The outbound marketing revival
Read this article in the magazine edition of Business Review Australia
Once a mainstay of the marketing toolkit, B2B Outbound Marketing has taken a backseat to Inbound Marketing tactics over the last few years. But, thanks to new technologies and techniques, even throwback tactics like cold calling are making a comeback and generating big success for major brands.
The outbound downfall
In its glory days of “push marketing,” Outbound Marketing was predictable, measurable and easy to control. Marketers could budget their spending by throttling up on tactics that drove the most leads and scaling back on those that were less productive, quickly shifting resources as needed. In fact, budget was THE defining factor in most marketing decisions: in those days, the most common strategy was simply to pour money into buying email lists, cold calling, mass mail campaigns and online ad buys.
However, the results did leave something to be desired. Conversion rates were low as audiences grew weary of the onslaught of hundreds of impersonal messages competing for their time and attention. The cost was high considering the lower return on investment. And, Outbound tactics held zero long-term value – the moment you turned off the tap on lead gen efforts, the leads stopped flowing in. Despite these challenges, lacking better alternatives, marketers pressed on, trying to optimize their efforts as best they could with these limited options.
The shifting tide—Inbound abounds
The Web 2.0 revolution and the advent of the social web forever changed the marketing landscape. Now marketers could actually interact with their audiences in a direct and meaningful way beyond inundating their senses with millions of messages in the hope that one would get through.
The notion of Inbound Marketing—the idea of attracting audiences to your messages—burst onto the scene as a way to overcome the challenges of Outbound Marketing. The evolution ushered in the Era of Content Engagement, in which “pull marketing” tactics now attract audiences to our messages. Through engaging and useful content—educational e-books, “how to” videos, buyer guides, product reviews, stunning presentations, free webinars—marketers are able to inform and interact with audiences like never before, and build relationships that go beyond making the sale. Audiences come to trust us, and even share and refer our content to friends and colleagues via social media.
For many brands, the Inbound Marketing revolution has been a marketers dream. The more intimate customer interaction reveals deeper insights into how, why and when audiences are interested in our product. It also fits our budget: many marketers find inbound marketing to produce cheaper leads that convert better than those generated by outbound marketing. Perhaps even better, inbound marketing has a lasting impact – the content lives on in the social web long after the campaign has ended. When done right, that content can continue to generate new leads for months or even years to come, with zero added effort or expense.
As inbound marketing exploded, outbound marketing took a back seat, with marketers shifting their budget and efforts toward more content marketing initiatives. The proportion of budget allocated to inbound marketing has grown steadily over the last two years, up to 35 percent for 2012, with just 23 percent reserved for outbound tactics. Driving the spending growth, nearly 50 percent of marketers increased their inbound budgets for 2013.
Inbound-only strategy: Past its peak
However, not unlike all other hyped trends, many companies have come to realize that putting all of your eggs in the Inbound Marketing basket alone simply will not work. Why?
- It requires a ton of content.Successful inbound marketing requires brands to produce a steady supply of content to maintain their audiences' attention. Those who fail to “keep it coming” with creative, impactful content will see their inbound efforts fall flat.
- It requires quantity AND quality. Audiences want good stuff—content that both informs and entertains, and offers real value. The problem is most marketers are experts in lead gen and branding—very few have experience as publishers. For this reason, developing interesting, varied and engaging material is a primary hurdle for more than half of B2B marketers.
- The results are difficult to predict.It’s nearly impossible to forecast the number of qualified leads inbound marketing will generate over time. In fact, many marketers have come under fire for not meeting qualified lead targets, driving website traffic that doesn’t convert and drawing in audiences with no genuine interest in the company’s products.
- Measuring ROI is messy. Where conventional outbound marketing is easy to measure using technology and data analytics to calculate conversion rates, the majority of marketers say they either cannot or do not calculate ROI, or they have seen no positive ROI on their inbound efforts, mostly because they cannot find the right technology to make it happen.
- Budget limitations.More than half of B2C marketers say lack of an adequate content marketing budget is their biggest challenge. Content generation can be expensive, especially when there aren’t enough internal resources to handle the load, and it must be outsourced to meet volume demands.
Despite these issues, Inbound Marketing is hardly failing. In fact, it’s still incredibly successful for many brands who have mastered the strategy. However, the savviest marketers are realizing that Outbound Marketing still has its place in the modern marketing toolkit. As a result, we’re seeing a growing resurgence in Outbound Marketing—including “old school” tactics like cold calling, which is still very much alive and kicking—fueled by new social targeting technologies. These techniques enable companies to acquire more precisely targeted lists for “throwback” tactics like mail drops and email marketing campaigns, as well as better leverage social media to engage prospects.
Social lead targeting: The next great marketing evolution
Most marketers are aware that the social web holds a treasure trove of valuable data on their audiences’ likes, dislikes, wants and desires. But mining these mountains of data seems like an impossibility. Who has time to Google search every single one of their leads? It would take years to search each individual’s social network profile, to discover what topics they’re talking about, tools they’re using, events and forums they participate in, skills they possess and who they follow on Twitter. While it’s likely that you could easily determine who among them is more likely to take interest in your offering and what message might work when connecting with that person, undertaking this manual effort is clearly not worth the time and expense.
Fortunately, technology is coming to the rescue. Automated social lead targeting technologies are breathing new life into outbound marketing efforts by enabling companies to make sense of the mountains of data generated in the social web.
With social lead targeting, marketers can discover new leads based on the myriad of indicators scattered throughout the social web. As lead data is gathered and verified in real-time, with access to a multitude of data sources, lead records remain fresh and complete, connection rates increase and marketers can more precisely target, prioritize and segment leads. Armed with accurate, deep knowledge of your company’s lead space, marketers can more effectively leverage the social web, using tools such as LinkedIn and Twitter to effectively engage their audiences. In fact, with social lead targeting, marketers can actually harness the data gathered to craft messages specifically for their audiences’ areas of expertise, work roles, job functions and other details—all data gathered automatically and in real time from their social network profiles, industry forums, blog postings, and more.
Suddenly, outbound marketing makes sense again. With good data and new social sharing technologies, a growing number of companies are successfully overcoming the traditional challenges of outbound marketing and re-discovering this highly successful method for filling their sales funnel. Companies like data visualization and infographic design leader Visually have used this method to boost outbound sales by 250 percent, and gamification platform Badgeville saw its sales-driven pipeline surge by 400 percent. With results like these, and many others, outbound marketing is—and always will be—a key component in any smart marketing mix.
About the author
Ran Gishri is VP of marketing for Leadspace, a pioneer in social lead targeting. With 20 years of experience in software marketing and product management with start-ups and large corporations, Ran has helped introduce social lead targeting to some of the most recognized B2B brands in the world, like Marketo, Jive, Badgeville, and Stylesight to increase sales and marketing ROI and optimize outbound and inbound lead generation. For more information, visit www.leadspace.comor connect with Ran on Twitter @rgishri.