The marketing world has been abuzz with articles about content marketing – what it is, how to do it, what it means for the fate of humanity, etc. – for years. Some think we’ve now indoctrinated this strategy into our marketing “Best Practices” and successfully shifted the paradigm. Read: it’s old news.
eMarketer recently reported on a new study from Ascend2 and Research Underwriters that suggests, however, just because we’ve been talking about the content marketing craze for forever-and-a-day, we may not know how to do it. The study found that the creation and marketing of content was both the most effective and the most difficult inbound marketing tactic for both B2C and B2B marketing professionals to execute.
While this is a validating statement, it’s also a bit concerning; there’s an obvious need for better understanding of what makes quality, successful content. Perhaps that comes with continued practice and insight into what the consumer wants (but if you find a magic content marketing pill, please share).
Along with this, marketing automation can help take the guesswork out of content creation and inbound marketing, providing detailed, precise insight into both consumers' interests and desires at every stage in the consumer cycle. Sounds fancy, huh? Let’s take a look at what exactly the difference is between inbound marketing and marketing automation.
Inbound Marketing vs. Marketing Automation
Whenever seeking definitions, it’s perhaps best to turn to our “thought leaders” in the space. Taken from HubSpot, here’s an overview of inbound marketing:
Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product, where they naturally want to be. By aligning the content you publish with your customer’s interests, you naturally attract inbound traffic that you can then convert, close, and delight over time.
While their are several definitions of inbound marketing, here's my interpretation: invite consumers to interact and connect with your brand by providing value to them before expecting them to provide value to you (i.e. we’re practicing those manners our mothers have been trying to teach us all of our lives).
This sounds pretty great, yah? Well for all of us who have been trying to wrangle this philosophy into practice for the last couple of years, we know it’s not easy (and we’re not alone, considering the Ascend2 and Research Underwriters study). That’s the glory of marketing automation; it’s a way to make inbound marketing tactics “more strategic and complementary.” In general, marketing automation helps execute personalization, an important component of inbound marketing; it assists in crafting tailored messages and content for your leads and customers.
According to the Ascend2 and Research Underwriters study, however, few marketing professionals are employing marketing automation software. Only 16% of B2C marketing professionals used “marketing automation to manage inbound marketing,” compared to 14% of B2Bs. (Note: these percentages were switched in the visual provided by eMarketer.)
The employment of marketing automation software is on the cusp of growth, however: around 45% of both B2B and B2C marketing professionals are currently using marketing automation “limitedly.”
Why inbound marketing isn’t the next Amanda Bynes of the marketing world (i.e. why it’s here to stay).
With all of the hype around inbound marketing, you might argue that we are approaching an inbound bubble; are we placing an irrational amount of value on inbound marketing? Perhaps, but Dharmesh Shah, the founder and current CTO of HubSpot, isn’t convinced.
Shah argues that the idea of an inbound bubble just doesn’t make sense: “In the case of inbound marketing, it’s trackable and measurable … As such, there’s little room for irrational values that make for a bubble.”
Inbound marketing is natural; it does not force-feed worthless content into the tightening throats of consumers. Rather, inbound marketing intends to create value, ceding marketers' traditional idea of control to the consumer. And all of us - as consumers, Americans, humans - are always going to want content.
Nevertheless, marketers always must be prepared and flexible to meet consumers’ desires for new forms of content. The principles of inbound – providing value before asking for or taking it – aren’t going to change.
So, I suppose we can and should still continue to pursue inbound marketing - it just ain't dead yet.
Image via 123RF.