Inbound Marketing Mania

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I’ve read a lot of discussion about Inbound and Outbound marketing lately, and what mystifies me is the premise that Inbound is somehow less expensive yet more effective than Outbound. The Inbound Marketing industry that has recently sprung up obviously has a vested interest in supporting this argument, but I think a reality check is in order for those of us who have a site to market and need a more comprehensive strategy.

Our marketing efforts have always included Inbound and Outbound techniques. Both have pros and cons, but cost is not what differentiates them. Rick Burnes of HubSpot posits in his Inbound Marketing manifesto that blogs and twitter accounts are free, therefore cost less than trade shows.

“A blog costs nothing to start. A Twitter account is free, too. Both can draw thousands of customers to your site.” – HubSpot

Note the use of can instead of will. Building content and networking with your peers is great, but there’s no guarantee of traffic or leads. It’s also not free. Twittering or writing blog entries at the very least will cost you time, and if you’re paying staff to do it then it will cost you real money. This investment won’t pay off overnight either, in fact it might never pay off. The road from starting a blog to drawing thousands of customers can be long and arduous.

Take for example. It took us a year to build up a respectable readership on our first blog, and that was only after hundreds of articles and a wildly successful free tool. The traffic generated continues to pay dividends in leads and search engine performance, but I certainly wouldn’t say it was cheap or easy to do. I also don’t think we could easily replicate that success since it hinged on creating the original SEO Analyzer, a tool which became so popular it spawned lots of imitators. Opportunities like that require patience, timing, and lots of luck.

I found it refreshing to see that we’re not the only ones still using a combined strategy:

“The mania of Inbound Marketing taking over the marketing mix is either just that, mania, or it is still in its infancy. Don’t get caught up in the hype just yet. A balanced approach seems to be the mix of choice with a slight favor to Outbound activities” – Smashmouth Marketing

Mike Damphousse’s poll results match our reality, which is that Inbound and Outbound marketing methods are both useful and cost-effective. In fact, we probably lean toward Outbound techniques because that’s where we see the most ROI. Our latest conference sponsorship at PubCon Austin yielded more than enough leads to justify the cost, and the majority of those leads converted because they were qualified. In contrast, our Twitter initiatives generate almost no sales. Twitter does provide an excellent way to communicate with peers and gather feedback from customers, but its ability to generate sales has been wildly overblown.

7 Responses to “Inbound Marketing Mania”

  1. Awesome article, Scott. I wish every business would understand what you said about Twitter and blogs not being free. They are anything but that. Everyone has this image in their head of all of the free traffic they can get online by simply putting a blog up on there. That isn’t how it works.

    Finally, thank you for pointing out to everyone that you shouldn’t just abandon outbound marketing. It’s like people see a new shiny object and they just dismiss what they deem as “old school.” Like you said both are effective means of marketing. Why tie one hand behind your back by only focusing on Inbound?

  2. Jordan Kettner

    Good article. I just finished reading “Groundswell” and it covers a lot of the same points. Social Media is not even close to being free, especially if you are wanting to try and quantify your results by using some type of social media tracking tool on your blog/twitter/facebook pages.

  3. Jon at Ephricon

    Good thoughts. To me the differentiator has been in the types of leads generated.

    Generally speaking, leads from inbound, customer-initiated methods tend to convert better as the customer self-identified their need, and pre-screened potential alternatives before contacting you. That’s pretty valueable.

    By contrast, with outbound marketing you are often getting people who will consider your offer, but otherwise may not have been in the state of mind where they were specifically seeking your product or service. It can be a harder conversion in many cases.

    That said, this is also the strength of outbound. With inbound, your volume is typically more limited to people who know you exist. With outbound, you can broadcast a message to larger audiences.

    Years ago we took an SEO project for a new-to-market product. I will never do that again. We did a great job of getting the site to rank for its keywords, but there was little traffic and even fewer conversions. There just wasn’t demand. All the SEO in the world – all the top rankings we could get wouldn’t change that fact. Since it was a new to market product people didn’t know it existed and thus didn’t search for it, even though its a great product that many people wanted once they knew of it. Years later the company is now doing pretty well, as a result of a larger PR and awareness campaign they initiated via outbound marketing in order to inform their audience that such a product was now available. That then spurred search demand and helped the SEO campaign show results in conversion volume, not just rankings.

  4. Scott Holdren

    Thanks for the comments. I like your point about inbound leads being self-identified, that’s an important distinction, and it depends on the source of traffic. For instance our inbound marketing successes brought a lot of traffic for “free seo tools”, but those leads were not very interested in paying for anything. There is no magic bullet in marketing, that’s for sure.

  5. Scott, great post. I think you’re exactly right. At HubSpot we focus our content a lot on inbound marketing. That’s mainly because there’s so much more education that needs to be done in the area and because it usually produces a cheaper cost per lead. Of course, as you point out, this doesn’t mean it makes sense to throw out outbound marketing.

  6. Richard Clark Marketing Blog

    Great post. I do agree that inbound is not cheap.

    If it doesn’t drive business or visits then it can become a costly adventure. Obviously if you get it right it can be an extremely effective way forward and a great way of driving more engaged people to your promotion/site.

    Blogging is a completely different kettle of fish and in the majority of occassions shouldn’t be considered a (Direct) Marketing tool

  7. Hey Scott

    Thanks for the balance. We refer to it as Hunt AND Be Hunted – A New Marketing Mindset. I enjoyed all of the comments and your article, yet I think the key is CONTEXT. If a traditional marketer takes a traditional approach (applies old thinking and practices)to Inbound Marketing they are dead before they start. They have to think different. They have to come from a different place when conceiving and executing an Inbound Campaign – – so we do not make a mess of it. (See Nissan Cube launch).

    I found your article when I Googled “Inbound Marketing” – so you must be doing a decent job of it yourself!