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Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: What’s the Difference and Why it Matters for Your Business

Posted on March 8, 2016   |   




In today’s digital age, we have many ways in which we can communicate with our target audiences: print materials, phone, email, social media, blogs, and websites. With all these channels, it can be challenging to capture your target audience’s attention long enough to sustain a solid communication stream. Therefore, it may be time to rethink your marketing strategy and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are your strategies integrated with digital efforts?
  • How direct are the efforts in generating leads?
  • Are you cold calling (either on the phone or through direct mail) to secure leads and sales?
  • How many touch points do you have before contacting a prospect?
  • Is the prospect well educated before the sale?

The answers to these questions will help you determine whether outbound, inbound or a mix of both strategies are right for your business.

Outbound Marketing

Hubspot defines outbound marketing as a strategy “where a marketer pushes his message out far and wide hoping that it resonates with that needle in the haystack.” Most companies utilize outbound marketing techniques (aka traditional marketing) to generate leads and sales. This includes direct mail, display advertising, traditional advertising, telemarketing, trade shows, etc.—each of which carries its own merit and can be effective if integrated into a larger campaign effort.

The effectiveness of outbound marketing as the only lead and sales generator is slowly declining because the return on investment per lead is minimal—yet the costs for a traditional campaign are increasing. TV ads are a perfect example: people tend to skip/fast forward through the ads with little to no interest—plus TV ads are extremely costly to produce and air. Contently also sees this shift in how consumers like to be “sold” to, noting “200 million Americans are on the Do Not Call list, 91 percent of emails users end up unsubscribing from company newsletters, and 86 percent of people skip ads on TV.”

However, there are still times when an outbound strategy is the ideal method for sharing information. For example, with our Coloradans for Responsible Energy campaign, we generated 17 million video and digital display ad views thanks to paid online advertisements that resonated with the audience we were targeting.

But where are businesses to turn if the outbound method doesn’t work for them? Enter, inbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing

Mashable defines inbound marketing as a strategy where businesses “earn” people’s interest instead of “buying” it. Instead of casting the same message to a wide audience, people want to control the messages they see and hear and how they receive them. This is where inbound marketing comes into play. With inbound marketing strategies, messages are tailored to visitors’ preferences, versus having content constantly thrown at them with no regard to user preference or relevance.

The benefits? Inbound marketing can be more cost effective than outbound marketing. In fact, Voltier Digital’s handy infographic explains that “inbound marketing costs 62% less than traditional outbound marketing.” While parts of it are similar to outbound, it is focused on educating and earning the attention from prospects. This includes search engine optimization, blogging, earned social media and public relations, content marketing, education materials, white papers, opt-in email marketing, etc.

The Difference

The big difference between inbound and outbound is the form of communication. Outbound tends to be a one-way form of communication, whereas inbound is interactive and invites a two-way conversation. Another difference is how the customer hears of the company.

With outbound marketing, prospects are sought out versus seeking you out. This can be seen with a TV ad: the company tells viewers about their product, however, the viewer cannot respond back to the TV ad or select the content of the ad or determine when to view it. And this method is sometimes appropriate depending on who your target audience is and how they like to consume information. With an inbound marketing initiative like social media, audiences can customize when they receive information and how they receive it.

Facebook has already jumped on the inbound marketing train, using its algorithms to customize your newsfeed to display content you indicate is relevant to you. Engagement actions, such as commenting, liking and sharing posts from your favorite companies on Facebook, are one way the social network collects information about your online habits and uses it to deliver content you want to see.

For any successful marketing initiative, it is important to have a balance between both inbound and outbound techniques. There’s still much credit to be given to traditional marketing methods like direct mail pieces (read our Creative Rebel’s take on why print is back and here to stay) but inbound and outbound can’t exist in a vacuum. Both are needed to effectively propel a business’ marketing and sales strategy forward.

If you’re still not sure if inbound or outbound (or both) is right for your business, give our team a call at (303) 394-2366 or send us email and we’d be happy to schedule a meeting.