The Real Truth About Inbound Marketing.

By Posted in - Marketing Advice & Insight on November 4th, 2015

By Yawen Li, Marketing Analyst APEC

If marketing is the science of compelling and convincing humans then why are we so slow to develop buyer personas to understand what customer’s wants, needs, and perceptions are?

During the past few months I contacted several businesses – primarily Small and Medium enterprises (SMEs) in the the Asia-Pacific region – and asked if they felt their marketing content (in its current state) aligned with the interests and behaviour of their customers? The brutally honest answer was no, not so much.

The truth is B2B marketers have hit a plateau. They squeeze everything they can out of inbound initiatives just to drive a bit more traffic or acquire a few more prospects – balancing SEO, content creation, lead generation, social media, blogging and analytics along the way.

But more often than not the balance is wrong. More than 80 per-cent of the marketing managers I spoke with talked about a disconnect in their current marketing strategy – an imbalance between inbound and outbound strategy and, alarmingly, a trend of “probability” content marketing i.e. if the content is engaging and relevant, and if we produce and amplify enough of it, the right customers will probably come — and they’ll probably be the right customers because they’re consuming content on their own accord.

The number of B2B marketers who state they’re practicing this inbound numbers game, increased hugely between 2013 and 2014, but, lately, people are beginning to question whether this, largely automated and impersonal approach, misses the more subtle touch-points of customer marketing i.e. the nuance – the user experience.

Nuance is one of those things that lies just beneath the surface of marketing.

Think of it like this. Outbound meant that instead of having to constantly flood the market with thinly disguised, not always relevant, content, a business could add subtlety and bearing and still get direct results, in terms of leads and, ultimately, sales.

In our wisdom, we decided to saddle outbound marketing with a negative reputation, referring to it as interruption marketing, disruption marketing, or even non-permissive marketing. In our haste to embrace inbound, we threw the baby out with the bathwater.

Marketing, by nature, is a progressive, experimental endeavour, which attempts to gradually build towards a larger picture by using smaller building blocks, like a jigsaw puzzle. Sometimes the puzzle piece at hand, which fits on one side, may not actually be the right fit when all sides are considered. Even worse, the larger picture may sometimes change; complex disciplines, such as SEO, often have too many variables that cannot be controlled, thereby making even the appearance of the picture fuzzy.

And this is precisely why the nuance – or call it ‘balance’ if you will – is critical both in reporting the results of marketing, and in understanding those results while experimenting.

One thing is certain – there is an important behavioural shift underway, one that has implications for businesses. That change? The growing preference of (customer) experience.

There is an increased desire for experiences, seen across the board. Researchers at Ad Age identified this trend in a recent report, noting that overall promotion, events and experiential agency revenue is growing at a greater rate than advertising, PR, and media.

If your ideal customers tend towards the young and highly tech-savvy, minimal outbound marketing is probably correct for you. If your typical buyers have been attending trade shows and reading industry publications for the duration of their careers, a marketing strategy which relies more heavily on outbound methodologies will more likely yield optimal results.

Make no mistake about it, just because today’s consumers have every bit of information they could ever want or need just a few clicks away, via their laptop, tablet or smartphone, it doesn’t necessarily follow that all potential customers come knocking.

And while it is true that more sales leads are generated through inbound marketing methods – and usually at a lower cost per lead than traditional advertising methodologies – than outbound marketing methods, most of the B2B firms I spoke to identified outbound marketing as their primary lead source.

This means your marketing peers are relying on factors like phone calls and magazine ad responses – as opposed to web form conversions – to bring new business in for their organisations.

Interestingly, 70 per-cent of those who took part in the survey said they had increased, or planned to increase, spend on traditional outbound marketing. The feeling is that inbound marketing is an education tool, first and foremost, and one needs the counterweight of outbound to keep the balance.

One marketing manager told me “we have spent the past two years blasting generic messages at our audience and crossing our fingers in hopes that someone hears it. The majority did not.”

We need to put ourselves in the shoes of our potential buyers.  Would they be incredibly annoyed if they clicked one thing and started getting something else in return, or would they like it?

Not only do we need to understand what customer’s wants, needs, and perceptions are, but we need to create higher quality user experiences if we want to keep the marketing metabolism burning and continue to drive leads and sales.