outbound marketing

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is a traditional form of marketing in which an organization initiates contact with potential customers, or leads. Examples of outbound marketing methods include cold calling, cold emailing or spamming, direct mail, billboards, event sponsorships and tradeshow presentations. It also includes advertising through TV, radio, print and online or through in-person contact.

After leads are generated using these methods, it is typically the responsibility of an organization's sales representatives to follow up and develop business relationships with those customers.

How does outbound marketing work?

With outbound marketing, companies cast a wide net and hope to gain customers by repeatedly imposing their messages on them without knowing whether the customers want to receive those messages. This is commonly referred to as the "spray and pray" method of marketing, where a company disrupts a person's flow of activity to get their attention and promote a message.

Efforts have been made to curb some of the abuses of outbound marketing, such as the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003, which requires companies to clearly label commercial email as such, provide opt-out options for individuals to stop receiving messages and other provisions.

Consumer familiarity with outbound marketing can be positive or negative for a company. In other words, outbound marketing can increase brand awareness or alienate consumers.

Pros of outbound marketing

Although marketers typically view outbound marketing as less efficient than inbound or highly personalized marketing, it can offer the following benefits:

  • Lower operational costs. Ongoing costs of outbound marketing might be low because organizations don't have to constantly create new materials to relay their message.
  • More control. Leads can be directed to whichever places a company prefers.

Cons of outbound marketing

Outbound marketing has become less common than inbound marketing. The strategy's drawbacks include the following:

  • Inefficient. Organizations must spend a lot of money delivering and broadcasting messages to a wide audience, many of whom will have no interest in its contents. Messages are easily ignored by uninterested prospects, which limit outbound marketing's effectiveness.
  • Doesn't generate customer data. Outbound marketing can become more effective with reliable data, but this information can be costly to obtain and might not be spread virally, via social media or other forms of online communication.
  • Difficult to gauge customer sentiment. The one-way nature of outbound marketing doesn't allow for immediate feedback from leads, which limits the ability of companies to determine whether their strategies are resonating with the public. To get feedback, companies conduct surveys and employ focus groups at an additional cost and with varying levels of effectiveness.

Outbound vs. inbound marketing

Although outbound marketing can still benefit organizations, inbound marketing has become an increasingly common alternative. Inbound marketing methods are often associated with greater opportunities to measure audience preferences and feedback through methods such as measuring email clickthrough rates and online content visits.

Inbound marketing also offers more opportunities for good customer data since leads actively seek out content online and have already shown interest in a company's products or services before they start a relationship with that company.

Editor's note: This article was written by Tim Ehrens in 2014. TechTarget editors revised it to improve the reader experience.

This was last updated in June 2023

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