When you understand the difference between inbound and outbound marketing, you can implement a robust cross-sectional strategy that gives your business a steady flow of qualified leads for your sales team.
In this article, we’re going to explore both inbound and outbound marketing – explaining the what and how of each so that you can develop a strategy that’s perfectly tailored to your goals and needs.
Let’s dive in!
Let’s begin with outbound marketing, which is the more traditional of the two types. Also known as “push” marketing, outbound marketing involves the strategic marketing tactics that intentionally put your brand in front of people who are not otherwise seeking you out.
Outbound marketing involves all of the traditional approaches, including TV and radio commercials, billboards, print ads in magazines and newspapers, mailers, etc. There are also digital outbound strategies, such as PPC advertising.
The goal of outbound marketing is to put your brand in front of as many people as possible, with the idea that a percentage will trickle into the top of your funnel. With this approach, you’re not expecting 100 percent of the prospects you come into contact with to find their way into your funnel. In fact, even if you have an effective outbound strategy that’s laser-focused on the right audience, you’ll be lucky to get two to five percent of people to successfully enter your funnel. (An even smaller number will become viable leads that filter down to the bottom of the funnel.)
While outbound marketing certainly has its place in the grand scheme of things, it’s rare that a brand can survive on outbound alone. When nobody is asking to interact with your brand and you’re essentially “forcing” engagement, it’s a challenge.
Low click-through and conversion rates lead many brands to eventually give up on outbound. And while we’ll be the first to admit that there are issues with an over-reliance on outbound in the digital age, we’d also caution you against throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
As we’ll discuss later in this article, there’s a place for outbound marketing as part of a larger strategy. But first, let’s get clear on what the other side of the marketing coin looks like.
If outbound marketing is about intersecting people who are not actively looking for you, inbound marketing is a method of engaging people who are (either directly or indirectly) seeking you out. This is done in a subtle, less-salesy way that educates, nurtures, and softly encourages people to enter the funnel in a non-intimidating way. (In fact, most don’t even realize they’ve entered the funnel at all.)
If outbound marketing is rooted in advertisements, inbound marketing centers on content creation. It involves creating valuable content that’s tailored to a specific audience and displaying it in such a way that it intersects them as they search for solutions to their most pressing challenges and needs.
Inbound marketing is slower than the outbound variety, but it generates more lasting results. That’s because it’s not predicated on making a sale. Instead, it’s about building meaningful relationships with the right people, so that they feel educated and empowered in their journey.
Inbound marketing essentially consists of three major steps or phases:
The beauty of inbound marketing is that it’s self-sustaining. Once you get the engine up and running, delighted customers actually do the heavy lifting for you by attracting people to your brand and nudging them into the top of the funnel on your behalf.
In essence, you’re attracting strangers and engaging them as prospects. These prospects get converted into customers, who ultimately become promoters for your brand.
Though the end goal may be the same, outbound and inbound marketing are very different. This is especially evident when you consider the following contrasting elements:
We’ve already touched on this above, but the best way to think about outbound and inbound is pushing versus pulling. Better yet, let’s use the illustration of a shotgun and a magnet.
Outbound marketing is like shooting a shotgun in a random direction. You can control where you aim the shotgun, but once the trigger is pulled, hundreds of little pellets are sprayed all over the place. A few will inevitably hit the target, but most will miss the mark. This projectile-like approach yields some results, albeit in an inefficient manner.
Inbound marketing is like using a magnet. All you have to do is position that magnet in the right place and it’ll naturally draw the right stuff to it. The force is so strong that it can’t be resisted. And while you won’t pick up everything, anything with the right polarization can’t help but respond.
The very nature of outbound marketing is such that it must be fairly generic. Because whether it’s a billboard, TV commercial, or display ad, you have to consider the fact that thousands of people will see it. And in order to make your ad stand out to the right people, you’re forced to adopt a more general strategy.
Inbound marketing is much more specific. With an inbound strategy, you’re much more focused on your brand and the solutions you provide. As a result, the quality of leads becomes more relevant than quantity of leads.
It sounds a little harsh, but the reality is that outbound marketing is interruptive by nature. You’re forcing your brand on people who aren’t actively asking for it. While nobody is going to get angry about a billboard or TV commercial – we’ve all been conditioned to accept them as normal parts of life – they certainly don’t get welcomed with open arms. (There’s a reason people fast forward through commercials when they can.)
With inbound marketing, you’re not forcing anything on anyone. You’re simply creating and writing content that addresses problems and provides solutions. People who are proactively looking for solutions will naturally find your content and engage with it. This makes them permissive participants.
With outbound marketing, a constant source of fuel is required to keep the flame burning. As soon as you take the fuel away, the flame goes out. In other words, it’s entirely predicated on having an advertising budget in place. When you’re spending, you get leads. Once you stop spending, the leads dry up. It’s temporary.
Inbound marketing requires a lot of work upfront. However, once the content is created and the funnels are put into place, you can let off the gas and the strategy will self-propel. This provides a sustainable source of traffic and leads.
While outbound marketing tends to get pooh-poohed when discussed in the same conversation as inbound marketing, it’s still a very important and useful method of filling the top of the funnel with prospects and leads. (There’s a reason virtually every single Fortune 500 company uses some type of outbound marketing to generate leads.)
Outbound marketing is much more effective today than it’s ever been. This is due to an overabundance of data and the ability to use audience targeting to zero in on very specific segments of the marketplace.
Outbound marketing is ideal when you know who you’re targeting and need a quick bump or influx of traffic. You can think of it like spiking your results with an energy drink. The energy won’t last forever, but it will provide quick momentum.
Whereas inbound marketing can take months to pay off, outbound marketing is designed to produce quick results. This makes it an excellent tool for wielding in very specific situations.
Inbound marketing doesn’t require you to pay to play (at least not in a direct sense). Whereas a PPC ad campaign requires a never-ending budget, inbound is raw, organic, and sustainable. Depending on whether you do it yourself or hire people to execute your strategy, inbound marketing is extremely low cost. (And once initiated, it doesn’t require a constant outlay of cash.)
Inbound marketing is ideal when you have the time to develop a strategy and don’t need immediate results. It’s also good for marketing teams with lower budgets and more cost restrictions. (Inbound is 62 percent less expensive when compared to outbound projects.)
Because it’s more intensive and requires a lot more strategy on the front end, you’ll need people who cast vision, set objectives, and measure benchmarks against these goals.
The best marketing strategies understand that there’s a role for both inbound marketing and outbound marketing. And while they may be different, they’re two sides of the same coin. The underlying objective is to fill the top of the marketing funnel with prospects. From there, it’s about turning prospects into customers.
Rather than viewing inbound versus outbound sales, it would benefit you to view them as working together. In light of this, here are some useful tips to help you exceed in both areas, all the while supporting your pursuit of creating customers.
One of the most creative combinations of inbound and outbound marketing occurs with events. This includes both digital events, like webinars and virtual summits, as well as live, in-person events, such as tradeshows and conferences.
In order to drive traffic to an event, you typically need some form of paid advertising (outbound). You can use a variety of SEO lead generation sources, but PPC is always going to be a staple. And depending on the type of event, whether it’s free or paid, and the anticipated impact on revenue, it could make sense to spend a lot of time on outbound. (You’ll regularly see large companies spend tens of thousands of dollars driving paid traffic to an event with the understanding that they’ll generate 2X-5X on their money.)
If the traffic side of things is an outbound strategy, the event itself is essentially an inbound marketing initiative. These events, whether it’s an online webinar or in-person conference, create an environment that mimics the basic tenets of inbound content (attract, engage, and delight). Sometimes there’s a direct sale at the end of these events, while other times it’s a pure relationship play – filling the funnel with lots of educated leads who are likely to convert in the days or weeks following.
PPC advertising is very much an outbound strategy. In fact, it’s the foundation of all digital outbound strategies in today’s marketplace. Having said that, it can be utilized in such a way that it doubles as an inbound approach.
Whereas a traditional PPC ad drives a prospect to a product page or targeted landing page, this hybrid approach simply directs traffic to a valuable piece of content with a clean and natural call-to-action.
The goal of this approach is to mimic a traditional Google SERP or piece of content that would be organically shared in a Facebook newsfeed. You aren’t making a direct sales push. Instead, you’re helping the right people find high-quality content that fits their needs.
SEO and link building typically fall into the inbound category, but they can also be viewed as a hybrid between inbound and outbound. They’re an outbound strategy in the sense that you have to go out and pay for placement on the right channels so that you’re put in front of the correct people. But they’re part of an inbound strategy in the sense that they’re naturally integrated into quality, contextual content that serves the reader without selling.
When executed with precision, SEO and link building blur the lines between inbound and outbound – pulling in the benefits of both. And truth be told, this is what you want with all aspects of your marketing strategy. Because when your marketing engine is clicking on all cylinders, you get the best of both worlds: immediate results and lasting ROI.
We’re not here to tell you to ignore outbound marketing or to spend 100 percent of your effort on inbound marketing. We do, however, have a strong affinity for the latter. And when it’s properly balanced with a strategic outbound approach, we believe inbound marketing can generate massive results for growth-conscious brands.
At SEO.co, we’ve made it our mission for the past decade-plus to help brands scale their organic traffic with high-quality content and links. We do this by leveraging our rich network of authoritative publishers, blogs, websites, and journalists.
Whether you need quality, contextual backlinks that Google considers “white label” and ethical, or you’re simply looking to fill your website with a steady flow of premium, outsourced copy that you can call your own, we’ve got you covered.
Contact SEO.co today and get a free site assessment!
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