Inbound versus Outbound Marketing

April 23rd, 2021 12 min read

Inbound and Outbound marketing offer different approaches to achieving the same goals of generating leads, driving sales, and improving customer relations. Outbound marketing involves many of the classic sales strategies from before the turn of the century. Inbound marketing centers on a new way of thinking about customer relationships and sales. Understanding the difference between the two can help you decide which works best for your organization. It is also vital to understand how to make the most out of each strategy.

 Inbound MarketingOutbound Marketing
Also Known AsPull Marketing, New MarketingPush Marketing, Old Marketing, Interruption Marketing
ExamplesBlog and Website Content, Social Media, How-To and Assistance VideosTV Ads, Radio Ads, Billboards, Banner Ads, Newspaper and Magazine Folds
Marketing FocusDrawn Clients in, Generate Genuine Interest and Solve Customer NeedsTldr:Leads Come to YouPush Products to a Broad Audience, Interrupt the Customer, Sell Why the Product is Right for ThemTldr:You Find Leads
ProsGreater ROI, Cuts Through Ad Noise, Positive User ExperienceEasier to Produce, Access to More Traditional Mediums
ConsRequires Smart Targeting and Customer UnderstandingSmaller ROI, Expensive and Can Fail to Yield Results, Huge Competition

What Is the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing includes many of the traditional methods we would think of as sales and marketing materials. TV Ads, telemarketing (including cold calling), billboards, and magazine ads are all common mediums. 

This material is written with a simple goal in mind: to push the product on a broad audience. The word “push” is key here. Outbound marketing strategy relies on a one-way communication flow persuading the audience to buy the product. It can also be called “push marketing”. These generally interrupt whatever content, task, or entertainment the potential consumer was utilizing at the time.

Inbound marketing focuses on pulling customers in and using their own interest to drive the sales experience. This is the pull marketing to outbound’s push method. Inbound marketing is designed to allow the customer to gravitate towards the product by following their own interest. 

The prospective customer has a need, and the product solves that, but the interaction is very much user-driven. Blogs, SERP, social media, and newsletters people sign up for are common examples of this. Customers may visit a website, demonstrate interest, and become a potential lead for the sales team. In summary, this form of marketing relies on a self-directed buyer’s journey of earning interest. In comparison, outbound marketing is a much more classic “sell to the customer” approach. 

Few companies use just one or the other approach. Most have SEO and content teams working on their internet presence and marketing teams on more traditional ads. The tactics used by each individual company vary, and your organization will likely find a balance between the two to be most effective.

Benefits and Limitations of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing has developed as a response to the failures and saturation of outbound marketing. As a result, it has earned the title “new marketing”. Old marketing has seen incredible saturation in the daily lives of consumers. Experts estimate that American’s are exposed to between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day. As a result, marketing teams need a way to cut through the noise. This is where inbound marketing’s strengths come into play.

This type focuses on organically attracting genuinely interested customers. It can be considered “permission based”, because the process is done at the pace and behest of the target. For the potential customer, the content is specific to their interest and informative. Data analytics and SEO strategies can help ensure content stays relevant to the user’s interests and needs. If you need a practical demonstration, open up a google tab, and search for “best laptops under $1,000”, a few times, with a few variants. 

This information is where inbound marketing comes into play. You will find endless helpful articles, blog posts, newsletters, and more going over which of these may be best for you. You visit the website for MSI, and they collect some contact information. There may be a chatbot to answer any questions you have. A youtube video might go over all the information of the product.

For the sales team, this is fantastic lead generation. They now know you are interested, and might send you more content. The focus here is on interesting, genuinely helpful content that creates a trust and relationship with the product vendor. In summary, as you actively look for a product, the materials that help you are the advertisements themselves.

This all sounds fantastic for the company, and inbound marketing is extremely effective at what it does. For the customers, they are targeted in a way that interrupts them less frequently and follows their interests. 

There are drawbacks to this marketing strategy. First of all, it is not easy. The content-focused approach requires a significant amount of resources and marketing skill. SEO and keyword optimization become vital for targeting the right leads. 

This type of marketing also raises privacy concerns for many individuals. The content produced has to be genuinely engaging and informative. This requires skilled producers and a flexible yet focused marketing strategy. Companies can not simply cast the wide net that outbound marketing uses. 

Benefits and Limitations of Outbound Marketing

It is important to understand right away that there are significant limitations to this strategy. The saturation of the ad market has made it so that consumers are simply getting very good at ignoring ads. Technological advances allow us to skip over them, and many of us want to. Adblockers on websites, fast-forwarding through commercials, and skip options on youtube videos are all examples of workarounds.

Despites this, there are areas where this type of ad can be effective. While workarounds do exist, some audiences are still approachable by outboard marketing strategy. Local radio is a fantastic way to hit a target audience in a car in a cost effective way. PPC (pay-per-click) ads allow you to mitigate costs when an ad is less effective. Just because this is called old marketing does not relegate you from use of newer mediums.

One effective example of outboard marketing using some elements of newer marketing is podcast ads. These are typically very much a product-focused, push approach. Where they learn from new marketing is in their targeting and trust. Often, they will be read by the hosts themselves, creating trust and directly engaging the audience. 

As established, inbound marketing is effective in part because of its ethos and ability to capture customer attention. By working directly with your audience’s interests, you can incorporate these elements into more traditional ads.

Marketers can also target specific genres their research shows overlaps with their targeted demographics. In summary, while outboard marketing is general in nature, you can still use modern analytics and strategy to inform your advertising. 

Tools for Inbound and Outbound Marketing

For marketing teams looking to get the most out of their strategy, be it inbound or outbound, there are a number of software products available.

One of the most comprehensive for this type of work is Customer Relationship Management, or CRM software. This type of tool is designed for the entire customer lifecycle. One popular vendor for this, Hubspot, is credited by many to be the founder of inbound marketing.

There are dozens of CRM software on the market that can assist you. These can manage data, help with sales acceleration, and even automate some of the marketing processes. Hubspot is a fantastic option, as are Pipedrive, Salesforce, and Insightly. You can click on any of these to read more about them, and check out our category page to learn more about CRM software as a whole. For small businesses, we recently published an article “4 Best CRM Software for Small Businesses and Who Should Use Each

Another software category popular for marketing teams is Marketing Automation software. One of the biggest issues with both types, but especially inbound marketing, is the time required. Marketing automation software, as the name suggests, takes some of the burdens off of your team. Beyond just automating repetitive tasks, this type of software can expand your sales potential.

Marketing Analytics software will help you gain insight into which marketing campaigns are performing the best. This is vital for allocating resources where they are most needed. Inbound marketing relies heavily on sales teams actively managing their leads. Marketing automation software offers a full host of tools to help in this. Lead nurturing helps pull prospective clients in, and databases allow you to keep track of your expanding contact list. These tools van even add behavioral analysis to help personalize your sales targeting further

For those looking to explore marketing automation software, cost may be a concern. Check out our piece “Which Free Marketing Automation Software Is Best For You?” for more information about no-cost options. Beyond free tools, some popular options include MailChimp, ActiveCampaign, and Hubspot Marketing. Another extremely common software type is Ad Serving and Retargeting software. Individuals’ prior behavior informs decisions about future ads and marketing information they will be exposed to. 

More Marketing Resources and Advice

Marketing is a constantly evolving practice, and what works for you may be different than those in other industries. Check out the category pages of the software types above to make the most out of the software available. Here is a fantastic piece for marketing tips in 2021.

Below are two videos. The first goes over some tips and advice for inbound marketing. The second details outbound marketing strategies, and how to get the most out of them. Both will help your organization increase sales and improve customer relationships.

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