The trend in the marketing world for some time has been away from “outbound marketing” towards “inbound marketing”–otherwise know as “content marketing”, “permission marketing”, “new marketing” “modern marketing” and a few other buzz-terms. The definitions may vary slightly, but they’re essentially variations on the same theme:
Potential customers find you, rather than you (the marketer) directly approaching them.
The contemporary conventional wisdom on appropriate tech marketing methods goes like this:
People are insanely busy these days and already multi-tasking to the max, plus they are constantly inundated with marketing offers of all kinds which causes folks to tune them out. Traditional outbound methods such as direct mail/email, advertising, etc. no longer work as a result. The “answer” is to use inbound marketing methods, defined as to driving traffic to your website via search engines, content (such as blogs and videos) and social media. Since these users have found you, rather than vice versa, they are by definition more attentive and better qualified targets.
Of course, although the discussion is ongoing with this new terminology in the marketing world today – it isn’t really a new topic. It’s really an argument about Push vs. Pull marketing, concepts which have been around nearly since the beginning of marketing as a science. The terms push and pull are a bit dated and aren’t as in favor as the hot new buzzwords. But beyond changes in terminology and of course massive technological changes, marketing methodology hasn’t changed all that much over time. At any rate, the preceding paragraph about the heavy utilization of inbound methods makes a lot of sense today, no doubt. No denying that getting boatloads of prospects to find you is a good thing.
The problem I see is that like most hyped “trends”, the inbound marketing case is being grossly overstated. There is no doubt that the Internet has enabled pull/inbound methods to grow to a degree not previously possible. If you’re a software or tech company marketer, in almost every market/product situation you should be leveraging online inbound methods to the max. But is that all you should be doing?
Of course not. Some companies may be able to fill their pipelines using only inbound methods. But this shouldn’t be an either/or discussion. In almost every market situation, both inbound (pull) and outbound (push) should be used. They should not be seen as competing methods; they each serve a different purpose and are actually very complementary. Let’s take a look why:
Different psychographic profile of tech prospects
Software or hardware buyers/prospects are not a homogeneous group in any market. They come in all shapes and sizes–early adopters, mainstream buyers, late adopters, etc. As a result, they respond to different stimuli and have different buying styles. Many want to be totally in control and never have any “invasive” outbound marketing targeted at them. But for every person that is offended by any offer directed at them, there are many others who are happy to receive a timely, well-targeted offer which saves them money–as well as time– in searching out a software or hardware product they need. This is especially true for some very busy folks, as well as others that just absolutely hate the shopping process. Outbound marketing can be a real advantage with these prospect profiles.
Different stage in the software & hardware buying process
This is a key point which someone relatively new to marketing may not understand. If you have a prospect in the active research or buying stages, inbound marketing works great. Since they are out searching for your product or service, if you’ve done a good job on inbound marketing activities there is a good chance they will “find” you. But what about those target prospects that aren’t yet in active research/buying mode? Should you just be ignoring them? I think not. First of all, you absolutely want to get a leg up on your competition and get your message to them as early as possible. By doing this, you’ll be on their short list of vendors to check out when they are ready to buy. But the right offer can also turn that distant future prospect into an active buyer–without so much as a look at the competition. What happens to your odds of a sale if yours is the only marketing message they see? They go up dramatically, of course. Outbound marketing is much more effective than inbound in this particular scenario as it often can provide “exclusivity” with the prospect.
Outbound marketing or inbound marketing: timing vs. budget
From a marketer’s perspective, outbound and inbound marketing can fulfill different needs. Inbound marketing may provide a solid, day-in-and-day-out flow of leads and revenue. Outbound marketing can provide a more instantaneous bump to your numbers. Think PPC advertising vs. SEO. An inbound marketing technique like SEO is probably the more powerful activity in the long run, but more proactive methods like direct email, outbound telesales and PPC advertising can start creating business almost instantly. (I view PPC is kind of a hybrid outbound/inbound method, by the way). This outbound bump can be very useful during slow periods where you’d like to “smooth out” your numbers, when you’re just getting started, during a busy (but competitive) holiday buying season or to give extra emphasis to a new product introduction.
Targeted tech marketing offers
Since you have greater control with respect to when a prospect will be exposed to an offer, it’s much easier to provide urgency (think time-limited offers) and that critical timeliness component via outbound marketing. In addition, targeting can also be easier with outbound methods. Direct outbound marketing, in particular, can be highly targeted if good lists are available.
Push and pull on the same prospect
Lastly and very importantly, this really isn’t shouldn’t be an either/or argument–as I stated earlier. When discussing inbound and outbound marketing, again we’re really still just talking about push and pull by other names. As any good marketer knows, push and pull work together. The number of total marketing impressions on a particular prospect matters–more impressions increase your odds. This is fundamental brand-building. As an example, it’s well documented that having both a PPC ad as well as appearing in organic results on the SERP converts better than either alone. So don’t choose between inbound and outbound marketing–use best practices in both methodologies to optimize your marketing results.
What do you think? Will all your investments going forward be predominantly toward inbound marketing activities, or is there still room in your budget for outbound methods? I’d love to hear your plans and opinions–post a comment to weigh in on this discussion.
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