Skip to content

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

by James Preston on

Marketing plays a crucial role in helping you to attract customers to the products or services you provide, so it’s vital that you are familiar with the different methods of marketing at your disposal. Knowing the respective benefits and drawbacks of their applications will also allow you to understand how to best reach your customers. So what’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing and how can you use both for maximum effectiveness?

What’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

Inbound marketing

Behind the shoulder shot of a man browsing a website on a laptopPut simply, inbound marketing seeks to attract prospective costumers to your business’s products or services by creating valuable content which is tailored to them.

This content explains the benefits of your service and how you might be able to meet a customer’s needs, which should hopefully inspire and encourage them to request more information or make a purchase.

This method of marketing is well suited for use alongside SEO copywriting and social media marketing due to the emphasis it places on drawing in potential customers to your business from elsewhere on the web.

Inbound marketing examples

– Online articles and blog posts
– eBooks
– Opt-in emails
– Social media

Outbound marketing

In contrast, outbound marketing begins with the assumption that you already have some basic knowledge of your target audience, allowing you to create content that seeks to educate these specific prospects about your products in a meaningful way. Because of its active nature – seeking out a particular audience – outbound marketing is more aligned with traditional methods of advertisement.

Outbound marketing examples

– TV ads
– Billboards
– Internet pop-up ads
– Magazines

As you can see, the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is quite a subtle one, and often the lines between the two become blurred.

The important thing to keep in mind is that inbound marketing lends itself to passivity – the customer is doing much of the work to find you and identify themselves, be that through carrying out an online search or signing up to mailing lists.

Outbound marketing, on the other hand, is a more active approach on the part of the business. When using outbound marketing, the customer plays a minimal role – instead, a business is actively searching to find potential customers through methods such as developing television ads, renting space on billboards, or engaging in cold-calling. Think of it like fishing – inbound advertising leaves treats in the water, while outbound advertising throws out a huge net.

Inbound vs outbound marketing: which method should you be using?

For decades, the primary method of marketing for many companies was outbound marketing. Television ads, billboards and phone calls have previously been the most popular tactics for reeling in customers; however, in such a fast-moving world, and with so many products, companies and services on offer, this method of advertising may no longer be the most effective way to gain customers and grow a brand.

Research has shown that the average person is now exposed to between 6,000 and 10,000 ads each day, but in spite of this, the number of ads which actually register with audiences is, understandably, very low. With numbers this high, it’s little wonder that consumers are starting to grow sick of the traditional methods of advertising.

People are also growing steadily tired of TV ads, with studies suggesting that 84 per cent of TV viewers express a wish to fast-forward through ads, and 60 per cent actively avoiding ads by downloading their favourite shows. As for radio jingles, their days may be numbered, with over 155 million people now using the paid music subscription service Spotify Premium, allowing them to escape adverts.

So, what does this mean for your business?

You may be thinking that it seems futile to stick to the traditional methods of outbound marketing to market your products, as it’s pointless advertising to a reluctant audience. And you may well be correct. This is where inbound advertisement comes in.

Understanding the buyer’s journey

Overhead view of people building a customer journey/strategyThe increased dominance of digital has given rise to an established cycle of what is known as the buyer’s journey. This begins with the potential buyer using means such as internet searches to find the solutions to the problem they are experiencing. This is where they will come into contact with our earlier examples of inbound marketing.

Well-researched keywords placed within articles and blog posts will guide these potential buyers to websites such as yours which sell products and services they want. In doing so, this method of marketing allows you to position yourself in your market without bombarding unwilling people with advertisements that they may not even pay attention to.

Through this process, the buyer has now assumed the active role in identifying themselves, which in turn, allows you to target an audience that is actually interested in your services, preventing both parties from wasting their time or money.

Can you use both inbound and outbound marketing?

You may not want to completely discard outbound marketing just yet, as it still has its uses in a well-rounded marketing strategy.

After using the more efficient method of inbound marketing to make that first initial contact with a buyer, many businesses are now capitalising on this newly identified market by employing methods such as opt-in email lists. This allows them to maintain contact with these customers and, instead of requiring them to do all the work, keeps them updated about goods and services they have already established an interest in.

By picking and choosing from both of these methods of marketing, businesses are now able to change the scope of their marketing activity so that it is more efficient, personalised, and collaborative.

Header image: Photo by Susan Q Yin on Unsplash

Embeded images: Photo by Sigmund on Unsplash, Photo by UX Indonesia on Unsplash

James Preston

James is an undergraduate studying English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, playing the guitar, and writing fiction.