You might have missed it, but the inbound marketing agency is dead. All of you agency owners who changed their website design, branding, SEO or PR firms into inbound agencies, it’s time to change again. What happened? When did it happen? Why it happened? And most importantly what should you be doing about it?
If you think I’m wrong, check out this article from HubSpot’s FAQ section of their website. In full transparency, this was an article from 2014 that must have been high performing and they republished and updated it about a week ago. This is a guest article, not created by anyone at HubSpot. I don’t know Ritika or anything about her, except that her article appears to show the future of inbound marketing’s place in the wild world of marketing.
Regardless of the backstory on this article, the content is prophetic. The title is “What Is Demand Generation?” From the article, “Ultimately, demand generation captures the umbrella of marketing programs that get customers excited about your company’s product and services.” The article goes on to say, “Demand generation programs are touch points throughout the conversion optimization and sales cycles.”
What this says to me is that Demand Generation represents all the marketing tactics required to get people into your funnel. And then, in one simple phrase, inbound marketing died a quiet and painless death.
On the differences between inbound marketing and demand generation, the article says, “Simply put, inbound marketing is one type of demand generation activity.” What had been an entire marketing methodology is now one piece of demand generation.
Then, in the final blow, inbound marketing got folded into what has commonly been referred to as content marketing, “Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people towards your company.” What had been an innovative, thoughtful and dynamic new way to think about how to market your company is now one of many tactics you should be considering.
This change isn’t really about this particular article, the quotes, the person who wrote it or HubSpot’s position. This is change that has been coming for years. Now it’s here and you need to make sure your agency is prepared to talk about inbound marketing—not as the ONLY way to go, but as one of a variety of tactics.
When Did It Happen?
It’s been happening for a while. It started (and I’m guessing here) when HubSpot realized that inbound takes time and their customers don’t always have the same expectations around that timing. Instead of getting better at inbound, they started opening the window of what was considered inbound. First it was paid AdWords, then it was social paid ads and how it’s account based marketing. All technically interruptive tactics that were NOT originally part of the “earned attention” methodology of inbound.
By opening up the product to handle more proactive marketing tactics, their customers could see faster and more immediate results. Over the years, the definition of what tactics are inbound has changed and the impact on inbound has been profound.
Back in 2015, we were an inbound marketing agency. Today we are a revenue generation agency with a demand generation practice. We changed because our clients needed more than just inbound. Which brings us to why this happened and this is where HubSpot has very little to do with the changes.
Why Did This Happen?
The why is probably more complex than it will appear here, but the sequences make sense to me. When inbound marketing showed up on the scene, with the release of Brian and Darmesh’s book, Inbound Marketing in 2008, the economy was in bad shape. People were desperate for more efficient, more economical and smarter, less wasteful marketing tactics. Paying to interrupt people seemed inefficient when every dollar counted.
In fact, the size of your brain is more important than the size of your wallet was a phrase they used frequently to share the virtues of inbound. It made a lot of sense. Today, the economy is healthy and people are spending money on marketing like drunken sailors. Adwords, social ads, remarketing, direct mail, advertising, events, and more. Today people are throwing money at the problem, hoping something sticks. It’s made smart methodology less important.
I also think the sheer volume of inbound agencies has made this type of marketing much more available, the services have been commoditized by inexperienced agencies and the services being delivered are in many cases ineffective and have contributed to deteriorating the value of inbound marketing.
All that being said, I’m not looking back. I’m not holding onto the past and I’m not lamenting the changes to inbound marketing. Instead, I’m taking my agency into the future and you should be doing the same. Inbound agencies don’t do enough to help clients. The methodology isn’t as interesting and you can’t get results for clients fast enough to grow your agencies.
Instead embrace the demand generation definition and make sure your agency does anything and everything your clients need to drive business results. The biggest impact you can make on your clients is getting them leads, sales opportunities and new customers.
Instead of starting to look at how your agency can help your clients take care of their customers make sure you’re in a position to help them get new customers.
In addition, it took you years to be an inbound agency and now you have to change again. This is going take time and energy. You’ll have to change your message, your delivery, the services you provide and maybe even the make-up of your team. Get started on that today.
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Start Today Tip – Knowing who you are is key to being an successful agency. Inbound or outbound, know who you are, know how to tell your story and make sure your story is differentiated from as many other agencies as possible. Make sure your agencies does what your prospects need you to do. Moving away from inbound does move you away from a market of small to medium sized businesses that need a lot of costly hand holding. Make sure you understand your target personas and make sure you have the services and team to deliver. There are no right answers, only your answers. Know the questions and know your answers. That’s how you’ll grow.
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