Inbound vs outbound marketing


No matter how long you’ve been in the marketing scene, you’ll have heard of inbound and outbound marketing. Recently, more than ever, the two are pitched against one another: outbound is outdated and pointless, and inbound is revolutionary. Or, inbound is a fad that isn’t worth your time, and you might as well stick to outbound marketing. 

Surprise, surprise, it’s not that black and white. The two can complement each other and work in conjunction to your advantage – although it is important to note that one methodology may be more useful to you than the other, depending on your type of business and target audience. 

To help you decide, let’s talk about what inbound and outbound marketing are and the pros and cons of each.

What is inbound marketing?

As the name suggests, inbound marketing is designed to entice customers into your business. This can be done in a variety of ways, including:

  • Content creation 
  • Social media marketing
  • SEO
  • Opt-in emails
  • Website landing pages

Inbound marketing ultimately relies on giving in order to receive. Whether this is in the form of blogs, newsletters, or social media content, the idea is to put your business out into the world to allow customers to come to you. 

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is a more traditional approach, but just because it’s been around for longer, doesn’t mean it’s outdated. Outbound marketing sends messages out to prospects. This can be seen with:

  • TV or radio adverts
  • Prospecting emails
  • Billboards
  • Magazine and newspaper ads
  • Cold calling

Any message where you are actively pursuing a customer can be seen as outbound marketing. As many long-term methodologies have done, it has evolved to keep up with the modern day marketing scene. 

Old outbound and new outbound

With recent technologies like Netflix and online magazines taking over traditional TV and paper subscriptions, many old outbound marketing techniques are becoming void. This is largely because they are unmeasurable, due to targeting mass audiences rather than their specific target.

While they may still work for some companies with a specific and established target audience, many businesses are transferring to new outbound marketing, which is often in the form of emails.

Although emails have a reputation of being impersonal and inefficient as a marketing method, this is not true. Prospective emails, particularly, can be personalised and effective, if used in combination with data and research. New outbound marketing methods focus on measurable metrics, and are highly targeted.

For instance, after identifying a qualified lead, using your CRM to access data about the prospective company opens up many personalisation doors. You can see if they are your target audience, and how they would benefit from your service or product, giving you an angle for your prospective email.

A one-size-fits-all email will just end up in their spam folder, but this new outbound marketing method can complement inbound marketing methods.

Advantages of outbound

There are many more advantages of outbound marketing than you may initially think, especially with new outbound marketing on the rise. 

It’s measurability means that you can not only measure who has visited your website or begun their sales journey (as with inbound marketing), but you can actually see who has seen your email or message. This gives you a more realistic idea of who will complete a sale, and therefore where you can direct your sales efforts. 

It’s also much quicker and more direct than inbound marketing. As you are actively approaching your prospect, you can see their reaction firsthand, and act quickly, particularly if you are the first company to approach them, as they are more likely to choose your product.

Comparatively, inbound marketing means your target is aware of your company for much longer before they buy anything, and the sales funnel is longer. This can be a positive or a negative aspect, depending on your company. 

Speaking of sales funnels, it is much shorter with new outbound marketing. Prospective emails have the highest ROI of any digital channel for B2B companies, making it something you don’t want to miss out on. 

Disadvantages of outbound

Despite having the highest ROI for B2B companies, this comes at a price – literally. With up to 45% of direct emails never opened, prospective emails can become expensive, particularly if these emails are not personalised. 

It can also be difficult to gauge lead quality, although this will improve with time. If you don’t have qualified leads, outbound marketing – even new outbound – can be time-consuming and inefficient. 

Timing is also a difficult aspect of outbound marketing. If you approach a company too early, they may not be ready for a sale, but if you’re too late, they may have gone for another company. Although this can also improve with time and practice, you need to decide if this time spent will result in a better marketing technique, or if you’re just wasting time. 

Advantages of inbound

Inbound marketing builds trust between customer and company that many customers value. It also often allows for two-way communication between you and your customers, such as on social media, furthering trust and customer loyalty. This means that they are more likely to be a returning customer, as they know you value them.

It can also be cost-effective. Social media, website set-up and content creation can all be inexpensive, particularly when the longevity of the content/website is considered. When this is combined with the company/customer relationship, it can be inexpensive, especially as studies have shown that after five months of consistent inbound marketing, the average lead cost can drop by 80%.

By improving brand awareness with inbound marketing, your customers can become promoters in themselves. People love to talk about positive experiences they’ve had with a company, so by providing a platform on which people can talk about you to others – such as Facebook or Instagram – you have another layer of marketing.

Disadvantages of inbound

One of the most obvious limitations of inbound marketing is that it’s much harder to be specific when targeting customers. Yes, you can focus on your target audience and demographic, but if you don’t truly know what they need, then it can be ineffective. Showing off your product or service on social media is great, but only if you know that it can help those seeing it. Algorithms and measurable metrics can help with this, but it can take time to work.

Time is one of the biggest disadvantages to inbound marketing. It makes the sales journey much longer, as the prospect goes from awareness, to consideration, to buying, in their own time. It relies on the customer seeking you out, instead of you approaching them, which requires consistency.

Because of the time inbound marketing takes, it can be hard to measure and analyse, particularly tracking ROI. Of course, web analytics and other metrics help, but it can take months for a customer to go from awareness to buying, so the accuracy may vary.

Why the two should be used in conjunction

You may have noticed that we haven’t taken sides or said which type of marketing we prefer. Simply put, it’s not as objective as that. Your company may lean to one or the other, but truthfully, the most successful marketing uses a mixture of both.

The combinations of inbound and outbound marketing are endless, and chances are, using both will have a better result than just one or the other. For example, video content in emails can improve clicks, and emails can improve the number of people who read blog posts or articles. Or, integrating prospective emails with website analytics to target a customer’s need may be more effective than relying on purely inbound or outbound marketing.

Take into consideration what you need and what you have. If you’re a larger company that already has brand awareness and authority, and the budget for inbound, then inbound marketing can be great.

For SME companies, the focus may be on time-effective and measurable marketing, which lends itself more to outbound. Whichever way you lean, keep your options open to the other marketing methodology – it may be just what you need to achieve your goals.

Outbase can help streamline your outbound marketing – through audience building, customisable email templates, sequencing, and more. If you are combining both inbound and outbound marketing, Outbase can streamline the outbound side of your marketing journey.

Contact us today to see how we can help you. 

Written by:
Kit Smith SEO and Content Manager