research topics our customers are searching for on Google.
- We filter them by checking their business potential—how easy it will be to introduce our product while targeting these keywords.
- We prioritize by analyzing their ranking potential – how viable it is for us to rank in the top three with our available resources.
- We create content focused on those topics.
- We update or rewrite them if they don’t rank or are out of date.
This strategy means that customers always discover us whenever they search for solutions to their problems on Google.
Our strategy is simple. No fancy tactics or the latest hot trend. But this deliberate simplicity makes the strategy easy to follow and is the driving force behind us eight-figure annual recurring revenue (ARR).
Learn how to replicate our strategy in the guide below.
Recommended reading: How to Create an SEO Content Strategy (Follow the Ahrefs Framework)
2. Wendy’s – Twitter
Wendy’s is a fast food restaurant chain. Still, you might not be able to tell from his tweets:
If you’re out of the loop, Wendy’s basically revolutionized how brands can use social media and interact with their customers. Rather than posting boring bureaucratic tweets in “corporate”, it decided to do a 180° by sharing memes, roasting rival companies and posting in a spicy tone. And it rarely has a call to action to visit a Wendy’s restaurant.
But this indirect marketing works for it. In a highly competitive fast food scene, this social media strategy puts its brand first.
Since 2012, Wendy’s Burger King caught up to become the #3 US fast food chain.
3. Slidebean – YouTube
Slidebean is a pitch design platform for startups and small businesses. It has >400,000 subscribers on YouTube. Many of his videos are not about pitch decks or pitch deck design; instead, it’s about startups, marketing and business.
This is on purpose. It initially started with topics related to its product. But it found that it had exhausted those topics in short order. So it decided to move up the marketing funnel in broader topics.
Since we found a “YouTube formula”, we decided to apply it to other types of content, and one of them was this idea of exploring failed companies. The first one was WeWork, which was just the right bridge between a startup-focused company and a widely known brand. At this point the series was called “Startup Forensics”.
However, there were only so many tech startups to explore, so we quickly opened it up to “Company Forensics” to broaden our horizons.
This allowed Slidebean to get as many eyeballs as possible on YouTube, putting its brand top of mind. The company hit $1.5 million in revenue with 3,000 customers in 2022.
The best companies use both indirect and direct marketing. They do not discriminate between strategies. If you want to improve your business, you need to use both.
Any questions? Hit me up on Twitter.