Outbound versus Inbound Marketing — The Leading 5 Differences in the Two Marketing Disciplines

Today’s marketers have a wide range of tactics to choose from when creating their marketing campaigns. Options include email campaigns, social media, blogging, search engine optimization, online advertising, television and radio ads, to name a few. 

All of the various marketing tactics can be boiled down to two main categories: outbound and inbound. Each discipline involves different strategies, but they both have their place in a robust marketing initiative. 

Outbound marketing refers to any kind of marketing where a company proactively initiates a conversation with members of its target audience by sending messages out to people or companies. Conversely, inbound marketing relies on customers finding your business when they need you, typically, using a breadcrumb trail of high-value content. 

The two marketing strategies differ in multiple ways — including the approach, intent, focus, tactics, and results. Here are the top five differences between inbound and outbound marketing. 

1 — Approach: Disruptive vs. Passive 

Many people refer to outbound marketing as “interruption marketing,” because the tactics tend to interrupt what people are already doing. For example, television commercials are classic outbound marketing tactics that disrupt television shows people are viewing. Similarly, radio ads disrupt the music people are listening to. The idea is to elicit either an immediate or imminent response from the target audience. For many businesses, outbound marketing is mainly limited to email, LinkedIn or telesales as it is still the fastest and most cost effective way to reach untapped markets for any size business.  

Inbound marketing relies on letting consumers find a company and consume content at their own time and pace. For example, a businessperson who is in charge of upgrading a software system will typically go online and begin searching for solutions that meet the company’s needs. Along the way, they will find a wide range of content in the form of blog posts, white papers, reports, and business articles to provide them ideas for solving their problems. The inbound process (called the buyer’s journey) includes getting found online, converting a visitor to a lead, and then converting them into a customer.

2 — Intent: Promotions vs. Content 

Generally speaking, outbound and inbound marketing differ in intent. Typically, outbound marketing is focused on specifically introducing a company or promoting a product or service. It can often be used to make an offer to the target audience, such as in an advertisement. Where outbound marketing excels is through connecting to new audiences and creating awareness. By reaching new people who may not know about your company you have an opportunity to educate your untapped market. They may not realize they have a need or a want for a particular product or service, but when they hear about it they realize they actually do have a need. 

Inbound, on the other hand, is more about creating a wide range of content and promoting the content so potential buyers can find it and consume it at the time and place of their choosing. The goal is to create and distribute relevant and valuable content that the customers want to consume. Where inbound marketing excels is when prospects are actively searching for specific products or services. 

3 — Focus: Broad vs. Narrow 

By proactively initiating communication with an audience through outbound marketing tactics, you’re letting people know exactly what it is you do and how you can provide value for them. This process is valuable to an overall marketing strategy because you can dictate the message you want to send out to a very broad audience to create awareness for your company.

By creating a library of valuable content to support an inbound marketing approach, you are publishing useful, helpful, and even entertaining content about solutions to the problems for which your target customers are likely be seeking answers. The better your content, the more they will consume and even share with their peers. 

4 — Tactics: Traditional vs. Digital

Some examples of outbound marketing include many traditional approaches, such as email, LinkedIn, television commercials, billboards, radio ads, direct mail, and cold sales calls. The main goal of these outbound media is to try and convert people into purchasing whatever product or service you are marketing by getting in front of customers and showing them what you’ve got. 

Some examples of inbound marketing are blogging, social media, keyword marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO). Blogging is the primary method of publishing information for most marketers. Social media is used to help spread their content and attract more traffic. Once on a site, a visitor is offered something valuable related to their research, like an ebook, in exchange for their contact information. If the content meets the prospect’s needs, the company can continue to provide them with a steady stream of helpful information. 

5 — Results: Short vs. Long Term 

Outbound marketing can provide an instantaneous bump in leads and customers. For example, a well-produced email campaign can find the right prospect, make them a compelling offer, and immediately convert them to customers. Sales teams are constantly searching for new customers, a well-organized outbound campaign can run in the background, filling the funnel so valuable sales resources spend time talking to potential customers and not smiling and dialing. Ongoing results can quickly be repeated through multiple campaign launches. 

Inbound marketing may provide a solid, day-in-and-day-out flow of leads that slowly, but steadily, turn into customers. For example, a technique like SEO will be consistently attracting consumers to learn more about a company and its products. Results will require ongoing attention to high-impact content creation. 

From a marketer’s perspective, outbound and inbound marketing can fulfill different — but equally important — needs. Each approach brings its own potential to a robust marketing strategy. 

While both outbound and inbound marketing have their strengths and weaknesses, and time and place, one of outbound marketing’s unique strengths is that it doesn’t wait for potential buyers to find a company. It gets out in front of a target audience with compelling messages and offers. In this way, your promotions may be the only one a prospect sees when they have a need for a specific service or product. And this can be a great way to beat the competition to the punch.

Let us know if you’d like to explore your outbound marketing options. We have the expertise, tools, technology, and proven results to help you succeed.