Inbound Vs. Outbound marketing: Does it really have to be a battle?

Lately, it seems like a lot of news outlets are quick to pronounce things “dead.” According to headlines, newspapers and print, in general, has been dead for decades, and television is finished.

In the marketing world, the words “outbound marketing” have taken on an equally funeral tone, with countless content marketing experts declaring outbound marketing to be over and inbound marketing to be the way forward.

But if that’s true, are television shows we tune into and the books and magazines we pick up ghosts? What about the countless outbound messages we consume every day?

Inbound marketing is a useful, and even essential, tool for the digital age, but companies shouldn’t feel as if inbound vs. outbound is an either-or proposition. Just as we’re still buying books even as we catch up on the news on our phones and can subscribe to Netflix while still tuning in Monday nights for The Bachelor, we should probably assume our audience is after a balance of inbound and outbound marketing.

Here’s why inbound marketing is so important

In the digital age, most brands know they need a web presence, which probably includes some combination of blogs, search engine optimization, email lists, newsletters, and earned social media. Basically, anything that gets users clicking, double tapping, and engaging with a brand is a crucial part of an inbound marketing campaign.

The key thing to remember about inbound marketing is that it should draw customers in, so any marketing materials a brand produces meant to attract and engage potential customers should be considered part of an inbound marketing strategy.

Oddly enough, as customers increasingly head online to interact with brands, they’ve begun to place more emphasis on personalization than ever before. A recent study from Forrester found that 75% of consumers expect consistent experiences across mobile, social, and in-person, and a further 75% of business buyers expect companies to make relevant product suggestions before the customer even initiates contact with a brand.

A strong inbound marketing strategy ensures that customers are getting the digital experiences they expect from brands in the age of online customer service by reaching out to buyers while there still at the top of the funnel so that marketing content helps to guide decisions at every stage of the journey.

But that doesn’t mean outbound marketing doesn’t matter

The rise of inbound marketing doesn’t necessarily mean that outbound marketing is dead.

Once upon a time, outbound marketing was simply called marketing. Think of all the brands you grew up with, and most of your memories will revolve around outbound marketing campaigns.

For example, you’re probably one of the 87% of consumers who can remember that KFC is “Finger lickin good,” or the 79% who knows that Rice Krispies “Snap, crackle, and pop.”

Outbound marketing is the message that’s delivered whether the consumer asked for it or not: the jingle you just can’t get out of your head, the paid social media marketing campaign you can’t help but click, or the intriguing email offer you didn’t ask for but end up investigating anyway.

Basically, outbound marketing brings the message to the customer instead of letting the customer find the message. And for a very long time, outbound marketing was the best, and only, way to ensure that customers found your brand instead of the other guys’.

However, with the rise of digital marketing, consumers are more frequently finding ways to tune out marketing messages they didn’t ask for. One problem is the fact that as our lives are increasingly conducted online, the number of ads we’re exposed to has simply become unmanageable, with some studies suggesting the average person sees as many as 4,000 ads a day.

Another problem is that most consumers have gotten really good at ignoring those messages. A recent report by AdBlock plus found that 40% of laptop users and 15% percent of mobile users are blocking ads, and 90% of viewers skip pre-roll video ads. For many marketers, the solution is simple: stop showing customers messages they didn’t ask to see.

So what works best?

Completely killing off outbound marketing probably isn’t the answer to all our marketing woes.

According to Craig Borowski, a market researcher at Software Advice, the answer is actually a bit more complicated than that. Studies may show that Kraft saw four times better ROI with inbound, rather than outbound, marketing, but that headline doesn’t tell the whole story, Brorowski says, since the company’s 100-year old outbound marketing strategy probably had something to do with the success of its inbound marketing campaign.

“The ideal marketing strategy recognizes the strengths and weaknesses inherent in both marketing “directions” and thoughtfully combines both into a cohesive message with a comprehensive reach.

Inbound and outbound should be considered teammates—not competitors,” Borowski writes for the Kissmetrics Blog. Instead, outbound marketing tactics like intelligent email marketing should be carefully interwoven with inbound marketing campaigns to provide scalable, personalized messages that “hyper-target small subsets.”

Even HubSpot, a leader in inbound marketing tools, confesses to using a combination of inbound and outbound marketing.

That’s not to say that inbound marketing hasn’t revolutionized the industry and gotten some amazing results

Enterprise companies, like Casio, and even universities, like the University of Southern California have used inbound marketing tools from Hubspot to reduce marketing costs and drive more qualified leads than simply relying on traditional outbound marketing. In fact, Hubspot reports that inbound marketing efforts are 62% less expensive than outbound.

Choosing your inbound marketing tools wisely is half the battle

A quick google search for “inbound marketing tools” yields hundreds if not thousands of possible solutions, so even if you’re looking to step up your inbound game, it can be incredibly difficult to find the perfect platform and could even result in a costly mistake.

According to industry leaders, the most important step to choosing inbound marketing software is to have a clear sense of what you’re hoping to achieve, and a clear budget for achieving those results. Even experts have found themselves making mistakes that cost hundreds of dollars. Suss out your marketing team’s weak spots and make sure you’re getting a tool that will help you make those areas stronger, rather than software with a lot of bells and whistles you ultimately won’t use. Also, make sure your software is user-friendly with plenty of training and customer support. If your marketing team can’t use the platform, then you’re definitely not going to get your money’s worth.

And developing a solid inbound marketing strategy is the other half

It’s also important to remember that inbound marketing isn’t a one-time solution. It should be a holistic strategy for seamlessly connecting your brand’s digital presence, according to ClickZ’s own Aubrey Beck. In her article for ClickZ, Beck outlines an 8-point approach to developing your marketing team’s inbound strategy, including laying out measurable goals and benchmarks, such as conversion rates for different CTAs, email open rates, number of downloads.

And don’t forget to include the sales team in the planning process for your inbound marketing campaign. Hubspot recently found that while 31% of executives thought there was “tight alignment” between their marketing and sales teams, that simply wasn’t the case, with just 17% of managers and individual contributors agreeing with that assessment.   

Ask your sales team specific questions about both the sales process and the typical path to purchase for your customers and plan content around that journey. Remember the key part of inbound marketing is in, and if your content isn’t nurturing lead flow for buyers at all stages of their purchase journey, then you could potentially be driving them away.

When in doubt, don’t panic

According to Beck, it’s perfectly natural to have some hiccups in the beginning stages of developing an inbound marketing plan: “Your first attempts at inbound marketing will be largely a guessing game. No big deal. You have to get out there and try something before you’ll have information about what works best and what’s not likely to garner the results you’re looking to achieve. Learn from your mistakes. Build out on success. Adjust and tweak as you go along.”

In fact, marketing, whether inbound or outbound, always involves a bit of guesswork. However, when it comes to a marketing plan, everyone in the organization should be on the same page. Yet according to the Hubspot study, that’s not always the case. while 69% of executives believe that their company’s marketing strategy is effective, just 55% of individual contributors agree.

Those numbers could just be a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing, but they also indicate that executives, who may have a more traditional view of marketing associated with the outbound campaigns of old, simply don’t understand what it takes to build a successful brand in the digital age: a combination of the old and the new.    

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