Inbound and Outbound Email Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

Inbound and Outbound Email Marketing: Everything You Need to Know
30 August, 2023 • ... • 618 views
Natasha Zack
by Natasha Zack

Modern marketing can be inbound or outbound, depending on a number of aspects. Some channels clearly bend toward one or the other category — but with others, it’s harder to tell. Take email marketing: is it inbound or outbound? And does outbound email marketing even exist outside of the murky spam realm (spoiler: yes)?  

In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about inbound and outbound email marketing and the differences between the two, plus illustrative examples of both, and some real-life case studies of outbound email marketing done right. 

So, let’s start at the beginning.

The concept of inbound and outbound marketing

The term “inbound marketing” was coined around 2004-2005 by a marketing software company HubSpot CEO Brian Halligan. Originally, the concept implied that people were tired of being constantly interrupted and harassed by marketers and salespeople. As a result, customers became largely unresponsive to traditional “outbound” marketing techniques such as banners and TV ads. The solution, according to the inbound marketing concept, was to focus on the customer, not the product. Through helping people solve their problems, inbound marketing was meant to nurture connections with the customers and subtly persuade them to buy a product instead of pushing them to do it. 

Today, the concept remains largely the same. Inbound marketing is more focused on nurturing relationships with leads and customers, and outbound marketing — on attracting attention. 

Some examples of inbound marketing include:

  • Blog articles.
  • Social media content.
  • Marketing emails and more.

Examples of outbound marketing are: 

  • TV, radio, and print ads.
  • Trade shows. 
  • Marketing emails and more.

If this looks familiar, you’re not mistaken. In fact, a similar typology existed for decades in traditional advertising. There, communications targeted at a wider audience were known as ATL, of above-the-line, and those with a more personalized approach were called BTL, or below-the-line. So, it doesn’t really matter whether you call billboards and TV ads outbound marketing or ATL advertising — the essence remains the same.

So, is email marketing inbound or outbound?

The convenience of email marketing is, it can be both inbound and outbound, depending on the goals and objectives of your email marketing strategy. Moreover, one company can  use both inbound and outbound email marketing, depending on a particular campaign’s goals. 

But how is it possible? To understand that, let’s take a closer look at each of these email marketing types.

What is inbound email marketing?

In a nutshell, inbound email marketing is building and nurturing relationships with leads and customers who have previously expressed interest in your brand or product (visited a website, reacted to a social media ad) and willingly joined your mailing list. 

Inbound email marketing involves creating valuable, highly personalized content tailored to answer the audience’s needs and solve their problems (for example, tips and lifehacks, how-to guides, special offers, etc.) and implies having a long-term, diverse email marketing strategy.

What is outbound email marketing?

Outbound email marketing is reaching out to potential customers who have neither explicitly expressed interest in your brand or product nor opted in to your mailing list. That is, if you are sending unsolicited emails to an audience that has not interacted with you before, your email marketing is outbound. 

Typically, outbound email marketing involves sending out cold emails to people who fit the general target audience description in the hope that they might find your product of interest. That raises a question whether spam emails are also outbound. Technically, they are. However, spamming is a bad practice that can tarnish your business reputation and hurt your email deliverability. Not sure how to distinguish cold email from spam? Be sure to check out our article on cold emails.

That said, outbound email marketing can be effective when used properly. To decide what type of email marketing you need for a particular campaign and make the most of each, it’s essential to know how these two compare. So, let’s zoom in on the main differences.

Inbound vs. outbound emails: A comparison

Overall, outbound email marketing is more proactive and “pushy” while inbound email marketing is more subtle and client-focused. But there are more differences than that. 

Now, let’s discuss each aspect in more detail. 

Audience approach

As mentioned earlier, inbound email marketing implies interacting with a “warm” audience that has willingly entered into communication with you. That means you need to “warm up” that audience first. One way to do it is to use paid search ads and targeted social media ads. When leads visit your website or social media profiles, you can offer them to subscribe to your emails — for example, via pop-up forms or lead magnets. 

Outbound email marketing, on the other hand, implies sending out unsolicited emails — that is, emails your prospects didn’t opt in for. That means email lists have to be acquired elsewhere. A bad but common practice is to buy these lists online. A safer way is to obtain email addresses from open sources such as official websites, or through referrals. This tactic will help your emails feel more relevant and less intrusive to your recipients.    

Engagement

Inbound email marketing implies moving the already warmed-up audience down the email marketing funnel, step by step taking them through every stage of the buyer’s journey. That implies having a coherent long-term email marketing strategy as well as separate campaign strategies for each stage of the journey.  

Outbound email marketing is different in that its main goal is to attract the prospect’s attention and evoke interest. Outbound email marketing doesn’t necessarily imply building long-term relationships with the customer as closing a single deal is often its end goal. However, that doesn’t mean outbound campaigns always consist of only one email. On the contrary, it typically takes a series of cold emails to create an effective outbound email campaign.      

Reach and speed

Inbound email marketing values the quality of the contacts over quantity and focuses on attracting interested audiences rather than proactively reaching out to them. That naturally narrows down your mailing list while making it laser-focused. Moreover, good inbound email marketing takes time. A quality mailing list comprised exclusively of contacts who have opted in for your emails often takes months or even years to build.   

With outbound email marketing, the main goal is to push the prospect toward taking action. So, it typically places greater emphasis on the number or contacts reached, and prioritizes speed. But though outbound emails tend to reach more people at a time, and do it faster, they are also more likely to end up in trash or trigger spam reports due to their unsolicited nature. 

Cost-effectiveness

Typically, inbound email marketing tends to be much cheaper than traditional, or outbound, marketing. Having fewer contacts on the list makes inbound emails more cost-effective because most ESPs charge customers based on their mailing list volume or the number of emails sent. Not only that, but the ROI is also higher for inbound email marketing thanks to the already “warmed-up” contacts on the list.  

Outbound email marketing, as mentioned earlier, implies having larger contact lists, sending out more emails, and reaching out to cold prospects, thus the increased costs. However, thorough background research and a more targeted approach can help make outbound emails more cost-effective.   

To sum it up, here’s what the main differences between outbound and inbound email marketing look like in a nutshell.

Inbound email marketing Outbound email marketing
Audience approach Laser-targeted messages for a “warm” audience Cold, unsolicited emails with loose targeting
Engagement Moves “warm” prospects down the email marketing funnel Aims at attracting the prospects’ attention and eliciting a response
Reach and speed Smaller reach, slower speed Larger reach, faster speed
Cost-effectiveness very cost-effective less cost-effective that inbound

Next, let’s take a look at some of the most illustrative examples of inbound and outbound email marketing.

Examples of inbound emails

Welcome email

A welcome email is your business’ first point of contact with a new subscriber, and it’s crucial to your future relationship as a first date. If something goes wrong, it might scare off a fresh contact, and you’ll lose them for good. That’s why welcome emails typically follow a foolproof set formula that includes welcoming a new subscriber, setting expectations for the future, and helping them get started with your product. 

Optionally, you also can offer new subscribers to set their email preferences by providing a link to the preferences page.   

In the example below, Trello expertly handles this format in its clear and concise welcome email that contains everything necessary and nothing superfluous.

A welcome email example from Trello
Source: Really Good Emails

Abandoned cart email

People often leave items in carts when they can’t decide whether to make a purchase. Abandoned cart emails can help eliminate hesitation and compel them to finalize the purchase. Sometimes, an enticing description is provided to convince the hesitant customer, but other times, a simple reminder is just enough. 

In this email from Nomad, the company uses humor relevant to its target audience, carefully picked wording, and eye-catching images to make its abandoned cart email irresistible.

An abandoned cart email example from Nomad
Source: Really Good Emails

But sometimes, words and images are not enough. That’s why it is fairly common for abandoned cart emails to also contain personalized discounts. 

An abandoned cart email example from Alex Mill containing a personalized discount
Source: Really Good Emails

Promotion email

Promotion emails are extremely common in email marketing across industries. As the name suggests, their main purpose is to promote a product and trigger a sale. They also help retain customers and increase brand awareness. 

Typically, these emails put the product front and center to attract attention, give some crucial information about the product, and then explain the benefits of your offer. Alternatively, you can highlight a promotional code or a discount to enhance your offer and increase sales, as shown in the example below.

A promotional email example from Made In Cookware containing a promo code for a limited-time discount offer
Source: Really Good Emails

Back in stock email

Businesses, especially in the ecommerce industry, often offer their customers an option to receive notifications whenever the product they added to their cart or favorites is back in stock. When that happens, subscribers receive “back in stock” emails which make them more likely to purchase a product they’ve been considering. 

Typically, such emails contain a large, attractive image of the product, a brief description, and a clear call to action. The example below is a classic “back in stock” email.

A “back in stock” email example from Haus
Source: Really Good Emails

Outbound email examples

Now, to the outbound email examples. As outbound emails are practically synonymous with cold emails, we recommend you to follow cold emails best practices when writing them. Presently, we will provide the most efficient strategies and templates you can use for reference. 

Grab their attention

The easiest way to instantly grab your readers’ attention is to use the classic AIDA formula for your email copy. Originally invented in 1898, it consists of the following elements: drawing attention (A), evoking interest (I), stimulating desire (D), and encouraging action (A). Thus, the steps leading to the CTA increase the possibility of a positive reaction — i.e., taking the required action. 

In this formula, grabbing attention is a crucial step. One way to do this is to ask a relevant question. Alternatively, you can state an interesting fact or provide some impressive statistics — or even combine all of that in one sentence.   

Here’s an example of an email template tailored according to the AIDA formula.

Hi [Prospect’s Name],

Did you know businesses in your industry are experiencing a 30% revenue increase with our innovative Remote Team Task Tracker? 

Our cutting-edge technology streamlines processes, increases efficiency, and drives impressive results for remote teams.

One of our clients, XYZ Inc., saw a 40% reduction in errors and a 25% productivity increase within three months after implementing our solution. And we are confident that you can achieve similar results. Imagine the impact on your bottom line! 

If that sounds interesting, сlick the link below to download our case study and learn more about how Remote Team Task Tracker helps businesses grow. 

[Insert download link]

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Company]

[Your Contact Information]

Bridge the gap

“The bridge” is a three-part email structure very commonly used in outbound email marketing. In the first part, you describe the current state of affairs your prospect faces. In the second, you show them how much better things could be. Finally, you show them “the bridge” — i.e., introduce your product or service and explain how it can help them “cross the bridge”. 

It can also help to mention the effort it will take them to get to the point B if it helps position your solutions as a reward they have deserved.   

Here’s an example of an email template utilizing the “bridging the gap” structure.

Hi [Prospect’s Name],

As you probably know, workers in the tech industry don’t want to return to the office. But managing a remote team can be challenging, especially when it comes to productivity and efficiency. Tasks take longer to complete, the bottom line suffers.

But imagine a scenario where your team experiences a 25% increase in productivity instead of a drop. And that within just three months! 

This is exactly what happened with one of our clients, XYZ Inc., who faced similar challenges as your company. They implemented our Remote Team Task Tracker and witnessed remarkable improvements in their operations in the said time period. And your company can do that, too. Yes, implementing it takes some time. But in the end, you won’t regret a single minute.

To learn more about how our Remote Team Task Tracker has transformed businesses like yours, download our case study here: [Insert download link]

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Company]

[Your Contact Information]

Start with a compliment

People love being appreciated, and this presents a great opportunity to start communication with your prospect off the right foot. Before moving on to your agenda, say something nice about your prospect or their business. Proceed with describing a problem similar to theirs, and give an example of how your product helped solve it. Close your email with a “Learn more”-type CTA.      

For this email to be a success, carefully pick your words for the compliment. Avoid mentioning anything irrelevant or potentially offensive. It is also crucial to provide a good example of how exactly your product can be beneficial to them in the main paragraph of your email. 

Here’s a template.

Hi [Prospect’s Name],

I am [Your Name], a [Your Job Position] at [Company Name]. Can I have a minute of your time? 

First of all, let me commend you on the incredible work your company’s been doing in providing high-quality products at competitive prices. I am personally a fan of them, so I know what I’m talking about. 

But did you know you could sell more of these products if you started managing your online reputation? Imagine a scenario where your online reviews increase by 50% and your average rating improves by 0.5 stars within just three months. This is exactly what happened with one of our clients, ABC Inc., who implemented our innovative Review Management Platform. Their online reputation skyrocketed, as well as their sales — and we have a case study detailing their success. Wouldn’t you like to get similar results for your company? 

To learn more about Review Management Platform and how it helps businesses sell more through managing customer reviews, visit our official website: [Insert link to the website]

Thank you for considering our solution,

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Company]

[Your Contact Information]

Solve their problem

You know how things get worse in Hollywood blockbusters — until they get better. This tactic lends itself perfectly to outbound emails as well. In this scenario, your job is to make your recipient’s problem look as bad as possible, and then bring them relief by offering your product as an ideal solution.   

To make this email more effective, show them that the problem is substantial. Ideally, provide evidence that other people or businesses struggle to solve it as well — for example, by mentioning study findings or statistical numbers. 

Here’s how it works.

Dear [Recipient’s Name],

My name is [Your Name], and I recently received a referral that you are searching for a new house. As a real estate agent, I know the homebuying process can be a daunting task. There are so many factors to consider, and it can be hard to know where to start. 

That’s why it takes homebuyers X weeks more to buy a home without an agent. This means that if you’re trying to buy a home on your own, you could be in for a long and frustrating process. 

But it doesn’t have to be that way. As an experienced professional, I can help you find your dream home and make the buying process as smooth and stress-free as possible.

I have a vast knowledge of the local real estate market, and I’m an expert at finding homes that meet all of my clients’ needs. I’ll work with you to create a customized search plan, and I’ll keep you updated on the latest listings as they come on the market. I’ll also negotiate on your behalf to get you the best possible price. And I’ll be there to guide you through every step of the buying process, from finding a home to closing the deal.

If you are interested, just give me a call [Insert your phone number] or book an online meeting [Insert a link to the online calendar]. I’d be happy to answer any questions you have.

Warm regards,

[Your Name]

Licensed Real Estate Agent

[Your Agency Name]

[Your Contact Information]

Use the “BYAF” technique

The BYAF acronym stands for “but you are free”. In psychology, it is a proven technique based on the premise that a person is more likely to comply with your request if you give them freedom of choice. Marketers can use this technique in outbound emails by first introducing a product and making a request, and then mentioning that the recipients are entitled to any decision they prefer.  

This technique works because it eliminates the element of coercion outbound emails often contain. Just make sure you are persuasive enough in the part of your email that comes before the “but you are free” paragraph.  

Here’s an example.

Hi [Prospect’s Name],

I hope your week is going well. My name is [Your Name], and I am reaching out to introduce you to my online language school ABC. 

But why should I be interested, you might ask. Well…  

Imagine a scenario where you can confidently communicate in multiple languages, opening doors to new career prospects, international travel, and meaningful connections with people from around the world. This is exactly what ABC has helped our students achieve, and we have success stories to share. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your existing language skills, our experienced teachers will guide you every step of the way and make sure you reach the best possible results. 

If this sounds exciting, just head straight to our website and book a free lesson. Or simply ignore this email if you please. You have the freedom to choose what’s best for your personal and professional development, after all. But why not explore this opportunity that has shown proven results for hundreds of students? Just book your free lesson now or browse our website to learn more: [Insert website link]

Best regards,

[Your Name]

[Your Company]

[Your Contact Information]

Real businesses using outbound email tactics

Now, you might wonder whether companies actually practice sending outbound emails. In fact, they do. Outbound email marketing is common across many industries, including IT,  real estate, event planning, and more. Here are some examples of how businesses leverage outbound emails to enhance their marketing strategies.  

Ambition

Ambition is a software company providing B2B solutions aimed at increasing sales teams’ performance. The company offers a variety of toolsets for tracking metrics, driving competition, coaching, and more. A few years ago, Ambition ran a six-week cold email campaign that delivered some fairly good results

With the help of a professional copywriting service, the company designed a series of 8 outbound emails. Then, they used email automation to reach out to a total of 578 prospects.

The initial email brought no responses and a few bounces, but the company persisted. Eventually, they managed to get 73 new leads from this campaign. According to Ambition, persistence was key in their case, while value messaging and messaging variation also contributed to the campaign’s success.   

LeadFuze

LeadFuze is a prospecting tool for finding business professionals and their contact information in the open sources. At a certain point, the company’s founder Justin McGill used his own software to help launch an outbound email campaign that resulted in growing the company’s revenue to $30K within a year.  

The first step was compiling a list of prospects and pulling in information on them from open sources using LeadFuze.

Source: Pagely
Source: Pagely

When the list was ready, an initial email was put together using McGill’s own formula for cold emails called QVC. The formula involves three elements: a question (Q), a value proposition (V), and a call-to-action (C).

Source: Pagely
Source: Pagely

Also, a P.S. was added to offer a prospect a quick way out of communication. 

Source: Pagely
Source: Pagely

After that, a series of automated follow-ups with different content were sent. When quality leads emerged, they were offered to book a meeting via an online calendar. McGill offers three follow-ups as an optimal number but acknowledges that fellow experts use longer sequences, which is also fine as long as it works.  

Eventually, this outbound email campaign helped LeadFuze significantly boost revenue. According to the company’s CEO, the steps to success were finding the right prospects, crafting a personalized outreach plan, and following up after the initial email. 

Lemon

Lemon is a service that helps startups find, vet, and hire developers. Like many other fellow IT companies looking to scale, Lemon used an outbound email campaign to raise product awareness and generate new leads.  

The campaign started with identifying the right audience. Users of similar, but not identical, platforms such as Upwork, Fiverr, and Toptal, were used as a reference. 

Next, an email sequence was written. Each email served its own purpose, from differentiating Lemon from its competitors to addressing the prospect’s inaction. As the company has a very distinctive image and communication style, the emails utilized the same highly casual, bold approach. 

Source: ProductLed
Source: ProductLed

Though the exact results of this campaign are not mentioned in the case study, it is safe to say that it helped Lemon reach the main goal: raise product awareness among its potential customers. Some of these people will eventually convert and generate additional revenue for the company. The rest will at least be aware what Lemon is and how it is different from competitors — and that is already a big step forward.

Summing up

That was everything you needed to know about inbound and outbound email marketing. Now, let’s sum up the key points. 

  • Email marketing can be both inbound and outbound, depending on your goals and strategy.
  • Inbound email marketing implies communicating with an audience that has given you consent to receive your emails while outbound email marketing inevitably involves sending out cold emails.  
  • Inbound and outbound email marketing also differ in a number of aspects: audience approach, engagement, reach, speed, and cost-effectiveness. 
  • Typical examples of inbound emails include welcome emails, abandoned cart emails, promotion emails, and “back in stock” emails. 
  • Typical approaches to writing outbound emails include utilizing the AIDA formula, “bridging the gap”, starting with a compliment, offering a solution to the recipient’s problem, and leveraging the “but you are free” technique.  
  • Outbound email marketing is a legit practice if done right. In fact, many real companies use it and achieve impressive results with its help.
30 August, 2023
Article by
Natasha Zack
I’m a professional journalist with 10+ years of experience. Throughout my career, I’ve worked with various kinds of media — print, online, broadcast. Currently, I write copy for brand media and teach English part-time. I also have my own edtech passion project dedicated to teaching English via Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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