For a long time I was very negative about email marketing. For me it felt utterly outbound – buy a database, fire out a sales message, cross your fingers and hope that sheer weight of numbers will see you through. No value. No relationship. No point.
I was wrong on two fronts. For a start, my pious attitude towards traditional outbound marketing was naive. There’s a reason why for decades outbound methods were the dominant form of marketing – when done well, they work. And no matter how fluffy and inbound we might like to think of ourselves nowadays, we all should all have a couple of strong outbound strings to our bow or we’ll be playing half a tune.
My second error was to draw such a distinct separation between the two models. Most comprehensive inbound marketing campaigns have an outbound component and vice versa. Email marketing is a cracking example of such conflation. Purchased databases may feel incredibly outbound but what about preference centres where visitors to your site manually opt in to receive specific information of their choice? If they found your site through your organic presence in the search engines or social media and signed up to a particular set of emails entirely of their own volition, then this all feels rather inbound doesn’t it? And then there’s the execution. Inbound marketing is built upon engagement and relationships. Can this realistically be achieved via such a seemingly uninteractive means of marketing as email? Well let’s consider a few examples of when it’s actually done well:
– Promotional offers – people love deals. Offer a voucher code or a coupon to someone who thinks they may have bought that product/service at full price anyway and they will thank you for it. As a red wine lover if a wine company sends me a brilliant deal for a case of really great red wines, in no way do I consider it spam. Targeting is the key.
– Invitations to free educational events – whether it’s an offline event or an virtual webinar, if somebody invites me to an educational event with considerable relevance to my business, then I’m only too happy to open it. Presumably the event or webinar will itself contain a strong sales message, but the email is asking for nothing. It represents value without cost.
– Referral requests – if I know lots other businesses or consumers that I believe could truly benefit from your products / services and you offer me an iPad to recommend you, then that’s value for all concerned. Value for me in the form of my iPad and value to my contact as I believe they really will benefit from the purchase.
So that’s the key – offer value first, sell second. And the secret to offering value is to truly understand your audience. If I don’t drink wine or if the educational event isn’t relevant to my business or I don’t know anyone that could realistically benefit from your products or services, then the emails are spam. They won’t work, you’ll cheapen your brand and risk getting yourself blacklisted.
What this all tells us is that when done well outbound email marketing is actually very inbound, and with email continuing to be the primary means of communication for the vast majority of businesses as well as a substantial chunk of consumers, surely no inbound strategy can be complete without it.
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