Learning Hub | Digital Marketing Basics

Inbound Vs Outbound Marketing: The Difference Explained

November 10, 2015 | Jon Teodoro

If you’re a brick and mortar business owner, chances are you’ve had a sales rep walk into your store unannounced trying to sell insurance, telecommunications services, office supplies, or something similar.

Do you remember what you were doing when they walked into your doors and asked to speak to the owner? Maybe not, but if you’re like me, you were probably pretty annoyed when you tried to be polite and say “no thanks” but their spiel kept going on and on and on…

That interruptive walking drone that just walked through your doors is a classic (yet annoying) example of outbound marketing in action.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing is everywhere. It’s usually what the mainstream public thinks of when the word “marketing” is spoken. Unless you’ve never left your house before, you’ve most likely been exposed to at least one of the following forms of outbound marketing:

  • Radio advertisements
  • Billboards
  • Television commercials
  • Magazine ads
  • Flyers
  • Mail inserts

Outbound marketing is any type of marketing that is initiated by a company where the message is pushed out to an audience, regardless if that audience wants to hear that message or not. So when that attorney’s radio ad pops up in the middle of your favorite song, or when you open your mailbox and it’s overflowing with coupons that you’ll never use, you’re experiencing outbound marketing first hand.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound Marketing is… you guessed it, the opposite of outbound marketing. Inbound marketing is classified as any marketing activity where you are serving a message to an audience that is actively looking for what your company has to offer.

In other words, if the consumer initiates the conversation by seeking information about your products or services, rather than being “force-fed” that information when they’re not looking for it, you can consider that relationship as an inbound marketing interaction.

If you’ve ever asked a question on Google and clicked on a company’s blog in the search results, or searched for a plumber on Bing and clicked on a local plumber’s paid search ad, you have experienced a type of inbound marketing.

Examples of Inbound Marketing

Because inbound marketing is more natural looking than outbound marketing, it can be tricky to distinguish good inbound marketing tactics. Here are some examples of inbound marketing:

  • Organic SEO
  • Blogging
  • Paid search ads (certain types)
  • Permission-based newsletters

Many people don’t perceive these tactics are marketing because they are conditioned to associate the word “marketing” with outbound connotations. So when your business shows up whenever a customer is actually looking for your products or services, it’s looked at as more of “you just solved my problem when I needed it” rather than “you just successfully inbound market-ed me”.

The trick with inbound marketing is that you have to offer your audience something of value by putting their problems first, then solving those problems by presenting your solution at the right time within the right channel.

Why Inbound Marketing Works Better Than Outbound Marketing

Nowadays people are bombarded with outbound marketing, even on the Internet. Pop-up ads are a digital form of outbound marketing, and you can almost guarantee that if you are employing the use of pop-up ads on your website that you are going to piss off a good amount of your website’s visitors.

Just like the story of the interruptive sales person at the beginning of this article, most business owners don’t have the time to deal with distractions, especially during business hours. And outbound marketing is exactly that: a distraction.

Yes! I can’t wait to drive home during rush hour and listen to non-stop radio commercials!“, said no one, ever.

With inbound marketing, on the other hand, you don’t have to fight your for audience’s attention. That’s because people are already actively looking for you. All you need to do is figure out how to get in front of them when they make the decision to seek you out.

An Example of Inbound Marketing in Action

One of the most common inbound marketing tactics is search engine optimization. Take into consideration the following example from our own inbound marketing campaign:

When a manufacturing business owner goes to Google and types in “manufacturing website design”, you will see that we pop up on the #4 spot with Top 2015 Industrial & Manufacturing Website Designs blog.

For us, that’s good news, because there are approximately 100 searches conducted per month by people searching for “manufacturing website design”. So, whenever a manufacturing business owner decides to redesign his website, you can count on us being visible during his buying journey.

This is also good news for the searcher, because we’re giving them what they need. Notice that we’re not optimizing that keyword for one of our service pages, rather, we’re giving the searcher some examples of website designs. This is because we know that most people who buy professional website services need to get visual inspiration before reaching out to a firm. They need to put form to their ideas, and we’re helping them do exactly that by giving them great examples of website designs in the industrial and manufacturing niche.

We’ve generated a good amount of leads just from that one blog post alone and have even closed a few sales from it as well. No ad spend required, and it’s a win-win for both the searcher and us!

So Is Outbound Marketing Completely Dead?

Of course not. Outbound marketing will never completely ‘die’. However, entrepreneurs will need to step up their game in order to succeed at outbound marketing.

The general public is so used to hearing and seeing the same kinds of outbound marketing tactics that ignoring them is almost second nature. Do you flip the channel when a commercial comes on? Do you change the station when you hear a radio ad paying? How about when an website ad pops up on your screen? Do you immediately look for the big ‘X’ in the top right corner?

To combat this, outbound marketers will need to be more clever with their outbound marketing. They’ll need to recognize that the odds are against them and that they only have a matter of seconds to capture their audience’s attention. That means bold, concise, and attention-grabbing imagery, sound, or messaging is crucial to getting your voice to be heard.

Got some great examples of inbound or outbound marketing? Share them below in the comments.