I’ve been doing a deep dive into the integrated marketing management segment over the past few months. My goal has been to unravel the complex vendor landscape; to help marketers discern the capabilities of distinct vendor segments; and to help figure out what is a ‘best fit’ for their marketing organizations. (While we’re on this topic, as an update for those following this series, I DO plan to publish the final installment of my three-part series on the ‘Top 20’ platform vendors in this segment – i.e., the final ‘list’ – at some point over the next few weeks. So stay tuned.)
I have primarily focused on three ‘camps’ – demand generation, marketing automation/enterprise marketing management (EMM) and advanced customer relationship management (CRM) in my research and writing to date. My hypothesis with these camps has been that despite “… different roots, aims, legacies and constituencies, [they] are both converging on and vying for this core integration and management layer,” as I wrote in February.
Enter the fourth camp – the ‘inbound marketing’/marketing content management crowd – examples of which include new inbound marketing pure plays such as Hubspot, Magicomm, Vazt and Video Army, as well as content management stalwarts such as Crown Peak, which are evolving toward inbound marketing.
I’ll admit that when I first heard the phrase, inbound marketing, I said, ‘I don’t get it.’ In fact, I thought, ‘Wow, more confusing buzzwords.’ But I wanted to get to the bottom of this phenomenon, so I dug in, did some research, sat down a few weeks ago with Hubspot marketing VP Mike Volpe and more recently had a call with Vazt co-founder Seamus Walsh.
Now I think I get it, but I’m not sure that the phenomenon around this fourth camp is purely about inbound marketing. Dynamic and search-optimized marketing content management is a critical component and key value-add in a broader, integrated marketing context and for companies that deploy both inbound and outbound marketing. That’s why I describe this space as a dual helix of inbound marketing and marketing content management that is bound to eventually intertwine with the other camps. In fact, my conversations with Hubspot and Vazt made me think of the evolution of Marketbright, which started as a marketing content management system but has evolved into a demand generation system.
So what is inbound marketing, how is it tied to marketing content management and what does this all mean for marketers? Moreover, is this a real ecosystem of solutions, or is it merely a Hubspot phenomenon?
Before we go too far, it’s worth level-setting what I mean when I talk about this camp. The common thread you’ll see emerge: a dual set of capabilities of managing dynamic marketing content and of optimizing this content for search engines. Walsh at Vazt summed up this positioning: “We actually use content to drive business to [the] site.”
What is inbound marketing, and what are its plusses and minuses?
Inbound marketing seems to be everywhere. Now it even has its own event – the Inbound Marketing Summit – which attracted more than 300 marketers at the first one this past September, according to a press release. The Web site for this event frames up the challenges facing marketers today and how inbound marketing plays in:
The Internet has transformed the nature of shopping and the sales and marketing funnel. In order to remain competitive, your business needs to be found on the Web and leverage inbound marketing techniques to reach customers with targeted messages that customers seek out, not ignore.
What is interesting to note, though, is that inbound marketing as a concept is not new. Companies for years have strategized about how to better seize on opportunities when customers reach out to them. A quick search of the destinationCRM site, for example, found this reference to inbound marketing as a technique for turning customer inquiries into sales scenarios: “In an inbound marketing model every agent in the call center changes roles, from customer service representative to a salesperson,” noted a September 2004 article. But in this scenario we are talking about existing customers.
What is different about the new approach to inbound marketing is its focus on capturing new leads, which are ideally not existing customers, as well as on increasing the likelihood of those new leads finding your company. Moreover, the new inbound marketing crowd is focused on optimizing inbound leads via Web 2.0 mechanisms, versus via the simple one-on-one telephone conversation at a call center.
Let’s turn to the most vocal advocate of inbound marketing for a modern definition. Hubspot’s founder and CEO, Brian Halligan explains what he means by this term in a post on his company’s blog:
When I talk with most marketers today about how they generate leads and fill the top of their sales funnel, most say trade shows, seminar series, email blasts to purchased lists, internal cold calling, outsourced telemarketing, and advertising. I call these methods “outbound marketing” where a marketer pushes his message out far and wide hoping that it resonates with that needle in the haystack.
I think outbound marketing techniques are getting less and less effective over time …
Rather than do outbound marketing to the masses of people who are trying to block you out, I advocate doing “inbound marketing” where you help yourself “get found” by people already learning about and shopping in your industry.
Clay Schossow expands on this point of view in a post on his New Media Campaigns blog. He explains (almost as though outbound is somehow, suddenly a ‘thing of the past’) that outbound marketing “… was largely a numbers game – you knew you had to, on average, get in contact with a certain large number of people before one of them would be interested and make a purchase. This method was inefficient and expensive, causing marketers to waste time getting in contact with tons of people who may have had no interest in their offering.”
Sounds interesting, but we should provide some context around this ‘pro-inbound’ point of view:
- First, it’s important to clarify that ‘pure play’ inbound marketing is largely about ‘passive’ lead generation and not so much about lead nurturing or lead conversion – differentiating it from the demand generation and marketing automation camps and pointing to gaps in this mindset.
- Second, it’s important to point out that advocates of inbound marketing suddenly do not put much faith in the ‘active’ communication that salespeople and marketers engage in to connect with customers – i.e., the majority of the current practice of marketing today. In fact, it’s a bit of a marketing ‘counter culture.’ “We’re 100% organic,” ironically commented Vazt’s Walsh to me. But do customers always know what they want or how to find it? Can you be 100% organic in your marketing?
- Third, it’s also worth mentioning that marketplace interest in inbound marketing is largely being driven by the folks at Hubspot – a company that may have even invented the term (although I can’t verify this) and that are the lead sponsors of the Inbound Marketing Summit.
Not everyone buys the argument that outbound marketing is a thing of the past or that inbound is much more than a shiny new thing.
Christopher S. Penn takes on inbound marketing on his Awaken Your Superhero blog in a piece strongly-titled “Falsehood as Truth: The Lie of Inbound Marketing.” Penn comments:
There is more than just “make a cool video on YouTube” or “optimize your web site for Google” to marketing. Do these things matter? Absolutely. Search and content that rocks are vital components of any marketing program, and it’s just as insane to dismiss them as it is to dismiss outbound efforts like direct mail and cold calling.
The truth of the matter is that inbound and outbound marketing are both vitally important to your company, your products, your services, your ideas, and they complement each other. They are equally important, and they balance each other.
If someone tells you that any marketing methods, inbound, outbound, direct, fax, whatever, is the only thing you need, you know two things to be true – they are either lying or clueless, and they probably have something to sell you.
And that would be the ‘response’ to the counter-culture.
What type of marketing organization can benefit from inbound marketing?
I must say that I agree, in part, with Penn’s comments. There is no either/or, zero-sum choice ever to be made in marketing. Inbound marketing should be something every company deploys … as one part of a balanced marketing program. It’s not the whole game, and no company should rely 100% on an inbound marketing pure-play without other marketing systems or tools.
That said, there are clearly certain types of marketing situations where companies are better positioned to benefit from pure-play inbound marketing than others. This is something I’ve been thinking through following my recent conversation with Volpe.
There seem to be two marketing situations in which a company would want to really focus heavily on inbound marketing. These are:
- Relying on word-of-mouth or being sought out: companies that are typically based on personal networks and that provide consumer-focused professional services, such as accounting firms and law firms, or that people call only when their services are needed, such as a plumber
- Early stage and/or facing a massive lead deficit: companies that really don’t have processes sufficient for delivering leads, that don’t have complete insight into who they might want to target and/or that are focused on a niche area
Volpe explained to me that their target customer is a small business, often without a formal marketing organization. “We serve anywhere from 5 to 500 employees,” said Volpe. “A huge portion of our customers don’t have a full-time marketing person,” he explained later. “They’re not a classically-trained marketer.” He went on to explain that when his team does work with companies that actually do have internal marketing teams, they typically have 1-3 marketing people on staff, maximum, and have their hands full.
Looking at the two situations I’ve posed above, I get the first one. And I doubt that any amount of active outbound marketing will cause people to need plumbers when their pipes aren’t bursting. But I have a question about the second situation: Doesn’t this point to a company with a bigger marketing problem? Basic marketing 101 starts first with knowing your company, customer and competition and second with assessing segmentation, targeting and positioning. All of this should occur before you launch full-scale outreach – i.e., you need to know your audience before spending on lead generation and marketing communication. Is a lack of leads the result of inefficient outbound marketing or of a more-basic and fundamental business-positioning issue? Who is to blame? It’s worth asking the question.
Volpe differentiated his solution from the demand generation vendors by commenting that needing a demand generation platform “… almost assumes you have too many leads.” He went on to argue: “The truth of the matter, for [most] companies, is that’s not the problem.” But I go back to my question about whether that is more a comment on marketing tools or on businesses that have found resonance in the marketplace versus those that have not – whether they are large or small. Again, it’s worth asking the question.
What do inbound marketing vendors really do, and how is this linked to marketing content management?
I mentioned earlier that the common thread between vendors in this segment is ‘managing dynamic marketing content and optimizing this content for search engines.’ Here’s how this translates into what inbound marketing vendors really do:
> Managing dynamic marketing content to drive customer engagement: The core of the software services provided by companies in this segment are marketing content management systems. (Crown Peak may be the most advanced of this set.) That is why I have referred to this segment as the inbound marketing/marketing content management crowd, and it differentiates this segment from the firms that merely do search engine optimization. In fact, the marketing content management engines of vendors in this segment are robust and blur the lines between traditional Websites, social media and other communication channels. This is particularly critical as a way to drive greater customer engagement. Walsh at Vazt described it to me as “… aligning content with sales lifecycle.” Such an intelligent system also supports more-timely and resonant content – a step away from traditional marketing content that was focused strictly on features and functions and typically content that is more likely to hit home with a potential customer.
> Optimizing this content for search engines to connect interested customers with relevant brand-companies: Given that inbound marketing requires robust content – i.e., it is more thought leadership and customer dialogue than traditional static information on products and services – it must be constantly optimized for search-ability. This is where these vendors lend a hand – helping marketing organizations develop timely content in a way that makes it more likely to be found.
As I mentioned earlier, some prime examples of companies converging on this fourth camp include: Crown Peak, Hubspot, Magicomm, Vazt and Video Army (linked earlier).
What is the significance to marketers of the inbound marketing/marketing content management ecosystem, and how does it relate to the integrated marketing management space?
The value of the inbound marketing/marketing content management crowd extends beyond merely optimizing content to be reached via search engines. What this fourth camp brings to the table is complementary to the core capabilities of firms in the demand generation, marketing automation/EMM and advanced CRM camps, and it is strategic to the evolution of the integrated marketing management space. Moreover, as with the other camps, pure-plays in this segment are increasingly extending the capabilities so that they increasingly look like the other camps vying for the integrated marketing management prize.
Some additional thoughts on what this fourth camp brings to the table:
> Dialogue vs. drip: The world of automation and demand generation platforms are built on fostering interest in products and services, but this type of a ‘drip’ marketing and lead nurturing is not really true customer-brand dialogue … today. Systems from vendors in the inbound marketing/marketing content management camp are increasingly built around customer-interactive content, such as social media – enabling real dialogue around substantive issues. These capabilities are value-added to the other camps, especially in a B2B context. Following up my earlier note on Marketbright, sales VP Mike Pilcher recently explained to me why he believes it’s valuable for a demand generation vendor to be built on a robust content management system: “The transfer of information between supplier and buyer is at the core of business to business selling. What we also believe is that this information is not just white papers and brochures.”
> Authenticity: This type of dialogue also leads to increasing authenticity – especially as companies are forced to produce content that is less an encapsulation of features/functions and that is more about timely issues customers are grappling with. This is the same type of ‘small talk’ salespeople used to leverage in customer meetings but that is increasingly migrating to the Web. It also speaks to the topic of social CRM, which has been a key area of discussion over the last few months, most recently by CRM guru Paul Greenberg.
> Pervasive search optimization: Bringing the fourth camp together with other camps in the integrated marketing management segment has the potential to make search optimization a more-pervasive aspect of marketing systems. This is critical as the ball swings and marketers increasingly embrace neither inbound nor outbound exclusively, but rather embrace an integrated blend of the two.
We are starting to see firms in the inbound marketing/marketing content management space integrate with the other camps. For example, Hubspot syncs with Salesforce.com, enabling closed-loop analysis of program effectiveness.
There is much evolution that needs to occur among this fourth camp for it to offer more-sophisticated marketers the type of enterprise-grade capabilities they demand, but it is interesting to watch the progress and to recognize that this camp will certainly play a role in the long-term evolution of integrated marketing management platforms.