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What is outbound marketing? A complete guide

social media post featuring an outbound marketing ad for a new purse brand

It’s no secret that good marketing is the backbone of any successful business. Ask any seasoned business owner, and they’ll tell you that you should invest in a well-thought-out marketing plan—from creating a website to building impactful social media campaigns. But with so many marketing strategies out there, how do you know which is right for you and your business needs?

One option is outbound marketing, a tried-and-true marketing idea and approach that has many benefits. In this article we’ll explore what outbound marketing is, different strategies styles and when to use this approach in your own business.

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is a more traditional type of marketing, in which businesses actively reach out to potential customers as opposed to waiting for customers to approach them. This style of marketing can take on many forms, including TV or radio commercials, billboards, magazine ads, trade shows and cold emails.

Outbound marketing is generally aimed at a large, diverse audience that has not heard of or shown interest in your brand before, so they're at the start of their customer journey with you. It can help to spread brand awareness relatively quickly and bolster inbound marketing efforts.

Inbound vs outbound marketing

Outbound marketing is often considered the opposite of inbound marketing, a form of digital marketing that’s designed to “pull in” specific audiences. Inbound marketing involves creating content that naturally attracts potential customers. This could include well-targeted blogs, newsletters, podcasts, online events and more.

While inbound marketing helps to establish trust over time, outbound marketing aims to deliver immediate results. The interplay between inbound and outbound marketing plays a crucial role in generating buzz for any business and converting first-time buyers into loyal followers. Eventually, every outbound marketing campaign should generate a pool of potential customers, who you can target with more cost-effective inbound and content marketing campaigns in the future.

infographic outlining the differences between outbound marketing and inbound marketing

Pros and cons of outbound marketing

Although it may seem like outbound marketing no longer has a place in today’s economy—that couldn’t be further from the truth. There are still major benefits to using this marketing strategy, and it can still help you reach huge audiences, very fast. In a nutshell, outbound marketing has several benefits and challenges worth considering.

Benefits of outbound marketing

Fast results: You can get your brand in front of thousands—if not millions—of people immediately through social media ads, TV commercials and more (and all the places where mobile marketing really comes into its own).

Scalability: Outbound marketing campaigns can be scaled up or down depending on your budget and/or needs.

Targeting: Most ad platforms will allow you to define who sees your content, based on their demographics, interests, locations and/or recent activity.

Testing: Given how easy it is to set up, target and adjust most outbound marketing efforts (at least online), you can more easily test new messaging and offers.

Cons of outbound marketing

Cost: Outbound marketing can get expensive, especially if you’re using more traditional methods like TV advertising or direct mail.

Invasiveness: Ads and other outbound marketing approaches can appear pushy and spammy to some consumers.

Cold traffic: Some people may have never heard of your brand prior to you reaching out—as a result you may experience low response rates.

Difficulty measuring ROI: While some forms of outbound marketing may be easy to track, others (like billboards or radio ads) may be difficult to track.

Types and examples of outbound marketing

As we discussed, the goal of outbound marketing is to reach large new crowds. These campaigns aren’t designed to “close the deal” with customers who are already familiar with your brand. Rather, these marketing campaigns are designed to generate interest in your brand among new audiences.

There are various types of outbound marketing and each example has its own value and potential gains.

01. Online advertising

Cost-effective and convenient, online advertising is a great internet marketing strategy for reaching audiences on a large scale. By using this type of copywriting marketing strategy, small businesses can use online ads to engage with potential customers using a variety of mediums, including social media platforms, search engines, native advertising and display ads.

The special benefit of online advertising today is the convenience of targeting your content. Most tools and platforms can guide your advertising strategy, allowing you to track your ad’s performance and use insights to more effectively engage with your desired audience.

native advertising on a news publication as an example of outbound marketing

02. Cold calls

Cold calls are a semi-targeted form of outbound marketing, in which you contact potential customers who haven’t interacted with your business in the past. These are unsolicited calls, but you should try to only call people who may find real interest in what you’re offering.

There’s an obvious downside to outbound sales calls. People may find them obnoxious, and sales representatives often dislike them as well. But that doesn’t mean you should toss aside outbound calls altogether—there are still benefits to this method.

The point of cold calls isn’t to make an immediate sale. Rather, it’s a chance for your brand to get a foot in the door and create initial contact with a potential future customer. It might be surprising, but this form of outbound marketing is actually pretty effective: 82% of buyers said they’ve accepted meetings with salespeople after a series of contacts that started from a cold call.

03. Cold emails

There are a few subtle differences between cold calling and sending out cold emails. While cold calls can be received badly by the other side, emails get much less of a negative reaction. In most cases, people just ignore them or move them to their junk folder if they don’t want to engage.

Email marketing has the added benefit of not being tied down to a specific time, because unlike a phone call, people can read them whenever it’s comfortable for them. You can also schedule them to be sent at a certain time for convenience.

If you’re going to send cold emails, make sure to keep your emails short and sweet. Offer something of value (like a discount code) and try to personalize your message.

email marketing campaign templates as an example of outbound marketing

04. Printed ads

Many people consider magazines and newspapers to be a dying art, but that’s simply not true. As recently as 2021, there were nearly 223 million magazine readers alone in the U.S. Magazines are extremely varied, making them a great way to reach niche audiences.

Newspapers can similarly be an attractive outbound marketing outlet to advertisers. National newspapers can get hundreds of thousands, or even millions or eyes on your brand. On the other hand, you can advertise in local newspapers to enable local marketing.

05. Billboards

If you want to boost brand awareness and business in a particular location, a catchy billboard is a classic way to do it. A giant billboard on a busy highway can be expensive and may not be feasible if you have a tighter budget—but overall billboards enjoy a captive audience, and can expose your ad to thousands of people every day.

The challenge with billboard advertisements is catching the attention of those passing by. You can reach a lot of people, but if your ad isn’t eye-catching with clear and attractive messaging, it may easily go ignored.

06. TV and radio commercials

Commercials may seem outdated, but the potential reach of a nationwide TV commercial is massive. In the same vein, radio commercials can offer lots of reach, even on local radio stations.

Commercials give your brand the opportunity to repeat your message to audiences over different channels for a specific period of time. The benefit of this is allowing potential customers to familiarize themselves with your product or service using creative advertising. TV commercials in particular are an opportunity to showcase your business using outstanding visuals, catchy tunes and strong messaging.

07. Trade shows

The fact that trade shows serve to bring together a lot of people with a common interest makes them a gold mine for event marketing. Attending and participating in trade shows can land you new customers on the spot. At the very least, it instantly exposes your brand to a lot of people in your field, including industry leaders as well as local networks. While trade shows are great for creating relationships with potential customers, they tend to be more B2B-oriented, so they may not apply to every brand.

08. Guerilla marketing

Guerilla marketing is a creative wildcard that’s all about the wow-factor. A guerilla marketing campaign can literally be anything, as long as it’s surprising, buzz-worthy and generates curiosity around your brand. Some awesome examples of guerilla marketing include this bus being strangled by a snake, a simple KitKat bench and Nintendo’s sticky note composition. As opposed to other outbound marketing methods, guerilla marketing isn’t necessarily expensive—in fact, if you can manage to leverage your creativity, it can even be free.

When to use outbound marketing

While many businesses these days prefer to invest in inbound marketing and focus solely on the cost per conversion, there’s still a time and place for outbound marketing. So when is outbound marketing a good idea? Here are some instances when it can benefit your brand.

When your time is limited, but your budget isn’t

As noted earlier, outbound marketing is generally more expensive than inbound marketing, but it can produce fast results. Compared to outbound marketing, inbound marketing involves things like building a bank of content or growing a social media following—all of which are very time-consuming.

Instead, you can reach thousands of people within a matter of hours using some of the outbound marketing methods mentioned above. If money isn’t a limiting factor, incorporating some of these tactics can engage a constant flow of new customers.

To collect data for future inbound marketing campaigns

Inbound marketing relies on data about your target audience. The more information you have, the better the results. But in order to generate this data, you need a place to start.

Outbound marketing campaigns can drive a lot of traffic to your website and to your social media channels, so you can start collecting information about who they are, what they like and more. All of this information can then be used to create more efficient inbound campaigns or to better target your existing campaigns.

When marketing common or “seductive” products

Some products just scream outbound marketing. Common items—like clothing—are universal, so going with a broader marketing campaign can still reach a good percentage of your target audience.

Outbound marketing strategies work well for another type of product—the “seductive” type. These tempting products are desired by audiences almost immediately after seeing them, mostly referring to consumable products like food or drinks (notice how the fast food industry never gave up on billboards and TV commercials).

social media advertisement for new clothes as an example of outbound marketing

If your business is expanding to new locations

Expanding to new markets is never easy. It takes a lot of money and energy, and it’s necessary to make your stamp as fast as possible. One of the quickest ways to reach a lot of people in a specific location is through outbound marketing. Billboards and local paper ads ensure that the local population will be exposed and aware of your business’ arrival.

For brand building and recognition

Out of sight, out of mind—but if you constantly push your brand in front of people, there’s a better chance that they’ll remember you. This concept is especially important for companies that rely on returning business, like Coca-Cola, which continuously has multiple outbound marketing campaigns running.

Billboards and commercials can do more than advertise a product. They can connect with audiences on an emotional level, too. A giant billboard or commercial that makes people laugh can make your brand seem personable, desirable and memorable. For certain businesses, these moments can be a game changer.

Discover more types of marketing: Affiliate marketing, Referral marketing, Brand marketing

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