Inbound Marketing Celebrates 4,000th Anniversary

Jeff Winsper HeadshotJeff Winsper, President, Black Ink


News flash everybody. Inbound marketing is so old school. Some claim even back to the 11th century BC. I was being generous in my headline.

I get a chuckle when B2B marketing practitioners glom onto a fancy new name for some marketing principle that has been around for thousands of years. Then everybody rallies the wagons and wails on the bugles as if there some new magical way to create demand for consumers. Inbound marketing is in effect the same principle as “pull marketing.” Of course, we remember the classic “push, pull marketing” from our marketing 101 class. I’ll frame up the situation as a refresher to make the point.

In simple terms, pull marketing is when a company invests money to entice consumers with pictures, words, speech, and other various forms of content to drive consumption of a particular product or service back through its distribution channel. Sometimes this also referred to as “sell through.”

Push marketing is otherwise known as “pushing” a particular product/service towards the consumer but through an intermediary marketing channel. This is also commonly referred to as “sell in”

Consider this. In B2B that sells direct to a consumer/customer there is no intermediary. A prospect must eventually engage with a sales person to help convert the commercial transaction (unless there is an e-Commerce model where no human intervention is required). The sales force is the distribution channel.

So is the role of the contemporary direct salesforce model the marketing push or the marketing pull? They are playing the role of both. And what about the people who create the content to help entice demand? Well, that could be either the individual sales person or a marketing communications staffer developing content. They are both equally responsible for pushing and pulling the product. According to many studies, the weighted importance of capturing market share places the distribution channel “push” as high as 75% of the success. Here is research that places it around 50%. So why does marketing get so confused about its role when understanding the role of the distribution channel (i.e. the salesforce)?

One theory is the notion on how digital platforms have provided a much broader reach to target the market. Or maybe it is because there so many new marketing communications channels at the consumer/customer’s disposal. Some pundits claim there are now 60-plus marketing communications options. But it doesn’t matter if it is one, or hundreds. They all still play the same role in the “pull marketing” principle. Granted, it may be harder to manage all of them, especially in the sequence of delivering content to accelerate the AIDA model (awareness, interest, desire, action) — or many derivatives of the same concept.

The fancy new term of inbound marketing, coined by HubSpot, is nothing more than creating content (like words and pictures), the have that content “pushed” through various web-based marketing channels, blogs, social and email. The genius of it all is how they twisted the story to make sales and marketing people believe this is a whole new principle of marketing. It isn’t. It is still pull-based marketing — just using new techniques leveraging Web 2.0 channels.

Here is where I find four interesting points:

First, most content still needs to get pushed out through owned and paid channels to create the pull. SEM, email, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other various forms of Web 2.0 channels are no different than advertising, direct mail, and digital bull horns. The biggest variable to make it all a success is the search engines algorithms that can create a butterfly effect to deliver the content to an optimal location to be discovered, and shared back through the eco-system. This of course could be argued as the purest form of on page, earned content that can be discovered by consumers — but it isn’t magic. It still requires labor and pull based principles.

Secondly, with so much content being created today at record rates, do consumers feel that the white noise is at the same disruptive level that the inbound marketing concept was trying to avoid in the first place? With the average attention span decreasing to about eight seconds, this massive content push is creating havoc and perhaps the consumer anti-marketing defense mechanism may soon be kicking in.

Thirdly, even HubSpot caved in and realized that investing in traditional, disruptive outbound sales and marketing was required to grow their business. I guess Paul Farris was right afterall.

Fourthly, I write this article using inbound content techniques to help drive tons of qualified leads for Black Ink, just like the experts claim. Maybe I’m naive to think inbound marketing is vastly different than pull marketing. Let’s put it to the test. I’ll anxiously wait for the phone to ring.

So happy birthday inbound marketers! Just don’t blow out the candles.


Jeff Winsper, President of Black Ink, offers more than 20 years of leadership experience in marketing, serving companies ranging from Fortune 500 to start ups. His deep experience generated the insight that companies – in particular mid-sized enterprises – are lacking the foundation of proper big data analytics to measure marketing’s performance. Prior to launching Black Ink, Jeff founded marketing agency Winsper, part of Worldwide Partners, with 137 offices in 54 countries.