Inbound and Outbound Marketing Strategies: Making Them Work Together
is the Head of Marketing at Lean Labs. His experience ranges from higher education to SMBs and tech startups. When not doing digital marketing, he's sure to be enjoying some kind of nerdy pastime.
Every since Permission Marketing was published by Seth Godin more than a decade ago, the argument has persisted: which is better, inbound or outbound marketing?
For startups, and tech-savvy small businesses, inbound has become the default strategy to attract and nurture prospective customers. For older companies, especially those who have a history of outbound marketing, making the switch to inbound can seem as painful as pulling teeth.
How to Combine Inbound and Outbound Marketing Methods
At one point in my career I was blessed to work with an awesome sales executive. We were teaming together to try and grow a new startup's sales. While I was tasked with attracting leads, they were in charge of closing the sale. But as we tried working together, it was like we spoke different languages.
She wanted long forms filled with questions like "how did you find us?" Inbound marketers laugh at forms like these because we know two things: first, few people answer it accurately, and two, you can automate that field in the background.
Regardless of how much I tried to bring in inbound methodology to her sales process, she insisted on outbound methodology so she could manage her Salesforce system to work the way it always had. All those in marketing will be nodding your head in agreement with my plight. All those in sales are already exasperated with me, and the article hasn't even started yet.
The Problem of Sales and Marketing Silos
The old guard work in silos, shut off from each other. Sales runs its campaigns; marketing runs its campaigns. Marketing is about brand awareness; sales is about revenue and closing.
It's not that way anymore. All salespeople are marketers, and all marketers are salespeople. Your campaigns are not separate anymore - or at least, they shouldn't be.
You can't silo campaigns anymore and remain effective. TV commercials shouldn't be chalked up to "brand awareness" anymore. And you can't judge a marketing campaign based on how many people will say "I heard about you here."
'Brand Awareness Ads' Are a Waste of Money
These are the ads you run with no other hope but to have people think of you. Bud Light can run these ads all day long, and they do. But that's Bud Light - chances are their sales remain constant, so they keep that strategy.
But for a vast, vast, vast majority of businesses, nobody cares about your commercial. I again bring up the stupid Chevy commercials that have launched this year, all with the claim of using "real people, not actors." Give me a break!
- None of these "real" people say anything negative about Chevy. All of them are blown away by how awesome Chevy is. (Have you ever talked to a Ford guy about Chevy? Apprently, he wasn't "real" enough for their fawning commercial.)
- None of these "real" people seem to have ever seen a Chevy.
The only thing these commercials do is make me want to send my resume to Chevy. They obviously need some new ideas over there.
The main point is though, for any small business, this kind of commercial doesn't benefit you much. Too many small businesses fall into the trap of mimicking big brand ads because they don't know any better.
Big brands can afford to waste money on nonsense ads, while small businesses can't.
If you're a small business owner, how many magazines have you considered for full-page ads? What about the newspaper?
The Generic Full-Page Ad (Waste)
Ford's Produce probably paid good money to have this ad designed, and more to have it circulated. But here's the truth, anyone who shops there already knows they have these products for sale. The ad does essentially nothing other than say, "yo, I'm still here."
For most companies, ads like this are the same as the neighbor who yells your name, and waves. He does this every time he sees you. But you still don't know him very well, and you won't be inviting him on your next camping trip. He's just the guy who lives next door. Unlike the guy who lives across the street who came by to welcome you to the neighborhood, talked to you about your kids, and invited you over for dinner.
A lot of companies are wasting money on 'waving' while few are saving money by building relationships.
Merging Outbound With Inbound Methods
So should you not spend on commercials or newspaper ads? You should if it's a viable way to get your message in front of your prospective customers. But, with inbound marketing methods, you can make your ads smarter.
Take Fast Company Magazine, for instance. I loved when I saw this:
This is a full-page ad, but it's doing something. It's offering me something valuable for free! All I have to do is go tell them I'm a small business that's interested in marketing my company. This is outbound (full-page ad) merged with inbound (offering something of value in exchange for your permission to market to you.)
You can do the same thing with any kind of outbound marketing method:
Offer something special for those who hear the ad on the radio. If you listen to talk radio, they offer discount codes to a lot of places if you "click the microphone" on the website and enter in a coupon code.
But even better, what if the Dentist advertised a free checkup to everyone who heard the radio commercial if they do something special, like going to a specific URL and downloading a Dental Care Checklist? Makes more sense, right?
Interactivity is new to TV commercials. You may remember during last year's Super Bowl Blitz; there were commercials with cliffhangers asking the audience to do something to see what happened next.
See this commercial from a group in Durham, North Carolina raising donations for charity. It doesn't ask you for money in the commercial, or even talk about what IT is... it's a question to the viewer. Those who are curious will interact.
But, it doesn't raise brand awareness. True, but it arouses curiosity. Is that better than people hearing your name for the first time wishing your ad would end so their show will start back up?
Use a trackable URL at the very least. Rather than using a form to ask where a lead saw your ad, give each ad a unique URL to visit. Presto, you know exactly who came from each ad.
Don't just show a product and place your name - Offer them something if they take action.
Using Outbound to Boost Inbound
Outbound marketing techniques are decreasing in effectiveness while increasing in cost. So, please stop wasting your money on lazy ads that talk about you for 30 seconds or full pages.
Instead, think of outbound ads from an inbound perspective: What can you offer on that ad that would inspire someone to take an action.
If you're a contracting company advertising in a home improvement magazine, a full-page ad with your logo and your offerings won't bring much regarding ROI.
That's just the waving neighbor approach.
Instead, offer something of value "brought to you by your brand." In this scenario, an eBook on Home Renovation on a Budget would probably inspire quite a bit of interaction.
Thinking of outbound marketing as a way to promote content is a sure way to maximize the ROI of your outbound spend.