Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

Mary Gormandy White
Inbound vs outbound marketing

As eMarketer points out, "Acquiring new customers is a major priority for most marketers." Many marketing strategies can be used toward this end, some of which are inbound and some of which are outbound. While the ultimate goal of both inbound and outbound marketing efforts is to generate business, the two approaches are very different from one another. If you are involved in marketing a business or another type of organization, it's important for you to know how they differ.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

The major distinction between inbound and outbound marketing has to do with their overall approach, as pointed out by SEOPressor. Inbound marketing is a "pull" approach to marketing, whereas outbound marketing is a "push" approach.

  • Inbound: This is a pull approach focused on delivering messages to targeted consumers who are already looking for what your business have to offer. The focus is on attracting qualified customers.
  • Outbound: This is a push approach focused on casting a wide net with marketing messages to spread the word about your companies products and services to a large audience. The focus is on finding customers.

As a result, the strategies used in inbound marketing are very different from those used in outbound.

Examples of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing focuses on getting your marketing messages in front of people who are predisposed to be interested in them. According to HubSpot, inbound marketing campaigns have three elements in common: content, search engine optimization, and social media. Inbound messages are often technology-based and are triggered by the interests, online activities, and information-seeking behavior of the people who receive them. Examples of inbound marketing include:

Inbound Marketing
  • Content marketing - Publishing relevant content and/or information products (such as articles, checklists, whitepapers, etc.) on your company's website and other sites or publications
  • Video marketing - Publishing useful, helpful videos of interest to prospective customers on your company's website or YouTube
  • Business blogs - Writing content for your own company blog, individual company leader blogs, or guest blogging
  • Search marketing - Applying search marketing strategies to bring in people searching for what your company has to offer (SEO, key phrases, retargeting, etc.)
  • Influencer marketing - Targeting influencers in your industry to endorse or otherwise help promote your products or services
  • Online community building - Establishing a base of audience members or customers who become evangelists for your brand
  • Subscription-based newsletters - Sending email or print newsletters to people who have registered to receive this type of communication from your company
  • Contextual advertising - Sending online advertising messages based on what users are searching for, such as pay-per-click ads

Examples of Outbound Marketing

With outbound marketing, which is a traditional (sometimes called "old school" approach), the focus is on getting word about your products or services out there, hoping that it lands on consumers who may buy from you. It basically interrupts what an individual is doing in order to deliver an advertising message. For example, when you sit down to watch a TV show, the activity you have chosen to engage in is disrupted when an advertising message appears. Outbound marketing strategies include:

Outbound Marketing
  • Traditional media advertising - Print, television (network or cable), or radio advertising
  • Out of home advertising - Advertisements on billboards, bus benches, etc.
  • Trade show marketing - Vendor displays at conferences or association meetings
  • Direct mail - Mailing postcards, letters or promotional items to purchased or collected mailing lists
  • Email marketing - Sending unsolicited email marketing pieces to purchased or collected lists (SPAM)
  • Cold calling - Making telemarketing calls to people who have not previously shown interest in your products or services

Effective Marketing in the Modern World

While both inbound and outbound marketing can provide value, inbound marketing is a more modern approach that, as SEOPressor points out, can help marketers overcome some of the key challenges inherent to outbound marketing in the modern world. For example, it's easy for customers to skip or fast forward through much of television advertising via OnDemand or streaming services, avoid radio ads through subscriptions services, delete unsolicited emails, throw direct mail pieces in the trash unopened, and ignore cold calls. While it is still possible to find customers this way, doing so can be expensive, with a lot of waste and limited return on investment. Inbound marketing offers many benefits over the more traditional outbound approach.

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Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing