Economists talk about markets being oversaturated when too many product or concept variations are competing in the same space. Over-saturation leads to products being devalued.
That’s what’s happening to inbound marketing. The buzzword has been on the forefront of the digital space for the past decade, and now it seems to have crossed a critical threshold into decline.
Inbound marketing is really just hyper-effective SEO combined with conversion optimization techniques to drive leads. It’s not a revolution, it’s simply good branding. And it’s mostly thanks to Hubspot.
Marketing agencies, like the children behind the Pied Piper, fell in line, and pushed this “inbound” craze for far longer than it should have been pushed.
But, if it hasn’t already, it’s all about to slowly fade into the sunset for your organization. Why are the tides changing? Here are our observations.
Everyone’s on Board
One of the most important factors in the decline of inbound is that everyone is on board now. It’s hard to find an industry where inbound isn’t being implemented. Just when we think we’ve found an industry, there is a leader in the space who seems to be 12-18 months ahead of the curve and dominating the space.
So the simple truth is that “inbound,” in some form or another (even if just via good SEO practices), is now the cost of entry for many businesses that use digital marketing. When companies start marketing, then, this fact requires them to build above existing marketing. They might try using paid media or other “outbound” means to gain attention. So, “inbound” as a strategy is DOA.
Fake News and Content Overload
This point is more of a cultural note. Thanks to a growing and seething distrust of media in our culture, we now have the new oxymoron of “fake news”. Couple this mentality with the sheer volume of articles and content produced online, and many people just want to turn the whole thing off.
In business terms, there is just too much competition in the market for attention. Attention is really the asset we are after, and it’s in decreasing supply.
For instance: how much attention do you give to news sites? If you’re smart, not much, as you see that no matter what’s really happening in the world, those sites still produce (or, better, manufacture) content for your viewing attention – whether it has value or not.
What are we to do? Well, there is a subset of content that is still really relevant, and that’s content that’s based on expertise. True expertise will always be in high demand and low supply. Consequently, companies that can produce content that is rich in expertise will win the day and cut through the clutter.
Life After Inbound Marketing
I don’t think that inbound marketing will really ever die. As a concept, it’s valid, and it’s truly one of the best campaign types for organic growth. Instead, here is what I think will happen as we move into the next iteration of it.
Hubspot has already admitted by their own actions (the inclusion of Hubspot Ads) that organic SEO can’t be the only source of traffic. Paid will be a larger part of the traffic mixture, as digital attention becomes harder to acquire via organic means.
This includes paid social media marketing. As organic reach continues to fade, social media will become more complex and serve almost as an internet OS in itself for most Americans.
Marketing technology has blurred the line between macro and micro user tracking, allowing for increased personalization.
Along the same lines, AI is beginning to learn how to create content. My bet is that we’ll see an epic explosion of content creation by bots and AI, which will start producing content at volumes and specifications that were previously impossible. This event will be the death blow to the entire inbound market. It’s coming (in fact, it’s almost here).
Yet, as all of these developments take place, some fundamentals will always remain true. People will need to be sold on good messaging and positioning. Sales teams will still need to be competitive and intelligent in how they approach prospects.
Life after inbound will be full of similar challenges, but it’ll be set in a vastly different landscape and managed via a different toolbox.
What Should We Do Now?
In preparation, it’s best to think about sticking to our guns. Develop the sales team to use the best tools in the industry to do their work well. Then equip the marketing team with budgets to try experimental channels of attention. Where can we gain attention of the market in big and small ways to get the edge over pure paid or organic traffic online?
There is a world of opportunity out there, we just need to turn our eyes to the horizon and move forward.
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