In marketing-speak, there are generally two categories of strategies that you can employ for your business – inbound and outbound. These days, inbound is all the rage, and for good reason. As we will discuss below, there is a lot to love about inbound marketing, and it’s a good idea for almost every brand to consider how they can lean further into the inbound side of the equation.
With that said, there are some time-testing outbound marketing strategies that you probably don’t want to throw out completely. And, further complicating things, there are some types of marketing that can be both inbound and outbound, depending on how they are deployed. That brings us to the focus of this article, which is email marketing and its place in the inbound vs. outbound debate.
The answers to those questions and more can be found below. If any of this is confusing, you can expect it to become clear soon enough – here we go!
What is Inbound Marketing?
To properly frame this discussion, we first need to have a clear understanding of what inbound marketing is and why it is so successful. Actually, before we can define inbound marketing, let’s turn the other way and define outbound marketing.
Most outbound marketing methods are what you might think of as “traditional” forms of advertising. The defining feature of an outbound marketing technique is that the target of the advertisement didn’t seek it out or want to engage with it – the ad was more of a disruption than anything else. This is where the name “outbound” comes from, as the business is attempting a blanket approach to attracting customers. Generally, the audience isn’t actively looking for what you’re selling, and at times, the interruption can be simply irritating.
A commercial on television is an excellent example of an outbound form of marketing. When you are watching TV, you don’t want to see the ads, and you probably wish you could just skip right over them. These ads are outbound in nature, as they are put there to interrupt what you are doing and deliver a message about a product or service that the company hopes you will buy. There can be no debate that outbound marketing has been effective for many businesses throughout history. But it’s expensive, intrusive, impersonal, and generally inefficient.
This is where we turn the discussion to inbound marketing. With inbound, the experience for the target audience is different. Generally, your target audience is actually seeking out – and even enjoying and benefiting from – the marketing material they encounter. You can define inbound marketing as a technique that attracts customers by creating useful content and experiences that are relevant and helpful to that audience.
Content marketing is perhaps the best example of this type of marketing. When you create a piece of content like a blog post or video to present to your audience, you are doing so with some underlying goal in mind. You are not directly selling. You are generally trying to connect with a customer, provide value, and guide them through a problem that they’re actively trying to solve with no strings attached.
Unlike a television commercial, the inbound content that is presented to the audience can be useful and valuable in its own right, even if no purchase is made. It’s presented at just the right time when the customer is actively looking for it. This type of marketing is more of a win-win situation, as the audience can get value from it and come away with something for nothing. The company can spread the word about their products and services and hopefully, by being helpful and human, pick up new customers along the way.
Where Email Fits In
Let’s bring our discussion back to the topic of email marketing. Is email marketing inbound or outbound? We would argue that the answer lies in how it is being used by the business. If you send out cold emails to addresses that you collected through various means other than direct signups to an email list, that would be outbound marketing. The recipient of the message didn’t ask for it, and you are pushing it into their inbox as more of an interruption than anything else. Even if you try to include some valuable content at the same time, it will still feel like outbound marketing because of the way you are pressing the message into the path of the recipient.
The first way to turn email marketing into an inbound tactic is by sending out messages to a list of opted-in subscribers. By definition, these are people who have self-identified as wanting to receive your messages, so you’ll be off to a good start. The messages you send out, even if promotional in nature, aren’t as much of an interruption because they were requested by the people on the other end. And, with the option to unsubscribe, they can always get off the list and avoid these messages moving forward if they so choose.
A Long-Term Investment
Effective inbound email marketing is not a swift route to success; instead, it’s a journey focused on helping and nurturing. It demands patience and time for nurturing to yield results.
That’s why plenty of brands just opt for outbound email marketing, as it is easier and has the potential to get you some quick results. When you blast out cold emails by the thousands, you might land on a few people who happen to line up with your offerings and make a purchase. But it’s a numbers game, and those numbers are rarely going to be in your favor. Most of the time, the emails will just get deleted, and the time and money you put into that campaign might not be worth it in the end.
Building a quality email list of people who are actually interested in what you do or sell is like building up anything else of value in your business – it is going to take time and effort.
Gradually, you can use a solid strategy to accrue email subscribers and get more and more out of this channel. As the list grows, so too will the results you get from that list, and it can be a bit of a snowball effect once it gets moving. So, don’t get frustrated by your early returns from using email as an inbound marketing tactic, and give this strategy the time it needs to really start to pay off.
Inbound Email Marketing Methods
Having a strategy to grow your list is important, and it should be at the core of what you do with your email marketing efforts. But even with that list, you are still going to need to figure out what kinds of messages to send out, when to send them, and more. If the people on your list don’t find that you are delivering some kind of value when they open your messages, they’ll just start to delete them when they arrive – and unsubscribing could be soon to follow.
To help get the creative juices flowing, we’d like to present a few types of emails that you might want to create and send as part of your inbound marketing campaigns. These ideas will need to be tailored to properly suit your business, of course, but there should be a way to apply them to most companies with just a bit of creativity.
- Send out a regular newsletter. Regularly sending out educational and marketing email newsletters is a strategic move with a host of benefits. It not only keeps your audience engaged and boosts brand recognition but also serves as a powerful educational tool, enhancing industry knowledge. This can fortify trust, promote customer loyalty, and potentially attract new leads. Furthermore, the ability to personalize content and gather feedback fosters a valuable, interactive relationship with your subscribers.
- Announce a sale. On the one hand, this feels kind of like outbound marketing because you are just presenting the recipient with information about a product and the option to make a purchase. However, there are two points to keep in mind. First, if this is going to your opted-in list, the person on the other end has already signaled that they want to get the message. Also, you are delivering value in the form of a notification that the product or service is now on sale and available at a lower price. For someone who has been on your list but was waiting for a sale to make their purchase, this email could have tremendous value as it saves them money on something they already wanted to buy.
- Back in stock. If you have products that come in and out of stock over time, sending out emails that tell people when something has come back in is another good inbound strategy to consider. This type of message is valuable to the potential customer because they don’t have to keep coming back to the sight to see if something that they wanted to purchase is in stock – they can just wait for the message to arrive after requesting such a notification. In this way, you get to promote your products while also giving the customer the feeling that they are being helped by your messages. It’s not an intrusive ad so much as a friendly reminder that they might want to make a purchase before stock runs out again.
- Curated messages. If you regularly post content to your site or social channels, you can do a roundup, curated message that will help your audience catch up on everything that has been happening with the brand. For instance, you could do a monthly curated email that provides links to the best posts on your blog from the past month as well as any videos that have been posted or any notable social media activity. These are great emails that tend to get tons of engagement without feeling overly promotional or pushy.
- Abandoned cart emails. Even if you haven’t sent these types of emails for your e-commerce business, you have probably received them from other companies. They are messages that notify you that something was left in your cart and encourage you to consider coming back and completing the purchase. From a business perspective, these are great tools because they can help to secure an additional percentage of sales that would have been lost without the reminder email. Also, it’s a chance to present a special offer or bonus if the shopper comes back and makes the purchase. So, not only can you make more sales, but you can also offer good service and value by presenting something else at a discount or as an add-on.
- Drip Emails. A drip email campaign is an email marketing strategy that involves sending a series of automated, targeted emails to individuals over a specific time frame. The benefits of a drip email campaign lie in its ability to nurture leads and build relationships gradually. By delivering relevant content and information in a well-paced manner, drip campaigns continually connect with, and nurture your customers, ultimately increasing the likelihood of conversion. It should be noted that the process is automated and requires no ongoing effort, ensuring that the right message always reaches the customer at the right time, leading to improved customer retention, higher conversion rates, and enhanced overall marketing efficiency. It’s a perfect way to nurture and to be helpful to those customers who are interested but haven’t taken action to purchase yet.
Does everything you do in your marketing department have to be classified as inbound? No – it doesn’t. There is still plenty of space for outbound marketing techniques if you have the time, budget, and resources. But, the tide is definitely moving toward inbound with no stopping in sight. Today’s modern customers do not like interruptions, they’re empowered by data and they won’t be pushed to buy until they are ready. A great strategy to reach customers now and in the future is to be aggressively helpful and human. Inbound email marketing can be just the tactic to accomplish that goal. If you can do it correctly, the revenue will follow.
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