What’s the End Game for Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

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Outbound marketing had its heyday. Back then, Mad Men got rich by telling buyers what to do (“drink this and you’re hip”) and buyers listened. Then consumers were empowered with digital and social connections and they started to wise up. Today, buyers are easily fatigued by irrelevant communications and they are quick to opt out, ignore, or, worse, flag it as spam. So we ushered in a new framework and coined it inbound marketing. The idea behind inbound marketing was that the relevance of quality content will engage just the right target audience at just the right stages of the buying cycle – and hopefully, they reach out to you. (To learn more check out the Gleanster CheatSheet on Inbound Marketing or the one on Content Marketing.)

But we are all starting to get more and more frustrated by the astronomical amount of content online. Some of it is good, but most of it is just noise. Ironically, the very catalyst for this explosion of “inbound” content was an attempt to resonate more intimately with buyers because generic outbound communications were not as effective. But can we abuse inbound content and create too much of it? Can we create so much that buyers become fatigued and frustrated? What happens when everyone starts trying to resonate more intimately with buyers? Can too much content lead to diminished effectiveness of yet another marketing tactic?

There’s Still a Place for Outbound

Outbound marketing has been diminishing in effectiveness for the better part of a decade. But make no mistake, diminished effectiveness does not mean it’s not effective. The tried and true elements of advertising still have a role. For example, the rapidly growing real-time bidding of online advertising inventory is still done with CPM pricing. That’s right, cost per 1,000 impressions. Why? It works! Exposing buyers to a brand multiple times still has an impact on sales. So don’t toss out the old for the new quite yet. Traditional channels like direct mail, email marketing, and display still perform in predictable ways. Sure, performance may be half what it was a decade ago, but there’s still a role for it. That suggests outbound marketing will have a role decades from now. So what about inbound marketing?

But Inbound Is on Probation

Buyers are savvy, and they are connected. But so are marketers. Social media isn’t just about the consumer; it brought parity to the competitive differentiators in your marketing strategy. Before digital, marketers could count on longer-term advantages with a good campaign slogan or tag line. Think Different. Got Milk? Just do it. In an offline world, it took much longer to establish a credible slogan for a brand, but it also lasted longer than it does today. Today, taglines and slogans are fleeting. Sure, they may trend on social media and they may generate buzz, but it’s generally very short lived. That’s because our attention span as consumers is a few seconds. You have 2 seconds to capture a visitor’s attention on a website. The problem, as I see it, is that we may inevitably move toward an abundance of digital content that undermines your ability to stand out.

Ink $50. Paper $1. A good slogan... priceless.

Ink $50. Paper $1. A good slogan… priceless.

Inbound is still on probation because marketers are abusing the tactic. Poor quality content designed to capture mindshare and little else is akin to the outbound strategies of the 1960s. In fact, poor quality content will likely be the demise of inbound marketing strategy unless markets wise up and recognize that nobody wins if poor quality content becomes a commodity. It’s a bummer, but in the age of digital independent thought has become a commodity. The internet is packed with regurgitated facts disguised in different packaging. That’s the game we play. In a way, inbound marketing is just a cleverly disguised outbound strategy if the content isn’t really valuable to the target audience. The advent of social media and the ability to consume and validate claims instantly online led consumers to ignore what marketers say and take control of the buying process. So I think the message here is that marketers need to be more diligent about offering unique perspectives and insights in inbound content. If you have something nobody else has and you share it via an inbound strategy, your pipeline wins and the buyer wins.

Chill Out, Chicken Little

chicken littleFear not. Inbound and outbound will be around decades from now. But the vast majority of marketers do a poor job creating quality content for inbound. History is a great predictor of the future, and history tells us that consumers will eventually adapt – so let’s make sure it’s for the right reasons. If you are a marketer, you don’t need to run for the hills. Just start thinking about ways to engage your buyer that they have never seen before. Here are a couple of things to think about:

  • Mobile is just getting started. I think there’s a strong case to be made that mobile took a back seat to social media over the past decade. Granted, the technology needed to catch up to buyer expectations. But as compelling as the email address is for digital marketers (it’s a personally identifiable unique attribute like an address or a phone number) the mobile device is even more exciting. I’m not talking apps, I’m talking mass customization of digital for buyers, grounded in data, predictive analytics, and context (location, time, preferences, and historical behavior). Yeah, stew over that for a bit.
  • Embrace inbound in the right ways. Focus on creating quality content – content you would be proud to showcase your name on. So the next time you publish a whitepaper, blog, or datasheet, think about it this way: would you be comfortable showcasing the content on your LinkedIn or Facebook profile? Would you want it personally tied to your brand, for your colleagues and friends to see what you are capable of? If the answer is maybe not, you’re part of the problem, not part of the solution. You know the crappy content I’m talking about – there’s too much of it online already. So let’s collectively make an effort to improve the quality of inbound content before Al Gore makes a documentary on it.

I think marketers need to stop thinking in terms of inbound and outbound and start thinking about unbounding marketing. What has always been true is innovation and “being different” captures mindshare. Yes, you will have to be highly relevant to earn share of wallet. You will have to be thinking about better ways to resonate in the right channels, at the right time, and with the right offer. But you’ve got to stop trying for parity in inbound and outbound marketing strategy. Simply creating content with a compelling headline or title is not enough. So speak up, be the one to challenge the norm at your organization. Because it’s all bad for all marketers if we don’t make some changes and unbound marketing.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Ian Michiels
Ian Michiels is a Principal & CEO at Gleanster Research, a globally known IT Market Research firm covering marketing, sales, voice of the customer, and BI. Michiels is a seasoned analyst, consultant, and speaker responsible for over 350 published analyst reports. He maintains ongoing relationships with hundreds of software executives each year and surveys tens of thousands of industry professionals to keep a finger on the pulse of the market. Michiels has also worked with some of the world's biggest brands including Nike, Sears Holdings, Wells Fargo, Franklin Templeton, and Ceasars.

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