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Rumours of outbound’s death are exaggerated

I was intrigued to read Social media has made inbound marketing an exciting proposition, but it doesn’t mean outbound is dying.

I was intrigued to read a blog post by James Walters on here the other day, arguing that traditional methods of outbound marketing are no longer relevant in the age of social media.

I completely agree that social media has transformed marketing in so many ways: from massively reducing campaign costs to enabling proper two-way conversations with customers. It’s also a whole lot easier to monitor and measure than offline marketing campaigns, and offers a lot of scope for experimenting with new ideas and approaches in a low-cost way.

We love social media at MOI, and we believe it has a critical role to play as an integral part of modern B2B marketing campaigns.

But to suggest that inbound marketing via social media should completely replace outbound marketing is taking it a bit far.  We don’t think outbound is going to go away any time soon – in fact we think it’s going from strength to strength. Here are just a few reasons why:

Not everyone uses social media (yet): Many B2B campaigns are aimed at C-level executives who don’t have time for Facebook or Twitter. You’re much more likely to reach this audience with a well-targeted, well-executed direct mail campaign than with a Facebook page. In one recent campaign we created a booklet about business inspiration that we sent to C-level execs, suggesting they could read it on a flight or taxi journey.  It resulted in a 35% increase in brand awareness for our client – a resounding success with a target audience that’s notoriously hard to reach.

Email still works – if done the right way: Email is still considered the most effective marketing tool, according to a McCallum Layton survey reported in this month’s issue of B2B Marketing.  But email can only be effective if it’s done properly. That means having a very clean, very well qualified list and intelligent and accurate segmentation.  It also means taking care over the copy and creative, so that the email is opened, read and acted upon. And it means having a clear call to action that really shows the value of whatever is being offered – whether it’s a webcast, product offer or white paper.  Relevance is the key, and marketers who take time and care to ensure their outbound communications are relevant will see good results.

New technologies are transforming outbound: We wrote a post about this back in May, but it bears repeating. There are a host of new technologies out there that are transforming the effectiveness – and decimating the cost – of outbound campaigns. Just a few examples:

  • Marketing automation makes it easier to generate and score leads from outbound campaigns, and makes campaigns easier to monitor and measure for ongoing refinement. 

  • There have been leaps and bounds in personalisation, with PURLs and digital printing making it easy to personalise physical and digital DM pieces to a very fine level of detail.

  • Analytics are faster and better than ever. These technologies are making it possible to conduct test campaigns to a small segment at low cost and risk, and measure the outcome to see which approach generates the best results.

Social media is noisy: Email was once the noisiest channel, so marketers hopped to social media in an attempt to engage with customers in a new and relatively untapped arena.  But as social media has matured, so have the levels of noise.  Brands battle it out with friends, acquaintances and media companies for people’s attention - and as the popularity of social media has grown, so have ways of blocking out noise: from Facebook’s ‘Hide’ to various ‘mute’ options in Twitter clients. (The latest mega-platform, Google+, makes it exceptionally easy to hide content from people you are ostensibly following, just by putting them all in one Circle and then ignoring it.)

Compared to social media, email is looking relatively serene these days – and postal mail even more so.  So where once it looked as if email and direct mail might be dead, we’re actually finding them more and more effective, especially when using the new technologies mentioned above.

So it’s not a case of “inbound vs. outbound: which is better?”. Both approaches are equally valid and equally effective, as long as they’re done in the right way.  The best results come when marketers understand the benefits and limitations of each, and create campaigns that play to the strengths.