It’s hard for digital marketers to ignore headlines claiming, for example, “How Kraft Gets Four Times Better ROI From Content Than Ads.” That’s certainly an impressive figure — four times better ROI! — but those who take it at face value risk missing the bigger picture.
More critical readers of that headline might ask: What mix of inbound and outbound marketing helped the Kraft brand, over its 100-year history, arrive where it is today? Would Kraft’s ROI on content be as strong as it is, if not for their decades of advertising? Or, does this comparison even make sense in the first place?
The comparison does “make sense”, unfortunately. It’s unfortunate that inbound and outbound marketing are so often framed as competitors racing for the higher ROI, but that comparison persists. And in one sense, given how their tactics differ, it’s logical and convenient to view inbound and outbound tactics as two separate ballgames.
Marketing Isn’t a Zero-Sum Game
Inbound and outbound have been discussed as inbound versus outbound ever since digital inbound marketing surged in popularity in the early 2000s. While it’s true that many traditional outbound marketing tactics (e.g., cold calls, email blasts) have fallen from favor, these techniques can still be effective.
Today’s savvy consumers still respond to outbound marketing efforts when they’re used intelligently, aligned with inbound content and supported by quality data analysis.
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.
Highly segmented markets and fringe cases aside, most businesses get the best return when they present a singular, coherent marketing message. Mixed messages —even just messages that aren’t obviously connected— can confuse consumers, leading them to seek competitors with more clearly positioned alternatives. Plus, for maximum efficacy, marketing initiatives should gain momentum over time, e’g’, new marketing campaigns should build upon old marketing campaigns. The alternative is to continually start over from square one.
Outbound Marketing 2.0
Some marketers make the mistake of associating the outbound marketing tactics used today with those of a few years ago. This is unfair. Email marketing, as just one example, has advanced a great deal in recent years. We spoke with Steven Coufal, Senior Media Relations Specialist at Gartner, to learn more about the advancements in email marketing:
“It used to consist primarily of large scale, one-off email blasts, but now the technology has moved to the point where marketers can hyper-target small subsets and even individuals with very focused content tailored to their specific interests,” Coufal says.
Another professional marketer, Tim M. describes his old method in a review of his new marketing platform, “The other missing link was the ability to do email campaigns specifically designed for segmented target audiences.” With the newer email marketing platform, he continues, “we no longer have a one size fits all message that doesn’t really work.”
Coufal gave us a rundown of how intelligent email marketing can be woven into the bigger marketing picture. “Say a prospect signs up for your email list and you begin to track them,” he explains. “Your marketing software scans their social media accounts to learn they are a female, in the 24-39 age range, a working-professional, living in London. It recognizes that she’s in the target demographic for your company’s new line of trench coats. She then gets opted into a specific email stream that promotes the styles and options known to be popular with her demographic.”
Not only can the message be tailored to the individual, it can be adapted to the individual’s actions. Continuing with the above example, “Through your website tracking, you see your prospect visits a page, but winds up not buying a trench coat. Instead of simply reminding her about the coat in another email, a modern email marketing platform would let the follow-up email offer a 20% coupon, increasing the chances of a sale,” Coufal says. “It’s this kind of microtargeting that can make outbound marketing so effective.”
Choose Your Platform Carefully
And these tools have never been more available, affordable or plentiful. Even single-purpose platforms such as RedCappi, Emma and other email marketing software tools are helping users implement precise segmentation and tracking of individual outbound efforts. Many reviewers praise more advanced platforms, such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud, because they centralize these (and many other advanced features) into a single, integrated inbound and outbound marketing platform.
While availability and affordability are both great, the very plentiful selection of options creates challenges. Ken M offers this wise advice, “Take the time to look at all the options. I almost made a decision early in the process because I just wanted to get the task done and move onto my normal duties. I am glad I took the time to be thorough.”
With the time you take, make sure to spend some looking at the range of options. Don’t overlook analytics tools. These can be integrated into a company’s existing marketing platform, modernizing the strategy and execution of outbound efforts while providing the data needed to continually refine them.
The Sum is Greater Than Any Individual Approach
Calculating the ROI of inbound and outbound separately makes for compelling headlines, but it also suggests the two methods are in competition. But marketing isn’t a zero-sum game where the winner takes all. Instead, marketing efforts should be made to cooperate. And with today’s wide selection of advanced and affordable inbound/outbound marketing platforms, there’s no reason both can’t cross the finish line together.
About the Author: Craig Borowski is a Market Researcher at Software Advice, a Gartner company, providing analysis and recommendations for software buyers. A former Sr. Editor of TIME magazine, he now covers technology and changing trends in the CRM market, with a focus on customer service, marketing automation and the impact of technology on CRM strategy.