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Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue ScientistFri, Apr 29, 2016 14 min read

Inbound Marketing Is Under Attack: A Thoughtful Response

If You Think Inbound Marketing Is A Fad, Consider This

Inbound Marketing Flies In The Face Of Traditional MarketingI thought about ignoring the buzz around the book Disrupted, but lately, I’ve noticed a number of articles that appear to be taking some of the comments from the book and continuing the conversation to suggest that inbound marketing, content marketing and some of the other new marketing methodologies are in some way flawed or, worse, a shame.

For instance, there is an article on TechCrunch titled "Everything The Tech World Says About Marketing Is Wrong." The first third of the article aims to discredit HubSpot, the team that works there, Joe Pulizzi and everyone at the Content Marketing Institute. The author goes on to infer that if you’re not following the four P’s of marketing, you don’t know what you’re doing.

I considered commenting on his article, which many people did (most of them railing on him for being completely disconnected from reality). Instead, I wanted to more thoughtfully put together comments that countered these ideas.

The World Has Changed

You can lament the good old days all you want, remembering when magazines ruled the day and advertising was the Mad Men medium that people respected. Just recently, I had a discussion with someone who reminded me that companies used to talk about their ad agencies with pride. We use BBDO. We’re with Leo Burnett. If the company was hip, they might have liked a boutique agency like Wongdoody. They were boastful about having these firms on their side.

I’m sure there are still companies like that today. But, ask anyone in the advertising space, and they'll tell you that clients are asking for business results more and more. Brent Hodgins, Managing Director at Mirren, a company that specializes in supporting agencies, spent the last CEO summit encouraging traditional agencies to transition away from relying on their creative and toward delivering real business results. Trackable, scalable, predictable, reportable business results.

Today, our businesses are more transparent than ever. If you want to know something about a product or service, you don’t need a salesperson, company representative or ad to tell you about it. You simply pull out your phone and Google it. You can find all the product specs, reviews, company information, pricing, options and delivery details. Almost every aspect is 100% available to you.

This is a dramatic departure from the days of three TV channels, a local radio station (or three), a handful of popular magazines and newspapers and the U.S. Postal Service as the ONLY options for information delivery. If you wanted to get your message out, you had to use one of these avenues. People relied on these methods to get information. The limited supply of options fueled the advertising industry. All of these methods were based on the duality of a simple marketing concept: Tell as many people as possible, as many times as possible, about your product or service, and when they need it, they’ll remember you and buy your stuff. This is still referred to today as reach and frequency.

Reach and frequency worked well for the advertising industry, but not particularly well for the advertiser because it included a lot of waste. Companies did their best to target those ads, but by design, mass advertising includes people who will never want to buy from you. Consider the outdoor billboard. You pay for the number of people who could POTENTIALLY see the ad. If one million people drive by the ad in a single month, you pay a cost per impression for that advertising space.

What about the people who are texting and not looking up at all? What about the mom who’s distracted, taking care of her children? What about the people who are on autopilot and not paying attention to anything outside the car? What about the people who are 100% unqualified to buy your product? You’re still paying to advertise to them. I’m not saying it isn't possible for some people to see the ad, respond and buy the product. But, is this an efficient use of your marketing dollars? And, how will you ever know who saw the ad and who bought the product? See how broken the traditional ad model is?

Buyers Are Different

Wait, it gets even worse for all the traditional tactics. While the world’s changed, buyers have changed, too. You see, buyers never liked being sold to. We hate pushy salespeople, and we don’t want our favorite shows, articles, music and websites interrupting us with ads.

How do you feel when you get a cold call in the office? How do you feel when a salesperson approaches you and tries to sell you something? How do you feel when you get unsolicited direct mail at home? How do you feel when you’re forced to watch ads on TV? How do you feel when you’re forced to close a pop-up ad on the web? Frustrated, annoyed or both.

To help, we’ve created DVR, satellite radio, ad blockers for browsers and phones, caller ID, online shopping and other technologies that allow us to have the buyer experience that’s on our terms, with limited interruptions, and one that educates us instead of attempting to sell.

We don’t need salespeople, ads, direct mail, calls, fancy brochures or many of the old-school marketing tactics that were a requirement just 10 years ago. Not only do we not need them, but we also don’t want to buy from brands that insist on using them. Instead, we’re opting for brands that respect our journeys and create experiences for us that enhance those journeys. This massive change is why inbound marketing and content marketing work so well and why they are so challenging for people to understand and master.

Marketing Strategy Is The Difference Between Success And Failure

It’s interesting how both authors mentioned some of the traditional marketing methods, like the infamous four P's. Both commented on how little practical experience some of today’s so-called marketing experts have with regard to basic principles of marketing. I think there’s some truth to this, but not in the ways these two guys see it.

Let's look at the four P’s because Sam brought them up. How important are price, product, promotions and place in today’s world of marketing? The answer is, “It depends.”

How important is price? How many times have you bought a $5 coffee at Starbucks when you can get it for $1 at McDonald's? Be honest.

How important is the promotion? Do discounts, ads and other promotions get you to buy if you’ve never bought before, or do loyal customers wait for the promotions and then use them to get at a discount what they already want and would probably pay full price for?

How important is the product? Honestly, it’s the ONLY thing that matters. The product or service is the experience your customers and prospects have with your company, and it means everything.

How important is the way your products or services get out to the marketplace? This, too, is critical. If it’s hard for your customers to get your products or services, the experience is going to be poor, the referrals will be infrequent and the information people post online about your business will not help you grow your companies.

So, while not completely irrelevant, the four P's are certainly less relevant then they might have been 20 years ago. But, there are more elements of marketing strategy (beyond ads) that are essential to getting marketing to produce results. And, YES, there is a general lack of understanding around this strategy in the marketing community today. That is one point I agree with these guys on.

You have to know specifically whom you want to attract with your marketing, including more than demographic information. You need to know psychographic information, buyer journey habits, the questions your prospects are asking and much, much more about their online behavior. You need to know their pains and how you solve those pains. Even more important, you need to know what makes you remarkable in your delivery of those solutions. If you’re not remarkable, you’re potentially invisible, and this means all of your marketing is destined to fail. 

The other issue that’s keeping inbound marketing from working for most companies is not the methodology itself, but rather the application of old-school thinking. Marketing has traditionally been silo-based. Agencies have functional execution teams, internal teams have functional expertise deployed, and agencies typically focus on just one of these practices.

Today, marketing needs to be fully integrated and orchestrated daily, weekly and monthly to produce a set of specific results. The only way to make marketing accountable is with inbound. Inbound is the only 100% quantifiable marketing methodology that delivers real-time data on the performance of every single tactic. When you compare interruptive, inefficient and expensive advertising with the highly targeted, highly metrics-driven inbound marketing, you quickly see it’s night and day.

There Are No Silver Bullets

Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t agree more that people who are simply buying software or attending conferences won’t be successful executing inbound marketing. It takes practice, it takes time, it takes mastery and it takes a coordinated effort that’s built on a solid marketing strategy. There are no secrets, easy buttons or silver bullets.

But, I also believe that marketing and sales needs to be aligned with the way people buy today. So, you have some simple questions to ask yourself. In the future, do you think people are going to be watching more ads or less? Are they going to be influenced more or less by them? Are they going to be reading more print or more online content? Are they going to be attending more trade shows or less? Will they want to have more interactions with salespeople or less? Do you think people are going to be doing more buyer research online, on their devices and on their own? If you think "yes" to the last statement, your marketing needs to match that future state.

The faster you get started, the sooner you’ll reap the rewards from your business being there when people search, having an amazing website, providing a remarkable experience for your prospects and making them feel comfortable hiring your business instead of your competitors. Inbound drives revenue from a one-to-one relationship, and I’m not sure many of the old-school tactics can make the same claim.

7 Undeniable Reasons Your Enterprise Needs Inbound MarketingStart Today Tip – Not sure about inbound? That’s your first step. You’re either all in on the answers to my questions about the future or you're not. If you think people using the web to find your business is a fad, you need to ramp up your advertising. If you think people are going to be answering their phones more, you need to ramp up your cold calling. If you think people are going to stop throwing out mail and look through every piece of paper, do more direct mail. But, if you think the opposite is true, start making inbound a priority at your business and building the revenue machine you need to hit your revenue goals.

Square 2 Marketing – Inbound Result Start With ME!


Mike Lieberman, CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist

Mike is the CEO and Chief Revenue Scientist at Square 2. He is passionate about helping people turn their ordinary businesses into businesses people talk about. For more than 25 years, Mike has been working hand-in-hand with CEOs and marketing and sales executives to help them create strategic revenue growth plans, compelling marketing strategies and remarkable sales processes that shorten the sales cycle and increase close rates.