What’s the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

July 2, 2020

weidert blog author


Posted by Eric Severstad

difference between inbound and outbound marketing

The average person is exposed to 6,000-10,000 advertising messages each day – nearly double the numbers from 20071.

Yes, that includes everything from TV ads and outdoor signage to radio spots and digital ads throughout the internet and social media. That’s A LOT of competition for your prospects’ attention. It’s enough to get B2B marketers to ask, “How do I ever reach the people I need to talk to?” and “What could I ever say to get them to buy?”

Today, there are essentially two distinct strategies marketers use to reach the prospects they need: inbound marketing and outbound (or “traditional”) marketing. Let’s take a look at the essential differences between the two.

The Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

INBOUND MARKETING

  • Pulls interested readers in
  • Solves consumers’ needs
  • Interactive with readers
  • As helpful content is consumed, audience members become leads
  • Where you see it: websites, blogs, eBooks, opt-in emails, SERP, social media

OUTBOUND MARKETING

  • Pushes messaging at everyone
  • Written to sell products
  • One-way communication
  • Disrupts whatever content is being consumed
  • Where you see it: TV ads, billboards, pop-up internet ads, telemarketing, magazines

comparison of inbound vs outbound marketing

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing, also referred to as “interruption” or “push” marketing, uses tactics that get a message to a large number of people in an effort to make a sale. Print/TV/radio advertising, cold calling, direct mail, mass emails, and other methods are aimed at large audiences of people (most of whom may not even be looking for the marketer’s product). It’s a one-way conversation that typically focuses on the product and reasons why the audience should buy it.

The Problems with Outbound Marketing

The big problem with traditional marketing is that in order to be appropriate for the largest number of people, the message must be very general. In other words, with traditional marketing tactics it’s impossible to be relevant to a variety of specific needs and challenges. There are other reasons traditional marketing isn’t working today:

  • 60% of surveyed TV viewers would make the effort to find and download TV shows to avoid advertisements2. With the growing number of online TV streaming services, television ads can be skipped, and you can’t make an impression on your audience if they’ve tuned out.
  • Digital music services and satellite radio make it easy for listeners to avoid radio advertising. As of December 2019, there were 271 million active Spotify users alone3. Radio doesn’t have the impact it once did.
  • 58% of direct mail recipients never read or scan their direct mail pieces4. Referred to as “junk mail,” this tactic has low effectiveness.
  • The average person gets bombarded with over 1,700 banner ads per month but only sees half of them5. Not exactly a lot of bang for your buck.
  • The average office worker receives 120 emails every day6, and 55% of all of that email is spam7. So, people expect to tune out most email.
  • The estimated loss of revenue due to ad blocking is expected to increase to $2.12 billion in 20207.

Pushing messages out isn’t effective anymore because your audience has options and ways to avoid them. Marketers who are still using outbound tactics are asking themselves: 1) “How do we reach buyers who are looking for our solutions?” and 2) “What will it take to turn those prospects into customers?” Hint: Google processes over 3.5 billion searches per day8.

What is Inbound Marketing?

While outbound marketing pushes messages to a wide audience, inbound marketing is “magnetic.” Rather than sending out general messages to uninterested audiences, inbound marketing allows you to attract your best prospects — and those who are actively looking online for solutions. When they get to your site, those prospects find help, guidance, and education directly related to the searching they’re doing online.

For a complete and comprehensive overview, check out our free guide:
What is Inbound Marketing for Industrials?

At the heart of inbound marketing is content: blog content, video content, and downloadable (or “advanced”) content offered on a company’s website, such as white papers, guides, eBooks, tip sheets, and others. When using an inbound approach, marketers develop this content to align with specific points in the buyer’s journey:

  • At the beginning of their journey, a buyer is getting familiar with the problem and potential solutions.
  • In the middle, they’re comparing a small set of potential solutions.
  • At the end of their buying journey, they’re doing due diligence needed to make a final decision.
  • And then there’s the actual customer experience, where delighted customers can turn into promoters.

There are types of content that align nicely with each of these stages. By creating and offering them via your website, blog and advanced content, you’re satisfying information needs that prospects have at all points in their journeys.

And, since a journey is largely conducted online (62% of B2B buyers say they can make a purchase decision based solely on digital content9), they’ll find relevant content when doing searches.

An Example of Inbound Marketing in Action

You are the facilities manager of a disposable tissue manufacturing company, and you’ve decided that it’s time for a new conveyor for the company’s XYZ line of products.

Your first step toward purchasing new equipment is to do research online to understand your options. Not surprisingly, you Google “conveyor systems with best output.” High in the results is an eBook entitled “5 Ways a Cylindrical Conveyor Improves Productivity & Output.” You click on the link, get to a supplier’s blog, and read it. It has some great information! At the end of the blog post is an offer of downloadable content also related to conveyor output, so you provide your email in exchange for the content.

You’re now a lead in that supplier’s system. The supplier is able to send you additional, helpful content offers to draw you further into the sales funnel. As a facilities manager, you’re eager to be engaging with this supplier because you now have evidence of this company’s expertise. You also appreciate the useful information they’ve provided as you consider your options.

See how it works? While traditional marketing sends general messages to a wide (and often uninterested) audience, inbound marketing creates and offers content developed specifically for distinct audiences, relevant to multiple stages in their buyer’s journey.

Prospects are attracted to that content as they do research related to their challenges, and once they find it on a supplier’s site, they become engaged in a conversation with that supplier.

Still not convinced about inbound marketing’s power? Read these 15 Statistics That Make the Case for Inbound Marketing. It’s not just an article of facts, it helps you understand how inbound marketing campaigns achieve higher ROI than outbound techniques, regardless of company size, geography, or budget. 

Step-by-Step Guide to Inbound Marketing

Sources: 1Yankelovich Center for Social Science Research, 2Arris, 3musically.com, 4Small Business Trends, 5smallbizgenius, 6Campaign Monitor, 7Statista, 8Oberlo, 9Blue Corona

This article was originally published in 2018 and has since been updated for comprehensiveness and current information. 



Topics: Inbound Marketing, Starting an Inbound Program



whole brain marketing blog author
Written by Eric Severstad

Eric is a Content Manager with extensive agency experience in writing and directing bold content for complex clients to help them stand out from the crowd.

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