By Sandy Moore

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 has the evolution of inbound marketing changed over the years?

First, Some History of Inbound Marketing

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.

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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. Therefore, both marketing and sales tactics needed to evolve to meet the needs of the customer.

The Internet Impact

Although marketing was becoming more personalized to align with customers and their place in the buyer’s 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, and Twitter in 2006. And by 2010, mobile was already showing signs of changing the digital landscape forever.

As the internet evolved and 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 Marketing Today and Beyond

Today, inbound marketing has evolved beyond just using relevant content to cater to consumers through each stage of the buyer’s journey. Inbound marketing now encompasses predictive analytics and artificial intelligence to allow companies to learn more, faster and to deliver an even better, more personalized experience. Customers have come to expect a high level of personalization and even more meaningful experiences as they interact with businesses online. Therefore, it has never been more important to align the marketing, sales, and service departments within an organization to fulfill consumers’ needs and demands. 

In the years to come, we will continue to see a change in the way people communicate, shop, and interact with one another online. HubSpot’s 2022 State of Inbound Marketing Trends shared that social media is the top marketing channel, and Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook are the top three social media platforms marketers use. The demand for the types of content has also evolved with the growth of social media platforms and the length of people’s attention spans. As part of an overall inbound marketing strategy, video content and podcasts have proven to be more engaging and successful media formats in recent years.

The evolution of inbound marketing has continued to benefit the consumer and will continue to do so in the years to come. Consumers will demand personalized content and ways to engage with businesses and online communities like they never have before. The advancement of chats, community groups, and knowledge-based sharing will provide transparent communication to elevate the buying experience. According to HubSpot, the future of inbound marketing is bright, and digital audiences will continue to seek out brands that are authentic, transparent, and innovative.

This post was originally written by Chaviva Gordon-Benett in October 2018 and has been updated since.

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Sandy Moore

About the author

Sandy Moore is a Senior Director, Marketing Strategy at SmartBug Media. She has more than 20 years of experience in marketing with extensive knowledge in outbound and inbound marketing, advertising sales, promotions, public relations, and sales enablement. Read more articles by Sandy Moore.

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