Inbound Versus Outbound Marketing: A Comprehensive Comparison

A woman comparing the data of inbound and outbound marketing strategy results.
At the end of the day, marketing is marketing. As a business, you need to tell your target customers about your services and products and the value you provide, in order to make sales. That’s marketing in a nutshell. Inbound marketing and outbound marketing are simply ways of achieving this. In outbound marketing, which is how pretty much every business made sales before the Internet, you go out to tell your customers about your business. Get Your FREE Website Review
Good examples of outbound marketing are ‘cold’ or unsolicited telesales or email shots, or old-fashioned TV adverts, posters at train stations, postal direct mail, door-to-door sales, YouTube adverts, and a lot of pop-up digital advertising, too. You get the idea. With inbound, the idea is to encourage the customer to ‘come in’ to your shop or office, or the digital equivalent, your website, so you create a web of awareness that persuades them to do so, by means of social media, search advertising, written and visual content, and so on.

In this article, we’ll compare inbound versus outbound marketing, explaining how each approach works and how it can be used to make sales. Let’s be clear, there isn’t really a conflict between inbound and outbound. Both approaches can be successful, depending on the communication styles and purchase habits of your target market. The right approach for you is the one that resonates best with your ideal customers, or buyer personas, and will often include both inbound and outbound tactics as part of a personalised strategy tailored to your business.

Inbound marketing

Inbound marketing is a largely digital strategy that seeks to attract potential customers through publishing valuable and relevant content. This content can take the form of blog articles, social media posts, videos, webinars, or any other form of online, digital content. Whatever channel you use, the goal is first to attract customers, and then to develop a relationship with them by prompting them to make the move at each stage of the buyer journey. This process is commonly called lead nurturing, but it’s essentially a two-way conversation, in which you systematically address the questions, needs, and pain points of your target audience in order to build a convincing value proposition that lays the groundwork for a sale.

What it is and how it works

For inbound marketing to work in practice, your business must be visible online where your customers are searching for information, so a big part of inbound is to increase your search ranking or visibility for important keywords, and to cultivate a reputation of authority and credibility on social media platforms.

The form that your inbound marketing content takes varies on the stage of the buyer journey the target reader is at, and the types of questions and search queries they have at this stage. For example, you could create blog posts to provide helpful information or advice about choosing a particular product or service for ‘awareness’ stage buyers, or about how a product or service solves a particular problem for people at the ‘consideration’ stage.

Advantages of inbound

  1. Cost-effective: inbound marketing can be implemented at a relatively low cost compared to many traditional outbound marketing methods, such as TV or radio adverts, or cold calling. Many inbound channels are available for free, including all the major social media platforms, and anyone can start writing blogs if they have the time and knowledge. However, for the best results from inbound it’s always best to set aside a budget for content, advertising, analytics, and campaign management.
  2. Builds brand awareness and credibility: inbound marketing is not just a highway to sales but can also increase the general credibility and brand awareness of your business by providing valuable and relevant content to industry-specific search queries. This helps build trust with new customers and makes it easier to generate leads and secure sales long-term.
  3. Targeted and precise: inbound marketing allows you to target very specific demographics and reach potential customers who are interested in your products and services, with a higher closure rate than broad-brush marketing.

Disadvantages of inbound

  1. Time consuming: creating the quality content necessary for inbound marketing requires time, effort, and often specialist knowledge, which may not always be feasible for small businesses with limited resources.
  2. Results may take longer: it may take several months for your inbound marketing efforts to generate visible results and start attracting potential customers, as it relies on building a relationship with prospects over time.

Outbound marketing

In outbound marketing, you reach out to your potential customers through various forms of ‘interruption’ marketing. Your job as an outbound marketer is to encourage the prospect to stop whatever they are doing and pay attention to your messages, so the emphasis is on persuasiveness and visual appeal. Good examples include TV or radio commercials, many of which are designed to entertain viewers, or to draw them in through emotive content, imagery, and arguments. Outbound marketing is still commonly used by B2B businesses, as it allows companies to reach a large audience and generate leads that are traceable to a specific campaign or activity.

Advantages of outbound

  1. Fast results: outbound marketing has the potential to generate rapid results as promotional messages are pushed out to a wide audience, e.g. following a direct mail shot, or seasonal telesales campaign.
  2. Widely known and familiar: not everyone appreciates being approached by a salesperson, but nevertheless, traditional outbound marketing methods are widely known and accepted by the public and have been around for decades. People still watch adverts on TV. People still talk to charity fundraisers at the doorstep. Outbound marketing can work if approached correctly for your market.

Disadvantages of outbound

  1. Expensive: outbound marketing can be costly, especially for small businesses with limited budgets. It is also resource intensive. Consider, for example, the number of people required to coordinate and implement a large-scale direct mail campaign, or to work their way through a telesales list.
  2. Less targeted: outbound marketing does need to be targeted to succeed. However, the general idea is to reach a big audience and bringing leads through a numbers game. This invariably means money and time wasted on people who are simply not interested, and your material may not always reach potential customers who would be interested in the product or service being advertised.
  3. High risk: in outbound marketing, you stake a lot of time, money, and reputation on the results of a single advert, campaign, or conversation. As often as not, you’ll walk away empty-handed from an outbound approach. Inbound marketing allows you to spread the risk over time, with a better chance of a positive ROI.

Building a marketing strategy around the needs of your customers

Both inbound and outbound marketing approaches can deliver results in terms of sales and brand credibility. For small businesses, however, inbound allows companies to punch above their weight by drawing in website traffic for competitive search queries on a level playing field with their larger and better funded competitors. You may not be able to compete with the industry leaders in terms of market saturation for outbound advertising, but you could still carve out a lucrative niche for yourself by publishing unique and value-driven online content for an inbound audience.

To find out more about inbound and outbound marketing, and how each can play a role within your sales strategy, please contact one of our specialists today by clicking here.
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