Is Inbound Marketing a Waste Of Time and Money?

inbound marketing

Need to figure out whether inbound marketing fits in your marketing mix?  Here’s some inbound marketing advice for small businesses.

Inbound marketing is a term coined and evangelized by the founders of HubSpot (a company that develops and markets inbound marketing software) that refers to strategic use of content in lead generation and sales.

The concept is simple — businesses should use blogs, video, podcasts, guides, ebooks and other types of content to attract new customers. Proponents of inbound marketing claim that this is an easier, cheaper, and more effective way of getting business.

Inbound marketing is usually contrasted with outbound marketing or traditional marketing that consists of buying TV and radio advertising, direct mail campaigns, and other forms of offline marketing. Traditional marketing is seen by inbound marketers as expensive, ineffective and difficult  to measure.

Today inbound marketing has become ubiquitous and many small businesses are allocating more and more of their marketing budgets towards inbound marketing initiatives.

Are there better ways to spend your hard earned small business marketing dollars?

Inbound Marketing Advice for Small Business

While content marketing shouldn’t be neglected it should take a backseat to a number of strategic business  and marketing strategies and methods.

Focusing on customer experience, referral marketing, increasing brand awareness would all be better choices for spending marketing dollars for most small businesses.


Because those strategies executed at the same level of competence simply produce a better return on investment in most markets.

There Is Only One Gary Vaynerchuk

Some inbound marketing affectionados will point out that doing content marketing right will propel you to stardom. Gary Vaynerchuk did it — so can you.

This is the first misconception. Practically all small businesses will miss the mark on creating remarkable content and in the process they will waste valuable time and money.

Most small businesses are simply not capable of creating content that will make anyone think twice about sharing it.

At the end of the day — how many wine vloggers do you know?

Inbound Marketing Is Not Free

Producing content, tweeting, blogging and running inbound marketing campaigns costs money or time. Let’s not forget the training costs, opportunity costs and the cost of tools.   

Inbound marketing tools are relatively expensive.

Yearly costs of using the market leading inbound marketing platform like Hubspot for a somewhat established business start at more than $12,000 per year. However, this platform is powerful and its list of features includes everything from keyword suggestions and social media monitoring to landing page creation tools and email lead nurturing.  

But it creates no content.

Great content can make a big impact on your bottom line, but this can come at a substantial cost. Creating comprehensive guides, impactful infographics, producing video and other types of remarkable content can cost thousands of dollars.

If you are like most small business owners content creation is not among your core competencies, and as a result you might find yourself in a situation where you are investing a lot of resources without acceptable returns.

Sometimes Inbound Marketing Is A Waste Of Resources

Content should always be a part of your marketing strategy. However there are markets where serious investments in content marketing make no sense. Local niche markets like office cleaning, civil engineering or corporate catering are simply not compatible with inbound marketing.

Understanding how your market behaves online and online can save you a fortune.

Customer Experience (Not Content) Is The One True King

Zappos didn’t become a billion dollar company because they were producing great content about shoes. They became a billion dollar company because they delivered amazing customer experience, and customers couldn’t resist telling their friends.

And what did Zappos use as the primary tool to amaze their customers? Telephone.

Instead of trying to minimize the number of calls they get (much like every other ecommerce business)  Zappos embraced every phone call as an opportunity to create a personal connection with their customers.  Zappos created an army of rabid fans, sales went through the roof, and they got acquired by Amazon for 1.2 billion dollars.

You don’t need to spend a fortune to provide customer experience that beats expectations for your industry. Finding low cost ways to personalize, accelerate or personalize your customer experience will go a long way towards increased loyalty and improved profits.

A simple way to improve customer experience design would be to talk to your customers regularly about their experience with your business, identify “pain points” and eliminate those systematically.

Your website can be a useful tool for improving customer experience. This is where content comes into play. You can engineer your content to enhance customer experience just by interviewing your customers. This may result in higher conversion rates and lower customer acquisition costs.    

Remember That You Customers Are Assets

Inbound marketing philosophy is centered around acquiring new customers using content. If fully adopted as a sole marketing strategy it would limit the effectiveness of your marketing efforts.

Small businesses would benefit more by adopting a broader, more strategic approach to marketing that revolves around relationship building, customer experience, and integration of offline and online channels.

Before you make a heavy investment into inbound marketing make sure that:

  • Your customer experience defies industry expectations
  • You measure all important business and marketing metrics.
  • You have a way of communicating with you customers long after they made their last purchase.
  •  Your referral strategy is effective and results are predictable.
  • Your partnerships with complementary businesses produce results.
  • You developed a customer centric culture obsessed by delivering value to customers

Should I Abandon Inbound Marketing?


Inbound marketing should be aligned with your overall marketing strategy as a major part of your online marketing. Content that’s useful to your targeted market can introduce new prospects to your brand but it can also help validate your company in the selection process. Great content can also help reshapes someone’s buying criteria, and compel them to pick up the phone and call you.

But heed this inbound marketing advice for small business: most small businesses can make a greater impact on their bottom lines focusing on other aspects of their marketing strategy before making a serious commitment to inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing Photo via Shutterstock

Vedran Tomic Vedran Tomic is the Founder of Local Ants, LLC, an local Internet marketing agency focused on helping businesses acquire more customers for less using the web.

8 Reactions
  1. Martin Lindeskog

    Vedran: Thanks for sharing this sound advice re. inbound marketing.

  2. Customer experience and product quality should be higher priorities than inbound marketing. You can’t market shitty service and shitty products. If those aren’t good and you only have so much time to fix, stop doing inbound and go fix them. I’d also suggest that companies should have their market, branding and positioning well defined before starting on the tactical side of inbound.

    But, I challenge you on your statement re: investing in brand awareness or referral marketing instead of inbound. In fact, inbound is a major accelerant for both, probably the cheapest and quickest way to build a brand and get more referrals.

    I’d also challenge you on your statement that inbound isn’t a good fit for small local businesses. Plenty of niche companies that serve local clients market online with inbound, content and paid ads. My appliance store and my home contractor produce amazing results from their online marketing. It’s a multi billion dollar market according to Borrell.

    At HubSpot, we’ve even launched free tools that make “time” the only investment required for inbound marketing and inbound sales. And the time doesn’t need to be huge. Even a few well written blog posts and a few calls to action to collect leads — can have a big impact on a business, especially if used as part of a solid sales strategy that includes referral marketing and networking.

    They key is doing inbound correctly and incrementally as time and budget allows. But, all companies should be doing inbound, whether they’re using HubSpot or not.

    • Pete,

      Thank you for agreeing with the point of my article – inbound marketing shouldn’t be a priority nor a focus of all marketing efforts for most local businesses.

      Writing blog posts can’t solve your sales problem. Same is true if your business has any operational deficiencies. Most local businesses have critical issues to fix before they can even begin to think about writing blog posts.

      I am sure that local businesses that do extremely well using inbound marketing exist, but they are few and far between. For every Gary Vaynerchuk there is whole army of content marketers in local markets that will waste resources where those could be used elsewhere.

      Regarding referral marketing vs inbound marketing.

      Referral marketing systems are almost free to implement, and easy to operate.
      How easy is it to ask every happy customer for a referral? This could be the easiest, cheapest and most effective way to make bottom line impact. According to a study done by Goethe University Frankfurt and the University of Pennsylvania (stuff is even on Wikipedia) referrals are better customers – they are more profitable and more loyal.

      Inbound marketing comes with built in upfront costs because it can’t be effectively done without a software platform like Hubspot. It comes with a learning curve that needs overcoming bringing lateral costs to small business owners that should have been fixing major issues anyway.

      RE Branding vs Inbound marketing

      Being a brand people know and love in any local market is the ultimate trump card with endless cross-channel benefits. Brands can charge premium prices, get more referrals, higher click through rates etc…

      If you want to get exactly what I mean imagine you are a plumber in boston called “Pete The Plumber” and ask yourself would you rather rank for “plumber in boston” or have a brand search volume of 1500 for various brand related searches?

      I know what I would choose.

  3. Courtney Boatin

    Thank you for your article and you are correct that retail stores or one owner shops should not be using inbound. Inbound marketing is ideal for B2B companies who are successful with their customer focus and are looking to create another avenue for quality lead generation. Inbound Marketing is great for a company that has a staff person who has time for social media and blog articles can be shared among staff to highlight special talents and how each staff person solves customer problems. It should not be the first step in your marketing but a compliment to a well thought out marketing plan. One correction I would make to your article is that Inbound Marketing does focus on delighting its current customers. The final step (that never stops) of inbound marketing is “Delight”. Delight focuses on customer retention and happiness.

  4. Good piece on inbound. The truth is that most small businesses don’t come into with realistic expectations of the resources and time it’s going to take. While I think solid content offers are valuable for a business, the constant production necessary for a “pure” inbound strategy just isn’t realistic for most SMBs.

  5. Excellent insights on where inbound marketing should fit in an overall business strategy. Worth mentioning is that too many businesses put new traffic and client acquisition before keeping their current buyers rabidly happy. This is a mistake as research continually shows it costs more to add a new customer than it does to resell to an existing one.

    Many online business owners just want the sale and don’t want to interact with their buyers. They pay a fortune for AdWords and remarketing, but don’t want to answer chat, email or the phone. What they need to know is people don’t buy until their questions are all answered – and it is not possible to answer 100% of what they might want to know through content on your site. And even if the answer is there, they may not be able or willing to find it.

    I would be curious to know if Zappos is still the company it once was since being acquired. Usually, over time any company that sells out to a publicly traded corporation focuses more and more on maximizing profits and less and less on customer satisfaction.

    Before you get active in social media or paying for traffic, make sure your site answers typical questions and a lead capture / email list building system is in place. Without the ability to follow up on leads you may generate, businesses are wasting time and money through lost opportunities.

  6. Inbound Marketing is still doing its role towards the ranking of a website. This cannot be termed as a waste of time. This also contributes for a bettered conversion of a product/service.