Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: What’s the Difference?

4 Minute Read

Inbound? Outbound? What are we dealing with here, flight plans?

You’re no doubt inundated with mountains of terminology, technology, acronyms, and maybe even a skywriting plane or two. But when it comes to drilling down on inbound vs. outbound, do you know whether you’re coming or going?

If the thought bubbles above your head read something like, “what is inbound?” “what is outbound?” “what’s the difference?” or even “do I need this? Or should I go get a salted caramel half-caf-skinny latte?” then this post is for you.

But maybe you do need that latte first. Go ahead; we’ll wait.

Outbound is Where We Came From

Outbound marketing has been a thing for as long as marketers started promoting products to people. In process and practice, it’s about sending your message outward to get in front of customers more directly—think door-to-door salespeople or telemarketing calls that always seem to come at the least convenient times.

Today, outbound means cold calling, cold emails, targeted paid digital advertising (and the landing pages that connect to them), trade shows, mass media, and out-of-home marketing, like billboards and display ads.

Successful outbound strategies emphasize personalization. Marketers develop buyer personas and craft messaging around those profiles. The most impactful outbound campaigns target the customer at the account level (for B2B), are exceedingly well-researched, and are always highly targeted to appeal to detailed personas.

Outbound works well when it’s done thoughtfully. It’s meant to speak to a broader audience, and that works well for some things.

However, as people’s lives and livelihoods have become more entrenched in the digital realm, outbound can sometimes come across as pushy and manipulative. Think keyword stuffing, annoying pop-ups, content gating/paygates, and those endless-repeat emails you keep getting from that company that still hasn’t clued into the fact that you haven’t responded to even ONE of their messages in the past six months. You could hit “unsubscribe,” but you’re curious how long they’ll keep pushing with subject lines like “how about today?” “following up” and “trying to connect.”

Outbound targets a wide audience, and its success takes the stance that at least some of the people you target will convert. Hit anyone at the right time with the right message, and it just might.

Pros and Cons of Outbound

The upside of outbound is that it’s easy to implement. Direct mail, outdoor advertising, and newspaper ads don’t take a whole lot of thought—and you’ll usually get pretty fast results, so you’ll know quickly whether your campaign worked or not.

  • Outbound can be annoying and puts some customers off completely1.
  • It’s not sustainable, as your salespeople spend too much time chasing prospects that they won’t ever convert.
  • It might tank your public image if you’re too pushy or aggro.
  • There’s no guarantees your efforts will succeed.
  • It’s not the best way to build relationships.
  • It takes longer to convert.
  • It’s challenging to explain products and services over the phone to a prospect who isn’t pre-qualified.
  • Customers will put you on ignore if they don’t know who you are.
  • Technology is not an outbound marketer’s friend—think caller ID, spam filters, etc.

Poor outbound. You’re a dodo in 2021. Services will be held at a later date when COVID restrictions lift.  

Inbound is Where It’s At

All things considered, it’s easy to throw outbound under the bus. Especially when you consider sweet, helpful, gentle inbound, and all it represents. *sigh*

Whereas outbound is about proactively (and sometimes bombastically) reaching out to potential customers, inbound focuses on creating and distributing compelling, valuable digital content that draws people in. Outbound speaks to a wide audience, while inbound focuses on specific types of buyers.

Inbound is modern, educational, and customer-focused. The authority you establish helps build relationships. The relationships you create will continue to gain value over time, increasing your customer lifetime value (CLV) and reducing the cost of acquisition2.

Pros and Cons of Inbound

Inbound acknowledges that customers have plenty of options in terms of free information on the web and seeks to make a meaningful connection with the customer through helpful, relevant content that the buyer is likely already looking for.

Some of the components of a successful inbound campaign include:

  • Content marketing, like blogs, white papers, videos, checklists, and so on.
  • Email marketing directly to your email list and those who have opted-in.
  • SEO to tell the search engines what your website is all about so they can serve it to the right users.
  • Social media marketing that targets your customers and prospects based on their interests and browsing/buying behavior.
  • PPC to target specific search terms and keywords.

As a marketer, you probably already do many of these things. Here’s why:

  • Engagement levels are very high, especially with personalized content.
  • Supports a seamless and effortless buyer journey, helping you close and convert faster.
  • Qualified leads result in meaningful engagements and less time wasted.
  • There is plenty of marketing technology and automation to support your inbound efforts.
  • Increases brand visibility, authority, and reputation.
  • Encourages sharing, thereby broadening your audience.
  • Builds loyalty, which translates to more sales.

And yes, there are some downsides to inbound. In the end, your success all comes down to time, strategy, and your organization.

For example, you need high-quality content. Content is the foundation of a successful inbound strategy, and if you can’t meet that expectation, you likely won’t get any action. Outsourcing to a freelancer is a viable option, but you still need a strategy. Sales won’t be able to close anything if they’re pushing poor-quality content.

Additionally, if sales and marketing are not aligned, you’ll have a disconnect that will almost certainly hinder your progress. Maybe marketing isn’t producing the right kind of content to support the products, or perhaps it’s challenging for sales to access content when they need it.

The good news is none of these issues are unsolvable. The right technology can help immensely, as can strategic thinking and team alignment. Need help with that? Set up a call. We’re friendly, we’re really good at what we do, and we’ll never call you during the big game—because we’re probably watching it too.


Sources:

1https://www.salesforce.com/eu/learning-centre/sales/cold-calling/

2https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2021/07/09/five-steps-to-achieving-a-customer-lifetime-value-clv-breakthrough/?sh=214b0ef43ccc

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