Has Inbound Marketing Lost Ground To Demand Generation And Other Approaches To Marketing?
Has inbound marketing run its course? Has it been run over by more traditional approaches to marketing like all-out advertising, mass emails and demand generation tactics? If it has, why? What should you be doing about it (if anything)? But more importantly, are external factors putting extra pressure on inbound marketing?
First, I’m not stating any facts. I’m sharing an observation from conversations with clients, prospects and other agency owners across a variety of specialty areas, and from my personal perspectives given the amount of information I digest. I’ll give you information; you make your own decisions.
It’s The Economy, Stupid
If you think back to when inbound marketing first arrived on the scene, circa 2008, the economy was in bad shape. While not like the Great Depression, I remember it as dire. The idea of an approach to marketing that was more efficient, produced a lower cost-per-lead and focused on people already looking for what you do made a lot of sense at the time. In January 2009, the book “Inbound Marketing” was published, and the term inbound marketing made its debut. Businesses knew they had to cut marketing but also knew they couldn’t cut back all of their marketing, so selection, efficiency and smarts ruled the day. Say hello to inbound marketing.
Fast forward to 2017 and the economy is, dare I say, thriving. Unemployment is at a 10-year low. It’s almost as low as January 2007. Companies are heavily investing in marketing. In some cases, it actually feels like businesses are on a shopping spree, spending money like drunken sailors. Today, it’s not about the minimum required to get what they want. Instead, it’s about how they can get everything they want. They want inbound, outbound, upbound and downbound marketing. I’m not suggesting people are silly about spending money, but it appears to be a much less selective process and more about getting as many tactics as possible, regardless of price and performance in some cases.
Did HubSpot Take Their Foot Off The Pedal?
Let’s face it, Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan wrote the book on inbound marketing, literally. Their marketing machine at HubSpot fueled the inbound movement for close to 10 years. Today, they’re talking about sales enablement, full funnel and the growth stack. Their business has evolved and continues to evolve, leaving inbound in their wake.
Other technology companies taking advantage of the changes going on in business today are filling that vacuum. Account-based marketing, demand orchestration and advocacy marketing are some of the new phrases being leveraged to drive sales of software products. Even demand generation appears to be going through a resurgence as marketing leaders look to name their current, broader and more expansive approach to getting in front of their prospects.
But What Does The Data Show?
I started the article by letting you all know this was my opinion, but as the chief inbound scientist at Square 2 Marketing, I do like to try and validate my theories with data, so let’s go to the data.
Here’s some data on the popularity of key terms from Google. In essence, it’s the popularity of these terms as indicated by the volume of searches on Google. Seems like a fair assumption to make, right? If more people are searching for something, it’s probably more popular.
Here is the term “inbound marketing” since 2004. You can see it’s a pretty steady, up and to the right movement since the book was published in January 2009.
Just to give you something to compare this to, the term “permission-based marketing” (which Seth Godin coined in early 2004) has been declining since.
And here is the trend data for “demand generation.” While it has kind of meandered up and down since 2004, starting with 2014 it has started to tick up and move up to the right fairly steadily.
If you want to look at inbound marketing over the past year, you see it’s been pretty steady since April 2016. That big dip is during the holiday season, when people are looking for the latest toys and not marketing tools.
To compare inbound to some of the newer approaches, here is how “account-based marketing” has trended over the past year. In April 2016, it was trending in the 50s, and now it’s bumping up close to the upper 80s.
I did take a look at some of the other newer approaches, and most of them didn’t have enough volume to show up on the trend data site. This may mean that they are not as popular as they might seem, but it could also mean that it’s still early for teams like “advocacy marketing.”
What Should You Do About This?
So, what should you do (if anything)? The honest answer is no different than what we’ve been telling clients for years. Every client’s marketing strategies are unique. Almost every marketing situation is unique and the selection of marketing approaches or tactics is going to be unique too. In some cases, inbound is the perfect approach. In other cases, a blend of demand gen and inbound is right. In other cases, all demand generation makes the most sense.
What you choose to use as your selected marketing strategy will have everything to do with your budget, your tolerance for risk, time frame for results and expertise (either internal or external with an agency). I think you also have to consider buyer behavior. Do you think your prospects are going to be more likely to respond to awareness-based marketing, or do you think they’re more likely to engage with more inbound or an earned attention approach?
What you should take away from this article is that marketing continues to get more complex, with more options and more ways to spend your marketing dollars. This means your ability to plan, strategize and create an efficient process based on the actual business results you need is going to be critically important to making good, safe decisions around how to market your company.
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