I'm not here today to redefine inbound and outbound marketing. Many blog posts, conference talks and forum discussions have covered that ground in recent years. Instead, I want to add light to some Q&As I have had with marketing practitioners recently about the role of outbound marketing in today's marketing mix, specifically how outbound tactics can still be relevant without many of their perceived downsides.
Q: You are using outbound marketing methods in some of your case studies, like emailing to rented lists. Isn't that considered bad form in inbound marketing? Does it even work anymore?
A: Let's define "rented list" first and why we would use them.
If you are seeking to find more people who have already expressed an interest in the topics you discuss in your blogs and other content, why not consider emailing to subscribers in the most relevant industry journals? These folks are looking for content that helps them stay current in the field and addresses their common issues. Many of them will be glad to receive your email as long as you are promoting top-funnel content that fills those needs. The "inbound way" is to make sure your content is not product-centric or self-promotional. As long as you provide an easy way to unsubscribe or opt-out of your content stream, that's still an inbound approach using a more outbound delivery system. And yes, it works really well, depending on the quality of the rented email list, i.e. is it up-to-date and validated?
Q: What about direct mail or traditional advertising? Are you now advocating those, too?
A: Again, the idea is to reach more targeted potential leads with helpful content in the venues they find most comfortable.
As long as you do your homework, i.e. market research to find the most likely demographics and buyer personas, both direct mail and advertising can be highly effective. The inbound way is to promote solutions and ideas, not products, and to invite people to learn more, not purchase. You can provide links to your landing pages instead of coupons or set up live events where people can participate.
Q: But isn't outbound marketing more expensive than inbound?
A: It's true that, on average, inbound marketing enjoys a lower average cost per lead than outbound methods, but that's not the whole story.
Inbound is really good at reaching people who are already looking for your content in your natural channels, like search engines and social networks, but what about the other 80 percent? Most of your potential buyers are unaware of your brand and your thought leadership. Outbound methods are more direct and, if targeted well, faster to reach the underexposed segment of your potential market. In other words, effective marketing is not strictly a matter of cost effectiveness. Successful organizations are prepared to spend money to make money, and some of that budget may be best spent on outbound campaigns done the inbound way.
Q: So what are some of the "rules" you would apply to make sure outbound campaigns don't alienate your buyers?
A: Here are a few...
I'm sure these discussions won't put the inbound versus outbound argument to bed, but I do think we're evolving away from absolutes in marketing. Much of what we preach these days is common sense, and few of these ideas are really new. Marketing has always been about trying different approaches (testing) and targeting likely buyers. The nuance in inbound is the "what" that we're promoting (content instead of product) and the "why" we're doing it (to start a conversation instead of selling). Yes, ultimately we're still selling. That's what we get paid for.
We're just being a little more patient these days.
Photo credit: AlishaV
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. Connect with John via Twitter, LinkedIn or Google Plus.