The State of Inbound Marketing in 2017: Small Business and Startup Recap

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HubSpot recently released their annual State of Inbound Marketing report, which offers valuable insights into the industry. Most notably, many marketers report that inbound marketing offers a higher ROI than outbound campaigns. With growth like this, it’s important to create an inbound marketing strategy for your business.

How Inbound Marketing Has Changed

As technology continues to develop, marketing departments are doing business differently. Marketers are increasing visual content creation, and sales are moving into the role of trusted advisor, not pushy salesperson.

One of the interesting changes HubSpot reported was the differing views between executives and those implementing. Executives may have an idea of how they want to meet the company’s marketing objectives, but those accomplishing the tasks see it differently.


We should note, though, that this isn’t inherently a negative. The role of the executive and the role of the marketing team require a different mindset. Instead, the problem arises with a lack of communication.

Marketing Now Contributes to the Bottom Line

Marketing has also shifted from a “cost center” in past decades to measuring success by the ability to contribute to the bottom line. Many marketers talk about how ROI is hard to prove in their position, but it’s now imperative.

Nearly 70% of respondents say converting leads to customers is their current goal, while only 24% are committing to reducing the cost of leads and customer acquisition. One of the benefits of inbound marketing is that it’s an efficient use of your budget. It establishes your identity and is highly customizable, making it an ideal way to market your startup.

Inbound Marketing’s Priorities for 2017

SEO was reported as the biggest priority for marketers, and we’re predicting it always will be due to the consistent changes Google and other search engines make.  The two primary focuses are content marketing and industry directories.

Because inbound marketing offers a higher ROI, these content strategies can help companies reach their goals.


Inbound Marketing’s Challenges in 2017

One of the best insights in this report comes when marketers and salespeople are asked to share their challenges. The two biggest inbound marketing challenges are generating traffic and leads, and proving ROI.

For the sales teams, the biggest challenge of inbound marketing in 2017 is increasing prospect responses and closing more deals. This isn’t groundbreaking, but it’s important to notice. Even with the technological advancements and marketing knowledge, they’re having trouble.


This is also why marketing and sales alignment are critical. Most respondents report that there is general alignment, but others say it’s a continued problem in their department. There needs to be a delicate balance of oversight and trust in this situation.

The teams need to implement a process together that helps the end goal, then trust each other to accomplish their given goals. Instilling leaders that won’t micromanage is key for aligning sales and marketing.

Even with these challenges, 67% of North American respondents believed their company’s marketing strategy is effective. Any plan is going to have challenges to overcome, but it’s important to remember the number of benefits the growth of inbound marketing has given us.

The Future of Inbound Marketing

As social media and content continue to develop, companies need to adapt. If companies fail to adopt new technology, they’ll be left behind. And once they reach that point, it’s nearly impossible to catch up.

According to HubSpot, this is also the first time social and current events have played into responses. References to Brexit, the current U.S. administration, and uncertainty of the economy’s future paired with how fast marketing is changing means the industry is increasingly complicated.

Agility is a startup’s biggest benefit. Quick adaptation and pivots are how they achieve success, and they’re built for this type of marketing. Established companies, though, are generally slower to adapt due to size and other restraints. Corporations may have more resources, but time is also important.

Owned and Rented Marketing Space

Previously, companies focused on their email marketing and their website to drive conversions. But as targeted ads on Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms grow in reach, many are moving back to the “rented” space.

We still think email marketing and an optimized website are crucial, but traffic now comes from different places. (I.e., Facebook Ads) After all, you need a website that can convert a lead that comes from an ad. Without it, your lead will go elsewhere.

This split also takes more resources, specifically time and finances. With the sheer number of platforms companies are expected use and respond to customers on, marketing teams need more support. The companies that allocate resources effectively will be those that succeed in their space.

Marketing Industry Disruptors:

  • Video
  • AI and VR
  • Social

Video is the Main Disrupter

For those in content marketing, video offers a new way to engage with their audience. Not all are thrilled, though. Writers and editors worry about the impact video may have on their careers, and some are choosing to be proactive and embrace video.

This shows another key takeaway from this survey: in a culture of rapidly appearing and disappearing trends, adaptation is key, both as an employee and as a company.

When recipe videos were first showing in news feeds, it sent a wave through the cooking and food blogging sphere as others tried to capitalize on the trend. Since then, it’s become harder to stand out.

Video may be the main disrupter, but companies can’t get comfortable with the current video marketing tactics because it will continue to change.

Artificial Intelligence is a Potential Disrupters

It’s always exciting to see how marketing teams will use new technology to convert customers. As AI and VR continue to grow and improve, it’s up to marketers to find innovative ways to use the technology.

Artificial Intelligence and machine learning are used in chat bots and automation, though there have been a few very public failures that show the technology isn’t quite ready. Another piece of the AI puzzle, though, is the growth of content bots.

These bots are able to create written content, and are being implemented in the sports industry to develop data-driven articles. While this can be unnerving for writers, the quality of these bots’ content still needs to be improved so the job is still there. (For now.)

AI provides unique ways to interact with your consumer base, but you also need to be willing to work out the kinks in a new system. If you can, you’ll be the first successful company in the space which positions you well for success.

Social is the Constant Disrupter

Respondents all said that their teams were dedicating more resources to Facebook Video, Instagram, and messaging apps. Some view this as a positive, while others realize that the constant changes in analytics and need for a paid content budget are wearing them down.

The takeaway from this is that companies need to be ready to pivot, and to pivot well. Experimentation is important in social media, and we need to be prepared to adapt to new changes. (Instagram Stories, anyone?)

And while this may seem like we’re down on social media’s ability to help marketing, we also know it’s a key piece for many businesses. With limited budgets and the chance of virality, social media is one of the best places to begin promoting your product. Social media will always be changing, and it’s up to us to use it well.

Data like in HubSpot’s State of Inbound Marketing 2017 report is a marketer’s friend, as it helps us better organize our strategy and measure results. Marketing may continue to change, but we’re positioned in a data-rich environment that will help us succeed.

Are you interested in a customized inbound marketing plan for your business? Let’s chat.


By Marc Apple

Marc Apple is recognized as a leader in the marketing industry and has 20+ years of experience helping businesses of all sizes improve their digital marketing. He specializes in website design, SEO, social media, and paid search programs. He is a frequent contributor to other marketing websites and speaks regularly about marketing to small business owners and startups. To learn about Marc and to contact him, visit his author bio page.


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