Marketing

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: What’s the Difference?

Inbound marketing attracts consumers with valuable and engaging content while outbound marketing is putting your brand directly in front of prospects, wherever they are.

Blog Post

9 minute read

May 13, 2024

The average consumer spends nearly seven hours a day using internet-connected devices. That's roughly as much time as they spend sleeping. This means marketers have around 35 hours every week to engage their audience. The key here is to balance outbound and inbound marketing strategies that increase your visibility with consumers and generate more connection opportunities.  

When it comes to inbound vs. outbound marketing, the main difference lies in how a company reaches out to consumers. Outbound marketing takes a proactive approach in which the brand gets itself in front of prospects wherever they are, through billboards, TV ads, and similar means. Inbound marketing, on the other hand, brings consumers to them through valuable and engaging content.

Join us below to explore inbound and outbound marketing, how they differ from one another, and how they can work together to form a powerful and comprehensive marketing strategy.

Regardless of whether you'd like to run an inbound or outbound campaign, Impact's eBook, The Ultimate List of Marketing Resources for Any Campaign, will tell you what you need to make it happen.

What Are Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing and outbound marketing are two sides of the same coin. Inbound marketing efforts draw customers to the brand through educational, engaging, and fun content the consumer wants to experience. Outbound marketing ensures prospects are aware of a company and its offerings by finding a way to place its message directly in front of them.

  1. Inbound Marketing Definition
  2. Stages of Inbound Marketing
  3. Inbound Marketing Examples
  4. Pros & Cons of Inbound Marketing
  5. Outbound Marketing Definition
  6. Outbound Marketing Examples
  7. Pros & Cons of Outbound Marketing
  8. Difference Between Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
inbound marketing vs outbound marketing infographic

Inbound Marketing Definition

Inbound marketing is a strategy that pulls customers in with useful, engaging, and educational content. The main goal of inbound marketing is to create a deeper, more genuine connection with consumers.

Inbound marketing is almost synonymous with content marketing; the strategy and creation of blogs, infographics, videos, podcasts, seminars, eBooks, case studies, and anything else that provides value to a customer before or after they buy the company's product or service.  

By creating a library of helpful, fun, and engaging content, organizations can improve their brand reputation in the eyes of consumers, while also increasing web traffic, social media engagement, and conversion metrics.

The Three Stages of Inbound Marketing

There are three stages of inbound marketing: attracting consumers, engaging their attention, and delighting them. Together, they convert prospects into clients.

1. Attract 

This stage is the epitome of the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Rather than yelling your message to the masses, inbound marketing focuses on pulling people to your brand.  

This is most commonly done by creating search engine optimized (SEO) content like blogs that rank on Google's search engine results pages (SERPs). However, creating content that makes people want to follow your business on social media and sending high-value emails to subscribers who opt-in to being contacted are also examples of attraction in inbound marketing.

The core of inbound marketing is offering unique content that brings your audience straight to your front door.  

2. Engage 

Once you have their attention, you can wow them with even more helpful content that educates them about your industry or area of expertise.  

Modern consumers do their own research, buy on their own time, and make their own decisions when they feel they understand their options. This stage of the inbound methodology is about providing people with the resources they need to make an informed purchase decision.

After all, you don’t just want to win a consumer for a one-time purchase. It's much more valuable to bring in lifetime customers who believe in your product or service, identify with your brand, and relish the consumer experience you deliver.

3. Delight 

The final step is all about turning customers into advocates.  

The best way to delight a consumer is by providing a unique and top-tier customer experience that leaves clients beyond satisfied and encourages word-of-mouth marketing. Word-of-mouth marketing continues to be one of the strongest marketing tactics out there, as referral leads generate a 30% higher conversion rate on average.  

The delight stage focuses on elevating the customer experience and then letting your happy clients do the rest of the work for you. 

Inbound Marketing Examples

Inbound marketing can take many forms. Here are some of the most common content mediums brands use to power their inbound marketing strategies.  

  • Content (blogs, eBooks, checklists, infographics, videos, etc.) that are SEO-optimized to show up higher on SERPs  
  • Consistent social media posting  
  • High-value email campaigns for opt-in lists  
  • Webinars and other opt-in content types that are worth the information (like names and emails) customers provide to get them
  • Referral links from other related websites  

Pros and Cons of Inbound Marketing 

As with anything else in marketing, inbound marketing isn't right for every business. Let's take a closer look at some reasons an organization might choose to employ, or stay away from, an inbound marketing strategy.

Pros: 

  • Non-Interruptive: Rather than an ad interrupting your YouTube video or favorite show to talk about a new product, inbound marketing strategies find consumers on their own time and of their own will. It’s an invitation, not a megaphone to the face. 
     
  • Highly Targeted: Inbound marketing allows you to target keywords and focus on topics that your ideal customers are already searching for so give them the perfect content at the perfect time.  
     
  • Long-Term Efficacy: Inbound keeps working over time and tends to ”snowball”. If you keep updating and posting new content, you can continue to build and use your library of content in new and exciting ways.  
     
  • Deeply Engaging: Content works on a deeper level than an ad or cold call. It’s been shown that the more time people spend with a brand, the more attached they feel. That means the more blogs they read, videos they watch, or emails they interact with, the more of a positive impression you make on them and the higher the chances are that they convert into a customer. These authentic connections also make them more likely to become brand advocates and repeat customers.  

Cons: 

  • Not a Quick Fix: You can’t expect a blog you wrote yesterday to start trending on Google and attracting thousands of visitors. SEO-focused strategies require time and effort to work. You need to consistently write new content, promote it on social media, update it, and optimize it to make it work. 
  • Time-Consuming: There are a lot of moving pieces involved in inbound marketing. You need people with time and expertise operating your social media, email campaigns, content writing, lead management, and more.

Outbound Marketing Definition 

Outbound marketing is a traditional form of marketing that involves businesses actively reaching out to potential customers to promote their products or services. When the average person thinks of marketing, outbound marketing is probably what they're imagining.

In outbound marketing, companies contact prospects through cold calling, cold emailing, direct mail, print advertisements, TV and radio commercials, and other direct-to-consumer techniques. The goal is to interrupt the target audience's daily routine and capture their attention with the marketing message. 

One of the key characteristics of outbound marketing is its proactive nature. Rather than waiting for potential customers to come to them, businesses take the initiative to push their message out to a broader audience.  

While outbound marketing has been a staple of the marketing industry for decades, its efficacy has been challenged in recent years with the rise of digital technologies and changing consumer behaviors. However, when executed strategically and targeted toward the right audience, outbound marketing can still move the needle in a meaningful way for an organization. 

Outbound Marketing Examples

  • Cold calling or cold emailing 
  • Direct mail 
  • Booths at tradeshows or conferences 
  • TV, radio, or print ads 
  • Sponsorships 
  • Billboards 

Pros and Cons of Outbound Marketing

As discussed above, there have been a number of challenges to outbound marketing since the rise of the internet. Explore these pros and cons to see if it still works as the right strategy for you.

Pros: 

  • Faster Turnaround: Typically, it’s easier to set up and implement an outbound strategy because it requires less research and much less time to execute. An inbound strategy can take years to come to fruition while outbound can start working quickly. 
  • Large Audiences: Outbound methods can get your brand or product in front of a lot of eyes. Giant billboards, television commercials, and mass cold calls or emails are all great ways to cast a wide net and improve overall awareness. 

Cons: 

  • Interruptive: By their nature, outbound marketing tends to interrupt people as they’re doing something they love (i.e., watching YouTube or television, reading magazines or newspapers, or looking through their mail). This tends to have less impact and can even risk damage to your brand if overdone. 
  • Vague Targets: Unlike your inbound methods, outbound marketing is hard to pinpoint. You have control over your messaging and where your marketing is displayed (billboard locations, commercial channels/programs, etc.), but it’s only soft targeting. Your ad will still run for many people for which it was not intended. This lack of a hyper-targeted audience also lowers your success rate; only 2.5% of cold calls are successful. 
  • Difficult to Track: It is often difficult to measure the success of large ad campaigns, commercials, and other outbound marketing methods. Unless you use discount codes, it’s tough to know the direct impact that these ads are having on your business aside from general sales increases. 

The Difference Between Inbound vs Outbound Marketing 

The core difference between inbound and outbound marketing is how you reach your audience. Inbound prioritizes your potential customers finding you by searching their interests or pain points while outbound marketing pushes your message in front of them. Inbound is education-based, outbound is awareness-based.  

Neither of the two is wrong and which one you decide to use as a strategy is entirely reliant on your goals. And sometimes, it actually makes sense to use both! There are plenty of successful organizations that run a healthy blog and also use billboard advertisements. By fully understanding your market, audience, and unique opportunities, you'll understand where on that spectrum your company lies.

What Do You Need to Get Started? 

Modern marketing strategies often rely on a combination of outbound and inbound marketing that work in concert to increase the number of touchpoints any consumer has with your brand.

By developing a powerful content library that attracts, engages, and delights your audience, you put yourself in a position to bring valuable lifetime customers straight to your front door. Meanwhile, a sophisticated approach to outbound marketing will directly nurture prospects and leads who could benefit from your business offerings.   

To help you get an idea of what you need to run campaigns of all kinds, download Impact's eBook, The Ultimate List of Marketing Resources for Any Campaign.

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