TLDR: Busy? Here’s the short version:
Inbound marketing is all about placing the customer at the center of all marketing tactics. You provide free and valuable content and the customer chooses to consume it. Outbound marketing is disruptive — it places marketing materials in front of people who’ve never asked for them, with the goal of getting their attention. Inbound is the method of choice, but both strategies can be part of a healthy marketing plan.
Have more time? Read on — you won’t regret it.
Outbound vs. Inbound marketing
The first time someone explained to me the difference between these two marketing approaches, I didn’t really understand what they were talking about. The second time, I got a hazy picture of what they meant. It was frustrating to feel like I had the main idea, but just couldn’t totally grasp the differences between these approaches. The third time, the picture came into focus just a bit more. But it took a while until the concept crystallized into a sharp, focused, un-pixelated mind image.
Luckily for you, I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out a way to articulate the key differences between these two vastly different approaches to all things marketing. After much deliberation, I’ve come to the conclusion that all of the differences are rooted in one key differentiator.
The Main Differentiator
Ready? Here goes. Outbound marketing is focused on telling the world, while Inbound marketing is all about teaching the world.
Doesn’t seem that different? It’s more different than you can imagine.
Outbound marketing (AKA interruption marketing) is like that in-your-face classmate you had way back in 5th grade who nobody liked. He was noisy and disruptive and just plain loud.
Inbound marketing is like that friend you’ve had since you were a kid. Kind and supportive, your friend is always there for you, helping you learn new things and expand your horizons.
See, outbound marketing means marketing to people who haven’t explicitly said that they’d like to receive marketing materials. By its very nature, it’s disruptive. Think of a billboard at Times Square — they never asked you if they could put that thing up — but it's there, and it distracts you as you’re driving. Print ads, digital ads, cold calls, and cold emails are all prime examples of outbound. With outbound, the company is going to the clients and saying (or screaming) “Here we are! Come buy from us.”
Inbound marketing (AKA permission marketing) is exactly that — marketing with the consent of the people who you’re marketing to. With inbound, the customers come to the company because of their own interest. The customer finds you when they need you. Therefore, leads generated through inbound marketing are usually much warmer than those generated through outbound strategies.
The main inbound marketing strategies are focused around creating valuable content. Some examples include blog posts, webinars, videos, LinkedIn posts, or value-based emails to your list. With Inbound, you’re never marketed to without your permission. You choose to read the blog post, you choose to watch the webinar, you choose to receive, open, and read the email.
So … should you use outbound or inbound methods in your marketing strategy?
Here are the pros and cons of each one:
- More customer-centric
Inbound marketing zooms in on what content would be most helpful for the consumer, rather than for the business. Customers feel that — and getting free information that provides value warms them up to your business.
- You establish trust
By the time a customer reaches out to you, they’ve most probably consumed some of your content and enjoyed it. You’ve established that you know your stuff and that makes you stand out as a leader in your space.
- Content is usually evergreen
Which means that once you have your content, it can continue to work for you long after its creation date.
- It's a long-term strategy.
Results don’t happen overnight. Inbound marketing is more subtle — but cloaked within that subtlety is tremendous power. You constantly add new content and keep the old — creating a snowball effect that takes on a life of its own. If you can afford the time factor, Inbound is usually the way to go.
- Results are more immediate
If you need quick ROI, outbound might be a good option.
- May annoy your prospects
If you go overboard with Outbound, it can backfire on you.
- Goodbye to your cash
The money you sink in doesn’t usually give you any evergreen material you can re-use.
- Lower conversions
Since you’re targeting cooler leads, conversion rates are usually lower.
Inbound is becoming somewhat of a buzzword and it's the method all forward-thinking marketing agencies use. Inbound is like ivy — quietly and surreptitiously, almost without anyone noticing, it grows until it takes over. It's the slow and steady approach that entrepreneurs with long-term goals are using. And it's the strategy that places customers at the center of it all.
It's not enough anymore to simply have a great product. With the large influence customers have on social media, keeping customers happy is the key to your business’s reputation. Delighted customers bring more customers, in a never-ending flywheel that only speeds up with time. When you create content with the intention of really helping your people, your people will ultimately help you.
Is Outbound Down the Tubes?
With Inbound sounding so much more appealing, Outbound may seem like the cold spaghetti you find in the back of your fridge — whose day has clearly passed. At this point you may be wondering, “Sounds like inbound is the way to go. Is outbound totally dead?”
Good question. No, outbound isn’t totally dead. It has its purposes, such as quick ROI — and when used correctly for the correct purposes, it can be a part of a robust and healthy marketing strategy. Its a quick way to generate cash and it can help you gain attention as you start out. But it's a tricky balance, this whole marketing thing — which is why you’ll probably want to team up with marketing experts who are familiar with all different kinds of inbound and outbound strategies or invest in training for your team.
Your unique marketing needs will determine the ratio of how much outbound vs. inbound marketing you should utilize in your strategy. Considerations like your budget and time frame will play a big role in which marketing strategies you use.