Is inbound marketing effective – or at least more effective than outbound marketing? Research from HubSpot (who many believe pioneered the term “inbound marketing”) would have you think so. But a new study from Demand Metric in partnership with Act-On Software [download page] comes to a more balanced conclusion.
The report is based on a survey of 131 qualified respondents, 7 in 10 of whom are primarily B2B and reported revenue growth last year, and 8 in 10 of whom have annual sales of less than $100 million. The analysts note that its approach was “not to take a view that inbound and outbound strategies and tactics were on opposite sides of a political divide…” and that “the research did not attempt to ascribe qualities or benefits to either approach, but simply measure them.”
Overall, the vast majority (84%) of respondents agreed that inbound and outbound tactics together drive their business. Just 18% agreed that inbound tactics alone drive their business, and similarly only 14% said the same about outbound.
With efficacy commonly measured by leads, respondents again were equal in their views of inbound and outbound. Some 32% reported that inbound generates more leads, with an equal 32% saying that outbound generates more. The remaining 36% said that these tactics both drove an equal amount of leads (13%) or that they simply don’t know (23%).
Likely as a result, both inbound and outbound have importance to respondent organizations. Given a 10-point scale of importance, respondents rated inbound an average of 7.4 for importance to their organization, and gave outbound a rating of 7.3.
Additionally, there’s relative parity in these tactics as revenue sources and budget destinations:
- Inbound captures an average 44% of budgets and delivers 41% of revenues; while
- Outbound captures an average 48% of budgets and delivers 43% of revenues.
Turning to specific tactics, the study indicates that social (82%) and SEO (82%) are the most commonly used inbound marketing tactics, followed by blogging (60%) and PPC (41%). Among outbound tactics, email (90%) takes precedence, followed by tradeshows/conferences (62%) and press releases/media relations (61%).
While direct mail (33%) is used by fewer firms, there’s reason to believe that it can be among the more effective outbound tactics. Indeed, benchmarks shared with MarketingCharts by the DMA indicate that for B2B organizations, direct mail house files have a median ROI of 18-20%, above the median ROI observed for paid search (8%) and social media ads (9-11%).
Nevertheless, while inbound and outbound marketing appear to have the same relative importance to mid-size B2B firms, inbound seems to have more momentum. Looking ahead to the next 12 months, 58% of respondents said they would be increasing their inbound budgets, compared to 39% planning budget hikes for outbound marketing. Still, the analysts note that “any proclamations that outbound marketing is dead are simply untrue.” Indeed, while inbound marketing may be getting the nod for budget increases, only 15% are cutting back on their outbound marketing spending.