A Brief History of Inbound Marketing

A Brief History of Inbound Marketing

By John McTigueOct 31 /2011

The term "inbound marketing" has become a monster buzzword for internet marketers looking to generate solid leads and establish customer rapport.

In a nutshell, today's inbound marketing refers to the creation of easy-to-navigate web pages and blogs featuring high-quality content peppered with targeted keywords and niche keyphrases to maximize SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and the attraction of visitors and leads via content and social media sharing. This in turn permits customers to provide their contact information for promotions, follow-up, and ultimately, sales.

inbound marketing history is based in classic relationship marketing principles

Origin of the Term

HubSpot co-founder and CEO Brian Halligan has been credited with creating the inbound marketing term-of-art. His ideas, in conjunction with marketing theories promulgated by his partner, Dharmesh Shah, and by HubSpot special advisor David Meerman Scott, have spawned thousands of new web sites and gurus devoted to tweaking, tuning, and touting inbound marketing as the next great business boon.


But according to marketing patriarch Peter F. Drucker, the core principles of the inbound marketing mindset evolved well over a century ago. In the mid-1850s, Cyrus Hall McCormick, inventor of the mechanical harvester, developed basic market research techniques and primitive inbound strategies to generate consumer interest in his radical new farming machines. A few years later, Richard W. Sears and Alvah Roebuck published their innovative mail-order catalog in 1888 that within a few years grew from 80 pages to over 300 and became a global sales tool capturing millions of customers.

Modern Analogues

In the 1950's and 60's, Drucker often emphasized the value of market research where customer interests and orientations could be readily identified, quantified, and implemented. As one example, he pointed to the marketing research tools employed at General Electric in the early 1960's to apply relevant customer input at all stages of product production and development.

In explaining his fundamental theories about the essence of marketing, Drucker emphasized "customer orientation" and "market segmentation" as cornerstones of his oft-referenced "The Marketing Concept".

"The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product and service fits him and sells itself," Drucker said in 1974. "Ideally, marketing should result in a customer who is ready to buy. All that should be needed then is to make the product or service available; i.e., logistics rather than salesmanship, and statistical distribution rather than promotion."

Recent Developments

From these ideas, entrepreneur and best-selling change agent Seth Godin synthesized his concept of permission marketing, where marketers assume a less aggressive sales approach and seek permission from customers to send literature, e-mails, promotional materials, etc.

Another factor in the formulation of the inbound marketing paradigm, relationship marketing, emerged in the mid-1990s. Consultant and author Regis McKenna became a major proponent of the dictum that "marketing is everything", where organizations should focus on satisfying and retaining customers to create lasting relationships over time.

As a natural extension of this philosophy, HubSpot offers Grader utilities to evaluate the following inbound marketing tools which seek to appeal to consumer needs and capture their interest in mutual, conversational relationships:

  • Blog content - to ensure a high quality of information and optimum keyword saturation;
  • Keywords - to find the best possible keywords and keyword phrases to represent a company's service or product;
  • Links - to evaluate the merits and ranking of inbound links that generate high SEO;
  • Page content - to evaluate on-page SEO in titles, headers, meta-tags, alt tags, images, etc.;
  • Social Media - to share great content and spread the word; to develop lasting relationships and bonds;
  • Website - to optimize navigability, access, and site-map utility; to serve as a "hub" for inbound leads. 

In a recent blog post, Brian Halligan emphasized that the future success of a business presence involves rapid and continual personalization by making a company's web site ever-smarter about return visitors, while at the same time enhancing the value of the site for visitors when they return. Call it extreme personalization, or as Halligan says, "a segment of one".

Where do you see inbound marketing going in the next several years? Will it evolve into something else, or is the basic premise of permission-based, inbound marketing here to stay?

Photo Credit: jaybergesen

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The Author

John McTigue

With over 30 years of business and marketing experience, John loves to blog about ideas and trends that challenge inbound marketers and sales and marketing executives. John has a unique way of blending truth with sarcasm and passion with wit. You can connect with John via LinkedIn and Twitter.