The History of Inbound Marketing and Why It's Here to Stay

By Shelley. September 17, 2019.

Topics: Inbound Marketing Strategy

In the marketing and startup worlds, "inbound" has become such a buzzword that we may not even remember a time when we weren't talking about it. But where did inbound marketing as we know it come from? And why is it here to stay?

Highway Signpost with Inbound Marketing wording on Sky Background.

Early Examples of Inbound Techniques

You can find examples of inbound marketing principles going back to the 19th century. In fact, Tiffany & Co. published and distributed their Blue Book in 1845. It provided subscribers with the information they needed to pick the products they wanted. No cold calling or door-to-door salesmen, just information beautifully presented.


In the mid-1850s, the inventor of the mechanical harvester used market research to develop inbound-style methods for generating consumer interest in what was a radical evolution in farming.


Sears and Roebuck did something similar when they began publishing their catalog in 1888. The catalog enabled Sears and Roebuck to cheaply and easily capture information about thousands of customers. It is almost as if the company was 100+ years ahead of the gated content marketing game!


By the 1960s, market research took hold allowing for the collection of information on customers' interests and habits. From this more pointed ad campaigns could be developed because marketers had a better understanding of the buyer’s journey. These changes resulted in the rise of interruptive outbound marketing.


Businessman and marketing guru Peter Drucker believed customer orientation and market segmentation were at the core of any powerful marketing strategy. He said, "The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.“


Drucker pretty much identified the concept of inbound marketing. Namely, to be so aware of what the customer needs and so sure that your product or service fills that need, that when you present your widget to that customer, buying or using it is a no-brainer. Of course, prospects take nurturing, and there's more to it than that, but it's remarkable to consider Drucker's forethought.


The Internet and Its Role in Inbound

Which brings us to the emergence of the now ubiquitous internet. The internet changed the marketing game as entrepreneurs saw the need to update business branding efforts to better mesh with this emerging technology and consumers' reactions to it.


After all, consumers now want to be spoken to, not marketed at. With the internet, it became clear that the way to score customers was to provide the smoothest user experience. The meeting of Drucker’s ideas with the technology of the internet brings us to the official birth of inbound marketing as a strategy.


The first use of the term search engine optimization was in 1997. Pay-per-click ads were introduced in 2000. Legislation signed in 2003 forced marketing emails to include information the audience would find valuable instead of simply whatever the marketers wanted to say to whoever they wanted to say it to. The social media sites that are now massive were founded between 2002 and 2006. Their astounding growth made them the place to be for businesses that promote their brands.


HubSpot and Inbound Marketing

In 2004, HubSpot appeared as the brand synonymous with this newly presented inbound methodology, realizing disruptive and interruptive forms of outbound marketing were no longer going to be viable.  Inbound and HubSpot are virtually synonymous because the HubSpot CEO and co-founder, Brian Halligan, coined the term Inbound Marketing.

HubSpot explains its own story as follows:

[HubSpot] was founded on "inbound", the notion that people don't want to be interrupted by marketers or harassed by salespeople — they want to be helped.

Today, the inbound movement continues to empower businesses around the world to stop interrupting, start helping, and return their focus to the customer.


Consumers find brands through social media, blogs, and search engines. Inbound's focus is not on an intrusive flood of promotions. Instead, it makes accessible relevant information that enables informed purchase decisions. The intent is to provide a customer-centric experience that delights the ideal target audience.


Websites are perfecting more and more intense personalization so returning users feel more and more like their experience online is catered specifically and uniquely to them.


Inbound done well makes Drucker's quote manifest: by knowing and understanding a customer well enough, the product or service can and does sell itself.


Benefits of Inbound Marketing


1. Reaching the right audience

Overall, the major benefit to inbound marketing is that you reach the right audience in the right places to attract your target customers. You're no longer spending your budget attracting traffic that’s unlikely to ever convert. Through your research, you know if your target market spends its time on LinkedIn or on SnapChat, so you spend your time on one or the other, as well. 


Inbound marketing is all about providing potential customers the information they seek, whether or not they know this is what they are seeking, in creative and engaging ways. You're presenting your brand as a useful and reliable resource that people will come to when it's time to purchase.


2. Aligns Well With Modern Buyers' Behavior and Expectations

Perhaps one of the more important benefits of inbound marketing is that it aligns better with modern buyers in terms of their behavior and psychology. Today, buyers want to feel in control of their destiny. They want the convenience and speed of finding answers to their questions and solutions to their pain points online. What they don’t want is to be force-fed sales pitches.


3. Less Expensive Than An Equivalent Outbound Campaign

Regardless of the size of your marketing budget, inbound marketing is generally significantly cheaper than an equivalent outbound campaign. The lower costs mean improved ROI. And by collecting data from your readers and prospects you are better informed to make decisions about how to spend your marketing resources. From the moment someone arrives on your website to the moment the deal is closed, you can track and analyze nearly everything a prospect does and experiment to see what gives you the most for your marketing dollar.


The higher ROI also results from the fact that with evergreen content, you can execute an inbound marketing campaign that stays relevant and pays dividends for months and even years to come. What is evergreen content? It's content that doesn't need to be updated, or rather that needs only small tweaks to stay relevant and up-to-date. The name is borrowed from evergreen trees, a name synonymous with long lasting freshness and perpetual life.


When done properly inbound marketing is known to be 10 times as effective in lead conversions as an outbound campaign. Of course, inbound marketing and outbound marketing can work together, but that's not the focus of this article. If you're looking for more information on how, check out the blog post where we covered it here.


4. Builds a Long-term Relationship With Customers

Inbound marketing allows for the building of long-term relationships inasmuch as it's based on continuous delivery of information and the two-way nature of social media communication. Thus companies can build trust with potential customers until each customer is ready to buy the product or service. The content-driven nature of inbound marketing allows you to produce authoritative content that builds market credibility and gives potential customers the impression that this is a knowledgeable company that is able to help them.

According to a study by Demand Gen Report, nearly half of all buyers view several pieces of content before reaching out or being willing to speak with a company representative. If you set yourself up as a valuable resource in a non-invasive way, you help lay the groundwork for a relationship built on valuable content, and trust.


Inbound Marketing Statistics


When asked what type of content best moves leads through the sales funnel the top three answers for B2B marketing were blog posts, white papers, and videos. These are tools within the inbound marketers' toolbox. Outbound tactics like direct mail or email blasts didn’t even make the list. (Statistica


Content marketing generates about three times as many leads as traditional (outbound) marketing and costs 62% less. (Demand Metric


Conversion rates are almost six times higher for those who have adopted content marketing than those who have not. (Aberdeen


When asked which marketing tactic provides higher quality leads, 59% of marketers responded inbound and 16% responded outbound, and 68% of inbound organizations believe their marketing strategy is effective. (HubSpot)  


Here are some more inbound marketing stats to show the way inbound marketing leverages customer behavior, reaching prospects where they're at attracting, converting, and delighting them in the process. (source)


  • 68% of B2B customers prefer to do their research independently online
  • 90% of searchers have not made up their minds about a brand when starting their search
  • 29% of people want to talk to a salesperson to learn more versus 62% who consult a search engine
  • 87% of buyers give more credence to the content shared by an industry influencer
  • 81% of buyers have closed a browser or exited a webpage because of pop-up ads


Inbound Marketing and Data

Inbound marketing brings with it an abundance of data. Analytics show you the best leads to follow up so you can better prioritize your time. Likewise, inbound metrics show you what's working and what's not.


Adjusting your inbound strategy or tweaking a campaign for better results has never been so easy. The insights gained through your metrics enable you to make better business decisions in real-time. 


We're firm believers in Inbound Marketing and find it fascinating to trace its roots back hundreds of years. Our feelings about inbound can be summed up as follows:

Bottom line, you want your customers to use your company because they trust you. By using content marketing strategies, and by being open and honest about your company and how you can help solve their problems, you can build up that trust. This will keep your existing customers loyal, as well as help bring in new customers who got excited about working with you because someone they already trust shared your content. Now your company is growing, and in turn helping you help them grow theirs.


Has this article sold you on the benefits of Inbound Marketing? Click below to get your free checklist and get started implementing your own inbound strategy today!

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Shelley's been in Seattle practically since the dawn of time. She enjoys having fun (seriously) with research and writing. In her off hours she reads and walks, although not at the same time -- because tripping over sidewalks is embarrassing.


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