Thought Leaders and Failures of Digital Integration: Why I’m Rejecting Inbound Marketing
I had a period of loving Seth Godin, listening to whatever Rand Fishkin said and gulping down The Cluetrain Manifesto. But something wasn’t quite right – if all this Internet was so much more effective as a marketing channel, why did established media remain so big ever since these guys started operating?
Not only has it remained, but established media continues to grow – not diminish! Last year the UK watched a record average of 28 hours a week. It is true that print has been fighting decline since the growth of ‘Web 2.0’ (another buzzword that has been replaced by ‘Social Media’), but broadcast is thriving. How on earth can what funds the majority of TV viewing in Britain – interruptive advertising – be dead as Godin has written on numerous occasions?
Seth Godin is a Very Rich Man
It quickly dawned on me that Seth Godin was made a very rich man via the Internet. Yahoo! Paid $30million for his company YoYodyne and he became VP of Direct Marketing at one of the web’s biggest companies. His form of Permission Marketing made him wealthy, and in marketing circles, famous. He is likely to support an agenda that made him rich, because it worked for him, and now his agenda makes him even wealthier as people continue to buy his books. I’m quite a big fan of Seth’s – without reading four of his books, I don’t think I’d have quite so much belief in trying to change things – but stating ‘old marketing is dead’ is simply flawed. As Steve Harrison notes in his excellent How to do Better Creative Work, Godin mistook a broken discipline for bad execution. ‘Interruptive advertising’, as Godin puts it, relies on good ideas. Godin never makes this point – he just says it’s a wasteful media buy.
HubSpot is Carrying the Inbound Fire
The people carrying Godin’s fire are many, but the people I come across the most are the founders of HubSpot – Dharmesh Shah and Brian Halligan. This is mostly because their overview of Inbound Marketing is regularly quoted by Rand Fishkin (indeed I first the term first from him), and I’ve followed him since I started in the game.
Note: Inbound Marketing has a quote by Seth Godin on the cover, and he’s second on an acknowledgements list that includes a host of people who have similar mantras.
Fundamentally, Inbound Marketing is a fairly basic book. It touches on a broad subject range and can’t do all the disciplines mentioned that much justice. Most of its concepts (they’re not ideas, although grouping them is) are easily found elsewhere (read The One to One Future or The Cluetrain Manifesto for deeper thoughts into how the web can work). Unlike Godin, they don’t make the point that established media is dead. However, much in the same vein, their entire first chapter is devoted to ‘outbound’ tactics (those paid ones) being expensively wasteful against ‘inbound’ ones. They pretty much say outbound is dead without saying it directly.
Rand Fishkin and SeoMoz Killed it for Me (The Irony)
To be honest, I really enjoyed the overall message of Inbound Marketing and couldn’t recommend it more for small business owners. However, I’ve realised that the ‘outbound’ rejection is flawed, and that ‘inbound’ actually is not the path of integration that I think digital marketing needs to follow. Unfortunately Rand Fishkin nailed this on the head for me on two occasions:
1 Everything’s Easier with Fans
The first was at his ‘Everything’s Easier with Fans’ at last year’s Search Love conference – while typically well delivered, it’s fundamental rejection of ‘outbound’ media, in favour of building communities doesn’t make a whole lot of sense for everyone. For the first time, I really didn’t believe in Rand’s argument. What if you sell toothpaste? Or kitchen supplies? Sure you could build a community around those products, but my guess it would be a pretty small one. Books like Groundswell point out a range of online communities that have worked, but no one pointed out the thousands of attempts that have failed. The web is littered with spam filled graveyards, born out of dreams for communities.
2 SEO Has an Image Problem
The second death knell to my faith in inbound came from Rand two weeks ago in his blog The Brand of SEO and the Trend of Inbound Marketing. The post clearly drummed up a lot of debate – and it became apparent that a lot of people in SEO want to reject the mantra of ‘inbound’ for a number of reasons (read the comments for the onslaught). For instance:
- Inbound is just ‘digital marketing’ – it’s another buzzword that will confuse people.
- I’m tired of this holistic view of SEO – my clients pay for rankings.
- We’ve lost our identity!
I doubt many people who reject the term have read the book, but I have begun to feel the sentiment. Those who define themselves as ‘SEO’ have a right to feel cheesed off by thought leaders redefining their role for them, when it might not be how they want to play the game with clients.
I’ve got to say, I agree with Rand’s sentiment on the post – what he puts forth is difficult to argue with in this context. SEO has an image problem.
If you were an alien visiting from space and read enough blogs, you could make the conclusion that SEO is a spam riddled mess of low quality link farms created by snake oil salesman.
That’s hyperbole from within our own industry talking.
But Rand went on Twitter to defend himself and I had to put it to him that outbound methods can contribute to inbound. While Brian Halligan later contributed that he felt this was possible, Rand remained sceptical.
So I rejected inbound for the summarised reasons below:
Five Reasons Why I’ve Rejected Inbound:
- It is largely based around the utopian sentiment similar to The Cluetrain Manifesto and Permission Marketing. Both of these make hyperbole filled rejections of so called ‘traditional’ methods to promote a new agenda.
- Its promoters aim at rejecting paid for ‘interruption marketing’ – indeed Rand bundled interruptive media with spam in this diagram. That just doesn’t ring true.
- ‘Inbound marketing’ does not do a good job in considering markets. It works in selling software to digital natives for Halligan, Shah and Fishkin –‘it worked for me so it’ll work for you.’ It won’t have quite the same effect on my non digital dad.
- The term is a marketing vehicle in itself for HubSpot. Its continued adoption leads to greater fame for a commercial company.
- It does not account for the economies of scale involved in mass media. If there is a good idea executed on multiple sources of paid media, sales often sky rocket.
The Key One: Inbound’s Hyperbole Will Lead to Integration Failure
Most unfortunately, Inbound fails to comprehend the required merging of online and offline into data driven integrated marketing departments, or the integration of media sources. In many companies digital continues to exist as a separate entity to established (outbound, offline, traditional, whatever) marketing and operates in a silo. Inbound does nothing to consolidate the two. I thought it did, and have even created a model that felt could lead to proper integration. However, I think it is a mistake to carry on this mantra since Inbound fundamentally rejects paid media, and thus integration.
Oh Dear… SEO has an Image Problem and Inbound Doesn’t Work
I now leave myself with an identity crisis. I can’t call myself an SEO because that’s not the crux of what I do. I think people who work in SEO can still call themselves SEOs if they wish to – that’s fine – but I don’t think it’ll ever shake the image problem. I can’t call myself an Inbound Marketer because the mantra rejects paid media, which I need to integrate into for my message to be more effective. So what am I?
Well I’m a marketer. I feel pretty integrated already. It’s that simple.
- How and Why SEOs Need to Change – State of Search @paddymoogan
- Inbound Marketing and SEO – Seize Opportunity or Resist Change - Search Engine Watch @andybetts1
- Future of SEO: Change Convergence Collaboration - Search Engine Watch @andybetts1
- Everything’s Easier with Fans – summary of @randfish presentation
- The Brand of SEO and the Trend of Inbound Marketing – SeoMoz @randfish