A few years ago, Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shaw published a book called Inbound Marketing. The book’s title was promoted as a new industry term that represented the evolution of online marketing.

Outbound techniques like email, advertising and sponsorships were labeled as ineffective and expensive. Inbound techniques like on-site SEO, content creation and social sharing were marketed as the most cost-effective way to reach new customers.

At the time, I remember thinking that surely the industry would see through this inbound gimmick. SURELY they would see that “inbound marketing” was a self-serving term made up by the founders of a marketing software company to sell their product and attract more venture capital. SURELY they would recognize that writing high quality content and establishing a strong social presence already had names: content marketing and social media marketing. SURELY people would see inbound marketing for what it truly was: incomplete marketing.

I waited for the new term to go away, but it stuck. It stuck because HubSpot did a truly masterful job of educating a new market. They purposefully marketed to people that were either fresh to Internet marketing or hungry for a new and effective way to create site exposure – people who were more salespeople than online marketers, companies that had been burned by ineffective agencies and agencies that were trying to attract those burned companies, and novice online marketers that never quite figured out how to properly leverage what they call outbound marketing.

There’s nothing cheap about inbound marketing

One of the biggest selling points of inbound marketing is its supposed cheapness. After all, it’s free to start a blog and start promoting it on Facebook and Twitter.

But as Scott Holdren pointed out in 2009 in his article Inbound Marketing Mania, both inbound and outbound marketing can be cost-effective. And in many cases, outbound marketing produces better ROI.

Let’s take a look at how “cheap” inbound marketing really is.

If you were to rely on just software and low-wage, inexperienced writers and community managers, it’s a fair assumption that you can expect the following:

  • Mediocre, ineffective content that rarely gets shared or produces conversions
  • A lack of social authority and influence
  • Social postings with poor grammar
  • Social postings that could create a public relations nightmare

Nobody wants that. So you need to hire educated, experienced and influential people. Those people are not cheap. Depending on the size of your company and its needs, that can easily equal hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. And even after that, their activities still may not result in high ROI.

The truth is that many companies (especially SMBs) can spend much less on setting up an effective and ongoing PPC campaign than hire a team to manage their content writing and social media outreach. Not only will it be cheaper, but the conversions will be significantly higher.

The idea that software alone is all a company needs to effectively market its site, as HubSpot execs seem to have suggested to Dan Lyons in a customer anecdote, is simply misleading. And using newspaper ad spend as a comparison metric is irrelevant to the conversation.

HubSpot hypocrisy?

HubSpot’s inbound marketing philosophy eschews traditional and paid marketing. Here’s an excerpt from Inbound Marketing:

“Marketers use a combination of outbound techniques including email blasts, telemarketing, direct mail, TV, radio, and print advertising, and trade shows (or expos) in order to reach their potential buyers. The problem with these traditional marketing techniques is that they have become less effective at spreading the word as people get better at blocking out these interruptions.”

Halligan, Brian; Shah, Dharmesh (2009-10-02). Inbound Marketing: Get Found Using Google, Social Media, and Blogs (New Rules Social Media Series) (p. 3). John Wiley and Sons. Kindle Edition.

PPC is also treated as outbound marketing, unless used to gain keyword and landing page intelligence. So one would assume that if inbound marketing is the panacea of marketing, the marketers at HubSpot would practice what they preach. The opposite seems true.

HubSpot uses PPC

HubSpot says PPC is great for determining keywords that work. If the Spyfu or SEMRush report on HubSpot’s ad spend is correct, then they’re either really confused about what keywords work best for them or PPC is an effective marketing strategy that they’re willing to pay thousands of dollars for each day.

HubSpot has a sales team and does telemarketing

If you’re an SMB or agency, there’s a very good chance you’ve been contacted by a HubSpot salesperson. And by contacted, I mean interrupted by their outbound marketing team.

HubSpot promotes press releases

Paying for and submitting a press release seems very outbound to me. However, HubSpot partners with a press release company and promotes the use of it in their software.

HubSpot helps you track your print and radio campaigns

If your marketing philosophy says print and radio campaigns are basically useless, why would you provide a way to easily track the success of those campaigns? Is it to prove that they suck? Or is it because, if done well, they can be quite effective? I’m thinking the latter.

HubSpot includes email marketing tools

Sending the same email to thousands of people? Not so inbound.

And yet HubSpot incorporates tools to allow its customer to send targeted outbound email marketing.

HubSpot sponsors conferences

Getting leads from trade shows and conferences is yet another frowned-upon outbound tactic, a needle in the haystack approach that wastes money.

But that doesn’t stop HubSpot from sponsoring conferences like this one.

So what’s going on here? Either outbound marketing tactics work, or HubSpot likes building features and blowing their VC money on marketing costs that make no sense to them.

The truth is, there is no one way. Inbound marketing is no better than outbound marketing, and what works for one company may not work for another. HubSpot takes advantage of a variety of options underneath the umbrella of Internet marketing – inbound and outbound.

Inbound bandwagoneers

You’re going to be seeing and hearing a lot more about inbound marketing in the future. This is especially true now that SEOmoz is in the process of very publicly moving away from SEO and shifting towards the term “inbound marketing” in their marketing message. Moz.com is the best example of this.

Personally, I’ve resisted using the term since it was first introduced. We’ve never used it in our marketing copy and I’ve never used it in a presentation. Perhaps I’ll change my mind and start using it if that’s what the industry as a whole starts to use. I mean, I still want to make money – principles be damned!

Regardless, the point is to keep doing complete marketing. Use whatever works for you and helps you make money. In most cases, you’ll find that it’s a combination of different strategies and tactics – outbound and inbound.