"Inbound marketing." "Outbound marketing."
In recent years these two buzzwords have been tossed around quite a bit in the business world. With so much internet hype and positioning for new "inbound marketing" products and service offerings, it's understandable if you're already biased to believe that "inbound" is blooming effortlessly like a field of wildflowers while "outbound" is going the way of the brontosaurus.
Let's get a little perspective on the battle between inbound vs outbound marketing and examine how they aren't necessarily opposing concepts but how both can play a role in an effective marketing plan.
Before we get into the defining characteristics of the "inbound" vs. "outbound" approaches to marketing, let's briefly summarize what they mean:
Tactics that involve "pushing" your message to an audience, sometimes called "interruption marketing." Examples include:
A term coined by Hubspot (which sells a Marketing Automation solution). Tactics involve more of a "pull" strategy where you share useful content to establish trust with an audience in order to organically attract them to your product or service when they're ready to engage with you. Sometimes called "permission marketing." Examples include:
Let's look at the characteristics of each approach.
There are 7 areas of difference between inbound and outbound marketing—which way does your business lean in each area?
(2) Audience / Type of Traffic
(5) Depth of Field
The following handy infographic sums it up:
Looking at the list of differences between the two approaches, you might think "inbound" is the clear winner—the very future of all marketing. After all, it looks like it has none of that pushy "sales-y" thing, and it gets its traffic organically by being helpful.
While that's all true, proponents of inbound marketing may be pushing the concept a bit too far. It's not the easy cure-all to your marketing challenges, and it's not suitable for every organization.
Don't get us wrong. We love inbound marketing. We also love outbound marketing. There are pros and cons to each approach. And good execution of either approach requires a significant investment of resources—whether in terms of time and effort or financial.
If your organization is suited for an Inbound strategy, think of Inbound Marketing as a long-term investment. You won't see an immediate return on your investment, but consistent care and feeding of an inbound program will yield long-term, sustainable results and a superior ROI to an Outbound strategy.
For organizations with higher marketing budgets, an Outbound approach can work very well, particularly as an Inbound strategy is getting off the ground in those cases where Inbound is also appropriate.
For many organizations, inbound and outbound strategies can co-exist. When they do, there are common ways they overlap.
For example, "outbound" channels (such as digital ads) can also serve as effective ways to draw attention to useful "inbound" content (such as case studies) in the effort to establish a relationship with your audience. The interaction would look something like this graphic:
Likewise, you might want to use outbound "retargeting ads" to stay top-of-mind with website visitors attracted by useful "inbound" content (such as a guest blog post). Here's a simple visual of this strategy:
Even old-school outbound tactics like print ads and direct mail will benefit from a bit of inbound smarts. Here's a graphic of this strategy:
In the end, whether your marketing plan calls for an inbound or outbound approach (or both) is entirely dependent on what works for your business. Typically, the most effective approach is one which blends the two into an "omnichannel" marketing strategy.
According to Google, 90% of those who own multiple devices switch between them three times per day on average to complete a task. And 213 million adults in the US access the internet using 4 devices on average.
Consumers are more connected than ever before. They are interacting with brands anytime, anywhere, and they have more control over the buying process across physical and digital channels.
The objective of an omnichannel strategy is to identify the individual consumer at each interaction touchpoint and provide them with a relevant, seamless customer experience.
Why is this important? Omnichannel consumers are more valuable.
A 2017 Harvard Business Review study of 46,000 shoppers revealed that omnichannel consumer spent 4% more on every in-store shopping occasion and 10% more online. And the more channels a shopper used, the more valuable they became; those who used 4+ channels across their purchase journey spent 9% in-store on average.
The biggest challenges in an omnichannel strategy are (a) stitching the customer experience together across channels and (b) determining how to weigh the contribution of each channel to measure the ROI for the final transaction ("attribution").
For example, a consumer may first engage with the brand by clicking a Google paid search ad using a mobile device. Later they may research various products on the company's website using a desktop computer. Two days later, they might make their purchase in a physical store, and that evening they might share about their experience via social media.
"Stitching" the user experience together across these various channels requires a means of identifying the same user across channels. Combining tracking technology with dynamic content and offers unique to the individual customer is one way of accomplishing this. For example:
But the question remains: at what point did the consumer decide to purchase? To what channel do we attribute the sale? Aside from obviously requiring the ability to "stitch" the chain of user interaction from one channel to another, how you wish to split each channel's contribution to the final sale is a business decision. You'll need a "holistic" system spanning from initial interaction to point-of-sale to effectively track to this multi-channel attribution model.
Finally, implementation of an omnichannel strategy is difficult for organizations that operate in a "siloed" way—where marketing, sales, product development and operations don't work in coordination with one another. Departments needs to be working in concert, coordinating initiatives with executive buy-in.
It's a complicated subject with many moving parts. Having a high-level understanding of the elements involved is useful, but you might need help creating and executing a marketing plan. We're here for you! Brass Ring Consulting Group provides world-class Marketing services. Contact us today for a free consultation!
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Last updated: May 1, 2022
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