The Difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

6 min read

Inbound marketing draws people in and outbound marketing pushes messages out - but what are the pros and cons? Is one better than the other? Let's find out.

The terms "inbound" and "outbound" marketing are often bandied about in marketing circles, but what exactly do they mean?

Put simply, inbound methods are ways that draw the consumer to you, and outbound methods are ways that blast a message out. Inbound is like a magnet, drawing specific people in - whereas outbound is like a megaphone, pushing a message out to all and sundry.

Both are useful and come with their own pros and cons, so let's explore.

Inbound Marketing

Inbound methods are sometimes referred to as "attract" or "pull" marketing, and focus on attracting the attention of interested parties. It's a relatively newer type of marketing; and many (but not all) inbound methods are tech-based.

Inbound Marketing Examples

* Blogging and content marketing
* Earned/Organic social media presence
* SEO and online visibility efforts
* Opt-in email subscriptions (and subsequent email campaigns)
* Public speaking and event hosting

Inbound Marketing Advantages

* By writing blogs, creating content and generally proving your expertise with helpful advice, you position your company as a credible resource for information. This builds trust and creates a relationship of sorts with the reader. Inbound methods like this tend towards a lasting, trusting interaction between you and your audience.
* In creating this content, you are likely to reach people who are actively searching for what you offer. These people may view you as a useful resource and may well come back to you for future instalments. Because they're already interested in what you provide, they're more likely to be back. As their trust in you builds, it becomes more and more likely that they will engage with you and eventually purchase.
* As most inbound marketing methods are based in technology, they are generally easier to measure and analyse. For example, it may be troublesome tracking the success of a print marketing campaign, but an email campaign is easy to track as click counts get automatically registered and compiled.
* By using social media, posts with comments sections and reply-able email campaigns, you open up the potential for 2-way communications with your audience. Letting your audience have a say can contribute interesting views from the other side.

Inbound Marketing Disadvantages

* Inbound methods require constant work - SEO, blogging and social media all need regular updates to make the most of your efforts. Very few inbound methods are ones you can "set and forget."
* Inbound marketing also requires a wide skill set, so doing it on your own or in a small team can be a pain. Web development, copywriting, social media, public speaking, SEO, analysis; depending on which inbound channels you are looking to pursue, most or all of these skills may be required.
* It's not just the time taken in creating the content and setting these things up you'll need to concern yourself with, but sorting through the wealth of analytical data that comes with using these methods. All good marketing efforts require thorough analysis to make sure they're working, so you need to plan for analytical time taken.
* You have to select the correct kind of marketing for your field. Inbound methods tend to reach internet users, so if your target demographic is not typically online, inbound marketing may not be useful to you.

Outbound Marketing

Many "traditional" marketing methods are outbound. Outbound is sometimes called 'interruption' marketing because it interrupts a person from what they're doing; or called "push" marketing because it pushes a message out rather than drawing people in.

Outbound Marketing Examples

* Cold sales calls
* Display advertising (posters, billboards, or flyers)
* Paid reviews in magazines and online
* TV/radio advertising
* Paid social media advertising and presence
* Email, search and comment spam
* Direct postal mail campaigns

Outbound Marketing Advantages

* Outbound marketing has the benefit of familiarity on its side. When using traditional methods like TV, radio and billboards, there is a certain level of establishment to the medium. These are the sorts of ads people are used to seeing, especially if you're marketing to an older audience.
* Methods such as print and media advertising usually get a response quite quickly. If you are after some fast revenue, using appropriate outbound methods may be for you.
* Though inbound marketing relies on constant production and updating, if your current outbound media (such as ads and posters) are still accurate, working and relevant, there's no reason to invest time and energy creating new materials.
* Outbound methods can establish brand recognition very quickly and efficiently, especially if it's not something you've done before. By starting to market outwards, you make yourself visible to a wider spectrum of people. In doing so, you may reach new markets you had previously underestimated.

Outbound Marketing Disadvantages

* The exposure that outbound methods gather is usually quick, but not lasting. It doesn't build relationships like inbound methods do. If that's what you're after, outbound methods may be too transient for you.
* Outbound marketing is like a megaphone; it blasts your message out and doesn't allow for two-way communication.
* The return on investment tends to be less measureable when using TV, radio and print advertising compared to more 'techy' methods. Your salespeople can always ask "where did you hear about us," but this isn't as reliable as automated analytics.
* Outbound methods can be targeted to a set audience, but generally by their very nature they advertise to more non-interested parties than interested ones. This increases the cost per head for every successful sale/enquiry. Repetition is a big part of making outbound methods successful, potentially further increasing this cost.
* With the Internet becoming more pervasive, consumers can be sceptical towards traditional marketing methods; generally preferring to find things out for themselves. This is why social media ratings and review sites have become so popular. People trust other people's opinions more than they trust what they're told in an advertisement.

Inbound or Outbound - The Verdict?

If only it were as straightforward as a simple "yay" or "nay" one way or the other. No two businesses are alike, so take an objective look at your own marketing efforts and figure out what's working and what isn't. If there is a new market you'd like to reach, consider how you can reach them in ways you aren't at the moment.

The real joy of these two marketing methods is that they aren't mutually exclusive. There's no need to pick a side. Maintain what has been proven to work for your company in the past; but research appropriate and interesting ways of reaching new markets. It's this approach that is key to effective marketing - test, analyse and refine.

Different industries may find more success with inbound than outbound or vice versa, but sometimes doing things differently to your peers can really pay off.

Michael King says...

"I can’t think of a time where a client has requested something that we weren’t able to do with FiveCRM. Unlike most systems, it has a lot of flexibility."

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Managing Director, Senior Response


“Each client, and each of their campaigns, has its own unique specifications. We essentially needed to set up mini CRMs on one platform to meet those requirements.”

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Operations Director, Team Telemarketing

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