Even the most casual observer of Verge Pipe Media over the past six years would probably remark, "that team is ALL IN on Inbound Marketing." And that would be a very true and informed remark. Since I left the world of outbound marketing at AOL in 2006, I have made a point to build the agency I believed the marketing world, and even the consumer of today wants deserves.
But much like my Superhero man crush, Batman, I've come to learn that Inbound Marketing is the hero the social media - mobile connected world deserves, but not always the one it needs right now.
Why? Because the pressure on marketing to,
- convert website visitors into leads and customers,
- grow overall website traffic and,
- increase revenue from existing customers (upsell) has never been greater.
That pressure (IMO) has led to marketplace confusion on terms like Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing, Search Engine Optimization (what is organic, etc.), and Digital Marketing. All of this has produced a lot of crappy content on social media thinly disguised as, "marketing" by everyone from solopreneurs to legacy ad agencies seeking to reinvent themselves.
Admittedly, here at Verge Pipe Media we've had our own struggles with producing remarkable, original content that attracts, converts, closes and delights customers without assistance from earned media, paid promotions and even guerilla marketing tactics. I recently penned a blog on developing the right mix of outbound and inbound marketing that drew on our experience helping higher ed, technology and even hospitality clients.
So you wouldn't be alone in summizing from my Batman reference and our own more down to earth experience that Inbound Marketing as it was dreamed up at Verge Pipe Media in 2010 is at a crossroads. It was the topic of much discussion at my November visit to INBOUND16 and reported on in HubSpot's annual, "The State of Inbound" report. All of which had me asking throughout the month of December, Did Inbound Marketing Stumble in 2016?
In short, I think yes it did. The long of it can be extrapolated from the full length report from HubSpot. Why and how did Inbound Marketing Stumble in 2016? There are two main reasons: maturity and quality.
If you credit Seth Godin with the start of Inbound, you can trace it back to 1999 when Seth began pitching the art of, "permission marketing" in his book of the same name. Since then, David Meerman Scott has discussed the merits and in 2005, HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan coined the phrase, "Inbound Marketing." In 2012, when Google added the Panda algorithm, content marketing and inbound really rocketed to the forefront with an estimated 73% of marketers claiming inbound is their primary strategy.
Since 2012 what we've seen is an industry that grew up in a hurry and adopted some not so best practices along the way. Inbound marketers missed the coming wave of visual social media apps such as Snapchat, instead trying to improve response rates to their latest lengthy eBook or White Paper. In this case, maturing didn't bring a lot of the, "constantly evolving" wisdom normally associated with getting older and wiser.
Similarly, marketing automation got very good at simplfying and streamling email lead nurturing to the point of being able to drag and drop sequences and workflows which even two years ago would have taken twice as long to setup. However, who really wants a wave of emails to come crashing through their inbox at regular intervals?
As a result, we have very advanced software and marketing automation based on top and middle of the funnel activity relying on content offers (eBooks, White Papers, Guides, etc.) and email lead nurturing when consumers don't want more stuff to download and more emails to sort through. Does Inbound Marketing still work? Abso-freaking-lutely! Did it get 100 years to figure out consumer behaviors had changed like outbound marketing? Not at all.
What was the next hurdle in the path that caused more stumbling?
In this instance, too many low quality leads as a result of niche content of questionable quantity from too few website visitors. Evidence of this exists throughout The State of Inbound report if you're wiilling to read between the colored bar chart lines.
Point 1. Take a look at the Top Marketing Priorities for 2016 which featured two new entries:
- Grow Traffic to Website and
- Sales Enablement
Similarly, "Increasing the Number of Leads and Prospects" fell off the list after two years of being in the top spot.
In other words, the Sales team (and leadership likely) demanded more traffic to the website to make up for the lackluster leads that were being generated and handed off to the Sales team. This wasn't a total rebuke of increasing leads and prospects, as much as a vote for turning up the volume of folks arrving at the home page and then improving upon the quality of the leads and prospects being generated for Sales.
Proving Return On Investment (ROI) has been a consistent battle between Marketing and Sales, and in 2016 we saw, "Generating traffic and leads" as the new #1 on the list.
Point 2. When asked about more specifics on Inbound Marketing priorities, the top three spots remained unchanged:
- Growing SEO and organic presence
- Blog content creation
- Content distrbution and amplification
Interestingly, for the first time, "Marketing Automation" shows up at #4 on the list. So all the pressure on the marketing team to increase traffic, keep up in the content arms race, but get that improved content in front of more and better prospects has almost forced a "shortcut" in automating the lead nurturing process. The top 3 didn't change from previous years' priorities, but marketing teams prioritized getting help and more efficiency to keep up the pace with getting found, producing content and getting it all in front of more prospects.
So where does all this data lead us in 2017 (and beyond)?
For starters, even though Marketing Automation has improved dramatically and is being prioritized in the Top 5 by most inbound marketers, it's not the cure for the fall. In fact, if automation isn't employed smartly, marketers will find themselves pushing low quality leads through the pipeline and compounding the problem with their Sales team.
Next, inbound marketers have to think beyond eBooks, White Papers, Guides and the other meaty content offers they've been producing en masse since 2006. Those publications still have a place with defined buyer personas, but as the go-to offer their days are numbered.
Finally, through educating and dusting off the SMARTKETING (Sales + Marketing) mantra from Halligan and Shah (founders of HubSpot), marketing teams should be spending time educating sales and leadership teams at home and with clients about the long term benefits of Inbound. Through a careful, yet strategic approach you can begin developing the right mix of outbound and inbound marketing, and achieve more of your overall marketing goals.
If you're interested in seeing how we employed Inbound Marketing with a non-profit event that relied almost exclusively on outbound since it's inception, tap the button below for our FREE case study.