Definition

outbound marketing

This definition is part of our Essential Guide: IT channel sales and marketing strategy for the digital era
Contributor(s): Tim Ehrens

Outbound marketing is a traditional form of marketing in which a company initiates contact with potential customers, or leads. Examples of outbound marketing methods include cold-calling, cold-emailing/spamming, direct mail, billboards, event sponsorships, tradeshow presentations, advertising through TV, radio, print and online or through in-person contact. After leads are generated using these methods, it has typically been the responsibility of a company's sales representatives to follow up and develop business relationships with those customers.

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 in order to get his 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; outbound marketing can increase brand awareness or alienate consumers.

Drawbacks of outbound marketing include the high cost of creating, 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. Inbound marketing methods are often associated with greater opportunities to measure audience preferences and feedback through such methods as measuring email clickthroughs 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.

Outbound marketing can become more effective with reliable data, but this information can be costly to obtain and may not be spread virally, via social media or other forms of online communication. 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.

Ongoing costs of outbound marketing may be low since the companies don't have to constantly create new materials to relay their message. Leads can also be directed to whichever places a company prefers.

This was last updated in December 2014

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