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Inbound marketing is more than a buzzword. It’s a way of life for marketers, and it’s undoubtedly the most effective form of marketing used today. The question is, where did inbound marketing come from? And how did it evolve into the marketing powerhouse it is now?
First, Some History
Before the arrival of the inbound methodology, marketing and advertising were almost completely outbound. According to Peter F. Drucker, the patriarch of modern business and marketing, inbound marketing took root as far back as the mid-1850s when Cyrus Hall McCormick, who invented the mechanical harvester, used market research to develop inbound methods for generating consumer interest in what was then a radical evolution in farming. Then, in 1888, Richard W. Sears and Alvah Roebuck did something similar when they published a catalog that quickly grew from 80 to more than 300 pages over just a few years. This catalog served as a powerful sales tool because it allowed Sears and Roebuck to cheaply and easily capture information about thousands and thousands of customers.
By the 1950s and ’60s, market research took hold, which allowed marketers to collect information on their customers’ interests and habits. Not only did this information let marketers create more pointed campaigns and better understand their consumers’ buying journeys, but it also made consumers feel more involved in the sales process. The result of these advances was a quick rise in interruptive outbound marketing in the form of billboards, door-to-door sales, TV and radio commercials, print ads, and—perhaps the most dreaded medium of all—cold calling.
By the 1970s, Drucker’s fundamentals on marketing were growing in popularity. Drucker believed that customer orientation and market segmentation were at the core of a powerful marketing strategy. He knew that the point of marketing was to “know and understand the customer so well that the product and service fits him and sells itself.” Furthermore, Drucker believed that, with the right method of marketing, all a business needs to do is make a product or service available so that “logistics rather than salesmanship” are what seals the deal.
The Internet Impact
Although marketing was becoming more and more personalized to align with customers and their place in the buying journey, the internet came along and flipped marketing on its head. The first search engine launched in 1995; SEO was coined in 1997; PPC advertising took hold in 2000. Then, social media took off—LinkedIn was founded in 2002, Facebook in 2004, YouTube in 2005, Twitter in 2006. And by 2010 mobile was already showing signs of changing the digital landscape forever.
As the internet became more ubiquitous, consumer habits changed drastically—and businesses needed to adapt to survive. Consumers wanted to be marketed to, not marketed at, which meant creating powerful, personalized user experiences that made sense for each individual consumer at each stage of their unique Buyer's Journey.
And this is where we arrive at the official birth of “inbound marketing” as a strategy, as well as HubSpot, the brand synonymous with this methodology.
In 2004, Brian Halligan, Dharmesh Shah, and David Meerman Scott were students at MIT when they realized that the disruptive and interruptive forms of outbound marketing were no longer viable. Soon after, Halligan and Shah founded HubSpot (Meerman Scott joined the board in 2007) in order to help businesses evolve — and to help businesses start treating customers like people, not names and numbers on a list. HubSpot became a powerful platform, offering thought leadership, certifications, tutorials, and more on the inbound marketing methodology.
Inbound Today and Beyond
Today, inbound marketing is focused on using relevant content that is catered to consumers throughout each stage of the buying journey. This ensures not only that leads are moving through the funnel to become customers, but also that consumers are receiving the most personalized, meaningful experience possible. With inbound marketing, consumers find brands through search engines, social media, and blog articles.
The possibilities with inbound marketing are endless—especially with the rise of predictive analytics and artificial intelligence, which allow companies to learn more, faster, and to deliver an even better, more personalized experience. And this, according to HubSpot’s CEO Brian Halligan, is the future of inbound marketing: Brands that have websites with extreme and continual personalization in which returning users feel more and more like the experience is catered specifically and uniquely to them. According to inbound marketing methodology, this extreme personalization is what will streamline and perfect the sales process—and deliver on Drucker’s dictum that by knowing and understanding a customer well enough, the product or service can simply sell itself.