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Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing in the Media Mix

October 15, 2013

There’s a lot being written about brands making the transition from outbound marketing to inbound marketing, which has practical implications on the media mix. Before I get started, let’s define the terms.

Outbound marketing is traditional advertising and promotion, i.e., billboards, TV commercials, radio spots, direct mail, email marketing, etc. Outbound marketing identifies target markets and takes your brand to the consumer. It’s designed to generate leads for those prospects in the purchase cycle, and brand your product to others who will be in the cycle at some point.

Inbound marketing “is advertising a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing…Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found and draws customers [repeatedly] to the website [and social media] by producing interesting [and relevant] content.” – Wikipedia [my revisions]

I love that last line about inbound marketing. It’s a quick overview of what we must do in today’s market. While outbound works to grab attention, inbound works to engage those who are actively in the purchase cycle.

Today, it seems to be all about inbound marketing. At least that’s what my email inbox indicates with many vendors telling me, “Outbound marketing no longer works, especially with Millennials. Inbound is where you need to be.” Of course, what they mean is that I should be shifting my finite marketing dollars to their inbound marketing company and away from outbound marketing vendors. What’s ironic is their use of outbound tactics to get my attention.

They do have a point. We’re all experiencing the market shift. Admissions Offices nationwide have increased numbers of stealth applicants–those students who first appear in our funnels when they apply for admission. In other words, they were checking us out on their own without inquiring.

Take a look at these *percentages of stealth apps and apps that resulted from specific outbound marketing tactics (such as mailing list purchases) for two of our programs:

Traditional undergraduate apps
49% were stealth**
18% were recruited by outbound marketing tactics

Apps for one of our graduate programs
35% were stealth apps
24% were recruited by outbound marketing tactics

*These stats are first-contact numbers, i.e., a particular tactic was credited when the prospect was entered into our system. Because of that, and because of the extended higher education purchase cycle, multiple platforms, and how students now choose college, the waters are muddied when it comes to crediting tactics.
**Impacted somewhat by the Common App

The truth is that talking about inbound and outbound marketing is a bit like comparing apples and oranges. Outbound marketing’s work is largely at the top of the funnel driving prospects to your inbound marketing content. Inbound marketing’s work is ongoing above the funnel (e.g., SEO) and down throughout, which means your inbound marketing tactics will play an integral role in moving an outbound lead down the funnel.

Thus we have made a large investment at Concordia University Irvine in inbound marketing tactics and content strategy across media. Most of our media mix is inbound-related. However, we’ve also invested in more aggressive outbound tactics, which continue to produce. And I’m not about to mess with that.

The reality is that in this current market environment we have to do both inbound and outbound marketing. As CMO, I must build a team of employees and vendors that can cover all of those bases well. We’ve got to be good at list procurement, media advertising, email marketing, and call center work. But we have to be even better at producing relevant and engaging content for our target markets across media and platforms.

As a result, our identity is changing. Marketing and Communications, also known as MarCom, infers a service department doing outbound marketing. However, the market has moved us to increasingly see our identity as content producers.  But I’ll leave that for another post.

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. October 15, 2013 6:30 PM

    This is a great post. I loved the definitions right at the beginning explaining the difference between the two.

  2. October 16, 2013 8:42 AM

    Hi Rick, thanks for your post, it’s very helpful and timely for me! 🙂 I’ll await your piece on content production and content marketing, as I have been reading more and more articles about it. Cheers!

  3. December 5, 2013 12:44 AM

    Hello Rick, thanks for making it clear to me.
    I’ve been wondering about these two things and what’s more important nowadays.
    But I got it now, both have their own importance.
    I also write on Branding, as I’m a MarCom aspirant!
    It’s http://goo.gl/q9K9Jk.
    Please visit, I’ll be grateful if you’ll give me feedbacks.
    Thanks!

    • December 5, 2013 11:34 AM

      Thanks, Kavish, for your comment. I’m glad you found this post to be helpful. BTW, I visited your blog and left a comment. Good thoughts on brand and branding!

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