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Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: Definitions, Differences and Winning Strategies

4 minute read
Kaya Ismail avatar
Whats the difference between inbound and outbound marketing, and can they be combined into a winning digital marketing strategy? We asked the experts.

The digital marketing world changes every single day — and yet, the two umbrella terms that encompass the entire digital marketing space remain intact. I’m talking of course about Inbound marketing and outbound marketing.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is the practice of pulling in attention to your brand via helpful content. That could be in the form of blogging, social media content, eBooks or white papers. 

Amber Kemmis, VP of Client Services, Newport Beach, California based SmartBug Media, took our definition a step further. “Inbound marketing is all about creating free education and value to bring leads and customers to your doorstep. It requires you to know your customers at a deep enough level to create content and experiences that will engage buyers at every point of their journey, even when they are just beginning to understand their problems,” she said.

Related Article: What Audio Marketing Is and Why It Should Be a Part of Your Content Strategy

Inbound Marketing Examples

Further examples of inbound marketing include most of the following.

  • Website content
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Blog content
  • Video content
  • Social media posts
  • White papers
  • eBooks
  • Surveys, studies and analyst reports
  • Webinars

What Is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing, also known as interruption-based marketing, on the other hand is the practice of pushing out your marketing messaging to wherever your audience is. This could include cold emailing, trade shows and display advertising. “Outbound marketing requires you to knock on your customer's door, whether they want you there or not. You seek out your customers rather than them seeking you. Outbound marketing can also happen on various channels, but the message you lead with is usually about you, not the buyer,” said Kemmis.

Related Article: What is Marketing Automation and How Does It Help Marketers?

Outbound Marketing Examples

Examples of outbound marketing include some of these.

Learning Opportunities

  • Cold emailing 
  • Cold calling
  • Direct mail
  • Events
  • Display ads
  • TV and radio ads
  • Press releases

Inbound Vs Outbound: Which Strategy Works Best?

The inbound versus outbound debate has been raging for years, and we don’t expect to extinguish the discussion here and now. However, the statistics below, courtesy of HubSpot, indicate that inbound is edging the race as the preferred — and most profitable — form of digital marketing. 68 percent of inbound organizations believe their marketing strategy is effective, while 33 percent of inbound marketers and 31 percent of outbound marketers rank outbound marketing practices, such as paid advertising, as the top waste of time and resources. Furthermore, just 16 percent of marketers say outbound practices provide the highest quality leads for sales.

The good news is that marketers don’t have to choose between inbound marketing and outbound marketing in order to hit their KPIs. In fact, Matthew Levin, VP of Marketing at New York based SimpleReach, believes the line between inbound and outbound is slowly blurring into redundancy, anyway. “The lines are starting to blur because of some fundamental changes in the marketing and media ecosystem. The of major platforms like Google and Facebook [has led] to the "content-ification" of everything. Now, most advertising is what you'd call a native ad — an Instagram sponsored video or a paid Facebook article is "native" to the platform — it mimics the same look and feel as posts from friends or family. This means that marketers end up doing "inbound" (by creating content), but also spending a lot of their "outbound" budget on promoting that content,” Levin explained. And thus, marketers end up engaging in both inbound and outbound marketing simply to stay relevant on the platforms of today.

“Furthermore, effective outbound marketing requires great content, while at the same time, it's not enough to depend on inbound strategies — because content marketers now know that smart paid promotion [of content] is key to success.”

Audrey DeSisto, CEO of Boston, Massachusetts based Digital Marketing Stream, agreed that, rather than marketers approaching inbound and outbound as two separate strategies, they should in fact combine their efforts. “By combining [inbound] strategies, brands can further identify target audience using analytics and reporting. Using that data, they can fuel an outbound strategy.”

This hybrid-marketing strategy was further endorsed by Charlie Riley, Director of Marketing at Orchard Park, New York based Curbell Plastics, explained that marketers need to, “use a mix of both [inbound and outbound] to build a reputation of expertise through tactics like white papers and case studies, while using that information as the basis for outbound efforts to proactively get in front of decision makers.”

How are you planning to blend your inbound and outbound strategies?

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