Inbound VS Outbound Marketing: Which One Is More Effective
by Mike Khorev
In recent years, the term ‘outbound marketing’ and especially ‘inbound marketing’ have been the buzzwords of the digital marketing world. Yet, what actually are they? Are they just new terms coined by marketers to sound ‘advanced’ and cool?
So, in this guide, we will discuss the definition of the two, the key differences between the two marketing methods, and how you can develop a marketing strategy using the two concepts.
Let us begin by discussing the definitions.
Outbound Marketing: The Definition
Outbound Marketing is actually just another name for “traditional marketing”, which mainly consists of advertising. The term “outbound marketing” itself is actually quite new, coined to contrast the new and popular “inbound marketing”. So, activities like offline advertising (television, radio, magazine, newspaper, billboards etc), online advertising (display ads, PPC ads, social media ads), and activities like cold calling, direct mail, and so on.
In these marketing activities, the main concept is to use mass media to push our promotional messages outward, hence the name outbound. So, outbound marketing is all about exposure: the more impressions you produce, the higher the chance of response.
In the past, especially before the internet, these outbound marketing tactics are (extremely) effective. Today, however, besides the fact that these advertisements are highly saturated, the fact is that customers are getting smarter, and a lot of technologies are now available to help them avoid advertisements:
- TV simply don’t get as many viewers anymore, and a lot of people are now recording the TV shows enabling them to fast forward through advertisements
- Same with radio, more and more people are consuming audio content via podcasts, digital music streaming, and satellite radio
- Fewer and fewer people buy magazines and newspapers, so less exposure on print advertising
- There are now various ad blockers to block online advertisements. Besides, even without those ad blockers, people simply avoid seeing and clicking banners.
Obviously, another common problem with outbound marketing is that people that are not your target audience will also be exposed to your advertising. Considering the highly expensive cost of both offline and online advertising nowadays, it’s now very hard to maintain cost-efficiency.
However, the main issue with traditional, inbound marketing is its interruptive and disruptive nature: TV commercials interrupt the shows, cold calling and door-to-door salesman interrupt your present activity, online banners sometimes blocked the page’s content, interrupting and a lot of the times, annoying you.
The bottom line, these outbound marketing tactics have their days in the mass media age, but they are no longer the preferable medium nowadays. Is that saying they are now totally useless? Not necessarily, as we will discuss their uses further below. But first, let us briefly discuss the concept of inbound marketing.
Inbound Marketing: The Definition
Contrary to outbound marketing, inbound marketing refers to marketing tactics that are pulling the prospects inwards, pulling visitors towards your brand.
Inbound marketing is mainly done by establishing brand authority and credibility by developing valuable, high-quality, and relevant content.
The thing is, it’s hard to convince someone to make a purchase of something when they don’t need or want it. Consider the fact that due to the internet and especially social media, we see thousands of products and services every single day. While showing a product over and over again can work in the mass-media age of TV commercials and billboards, it’s no longer very effective in this highly saturated, noisy digital world.
Inbound marketing simply addresses this fact: it is not targeting those without any intent or necessity to buy your product or service, but targeting those who are actually looking for it.
When we are looking for a product, a solution for their problem, or are looking for a new information, nowadays our first move is usually to turn to Google, or ask Google Assistant/Siri on our phones. This way, if you have a valuable, relevant content published that is targeting the right keyword/query, these people can find your brand.
Here are the common processes of a typical inbound marketing campaign:
- Attracting prospects by publishing relevant, high-quality content pieces, and promoting them through various channels, especially through SEO and social media marketing
- Providing forms, CTAs, and landing pages to encourage them to convert into leads. (lead capture)
- Using various lead nurturing devices and methods to nurture these leads into purchasing customers. (email marketing, CRM, pushing more content, etc)
- Even after they convert into customers, we can still use inbound marketing to maintain/improve retention, educating them further, and even turn them into advocates
Inbound Marketing VS Outbound Marketing: The Differences
The inbound-outbound marketing dichotomy is actually based on the age old tension between push marketing and pull marketing. So, essentially, inbound marketing uses pull marketing tactics, and outbound marketing uses push marketing tactics.
As mentioned, a major aspect of inbound marketing is developing and publishing high-quality content pieces to attract visitors. The goal of inbound marketing is to pull people towards your brand, attracting them to the business with valuable information.
On the other hand, the goal of outbound marketing is to push your promotional messages to as many people as possible. This is achieved mainly through advertising.
So, here are the main differences between inbound and outbound marketing:
- Inbound pulls those who need or want your product. Outbound pushes the messages to everybody, regardless of intent and necessity
- Inbound marketing is interactive, two-way communication, while outbound marketing is static and one-way
- Inbound marketing requires long-term commitment, outbound marketing can either succeed or fail fairly quickly
- Inbound marketing encourages content consumption, outbound marketing disrupts and interrupts content consumption
- Main channels for inbound marketing are search engines, blog, and social media platforms. Main channels for outbound marketing are advertising channels, telemarketing, and other push channels.
Inbound Marketing VS Outbound Marketing: Communication Difference
As mentioned, the key difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is regarding communication. Outbound marketing relies in pushing the promotional messages through mass media, where communication is only one way: you post a message about your product, service, or brand, and that’s it. Your audience can’t interact with the promotional message. Imagine if people can leave a comment on TV commercials back in the 80s and 90s, probably most of them will be negative comments because the advertising is disrupting the show.
On the other hand, two-way communications is available, even encouraged in inbound marketing activities. People can contact the brand after consuming a content, leave a comment, share and talk about it on social media, and so on. While certainly there are a lot of benefits of this two way communication, people can now talk about, and to you on various channels, including negative ones.
So, transparency and engagement will be really important in this two-way communications of inbound marketing. You must always be honest when communicating your product and/or service, including when presenting value proposition and admitting mistakes. You also have to engage with your prospects and customers, even those who think negatively about you.
Direct connections with customers through this two-way communications is not only effective in maintaining customer loyalty, effectively educating your prospects, and improving retention, honest customer feedback is also extremely beneficial in the long run.
So, inbound marketing is not solely about producing amazing content, it’s also about effectively engaging your prospects and customers.
So, Which One Is More Effective?
By now the answer is fairly obvious. Inbound marketing is now the more popular, and more effective choice. Inbound marketing is also more affordable with higher ROI.
That’s not, however, saying outbound marketing is now totally useless.
When discussing the differences above, we have mentioned that the main problem about inbound marketing is time: you will need a long-term investment before your content starts ranking on the first page of Google search results. You will need time before people will recognize your consistency and perceive your brand as the thought leader, and so on.
In general, we will need 6 to 12 months of timeline before we see any significant results. So, what if we need that quick promotion to gain short-term sales boost? This is where outbound marketing can still be effective. Newer outbound marketing technologies like retargeting (link) have also addressed several issues like audience targeting and cost-efficiency.
So, in today’s marketing environment, the most effective marketing approach is to put emphasis on inbound marketing and combining it with outbound campaigns, especially retargeting, for short-term gains.
Inbound Marketing: Key Tactics and Activities
Now that we have discussed the importance of inbound marketing, let us discuss the important tactics and activities in an effective inbound marketing strategy:
- Content development
As mentioned several times above, content creation is the core of inbound marketing. In an inbound marketing strategy, your content is just as, if not even more important than your main product or service: you not only need to have a great product/service worth selling, you also need to establish yourself as the expert/thought leader of your industry.
Today, there are many different forms of content pieces from textual, written contents to video to podcasts. Also, you can combine free content with gated content pieces like white papers, webinars, and e-books that can be used to collect contact information. (i.e. offering downloadable,in-depth e-book in exchange of their email address).
SEO is also a huge part of inbound marketing: no matter how good and valuable your content is, it will bring no value to your business and your customers if it’s not visible. The main way people find new content is through the search engines, and so the goal is to have our content ranked at least on the first page of Google search results for our target keywords.
SEO can be a pretty broad subject on its own, and so you might want to check our previous guide here.
However, if your content is already high-quality and relevant, getting good SEO results is also only a matter of time, making SEO and content marketing a mutual symbiosis. A huge part of SEO is getting more inbound links or backlinks, and if your content is high-quality, more and more people would want to link to it. You can also work with SEO consultants if you need a custom SEO strategy.
So, develop great content, get more backlinks, and optimize the technical aspect.
- CTA and Lead Capture Form
Content is only useful when you can effectively capture the reader/viewer as prospect or lead, which in turn can convert into paying customers.
Commonly, the practice of capturing readers as prospects is done by giving offers in exchange of their contact information. These offers can be invitation to a free-trial, webinar, or downloadable contents like ebooks or white papers.
- Content Promotion
Besides SEO, we can use other marketing channels to promote our content, not only to gain more exposure, but to get more inbound links in the process. Social media marketing (both paid and organic), as well as influencer marketing are just a couple of effective content promotion channel examples.
- Lead Nurturing
Not every lead or prospect you gained from all the above process will be a customer. This is where the importance of proper lead nurturing tactics comes to play. Lead nurturing can be as simple as email follow up to complex, automated system.
Bottom Line: The Inbound-Outbound Marketing Strategy
There is no one surefire marketing strategy that is guaranteed to success. Different business models might need different approaches depending on various factors.
However, if you are currently developing a marketing strategy for your business, focusing on inbound strategy in combination with some outbound campaign -especially retargeting-will be your best bet.
This way, you are building a long-term credibility by consistently publishing valuable content, establishing yourself as the expert of your industry. Yet, the outbound campaign can help with short-term results.
The key here is to find that delicate balance between time and cost: to achieve results while maintaining cost-efficiency, and thus maximizing ROI.
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