HubSpot’s annual report of inbound marketing and sales trends provides an overview of how companies are using inbound strategy and content marketing. The results provide interesting insight into the ongoing evolution of the modern marketing ecosystem.
The sixth annual report contains data gleaned from more than 3,500 marketing and sales professionals surveyed, to uncover what marketing strategies and tactics they are using. one of the things I found so compelling is the diverse audience composition. You might assume that a Hubspot survey would be comprised of mostly Hubspot customers, but in fact the audience was a solid mix altogether: customers and non-customers, B2B and B2C, marketing and sales, as well as company size, industry vertical and job level.
What does Hubspot mean by “inbound” marketing?
Inbound marketing, a phrase coined by Hubspot back in 2006, is defined as “a methodology that focuses on creating quality content that pulls people toward your company and product.” It’s essentially pull marketing, as opposed to push marketing (cold calling, tradeshows, purchased lists etc. or outbound marketing as Hubspot likes to call it). As a philosophy, inbound marketing shares much in common with content marketing and the report even deals with the debate (see pp. 12-13, 25). Modern marketers that neither subscribe to Hubspot nor use the “inbound marketing” vernacular will definitely find the report completely relevant and enlightening. The 54-page report contains a wealth of interesting statistics and findings, but several rise to the top as key takeaways from the research. Here are 10 key takeaways that stand out:
1. The use of inbound marketing methodologies continues to rise
The methodology and approach of inbound is rapidly picking up steam. In fact, the number of marketers who state they are practicing inbound rose from 60% last year to 85% this year, while the percentage of marketers who concede they don’t practice an inbound approach was nearly halved to 13%. I won’t get into the debate over the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing, however it’s clear that as buyers are evolving, marketers are adapting an attraction-based approach to marketing using online and social as primary channels and educational content as the magnet.
2. Budgets for inbound marketing activities are up
As more and more companies shift their budgets away from more traditional, interruption-based methods, it makes sense that inbound marketing related budgets are up for companies across the board. In fact, more than 5 times as many marketers reported higher budgets that claimed budgets had been cut this year. And the majority of B2B companies surveyed are experiencing steady or increasing budgets, with 74% reporting the same or increased budget in this year.
3. Past success greatly impacts future budgets
As you would imagine, companies that have had success investing in inbound methodologies are more likely to get more money to spend on inbound activities. According to the research, no single factor has a greater impact on increased budgets more than previous success with inbound marketing. More than 50% surveyed stated past success as the number one factor influencing a positive change in budget.
4. Inbound is becoming a primary source for lead generation
Inbound marketing continues to drive more and more leads and overtake outbound marketing as a primary source for lead generation. In 2014, half of marketers (B2B, B2C, and nonprofit) ranked inbound as their primary lead source, exceeding the average (42%) of all other channels combined. And more than twice as many respondents cited inbound (45%) as their primary source of leads versus outbound (22%). In fact, outbound marketing as a primary lead source dropped sharply in this year’s survey, from 34% down to 22%.
5. Proving ROI remains a top challenge for modern marketers
Of all the challenges that marketers cited, proving ROI was the only challenge that did not see a decrease, instead climbing to nearly 30%. Other challenges such as securing adequate budgets, managing the website and hiring the right people have all decreased over the last year. It’s understandable that proving ROI is a top concern, especially if companies have made considerable investments over the last few years, and leadership wants to see the fruits of their labor.
6. Marketers that measure ROI are seeing greater results
Interestingly, there’s a very strong correlation between simply measuring ROI and actually achieving it. Marketers that measure inbound ROI are 17 times more likely to see the same or greater ROI over the previous year than marketers that don’t. And only 53% of marketers measured ROI in 2014—a slight 3% increase over 2013. As Peter Drucker famously quipped, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it,” so in order to optimize your efforts and realize higher ROI, measuring inbound activity is essential.
7. Increasing the quantity of leads is the top marketing priority
You can never have enough leads, right? Although marketers consider demonstrating ROI as their top challenge, the number one marketing priority is lead generation (24%) followed closely by lead conversion (21%). As the lines between marketing and sales continue to blur, marketing teams are under more pressure to generate leads and assist with nurturing those leads into qualified leads that can be handed off to the sales team for closing.
8. Inbound leads are consistently more knowledgeable about your company
According to the survey results, inbound-sourced leads are consistently more knowledgeable about a company prior to speaking with a sales or business development representative than leads that originate through outbound means. Research from the Corporate Executive Board Company found that today’s B2B buyers go through nearly 60% of the purchasing process before ever talking to sales. So this makes the role of content and inbound marketing efforts critical to engaging prospects before they engage you and providing the information they are searching for.
9. Blogging is the single activity most commonly associated with success
The benefits of blogging are universally known and blogs are a primary component of nearly every content marketing and online marketing program that leverages inbound methodologies. But in spite of the shear growth of blogs and content in general, blogging remains a powerhouse of inbound, generating more ROI than any other single inbound activity or tactic. According to the report, marketers who have prioritized blogging are 13 times more likely to experience positive ROI.
10. Non-profits are benefiting from inbound
While B2B seems to primarily get the inbound spotlight, non-profit organizations are seeing incredible results. Non-profits are seeing inbound (58%) is responsible for procuring nearly twice as many leads as the roll-up of all other channels (31%). And in addition to non-profits’ success using inbound for lead generation, they also outperform B2B and B2C companies in ROI growth.
There are a lot of interesting finds in the State of Inbound 2014 Report, but these 10 seem to stand out. Inbound marketing methodology (and everything associated with it) is not simply a fad or the flavor of the month; rather it’s a fundamental shift in marketing in response to today’s changing buyer. What other findings stood out to you? Download the free 54-page State of Inbound 2014 Report from Hubspot (registration required)