Tech PR: Why Inbound Marketing May Be the Next Wave of PR
If you live and work outside the realm of tech PR, the chances are you’re not all that familiar with names like Pardot, Eloqua, Marketo and HubSpot. These four companies are among the leading players in the inbound marketing (IM) arena, an industry that has doubled in size annually every year since 2009 and at last count stood at $325 million. While that’s still a tiny figure compared to ad and PR industry revenue, and inbound marketing firms at this writing primarily cater to technology companies, if you’re in the “traditional” PR business you’re well advised to watch out. These guys could end up eating your lunch.
Change is coming. Why that is: (1) the ongoing collapse of traditional media; (2) the continuing bad economy; (3) unrelenting pressure on corporate marketing budgets; and (4) alternate media channels that offer direct access to customers without the usual third party intermediary.
It’s a chain reaction. As former stalwarts of the media realm continue to implode, those with advertising/marketing/PR dollars question of the value of these outlets’ influence and scale back their investments, accelerating media’s downward spin. Concerned about a stagnant economy’s impact on growth now through 2013 and beyond, companies are downsizing marketing departments and budgets, and for what remains they demand strict accountability and solid ROI. Advocates of inbound marketing argue that they’ve found a highly-cost effective alternative to classic corp comm programs like advertising and PR.
Why the appeal: the ability to create channels that let a company directly access and work with customers. Typical all-in-one packages include SEO, a blog platform, content management system, website call to action and landing pages, email marketing, marketing automation (lead nurturing), lead scoring and grading, and marketing analytics — at tiered levels of retainer, either month-to-month or by annual contract. Essentially, once a company embraces inbound marketing it can perfect and continuously tune its SEO, convert blind traffic to known sales leads, qualify the leads, launch tailored campaigns, monitor the behavior of each lead and interact as needed, and — the payoff — move the prospect through the sales funnel to the closing.
What IM doesn’t do: content or content strategy. There you’re on your own or reliant on agency resources, as per usual.
Put yourself in the shoes of Jane Marketing Director. With a limited and seemingly ever-declining budget, where are you putting your bucks — with vendors who track impressions and hit counts, or with those that claim the power to show you the money?
This week I had the pleasure of speaking at length with the marketing director at a mid-sized ($300M per year revenue) tech company on the West Coast, who explained his decision to opt for an inbound marketing solution to juice his lead generation and sales. He opened the conversation with a statement I’ll never forget:
“Jim, customers in every business are shopping without us.”
What he meant, and this is true worldwide across every business: Whether they’re in the market for a car, a bicycle or a laptop, customers do all their research on the product and competing offers well before they reach out and buy. They’ve done their homework via the Internet and have already reached a decision — without you. If the only tool you use to track and manage web site performance is Google Analytics or even Google Webmaster Tools, you are completely blind to how this conversion process evolves, ignorant of who’s checking you out, and for that matter only passively engaged in converting the prospect into a customer. In sum, you’re losing opportunities and business.
Where I see this trend heading:
- More hybrid agencies that focus on providing IM — with advertising, PR, direct mail and web design thrown in as ancillary services. Early models: PR 20/20, Kuno Creative and IMPACT Marketing.
- More companies shifting marketing investments to IM.
- More traditional PR agencies adding IM capabilities to drive their own lead generation process — and add this capability to the service portfolio for clients.
Personally, I prefer to eat my own lunch without assistance. I’m taking door #3. When asked by clients, “Did you make this sale happen or not?” I like to answer in the affirmative.
Jim Crawford is the president and founder of Crawford PR. In Crawford blogs, he offers hard-earned perspective on public relations for the tech and broadband industries.