Inbound Marketing: The direction the industry is heading?

by Richard Broughton – 4th December 2012

A recent survey of marketing industry professionals, conducted by HubSpot, found that 89 per cent are either maintaining or increasing their Inbound Marketing budgets in 2013, with the most common reason cited being the success it has already delivered.

So, with this and similar studies all demonstrating the same results, it is time to ask what exactly is Inbound Marketing and, what do you need to know to ensure you aren’t falling behind the times.

Inbound marketing is marketing that’s useful. It means acquiring customers by attracting and nurturing prospects with exceptional, unique content, accurate data and genuine customer service, not interrupting them with spam. It means pulling prospects in with a magnet – where the magnet is your own content – not beating them over the head with a stick. In this instance, the stick refers to pure push marketing techniques, where the recipient has no option to interact. Think of your sales and marketing process like a large, business shaped funnel. Fresh prospects come in at the top of the funnel and if all goes well, happy customers appear at the bottom. As a marketer, my goal is to maximise both the number of people we attract at the top of our client’s funnel and the number that come out the bottom as customers. Inbound marketers use three types of tactics to do this:

•  — Tactics like online, and offline, PR, blogging and search engine optimisation that aim to attract quality prospects to your website. The ‘best’ ways to attract potential customers differs from expert to expert but there is almost universal agreement that well written, regularly updated content and SEO are two of the best ways to increase your position in search engine rankings.
Convert — Tactics like landing pages and lead nurturing that aim to convert website visitors to leads and long-term customers. This is all about making your site engaging and a place customers want to spend time, and money.
Analyse — Tactics that aim to improve the efficiency of the entire process — to get more of the right people in the top and out the bottom. Google analytics can tell you so much so use it, and not to just find out how many visitors you’ve had. Examine the time on the site, the bounce rate and the number of page views, then identify ways to increase those statistics.

Although some people still associate the term ‘marketing’ with what has always been, in truth, ‘advertising’, i.e. putting an advert in the newspaper or purchasing a slot between two prime time shows on television, old-fashioned outbound techniques are reported to be yielding diminishing results. Last year’s Business Insider report speculated that television advertising could die within the next decade due to people now accessing media content in different ways. Just a few years ago this would have seemed like scaremongering, but now, is it hard to believe? How many viewers now watch their favourite television shows online or on a catch up service where the ads are removed? How many use TiVo and fast forward through the ads? All these technological developments are impacting our exposure to television-based advertising and that in turn, could signal the death nail for the medium.

The decline in the circulation of printed newspapers is also a well-documented phenomenon, but that does not necessarily mean that businesses can simply switch to advertising in the online versions of publications. An Econsultancy article from earlier this year was highly critical of the blundering way in which newspaper websites bombard their users with advertising, from irritating ads to an overkill of overlays. The end result is the defection of website users, annoyed by excessive advertising and lengthy page loading times. Econsultancy is equally scathing about the high failure rate of telemarketing programs, the reasons for this including a lack of segmentation of prospects and too many missed opportunities to collect data, with a corresponding inability to make adjustments accordingly.

Even some forms of Internet-based marketing are no longer bringing in good results, particularly for small to medium businesses. A recent New York Times article describes how big companies with huge budgets are pricing out smaller enterprises from PPC (pay per click) advertising. Few fledgling enterprises can compete with a firm like Amazon, which reportedly spent $54 million on PPC in the first half of 2012 alone. We can vouch for this from our own experience. One MTM client was spending between 20 and 70 pence for its PPC search terms in 2011, today the same terms are reaching five, six and even seven pounds. This sort of rise is not uncommon, but it does ensure that only those with the deepest pockets can justify their expense.

The continued growth of Inbound Marketing is transforming lead generation.
In these financially straitened times, businesses need a marketing approach that offers value for money and a measurable return on investment. The reality is that Inbound Marketing techniques are less expensive than traditional outbound strategies.

HubSpot’s 2012 report found that ‘Inbound Marketing-dominated organisations experience a cost per lead 61% lower than outbound marketing-dominated organisations’ – and this has been the case for the past three years running. Likewise, businesses were more likely to describe Inbound Marketing techniques as offering ‘below average costs’ compared to traditional marketing methods.

Moreover, Inbound Marketing features, such as maximising social networking use, maintaining a blog and creating a really user-friendly website, are proven to generate more leads. HubSpot’s Marketing Benchmarks survey, featuring 7000 of their customers, found a strong positive correlation between the number of pages on a company’s website and both the amount of traffic it receives and the number of leads which are generated through it. The same relationship can be observed between the number of blog posts and the number of leads. The more landing pages a website features, the more leads it will get. An increase in the number of Twitter followers or Facebook fans a business has also increases the amount of traffic to its website.

The rise of Inbound Marketing will mean the development of truly data-driven results, where marketing efforts can be subjected to real objective measurement and convey visible ROI and for a business, and that is surely the holy grail for marketeers.