My problem(s) with ‘inbound marketing’
Ian Lurie Mar 13 2012
I want to emphasize that this is a friendly discussion between Rand and I—we’re colleagues and friends, plus our companies are close enough together that he could bring his much more numerous minions to Portent and wipe us out in one afternoon of horrifying nerd slap-fighting. I’ve received a few comments I deleted because they seem to be taking things personally. Please read this post, and Rand’s, and the discussion around them, as they’re meant to be read: An interesting discussion about where our industry is headed, and how we should name ourselves.
Rand wrote a great post earlier today (or late last night – does he ever sleep?!) about ‘inbound marketing’ and the branding of SEO. I’ve got a problem with the whole idea that we have to rename marketing, or a segment of marketing, just to keep it relevant. Rand says the discussion’s important, and I agree. So, I’m going to discuss at you for a few minutes.
Here are my problems:
UPDATE: Paid versus unpaid
Rand commented below and Carlos to emphasize that to him the split is between interruption and non-interruption, paid versus non-paid marketing. I get that. I really do. But to me there are many forms of paid online advertising that would fit ‘inbound’. In fact, there’s a dwindling list of internet marketing tactics that could be considered ‘interruption’ based.
Spam would be one. But to me, at least, that’s not even marketing. It’s an activity that’s now illegal in most forms.
Pop-ups and pop-unders would be another. But how many legitimate marketing sites still use those?
And, as I said in my reply to Rand, why not just go with ‘permission marketing’, then?
SEO isn’t marketing
WAIT. Before you start lighting my blog on fire with angry protests:
SEO is a marketing tactic. It’s one of the many activities you undertake to run a successful internet marketing campaign.
SEO sits in the same tier as PPC,
social media, banner advertising and all the other things you can do to build an audience.
SEO is not on the same tier as ‘marketing’ or ‘internet marketing’. It’s one piece of it.
Inbound marketing, as it’s taken shape so far, wraps SEO, PPC, social media, content strategy, conversion rate optimization and lead nurturing into a single package. So you can’t really rebrand ‘SEO’ as ‘inbound marketing’, even if you think inbound marketing is truly a new kind of marketing.
It’s marketing by confusion
Why are we coining a new marketing concept/field? Not because it’s revolutionary, that’s for sure.
It’s a branding ploy by several firms in an effort to make themselves stand out from the crowd. It’s a kind of key phrase gamble: Introduce a new concept, write a ton of content about it, then spread the word and hope it goes viral. If it does, woo hoo! You’ve got a top ranking for a hot marketing phrase!
Yeah, I’m partly jealous. I’ve never coined a nifty new phrase that I could use to sell my services. My company’s earnings are a tiny zit on the behind of Hubspot’s. It’s still a branding ploy. It’s just not MY branding ploy, dammit.
I know: Conversation marketing. What the hell, Ian? I have to plead early-career ignorance. I couldn’t think of a name for my blog. I’d just read the ClueTrain Manifesto. The term stuck in my head. So I named the blog. It’s not like I’ve tried to get the entire industry to adopt the term. Nor will I.
There’s no there, there
Rumors of widespread acceptance of inbound marketing have been greatly exaggerated.
Rand did some searches on various networking sites, search tools and the like to see how inbound marketing measured up against other concepts. He said the data suggests that inbound marketing is gaining traction:
But he left out the phrase that kicks all their butts: Internet marketing. Which is really what we’re doing anyway. So I ran the numbers again, and included ‘internet marketing’. Lookie thar:
So we’re coming up with yet another marketing term exactly why? ‘Internet marketing’ describes strategic application of SEO, PPC, analytics, etc. to offer something of value to an audience. It has broad acceptance. It’s flexible and accurate.
You could argue that ‘inbound’ marketing is strictly permission-based, not interruption-based, stuff. I’d answer by saying there’s ‘good’ internet marketing and ‘stupid’ internet marketing. Popups, adware and other interruption based garbage falls into the latter category.
It’s because we’re lazy
My biggest problem with the the need to add to the marketing lexicon, though, is the sheer laziness.
Are we marketers so pathetic that we can’t sell our services effectively without constantly redefining them?
Are clients so intellectually lazy that they fall for it when we do?
If inbound marketing remains a niche term of art, then I’d say no, and I’ll heave a sigh of relief. If it somehow rises to the same level as internet marketing, or if it somehow worms its square peg into SEO’s round hole (no snickers) and replaces it, I’m going to be really, really depressed.
The discussion is good
I’m not trying to stick a fork in anyone’s eye, at all, and I welcome the whole discussion. I just hope we stop there. Somehow marketers were able to effectively sell their services for decades without renaming the whole discipline. I’d love it if we could make it 3 whole years.
If not, I suggest we get it over with and use inboundsocialmediapersonalizedmobileqrcode marketing. That way, we can cover all our bases.
Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent Inc. He's recorded training for Lynda.com, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Forbes.com and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, SIC and ad:Tech. Follow him on Twitter at portentint. He also just published a book about strategy for services businesses: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle. Read More