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Why Inbound is No Longer a Selling Point for Marketing Agencies

May 6, 2020 3 min read


There are thousands of companies that consider themselves inbound marketing agencies, and that number is growing all the time.

If you’re looking for help with inbound marketing, there are plenty of businesses you can talk to.

As a HubSpot partner agency, I can tell you that even five years ago, we were all calling ourselves “inbound agencies.” We were thrilled by the possibility of helping customers reach their audiences without being disruptive.

Now, many of those same agencies are evolving their services and positioning.


Because following the inbound methodology isn’t always enough to drive real growth today. And if you’re thinking of partnering with an agency that focuses solely on inbound, you could be missing out on opportunities.

Here’s why offering inbound marketing is no longer a major selling point for agencies. But first, a quick history lesson.

A brief history of inbound marketing

The term “inbound marketing” was coined over a decade ago by Brian Halligan, co-founder and CEO of HubSpot. Halligan saw the need for a different approach to marketing, one that was helpful and customer-focused rather than pushy and interruptive.

Before inbound, many marketing tactics were solidly “outbound.” That is, they relied on mass messaging to a wide—and often disengaged—audience. We’re talking commercials, telemarketing, direct mail, and email blasts. Customers got really good at blocking out all of these interruptive marketing and sales tactics.   

Then, in 2009, Brian Halligan wrote Inbound Marketing, the first ever guide to success with the inbound methodology. Over the past decade, marketers everywhere have embraced this methodology and used it to attract, convert, close, and delight customers.     

What Halligan and HubSpot created, in addition to internet marketing software, was a movement. The concept of inbound helped fundamentally change the way marketers think about what they do.

The concepts behind inbound marketing are just as relevant today as ever. So why have marketing agencies moved beyond simply inbound?  

The lines are blurred

Ben Jacobson put it perfectly over at Marketing Land:

“As awareness of HubSpot and inbound marketing has spread over the past decade, lines between inbound and plain old online marketing sometimes blurred. The idea that companies need to publish great, helpful content to attract and nurture an audience is no longer revolutionary. Outbound marketing has become more inbound, and vice versa.”

HubSpot’s original vision of changing the way we think about marketing has proved to be so spot-on that the world went ahead and adopted it.

But here’s how it’s changed. We used to think of inbound marketing as a way to be on the cutting edge. Now, it’s considered standard practice. Inbound marketing isn’t less effective today; marketers just need to change their approach. The marketing landscape has become more inbound across the board, so we can no longer rely on organic acquisition the way we once could.  

Inbound in today’s marketing landscape  

Inbound marketing can still be incredibly effective today. But it takes strategy, flexibility, and patience to make it work.

For example, content is a classic inbound marketing tactic. But expecting to attract massive amounts of organic website traffic with content alone won’t work. Promotion through a variety of channels is needed to drive true results. The promotion part may feel a little outbound, but with hyper-focused targeting, the technology and methods can have a distinct inbound feel.

Content is just one example, but every classic inbound tactic has grown more complex—and outbound tactics have gotten more inbound.

Hire an agency focused on growth

With that, we arrive at the reason inbound marketing is no longer a selling point for agencies: It’s because the inbound message is engrained in every aspect of digital marketing today.

So yes, your marketing agency had better help you with inbound. The methodology should be baked into each strategy and campaign they create for you.

But ultimately, you should be working with an agency that’s focused on achieving growth and meeting your goals, whatever that means. Your agency should have the skills and experience to recommend and execute the right campaigns to drive the results you need, whether the tactics fall squarely into the category of “inbound” or not.

That’s why so many agencies have started disassociating with the term “inbound marketing agency”; it’s almost too narrow for the value they bring to the table. Today, more agencies are helping not just with marketing, but with sales and service, too. They’re helping companies optimize the entire customer journey.

So, while inbound is still effective and relevant, look deeper when searching for a marketing partner. Find an agency that can help you drive business growth from marketing to sales and beyond.

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This post was originally published March 15, 2019