Over the past ten years or so we have seen a rapid rise in the use of inbound marketing, especially in the B2B arena. While I believe that it has been a very successful tactic to get buyers to raise their hands and then nurture them along the path-to-purchase, I now feel that this gravy train has run out of track. I still see a use for inbound, but only when integrated into a comprehensive, account-based marketing strategy.
The idea of peak inbound was lifted from the concept of “peak oil,” a theory developed by M. King Hubbert in a paper presented to the American Petroleum Institute in 1956. His event-based theory revolved around the “rise, peak use and depletion of aggregate production rates in oil fields over time.” While my reboot of his theory is not based on hard science, it is based on steady observation; a mounting number of associates are telling me their inbound lead generation programs are no longer performing as well as they used to and customers are finding other ways of gaining knowledge they used to give up personal information for. It certainly appears that inbound marketing has peaked out and is now plateaued or very possibly in decline.
So ask yourself this question: Have you changed? Are you still filling out forms to get access to information as much as you used to? I used to be a rabid form filler-outer but over the past weeks and months of dutifully filling out form after form, I started noticing not so subtle marketing “tells” that made me change my behavior. See if this sounds familiar - every single time I would submit an online form, it would be followed up immediately by a bombardment of calls and emails from aggressive sales reps. Also, I began to notice that the content that was being served up was just not compelling enough to get me to turn over my contact information. Not to mention that with the volume of content being served up, the playing field became crowded and cluttered with endless e-reams of white-papers, infographics and e-books.
The implicit value proposition was being devalued and I was looking for alternatives. Betting that you are, too.
Snap to the present day: consumers, more and more, want to control their own buying journey. They are self-directing their own research across the entire web and most likely they are not, repeat not going to your company’s site for this information. And while they may be much less likely to fill out a contact form than before it does not mean they can’t be identified and then provided compelling, usable content. By using a relatively new technologies such as buyer intent data and attribution modeling, we can identify who is actively in-market for your product and also what stage they are at in the buying process. This precision instrument allows us to target these buyers (on a probabilistic basis - no PII hacking) with relevant information that is specifically crafted to their needs.
An additional note on moving on from peak inbound content: because inbound marketing is, by its nature, a very 1:1 linear type of model, it no longer makes sense to rely on it for a B2B, team-based, path-to-purchase making. Conversely, attribution modeling has become sophisticated enough for us to observe that major B2B purchases typically involve teams of people in numerous interactions and contact points (Sirius Decisions reports an average of more than 14) that occur over a longitudinal time period.
For marketers to gain a competitive advantage in today’s playing field, we must evolve past legacy inbound marketing practices. The good old days of buyers filling out forms and identifying themselves to sellers are fading into the sunset. Inbound is not going away but it is now just one of the elements in a successful and comprehensive sales and marketing plan. This new model of marketer who integrates buyer intent data, marketing automation, CRM platforms and programmatic media will be the winner in today’s business environment.