Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: The Differences Between the Two

Have you ever been tasked with producing or updating your company’s marketing strategy? Whether you should use an inbound or outbound marketing strategy may be a familiar argument you hear when discussing upcoming project strategies.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed with information and advice. Should you focus on making splashy signage, talking to potential leads at an industry event, or developing an exclusively digital strategy?

Fortunately, these two universal marketing concepts can help you limit your scope. Both have distinct applications, benefits and challenges, which we’ll explore in this article, along with an overview of them and examples of how to apply each method.

In this inbound vs. outbound marketing guide, you’ll discover:

The difference between inbound and outbound marketing.

There are several main differences between inbound and outbound marketing. Outbound marketing involves proactively reaching out to consumers to get them interested in a product. By contrast, inbound marketing centers on creating and distributing content that draws people into your website.

Outbound marketing typically has a more aggressive, wide-sweeping approach, with the expectation that at least some people will convert. Inbound marketing is usually more subtle and focuses on convincing a particular group of individuals to make a purchase over time.

Here are a few other differences at a glance:

Inbound Marketing
Outbound Marketing
Informative digital content, targeted at specific audiences and written to help solve consumers’ problems.
Non-digital content, designed to capture consumers' attention and written to sell products.
Content comes in interactive forms, such as social media posts, blogs, reports, webinars, etc.
Content is displayed in direct mail, magazine ads, billboards, on TV, etc. and is meant to be passive.
Messaging is tailored to specific consumers.
Messaging must stand out among millions of other ads consumers see each day.
All-encompassing strategy across multiple channels.
Linear strategy with limited channels.
Measurable through digital marketing software.
Difficult to measure attribution from physical advertising.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is focused on attracting customers to your products and services. Your best prospects are searching for products online, with up to 63% of consumers starting their shopping journey online.

They begin by searching for products and services, or content to fulfill a need and solve a problem. As such, your content should explain how your products or services will resolve their issues, answer key questions in their niche industry, or satisfy their needs.

There are many ways to do this, including:

Each of these content pieces can also serve as a way to differentiate your product from the competition. Embed product comparisons, amazing testimonials, competitive pricing, and outstanding reviews into your podcast, social media posts, or reports.

Keep in mind that prospective customers should receive thoughtful content at various points throughout their buying journey, that is varied in material, but consistent in messaging.

An example of inbound marketing.

Let’s say a customer is looking for a new marketing software. First, they may type “best marketing tool” into a search engine, to explore the landscape.

The first organic result may be a blog outlining the top 10 marketing platforms in a clear, unbiased way. After reading the post, they might want to learn more about digital marketing.

Conveniently, the end of the blog has a link to encourage them to sign up for an upcoming webinar, to learn more about a new digital marketing strategy. They click the link, then enter their name and email address to access the content. The site then stores their contact information and tracks whether or not they attend the webinar.

Once they attend the webinar, they might wonder if any companies successfully implemented the strategy that was discussed. Right on cue, the vendor will send them a follow-up email, containing case studies that show how one of their competitors effectively used digital marketing to achieve a huge ROI.

This prompts them to request a demo with a sales representative. They go into the sales call already interested in (and educated on) what the software does, providing you with an easier sell.

Benefits of inbound marketing.

There are several benefits to inbound marketing that can help you determine if it’s the right strategy for your company:

✓ Inbound marketing is non-invasive. Prospects can read your blog posts or attend a webinar on their own time.

✓ Inbound marketing content is educational. It is specifically designed for each stage in the sales funnel.

✓ Inbound marketing is quantifiable. You can tie each part of your strategy to a metric that gets monitored over time.

Your website and content are continuously being updated, so inbound marketing continues generating leads over time.

Challenges of inbound marketing.

Of course, inbound marketing isn’t for every company. There are some drawbacks to focusing solely on digital content.

Inbound marketing:

x Requires continuous maintenance. This is to ensure that content always speaks to consumers’ evolving wants and needs.

x Takes a great deal of time and effort. Developing and testing out different content that will entice customers to convert takes time.

x Demands a holistic strategy. You’ll need to buy tools to help you implement integrated, cross-channel campaigns.

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing sends a message to a huge amount of people, in the hopes of making a sale. This strategy is rooted in the thought that the larger the group you message to, the larger the return.

Outbound marketing is often associated with traditional marketing, like:

However, outbound marketing can also be applied to more modern technology, like pay-per-click advertising and spam emails.

Frequently, consumers are not even aware of or looking for the product that’s being advertised. Prospects could be watching TV or perusing a website and be interrupted by an ad illustrating why they should buy a certain product.

An example of outbound marketing.

A customer is driving on the highway and sees a billboard for a furniture store in the area. They might briefly think that they really should invest in a new couch, but they keep that in the back of their mind.

A few weeks later, as they watch the local news, they see a commercial for the same furniture store. Again, they think about buying a couch, but forget after the news comes back on.

Three months later, they check their mailbox and find a discount coupon for the furniture store. As it happens, they just received a bonus at work. Finally, they decide to go ahead and buy that new couch.

None of the ads referred to a couch, and they weren’t necessarily looking to buy one right away. Nevertheless, ads kept popping up in their everyday life, so they ended up shifting their attention to a need that wasn’t top of their mind initially.

Benefits of outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing has a few perks that should not be overlooked.

Outbound marketing:

✓ Promotes brand awareness. Reach people who haven’t heard of your products or services before.

✓ Can yield immediate results. People interested in your products and services are likely to take action on your ads and make a purchase.

✓ Is something consumers are used to. They know that there will be ads in the Sunday paper or on TV and may trust those ads more than the ones presented to them on newer technology.

Challenges of outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing can be difficult to get right. Here are some disadvantages of going along this route:

x Outbound marketing is more generalized. It’s difficult to make outbound marketing appealing and relevant to everyone.

x It’s easy for consumers to tune out outbound marketing. Many people mute the TV during commercials or immediately throw out or recycle their junk mail.

x Measuring the effectiveness is harder. It’s challenging to measure results of some outbound marketing strategies like billboards.

x Outbound marketing is costly. Traveling to trade shows, paying for banner ads, and purchasing billboard spaces add up.

Overall, outbound marketing is all about sending a message at scale, while inbound marketing has a very targeted approach.

The likelihood that at least some people will convert from your outbound marketing efforts is high, but it is often associated with a high acquisition cost.

Rather than shouting your product’s name from the rooftops and hoping that a few people respond, inbound marketing content can be finely tuned to appeal to your best-fit prospects.

Frequently asked questions about inbound and outbound marketing.

What is the meaning of outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing focuses on reaching out to the public with non-targeted content to promote products or services. It covers traditional marketing and advertising methods like:

Outbound also relies on sending out messages and collateral at scale, to reach as many people as possible.

What is the meaning of inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing focuses on drawing customers to your brand by providing content and experiences tailored to them. An example could be writing articles or creating videos that answer key audience search queries.

By drawing the right sort of person towards your products or services, inbound marketing often creates better leads and lasting relationships.

Is SEO inbound marketing?

Yes, SEO is a good example of inbound marketing. It utilizes search traffic to create content tailored towards a certain audience. In doing so, it can draw people towards your brand who are likely to buy products or make other conversions.

Get started on your inbound or outbound marketing strategy.

No matter your marketing strategy, you need a way to keep up with the constantly changing marketing landscape. Marketo Engage specializes in:

Marketo Engage has helped hundreds of enterprise clients achieve their inbound and outbound marketing goals by suggesting new ways to engage with your customers at scale.

Start unlocking the power of inbound and outbound marketing today, with a free Marketo Engage product tour.

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