By Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

If you’re determined to quit outbound marketing cold turkey and switch to inbound marketing exclusively, consider this: Although these two strategies are often in opposition, there may be a place for both in your marketing plan. 

In this piece, we’ll walk you through the differences between inbound and outbound marketing, the advantages of inbound, and why it might make sense to keep both in your toolkit. 

Outbound Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing

Whereas outbound marketing takes a one-way blitz approach to marketing that is focused on the product or solution rather than the customer, inbound marketing is customer-driven and attracts prospects by helping them find solutions to their problems in a highly personalized way. 

What Is Outbound Marketing? 

Outbound marketing is what marketers have been doing ever since there have been products and services to sell. These days, many refer to outbound marketing as interruption or push marketing because it uses a single message to reach a broad audience, in the hopes that someone, anyone, finds the message appealing and becomes a customer. 

Even though just 18 percent of marketers say outbound practices provide the highest-quality leads for sales, the following tactics are still widely used today:

  • Cold email/email spam
  • Trade shows
  • Billboards
  • Door-to-door flyers
  • Direct mail
  • TV and radio ads
  • Cold calls
  • Pay-per-click ads

Unfortunately, finding the most qualified leads is next to impossible with these tactics, because you’re trying to find one prospect in a crowd of thousands. Additionally, outbound methods can be costly over the long term, the ROI is difficult to measure, and pretty much everyone finds these methods unhelpful and just plain annoying (some estimates suggest the average Joe sees as many as 10,000 ads every day). 

What Is Inbound Marketing? 

And then there is inbound marketing, whose goal is to meet the customer exactly where they are in the Buyer’s Journey. Whether a prospect is at the awareness, consideration, or decision stage of their buying journey, inbound marketing strives to provide them with the right content at the right time in order to help them solve their problems.

Some of the inbound methods we all know and love include: 

  • Blog articles
  • Infographics
  • E-books and pillar pages
  • White papers
  • Case studies
  • Checklists
  • Podcasts 
  • Webinars

Building an inbound marketing campaign for your business? Start with these 10  steps.

Unlike outbound marketing that hits as many consumers as possible, inbound marketing is driven by buyer personas, which are the semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on real data from real customers. When you dig into your buyer personas, you learn your customers’ challenges, demographic details, and more, which helps you create personalized campaigns and content to help move them through the Buyer’s Journey. 

Additionally, inbound marketing is a longer-term strategy than outbound marketing. You can throw tons of money at ads and billboards and see tons of people walking through the door, but there’s a greater likelihood that those leads won’t be qualified. Ultimately, the customer acquisition cost (CAC) with outbound marketing leads ends up much higher than the CAC for inbound. 

The Advantages of Inbound Marketing

From the customer perspective, the benefits of inbound marketing are boundless. With inbound marketing, customers get the right content at the right time, as opposed to being inundated with ads featuring products or services they don’t need and messaging that doesn’t resonate. Additionally, buyers are doing more and more online research before they make purchases, so the more educational content you can provide, the more likely prospects will be to see your brand as the right solution.

Some other benefits of inbound marketing include:

  • It’s more cost-effective than outbound, and ROI is easier to track. 
  • It’s easier to build trust, nurture relationships, and qualify the best leads. 
  • It helps position your brand as a thought leader in the industry. 
  • It ensures you have a cache of assets that you can use in the long term for generating and nurturing leads.

And, of course, buyers prefer inbound marketing over outbound marketing because it’s helpful—not distracting.

Switching from Outbound Marketing to Inbound Marketing

From what we’ve mentioned so far, it probably seems like inbound marketing is the clear way for your business to go, right? After all, according to HubSpot, 75 percent of inbound organizations believe their marketing strategy is effective, and 30 percent of marketers think outbound marketing tactics are overrated. But it’s not as simple as cutting the outbound cord, making the switch to inbound, and reaping the benefits.

The truth is that we know—based on how plugged in today’s buyers are—that traditional outbound marketing doesn’t work by itself. Just look at the rise of Netflix, Apple TV+, Hulu, Spotify, and other TV and audio streaming services, which were all created specifically because people were tired of seeing (and hearing) ads. But at the same time, 84 percent of millennials take the time to look through their mail, so not all outbound marketing strategies are dead. 

Depending on your buyer personas and industry, you may need a hybrid approach to tick all of the boxes for your customers, or you may be poised to secure the most qualified leads with an exclusively inbound approach to marketing. To determine which approach is right for your business, you have to take a look at your buyer personas, as well as your sales and marketing goals, and ask some key questions: 

  • Where are your buyer personas looking for solutions? 
  • How can you serve them best? 
  • Are you trying to raise brand awareness or drive traffic? 
  • What are your goals for MQLs and SQLs? 
  • What numbers does sales need to hit? 

No matter what approach you take, the goal of your marketing strategy in 2020 and beyond must be to put customers and their challenges first—and to leverage data and analytics to plan, pivot, and produce the right content. Instead of hard selling your product or service, display your expertise by educating and empathizing with prospects in order to find the most qualified leads. 

See What Inbound Marketing Can Do

Are you ready to see how inbound marketing can boost your overall marketing plan? Take our Intelligent Inbound® Marketing Assessment to see how your marketing stacks up and get actionable recommendations for improving your company’s marketing strategy.

This post was originally published in April 2014 and has been updated.

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Chaviva Gordon-Bennett

About the author

Chaviva Gordon-Bennett was formerly a Senior Copywriter for SmartBug Media. She graduated from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a bachelor's degree in journalism. As a Senior Copywriter, Chaviva writes inbound marketing content for SmartBug's clients. Read more articles by Chaviva Gordon-Bennett.

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