Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing – Which Is More Effective?

By zhiyuan on September 23, 2015

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inbound vs outbound marketing

If you’re running a business or a marketer, you’ve probably heard of the terms “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing”. You might think that these are just another categorization of marketing or just some buzzwords that marketers made up to sound cool.

While I won’t deny that having “Inbound Marketer” on my name card looks cooler than having “Normal Marketer” on it, we should really understand the distinction between these two marketing approaches and how they work in today’s digital age.

I'm CEO Bitch

I know it’s still not as cool as this. Maybe someday, I’ll be as cool as Mark.

If you’re trying to expand the audience for your website, find new customers and grow your business, it’s likely that you’re going to have to invest in some sort of marketing campaigns in order to promote your brand or product or services.

Today, technology has changed how people obtain information and consequently, marketing has undergone a massive transformation. Outbound marketing tactics, like television and radio advertising, are not as effective as they once were. Now comes the age of inbound marketing, driven by the Internet and social media.

Think about it: today’s customers are really savvy. No one wants to sit through a sales pitch, and people today have become really good at avoiding them.

  • People can skip TV ads by recording their favorite shows and fast-forwarding through the commercials and with so many online streaming services, TVs don’t even get that many viewers anymore.
  • Digital music and satellite radio makes it easy for people to avoid radio advertising.
  • People get their news from the Internet, so no one sees the print advertising in the newspapers any more.
  • Online banner ads are blocked by ad blockers. Even if they don’t get blocked, they have very low visibility due to a symptom called banner blindness.
  • Email salesletters mostly wind up in the spam folder or doesn’t even get opened.
  • 44% of direct mail is never opened. So don’t bother wasting those paper and postage fees.
  • And do young people even know what the yellow pages are any more? Nobody is going to flip through hundreds of pages when they can simply Google what they are looking for.
  • With do-not-call lists, telemarketing is a thing of the past or just plain annoying.
  • Outdoor billboards are even less effective. Pay a huge sum of money to display your message to people who are moving at 60 mph and has primary focus on the road. Worst still, there are other brands fighting for their limited attention at the same time.

The bottom line is: Traditional advertising channels are just not getting the job done any more. Technology has advanced and marketing strategies and tactics have also evolved to keep up with it.

What is Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is just another name for “traditional advertising methods”, it is devised to contrast with the newer “inbound marketing”. It includes television and radio advertising, print advertising, telemarketing, direct mail, and outdoor advertising.

outbound marketing

If Facebook used outbound marketing tactics

The basic idea is that advertisers use mass media tools to push their message and products out to the public. The hope is that if enough people who are in your target audience hear the message, they will respond.

These marketing tactics used to be effective, but nowadays these ads are so saturated and so similar that people no longer pay attention to them.

Another problem with outbound marketing is that many people who are not in your target audience are also exposed to your message, which makes the cost of advertising on these mediums less effective.

Traditional marketing is interruptive. Commercials interrupt television shows. Door to door salesman and cold calls interrupt what people are doing to present a sales pitch. This push advertising worked in the mass media age, but modern communications technology has allowed people to escape and avoid these annoying interruptions.

What is Inbound Marketing

Definition of inbound marketing

Inbound marketing refers to marketing strategies that focus on pulling audiences in instead of going out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing pulls visitors in, increase brand exposure, and creates brand authority through the creation of valuable content.

Question: If people are not responding to traditional marketing channels, then how are they getting information about the products and services that they need?

Answer: They are using the Internet. Let’s say a homeowner is interested in a lawn care service. How is he going to find such a service? In the past, he might have looked in the yellow pages, the newspaper or a direct mail piece. Today’s homeowner is going to get on his computer, go to his favorite search engine and type “lawn care near Chicago” and look for the best result.

This simple search will yield resources to begin vetting lawn care services. This search may lead him to some blog posts about lawn care in Chicago and he may even download a white paper for even more information.

If he needs further assistance, he may go to his Facebook or Twitter account and ask his connections for their recommendations. The lawn care service that can deploy online marketing assets that attract this homeowner will eventually win his business.

This new marketing strategy is called inbound marketing. Inbound marketing is slightly more complicated and indirect compared to outbound marketing, but it’s the more effective way of reaching your target audiences.

Below is an illustration of the process of an inbound marketing campaign:

inbound marketing methodology

Guide in Becoming The Perfect Inbound Marketer

  • 10 must-have qualities of a perfect inbound marketer.
  • Proven examples on applying the best inbound marketing techniques.
  • Compact guide with less fluff!

Difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

In their most basic forms, outbound marketing uses push tactics while inbound marketing uses pull tactics.

A big part of inbound marketing relies on creating valuable content and attracting visitors with it. It relies on the development of modern communications technology like the Internet, mobile phones and social media to attract consumers. Instead of pushing a message out onto a large population, inbound marketing attracts specific audiences that are out there looking for information.

The goal is to pull interested people toward the marketing materials and attract them to the business with valuable information. This is done by setting up a wide variety of online marketing assets are ready and waiting for interested consumers to find.

These assets include blog posts, websites and paid advertising optimized for specific Internet searches, a dynamic social media presence, mobile apps and much more. When people are attracted to your marketing content, they readily give their permission to receive more information and promotional material from you.

Inbound Marketing Outbound Marketing
Permissive Interruptive
Pull tactics Push tactics
Two-way communication One-way communication
Marketers provide value Marketers provide little to no value
Customers come to you Customers are sought after
Channels: Search engines, referrals, social medias Channels: Print ads, TV ads, radio, telemarketing…

Communication Is a Two-Way Street

communication is a two way street

The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing is communication. Outbound marketing relies on mass media where communication is only one-way. The business shouts out a message about its brand, and that’s it. People can’t interact with the message or the brand even if they want to. They might even find ways to avoid it.

With inbound marketing, people can talk back and engage with the brand. They can send an email, leave a comment on a blog, post on social media, leave a review on a third-party site and engage your business in many ways. The Internet has returned power to the consumer. If your business’ advertising does not square with the actual services that you provide, people are going to find out and post about it online. Your business cannot hide behind a mass media campaign. If you don’t deliver on your promises, people are going to know.

The key to success in inbound marketing is transparency, honesty and engagement. You must be transparent and honest about your products and services. And you have to engage with people who are talking about your brand even when the comments are negative.

This two-way communication might seem scary to businesses with heavy investments in traditional marketing, but it is really a boon. Direct connections with consumers not only create brand loyalty but they let you know what problems exists so you can solve them. In addition, your customers are empowered to become ambassadors for your business. They can write reviews, promote your content on social media and make referrals.

Inbound Marketing Activities

Online marketing revolves around a set of key activities. Here are a few elements that you will need to master if you are going to promote your business with inbound marketing.

Search engine optimization: We can’t stress enough how important SEO is to inbound marketing. SEO is a set of tactics that makes your website attractive to search engines. It takes advantage of what we know about how search engines rank sites to boost the chances that your content will rank for specific keyword searches.

Content creation: Content can come in many forms, but the basic forms are website pages and blog posts. Search engines like sites with a lot of current content. But the main target of content is human visitors who want valuable information about a problem they are experiencing. The key is to position your business as a trusted expert through this content. Content also includes images and videos. Ebooks, white paper, webinars and other similar content offer more extensive information that is used to collect contact information from visitors.

Calls-to-action: Content is not complete without inviting the reader to act in some way. The action could be downloading an ebook in exchange for an email address. But it could also be to make a purchase now based on a discount offer. A call-to-action requires a landing page to further entice visitors to respond to an offer.

Social media: These platforms are ways to promote content. They make it possible for your content to go viral and reach a lot of people.

Emails: Emails are still a very effective tool to nurture an ongoing relationship with people who have expressed an interest in your products and services. You can send out an email newsletter with industry tips and best practices as well as great offers on your products.

inbound marketing tactics

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing works, here are some of the stats that demonstrate how well inbound marketing works.

According to Hubspot’s report in 2013:

  • 79% of companies that have a blog reported a positive ROI.
  • 57% of marketers who blog monthly acquired a customer directly from their blog.
  • 77% of businesses that market directly to consumers have acquired a customer with Facebook.

Inbound marketing is a proven way to generate leads, drive sales and grow your business.

The best news is that inbound marketing is less expensive than traditional marketing. Outbound marketing is expensive because they are usually broadcast to a mass audience even if they aren’t in your target demographics. You have to buy expensive media exposure and keep repeating your message for it to work.

The cost per lead drops significantly for inbound marketing because online resource are significantly less expensive than mass media. You focus on a target audience that is already interested in your products. Inbound marketing results in a significant decrease in cost associated with lead generation.

outbound inbound cost

A marketing strategy that works and is less expensive than the alternative: it seems like a no-brainer. Just look at the numbers below, according to a survey, 41% expressed that inbound marketing demonstrated positive ROI for their company.

inbound outbound roi

Developing a Marketing Strategy

If you are just getting started developing a marketing strategy for your business, then the path forward is clear. Inbound marketing is your best bet. It is more effective and will ultimately cost less. You might also invest in more targeted traditional marketing if there is real evidence that you can reach your audience, but there is no reason to invest in large mass media advertising campaigns. Any traditional marketing that you do should drive people to your online resources.

If you are heavily invested in traditional marketing, you are probably seeing a drop in the effectiveness of your efforts. It may be time to start investing some of your marketing budget into inbound marketing. You can then align your traditional marketing campaigns with your online resources over time. As you move forward, you can shift more and more of your budget to inbound marketing.

The way people communicate is changing rapidly. Inbound marketing leverages these changes to more effectively promote your business. If you want to expand your audience, find new customers and grow, inbound marketing strategies are the way to go.

Here’s a great infographic done by Voltier Digital that sums it all up:

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing Infographic

Related Links:

  • The 10 Qualities Of A Good Inbound Marketer [Infographic]
  • The 2015 Ultimate Resource List for Content Marketers
  • 7 Powerful Visual Content That Will Increase Social Engagement For Your Business
  • Guide in Becoming The Perfect Inbound Marketer

    • 10 must-have qualities of a perfect inbound marketer.
    • Proven examples on applying the best inbound marketing techniques.
    • Compact guide with less fluff!

    Updated: 25 June 2017

    Zhi Yuan

    About Zhi Yuan

    Zhi Yuan is an inbound marketer who has expertise in both SEO and content marketing. He is on a never-ending quest to understand the mysteries of the search engine world, and sometimes, on his way to the ice-cream parlor.

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