Does Inbound Marketing Still Work, 2017 Edition-

A few folks, as is traditional this time of year, have written about the efficacy of inbound marketing as Hubspot (the pioneer of the term) throws its annual conference. This prompts the annual question, is inbound marketing still effective?

What is Inbound Marketing in 2017?

From Hubspot’s official definition page, this is inbound marketing:

“Inbound marketing is an approach focused on attracting customers through content that are relevant and helpful – not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines, and social media.”

Based on this definition, inbound marketing is nothing more than SEO, because social media is largely pay-to-play unless we have the good fortune of legacy social accounts built in the days before algorithms ratcheted down on every form of unpaid visibility. In Hubspot’s definition, paying for attention via ads constitutes outbound marketing and thus doesn’t fit into the definition.

A Key Feature Missing

The fundamental philosophical premise of inbound marketing is that we earn the right to talk to audiences by being relevant to them. One key feature missing from the definition is that earned media is a core part of earning attention. As someone who was recently featured in Venturebeat and Digiday, earned media works like crazy if we’re featured in publications read by and relevant to our audiences. That’s public relations – the missing piece of inbound above.

Does Inbound Marketing Still Work?

The answer to this question depends on our goals. Inbound marketing powers slow but sustainable growth. For example, this blog is almost 10 years old. My search traffic sustains anywhere from 15,000 – 25,000 visitors a month with no additional budget beyond infrastructure. The blog has a sales team of one – me – along with a staff of one – me – and if I spent more than a half hour a day on it, I could probably grow it into a real business. As it is, it’s a source of secondary income that’s beer money today with the potential for mortgage money down the road.

Beer money isn’t mortgage money, and certainly isn’t payroll money. This blog, which is virtually all inbound marketing, is sustainable and profitable, but it is not a high-growth business. At its current levels of revenue generation, it’s not even a lifestyle business – and it took almost a decade to reach its current performance levels. Very few investors and key stakeholders seeking growth are willing to wait that long to see results.

At every company I’ve worked at or had as a client in the last decade, inbound marketing has been part of the marketing strategy, a backstop that delivers when budgets run dry or circumstances change. However, every company has also had a plethora of other marketing and sales strategies in play.

Like a nutritious breakfast, inbound marketing is and should be part of our marketing mix. Like a nutritious breakfast, it shouldn’t be the only thing we eat. What should be in our arsenal?

  • Organic search (SEO)
  • Paid search (PPC advertising)
  • Display advertising
  • Organic social media
  • Paid social media
  • Email marketing
  • Public relations/earned media
  • Tradeshows, conferences, and events
  • Affiliate marketing/performance marketing
  • Print, video, and audio media buys
  • Direct marketing/sales

In other words, everything that’s practical and affordable based on our business goals.

Is Inbound Marketing Dead?

If by dead, we mean inbound marketing is the only thing a business should do or the primary form of marketing, then yes. It was never really alive in the first place, because it’s insensible to put all our eggs in one basket.

If we mean part of an overall strategic marketing mix, inbound marketing is far from dead. The strategies, tactics, and methods of inbound marketing are part and parcel of doing business online today. We just call that combined strategy something different.

Marketing.


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