The Inbound Marketing Propaganda Machine

Inbound Marketing Research TricksIf you published 250 blog posts over the last year and saw no benefit to any area of your business from that effort, what would you do?

What if you were just getting started, you published 20 posts over the last quarter, and you already saw an immediate positive impact on your business?

That’s what I thought.

Now, consider some of the popular statistics used to support inbound marketing.

  • Inbound marketers have a lower cost per lead (slide 60). Some inbound marketers don’t include the cost of their time, and very few estimate the cost of including executives in content development. If the figures for inbound weren’t lower, it would be a major red flag.
  • Marketers that blog daily are the most likely to report a positive ROI from blogging (slide 74). Well, no duh. Anyone that isn’t seeing positive results from blogging isn’t still plowing ahead with a daily posting schedule!

(Source slides)

Inbound Marketing’s Challenges

This is a correlation problem. It’s like asking advertisers with a big percentage of their media budget in TV if TV advertising drives business, and then asking those with a small percentage in TV the same question. The results wouldn’t mean TV works or doesn’t work. It would just show marketers acting rationally: cutting things that don’t work and doubling down on what does work.

Inbound marketing, or content marketing, is facing a number of challenges. The current inbound marketing research doesn’t address the challenges, it glosses over them.

According to research Passle conducted, 35% of businesses with a blog have not posted 4 times in the last year (primarily small companies). In a separate Passle survey, 70% of marketers at small and mid-sized businesses said they could not maintain an active blog.

If the ROI of inbound marketing is that good, why not? Could it be because only some marketers will get these kinds of returns on content marketing? Yes.

Mark Schaefer, in an excellent post this week, pointed out challenges many content (inbound) marketers will face in the future, and sparked a lively discussion. In the past, I’ve stated that inbound marketing will cost more in the future.

Does this mean inbound marketing will not work? Of course it doesn’t. It’s just time to understand what the research and statistics frequently used to support inbound marketing are significantly biased by marketers doing more of what works, and less of what doesn’t, for their individual businesses. It doesn’t say anything about what will work for you.

(Yes, there are ways you could create a more structured test to assess the impact of inbound marketing, but it would be a significantly more difficult study to field).

Your Turn

What would you like to see changed in the inbound marketing research that is available today? Or have you seen inbound marketing failures that you are willing to share? Share your view in the comments below or with me on Twitter (@wittlake).

Photo Credit: stevendepolo via Flickr cc

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  • Great post Eric! I completely agree that any marketer who’s publishing his or her stats is clearly doing something right, getting results in what works for their businesses, and is proud to say that all the hype is correct. For our business, inbound definitely works, but it is no smoking gun. We still require a great deal of outbound push (direct sales, advertising, etc.) to get results. If I were to answer the question of “does inbound work?” I would say yes. But I certainly wouldn’t agree that it is all our company needs!

    • Thanks Jeff! Interesting to hear that it works but you still need to focus on your traditional outbound. Do you think inbound has shifted your investment mix, or simply forced an increase in your overall investment?

      • Increase for sure. Not only are traditional forms of marketing (like media) staying costly, but digital media AND the costs of generating quality, valuable content customers want/need are increasing dramatically. That said, the production quality is increasing as well with all the new technology tools and improved skills of creative vendors (writers, designers, videographers, etc.), so investing in this content is becoming less risky.

  • BrightBull

    Hello Eric, a nice read as always.
    I think that statistics of people doing what works is what we need because it is in my view the proof of concept that things will work out if you follow a certain methodology, and yes.. there is a little bit of hammering of the statistics.
    I have to say from a personal experience that I was a little reluctant to try at the beginning but only had to try. By following that simple methodology of blogging 4 times a month has worked for us in terms us visits to the site and number of leads generated. In our case when we decided to go completely inbound it had had tremendous effect, without disregarding the other traditional mix but always after the first engagement had been done via inbound.

    • Glad to hear it works well for you. For the record, I’m not intending to knock inbound marketing, but the claims that it is universally effective and the validity of the stats often used to make those claims. I do believe it can work well for some companies, even as challenges increase, I’m just concerned by the number of marketers that seem to see it as a universal solution.

      Thanks as always for your comment, I appreciate it!

  • Idan

    Poignant post title hits the nail on the head, Eric. I read the post and thought how there is, and has been for a while, a war of words, stats and infographics raging for dominance of the inbound marketing domain and its cousin, the content marketing domain. all warring sides have an interest and agenda (usually not subtly hidden) behind each salvo they release into the warzone. the problem that client-side marketers face and that I believe your post hints at is that it’s difficult, if not impossible, to find objective facts/stats/numbers . there are several reasons for that. two that come to mind are
    (1) these domains are not yet standardized enough to get serious analytic coverage from the big research orgs. it’s hard to treat report data coming from the likes of CMI, Passle or Hubspot as objective facts because of these orgs’ vested interests in telling their own story.
    (2) common attribution challenges and data management issues make it hard for marketers to “scientifically” prove a case for their inbound efforts. as an anecdote, I recently looked for lead nurture success stories. I came upon the Eloqua customer listings and sure enough there was very little by way of data points and much in the way of fluffy pillowing.

    I believe as time passes we’ll see more and more reliable data emerge and I’m pretty sure not all of it will serve the inbound propaganda machine ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Thanks! I agree, data will improve. But I don’t know how much these kinds of stats will improve. Consider this: Even in more standardized spaces, you cannot effectively benchmark the cost efficiency of different marketing channels. It depends too much on your brand, audience, creative, goal, etc.

      If TV was more cost effective than radio for every marketer, dollars would shift until efficiency was brought back into balance.

      One of the big challenges here is that companies are trying to average highly variable data and then position the average as meaningful to an individual company, which it may very well not be.

      In the meantime, it will be interesting to watch the show continue!

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  • Eric – I read this after seeing my colleague, Lois Geller, post on Twitter that Loehmann’s is going out of business. She said they should have used their great database to get customers back to the store.

    I responded to Lois that one reason I continue to shop at Lord & Taylor is because I continue to get their direct mailings – you know, that paper mail stuff. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Great post – you’ve been posting some fantastic stuff lately.

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