The Difference Between Outbound and Inbound Marketing

Posted in Marketing by Frank Cowell

Many business departments and agencies brand themselves as inbound marketers rather than outbound marketers. Compared with six years ago, the change is enormous. More compelling, though, is the amount of personal experience supporting inbound marketing tactics. HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016 report highlights the differences between inbound and outbound marketing in 2016:

  • 81 percent of companies that identify more with inbound marketing tactics claim the strategy is effective, compared with only 18 percent of companies that identify more with outbound marketing tactics.


  • 84 percent of inbound-focused companies with an SLA (service level agreement) between marketing and sales identify their strategy as effective compared with 15 percent of outbound-focused companies with misaligned SLAs.


  • 59 percent of respondents associate inbound marketing practices with high-value leads, while only 17 percent associated outbound marketing practices with high-value leads.


While outbound marketing tactics may occasionally provide value, inbound marketing seems to serve as the overarching trend in marketing today.Related: Get your complete copy of the State of Inbound report. Download the  report now.

Primary Differences in Outbound and Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing is at its peak, but many businesses rely on outbound marketing practices. Some companies even invest in inbound marketing activities while maintaining an outbound marketing philosophy. Here are some primary differences between the two marketing approaches:

  1. Outbound marketing casts a wide net, while inbound marketing uses sonar-tracking devices to identify schools of fish. An outbound marketing approach focuses on the creation of marketing assets, such as advertisements, brochures, and pitch-focused sales professionals without particular consideration for the audience. An inbound marketer, on the other hand, focuses on the target market and creates content assets that interest the audience.
  1. Outbound marketing can make prospects feel uncomfortable, whereas inbound marketing makes prospects feel supported. Outbound marketers push messages into a large market using commercials, banner advertisements, social media commenters with canned messaging, and other paid approaches. Inbound marketing takes a no-strings-attached approach to marketing – interested leads feel informed instead of bombarded.
  1. Outbound marketing uses traditional sales mediums as a crutch, but inbound marketing diversifies its content channels. Outbound marketing materials are found most often in your mailbox, on television, in magazines, and around value-driven content on your computer screen. Outbound-focused businesses pay a pretty penny for their space, but many modern consumers use ad-blockers, TV recorders, and radio apps to block any outbound marketing.

A primary difference between inbound and outbound marketing is market response. Today, consumers from all age groups avoid outbound marketing materials – they’re thrown away, the volume is turned down, or the channel is changed. In contrast to this, HubSpot’s report explains how inbound marketing is often less expensive and more impactful.

Three Steps to a More Inbound Marketing Savvy Approach

Outbound marketing activities have their place, but inbound marketing is the popular kid on the playground. Here are tips for incorporating inbound marketing steps into your current marketing strategy:

  • Think about your approach to buying. Will the latest infomercial draw you in, or do you need to do research before making an investment? Infomercials may earn a one-time purchase, but a lead-nurturing romance creates loyal customers. Focus on organic ways to attract and convert leads.
  • Earn your place as a go-to resource. How often do you place your trust in the first three to five results on Google? Invest in SEO and attract customers to you. Don’t vie for consumers’ attention among a waste of paper, bills, and meaningful cards from loved ones.
  • Model your approach after a successful business. Explore the audience of an influencer or a noncompetitive business with a similar mission. Leverage another audience to build a following and watch the conversions roll in.

As you explore the benefits and drawbacks of inbound versus outbound marketing, leverage your experience and the responses of other industry professionals to guide your approach in 2017 and beyond. For more insights into the world of inbound marketing, download HubSpot’s State of Inbound 2016 report.

About Frank Cowell

Frank Cowell is President at Elevator, a digital brand strategy agency based in the San Diego, California area. He works regularly with CEOs, CMOs, and VPs of Marketing who are looking to create amazing brand experiences while driving inbound leads. A self-taught programmer with a deep understanding of technology, Frank enjoys a unique blend of brand development and marketing savvy that enables him to offer fresh perspectives on often-complex marketing concepts that he distills into actionable, easy-to-understand language. An energetic and entertaining speaker, Frank presents regularly to regional and national organizations on topics related to branding and digital marketing.
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