Outbound and inbound marketing may function differently, but which is more effective? And should your marketing strategy rely on one or the other – or both? 

Broadly speaking, all of your marketing activities can be categorised as either inbound or outbound marketing.

Knowing the difference between the two – as well as when, where, why and how to use them – is essential to running a successful campaign and generating qualified leads.

Of course, some marketers may have their own ideas about what those differences are, never mind the when, where, why and how. Context can be everything. 

So, with that in mind, let’s start by exploring what I mean by inbound and outbound marketing to ensure we’re all on the same page before we explore how to use them both to your advantage?

What is outbound marketing?

In many ways, you might think of outbound marketing as synonymous with “traditional” marketing – not just advertising but any activity where you’re putting your brand and your message 

  • Print marketing
  • TV and radio ads
  • Telemarketing
  • Billboards
  • Digital banner ads
  • Tradeshows and conferences
  • Buying email lists and cold email marketing

For a long, long time, outbound marketing was pretty much all there was – so it didn’t really need its own category. It was just marketing.

Marketers only started to describe these more traditional marketing strategies as “outbound” when it became necessary to differentiate them from newer “inbound” marketing trends that required a fresh approach.  

Put simply, the goal of outbound marketing is to get the message out. And that requires you to craft a compelling message that not only grabs consumer attention but also makes your product or service seem attractive. 

This style of marketing is more broadcast than narrowcast, focused on getting your brand or your promotion in front of as wide an audience as possible – which can be expensive. But the broadcast nature of outbound marketing is also less personalised and less targeted, meaning you’re likely to end up with fewer qualified leads, resulting in a smaller ROI.

It’s mostly a one-way conversation with very little opportunity for interaction – let alone relationship building. 

We’re surrounded by advertising and other outbound techniques every day, so it’s  definitely still effective. How you use outbound as part of your wider marketing mix will depend on your business model, your budget and your marketing strategy.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing describes some of the less intrusive, more personalised forms of marketing that have evolved more recently. This approach aims to spark dialogue and build relationships with prospects in order to sell.

Instead of getting in the customer’s face and pushing them to buy, inbound marketing makes it easy for them to discover information about your brand and offerings so they can make up their own mind.

Inbound methods include:

  • SEO tactics
  • Content marketing
  • Social media
  • Personalised email marketing

This new approach evolved as consumers became more knowledgeable, and as the internet gave them more control over the content – and marketing – they consumed.

Instead of relying on salespeople and advertising to educate them, consumers do their own research, mostly online. To cut through the noise, you need to personalise.

Why use inbound marketing?

The goal for your marketing should be to maximise your return on investment: getting the most leads and sales for the least ad spend.

When well executed, inbound marketing usually comes with a superior ROI. In fact, data from The Whole Brain Group shows that 14.6 percent of SEO leads result in a close, compared to only 1.7 percent of outbound leads.

Done By Friday showed similar results. They found inbound marketing could get the same results as outbound – for 64% less spend.

While you can’t know exactly how many people saw your billboard on their commute home, inbound techniques are measurable down to the last click. This allows you to refine your marketing through A/B testing, and work towards a truly impressive ROI.

Inbound techniques are also generally more agile, which is important with the speed at which culture and news moves today.

For example, if your social campaign isn’t generating results, you can instantly edit the copy, refocus the targeting and adjust the imagery to improve the performance. On the other hand, as soon as you shoot a TV ad and buy a slot, your money’s gone regardless of its performance.

How to use inbound marketing effectively

We’re all bombarded with intrusive advertisements every day. Rely solely on outbound marketing and you increase the risk of shouting into the void.

To ensure your messages are seen and heard – and to optimise the return on your marketing spend – your content  needs to be easily discoverable by those segments of your audience actively seeking out what you have to offer. And then you need to start conversations, gradually educating and nurturing those prospects curious to know more. 

Of course, there’s still a place for outbound marketing in the mix – particularly if you select your channels and media placements to target the right audiences with the right messages where possible. That way, your outbound campaigns build awareness and familiarity with your brand, giving your inbound campaigns a better chance of success.

What was once a one-way broadcast is now a two-way conversation. How will your marketing make that conversation a memorable one?