For more than 10 years, the success of inbound marketing technology has been growing gradually and steadily, inexorably gaining the trust of insiders, who choose it for its ability to create brand awareness and for the greater opportunities that its techniques offer to generate traffic, leads, and conversions. It’s a success that has happened even at the expense of outbound marketing. Recently, however, there has been a lot of talk in the marketing community about how inbound is no longer as effective as it once was. The main sources of access to a company’s site— organic (natural Google results or other search engines), visits from social networks, visits from referrals (sites with links and banners)—are sending less and less traffic, and the promotion of community content is no longer generating the expected referrals.
Even HubSpot admitted that the Inbound approach is experiencing some difficulties due to a physiological adjustment of the web and digital media in general.
Of course, none of this automatically means that inbound is going to disappear, just as those who predicted the end of outbound proved to be hasty and incorrect. In this post, we will review the reasons that are testing the resilience of inbound mechanisms, and we will talk about a completely new way to make new solutions work.
Let’s talk about trust
In the report, The Hard Truth About Acquisition Costs (and How Your Customers Can Save You) the General Manager of Service Hub at HubSpot, Michael Redbord writes: “Trust in businesses is eroding, and so is patience. Marketing and sales are getting harder, and the math behind most companies’ acquisition strategy is simply unworkable. The best point of leverage you have to combat these changes? An investment in customer service.”
In a survey carried out in 2018 in the United States and the United Kingdom, HubSpot identified a trend that looks set to intensify, also in Europe:
- 81% of respondents trust the advice of their friends and family more than that of a company;
- 55% of respondents have lost trust in companies compared to the past;
- 65% of respondents do not trust company press releases;
- 69% of respondents do not trust advertisements;
- 71% of respondents do not trust sponsored ads on social networks.
The rapid spread of misinformation, concerns about how online companies collect and use personal data, and a flood of branded content contribute to a fundamental change: consumers no longer trust companies or at best, they trust them, but with more reservation. Consumers are becoming more impatient, more demanding, and more independent.
It’s a fact. It’s becoming more difficult to acquire customers and there are a number of reasons for this: the internet, which has radically transformed the traditional go-to-market strategy, is changing objectives and methodologies.
Inbound marketing technology accelerates business growth through a repeatable formula: create a website, create search-optimized content that references gated content, use potential customers’ contact information to direct them to purchase. The model still works, but the market is experiencing four trends that, combined, have made it harder for growing companies to compete with established companies with better resources.
Trend 1: Google is re-appropriating its traffic
Much of modern marketing depends on online search. Google has made significant changes in recent years, introducing the featured snippets and “People also Ask” boxes with which it is capitalizing on its traffic. Featured snippets are designed to extract information and display it on the SERP itself: clicking on the original news, hosted on another website, may then become superfluous. “People also Ask” boxes show questions related to the user’s original search, live on the SERP and are expandable with a click. Each time they are expanded, Google adds 2-4 queries to the end of the list, multiplying the possible sources of information you can use to find answers to related questions.
Google also continues to change the criteria for displaying the SERP, and as a result, organic results tend to drop lower and lower each time with the risk of disappearing on a mobile device.
Trend 2: Social media are “walled gardens”
A decade ago, social media was a promotional channel that tended to be a linear path between users and the company. The boundaries between different sites were fluid: people discovered content on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. With one click, the user could be transferred to expanded content, which was usually hosted on another brand site.
Today, social media is another form of walled garden, whose algorithms have been rewritten to favor on-site content created specifically for that platform. These changes reflect companies’ desire to keep their audience on their sites by monetizing their traffic.
It is no longer sufficient to create content for the company’s site and then promote it through channels that refer to that content. Brand ideas must be both channel-agnostic and channel-specific. To allow a piece of content to travel along the entire digital constellation, its concept must be clear, distinctive, and at the same time, available in different versions in order to best fit the channel on which it is displayed.
Trend 3: The cost of marketing
The barriers to entry for content delivery platforms are increasing for two main reasons:
- An increase in organic acquisition costs. According to ProfitWell, overall customer acquisition costs (CAC) are steadily increasing for B2B and B2C companies. Over the past five years, total CAC increased by almost 50%. Although paid CAC is still higher than content marketing (organic) CAC, organic costs are rising rapidly.
- Wages of marketers are increasing. Not only is it more difficult to get value from content, but it is also more expensive to create it. Google’s changing algorithm requires more specialized knowledge than ever before because it favors sites designed using the topic cluster model.
Trend 4: The introduction of GDPR and new limits to data marketing
The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) approved by the European Union (EU) regulates the acquisition, storage, management, and processing of personal data of EU citizens:
- Companies that collect data must explicitly state how the data will be used and may only acquire what is strictly necessary for the stated purpose;
- companies may use such data only for the purposes specified and store it in accordance with GDPR provisions;
- companies may retain personal data only for the time necessary to fulfil the intended purpose of its collection;
- EU citizens may request that companies delete their personal data at any time.
GDPR, adopted on April 27, 2016 and operational since May 25, 2018, increases regulations for the way companies interact with consumers globally. It is a set of measures that increase security in the management of European citizens’ personal data, but at the same time, it limits how marketers can operate.
Convince the consumers? Increasingly difficult, even in Italy
Let us now try to combine the four trends we have described to arrive at a synthesis: Based on the four trends above, we know that:
- It’s getting harder and harder for companies to distinguish themselves in a digital scenario that is more crowded than ever before
- It is increasingly expensive to find talent and produce content
- Algorithmic changes will require increasing investment to develop an effective multichannel marketing strategy.
- It becomes increasingly complex for a company to attract and retain potential customers on its touchpoints.
And in Italy? An article by Economia&Finanza from the newspaper La Repubblica reports an interesting fact, contained in the Conad Census report: 17 million Italians have decided not to buy something out of lack of confidence in the manufacturer. This choice, that of forgoing a purchase, affects 40.5% of 18 to 34 year olds.
In addition to the attitude of doubt or mistrust towards brands, the article mentions two other items:
- Axios reports that the jobs of the future will be those of editor in chief of corporate media, content editor, and content producer;
- The global ranking of the most beloved brands in the Global RepTrak 2019, makes it clear that, in order to beat the competition when it comes to consumer choices, companies must be able to make the best possible use of their unique cultural heritage, which influences purchasing decisions.
This evidence would contribute to and redefine the relationship between consumer and brand, moving up the content bar, the real fuel of the inbound methodology. Content—useful, appropriate, respectful, chosen by the user at the right time and in the right place—is no longer enough. It must be enriched with a further sense, to show the roots and design the future, and to interweave these with a customer’s one’s own experience. In essence, content must become personal.
The secret? Consumers!
We see a glimmer of hope in an article by HubSpot: the “salvation” of inbound (and marketing) passes through consumer satisfaction. To enhance the Customer Experience so that customers grow with the brand, we must first take into account one unequivocal fact: the two sources of information that people rely on when making a purchase decision are word of mouth and other customers’ reviews. Purchasing decisions are less about official descriptions and messages from the Brand, or even its most inspirational advertising, and more about testimonials and positive experiences shared on social networks, case studies, referrals, and customer references during the purchase process. For this we have three suggestions:
- Make sure companies fully understand the breadth and depth of customers’ questions and their resolution on all channels, interacting in a clear, simple and immediate way;
- Transform the relationship with customers from reactive and transactional to collaborative and proactive. It’s no longer just simple support but a real investment in the success of the customer. This means anticipating common problems and challenges and mobilizing the necessary resources to prevent them, for example by redesigning the offer to make it more intuitive.
- Activate the customer base to help them become brand advocates, engaging them in social proof, brand amplification, and referral actions.
To conclude, let’s return to Global RepTrak’s 2019 report, which highlights that, as the economic, digital, and cultural context becomes more complicated, a company’s history and reputation matter, accounting for 67% of influence, compared to 33% for the product itself. This means that the consumer overcomes his resistance only in the face of the company’s ability to communicate its value system in a coherent and convincing way, reconstructing its history from a shared and recognizable heritage. Every organization is called upon to equip itself with a public image that can be shared by its consumers, where they can enter into their own world within a brand to find a place in their personal narratives.
For this reason the windows of social and websites, both institutional and product-based, are not enough: it is necessary to create an authentic profile through which the individual experiences of consumers are linked to the imagination of the company.