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Does Inbound Marketing Really Work? Experts Weigh in

Inbound marketing is a methodology that has been around since the early 2000s, and, despite its pervasiveness in digital marketing circles, it’s still a mystery for many marketers. Instead, those marketers use traditional marketing tactics, spending heavily on “tried-and-true” tactics—i.e., billboard buys, radio spots, TV commercials, direct mailing, etc.—but fail to gather any true performance data or measure any real ROI.

Sure, digital marketers are often guilty of looking for the newest, shiniest idea, but it begs the question: Does inbound marketing actually work? For Lean Labs inbound marketing guru Ryan White, the answer is simple: “It works. Period.”

For some, this is enough justification. But others need a little more convincing, and we’re here to provide that comfort, straight from the experts.

First, What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a digital marketing methodology that uses SEO, high-quality content, and lead generation and nurturing tactics to establish your organization as credible and authoritative in your field. It also keeps you top of mind when potential customers are ready to take action.

Put simply, “At its core, inbound is anything that provides a tremendous amount of value to your target customer without asking anything from them in return,” explains communications professional David Newton.

So, Does Inbound Marketing Work?

In our experience, yes! It absolutely does! But that’s what you’d expect us to say. So, we gathered perspectives from industry experts to help us provide you with objective answers to the question.

Expert opinion #1: “Yes, Look at Your own Buying habits”

Sometimes, your personal experiences are the first place to look for tangible examples. Foxtail Marketing recommends considering the marketing tactics that resonate best with you and apply them to your target audience.

Think about it: How many times have you immediately purchased a product after watching the commercial for it on TV? How many billboards have inspired you to sign up for a new service, or travel somewhere new? Probably not often. Those tactics are simply too broad to resonate at the individual level.

Inbound marketing isn’t a quick fix. But it does drive higher-quality leads and a better ROI.

In contrast, how many times have you purchased a product online after reading several positive reviews about it? How often do you pick the best answer to your question from SERPs, regardless of what the source is? Yeah, so do we.

In fact, that behavior closely reflects the habits of most consumers today. According to Hubspot, 81 percent of shoppers research a product online before making a purchase. Further, 65 percent of smartphone users agree that they look for the most relevant answers to their questions, regardless of who’s providing the information when conducting a mobile search.

Inbound marketing was created to address the evolution of user behavior online, so it only makes sense that it would have a higher probability of working for your target audience as well.

Expert opinion #2: “Yes, But you have to have a plan”

One of the common misconceptions of outbound marketing is that you see an impact quickly and it requires less continuous grunt work. Sounds perfect, right? Well, according to Hubspot’s 2017 State of Inbound Report, 68 percent of industry professionals using an inbound marketing strategy believe it works, while 52 percent of industry professionals with an outbound strategy believe it doesn’t work. In other words, companies that invest the time to understand and implement inbound marketing strategies are more frequently finding the results they’re seeking.

Your inbound marketing strategy can work really well for the growth of your company, but you must have a “clear idea of your goals and the methods taken to accomplish them,” says Anthony Jones, vice president and inbound marketing strategist at Quora. One of the challenges with inbound is that you’ll likely have to test and refine your goals, but the big payoff is you’ll have a much better ROI because you’re continuously optimizing for what your audience wants.

Expert Opinion #3: “Yes, but maybe not as fast as you’d like”

Some companies will give inbound marketing a shot—they’ll produce high-quality content, optimize their social media sharing strategy, and refine their brand messaging, and a month or two into it, neither site traffic nor number of leads changes.

Darin Berntson, the founder and chief remarkable officer at Bernco Media, compared the drive necessary to make inbound marketing work to a new diet or workout routine: “Do you give up on your new diet because you do not see the immediate results? Did you not realize that you must do certain things every day, or you will not see the results you want to achieve?

In other words, inbound marketing isn’t going to be a quick fix for your marketing strategy. Inbound as a methodology requires a deep understanding of consumer behavior, which then earns credibility for your product or service, resulting in a consumer’s trust in your brand. These aren’t things that can be mastered overnight, and it may take a bit longer to see a return on your investment, but once you have a better grasp on it, you’ll see strong growth in high-quality leads.

Expert Opinion #4: “Yes, You can do more with your budget”

Let’s talk numbers. Inbound marketing generates 54 percent more leads than traditional marketing tactics, according to The Growth Company. Further, leads generated from inbound marketing strategies cost 61 percent less on average than outbound leads, according to Impact.

More leads at a lower cost means a few things: First, you already have a higher ROI with inbound strategies, but it also leaves room for you to utilize leftover budget that would normally be use on outbound strategies. You can use that extra cash to revamp your site with growth-driven web design, or use it for a paid amplification strategy to build traffic to the site. The old saying goes, “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket,” and inbound marketing helps you avoid doing just that.

Does Inbound Marketing Work? Yes or No?

Yes. Inbound marketing really works … if you’re willing to put in the time and effort. Unfortunately, when outbound marketing isn’t working the way you want it to, there’s no fast and easy way to remedy it because you only know it didn’t work after you’ve paid for your placements and counted your leads. Sometimes you’re even stuck in non-negotiable contracts for additional outbound services, making it impossible for you to change course before the term is up.

Inbound is all about creating content that informs, empowers, and attracts current and potential customers. It requires patience, creativity, and clever optimization before seeing results, but sticking with it will help you build a better, stronger marketing strategy.

If inbound sounds like it might be the right fit for you, check out our selection of inbound marketing blog posts that illustrate how it can help build brand awareness, drive site performance, and help with recruiting.

Nora Allen

Nora's appreciation of good storytelling leaks not only into her work at Olive, but also her love for music and food that's too good for words. When she isn't working hard on the Olive blog, you can find Nora geeking out about keyword research and SEO.