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The Ultimate Guide to Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Over the last ten years or so, the marketing world has been flipped on its head.

The tactics that most businesses considered solid lead magnets, like taking out ads in popular newspapers or running TV commercials, have lost their appeal and been replaced with more acceptable forms of promotion, such as value-packed blog posts, podcasts, and social media campaigns. The shift has created a heated debate among marketers – inbound vs outbound marketing (and which is better?), starting a new chapter in the history of marketing.

With most businesses adopting an ‘inbound first’ strategy today, outbound marketing has taken a back seat, but it would be unfair to write it off completely. If you’re struggling to decide which approach would generate better results for your business, let me walk you through the most important aspects that you need to take into consideration. In this article, we’ll discuss:

  • What is inbound marketing?
  • What is outbound marketing?
  • The pros and cons of inbound and outbound marketing
  • How to get started with inbound marketing
  • How to get started with outbound marketing
  • Things you can do today to upgrade your inbound and outbound marketing game
  • Best inbound and outbound marketing resources

When it comes to choosing a side in the inbound vs outbound debate, it’s best to have all the facts straight and think through all the possible scenarios; maybe a combination of both would work wonders for you?

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What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is a very broad term, but, in essence, it refers to all the marketing efforts that are geared towards earning customers’ interest and aligning with their needs rather than pushing your product or service no matter what.

It’s a relatively new marketing approach that emerged as a result of changing buyer expectations and can be seen as a product of the modern world. The rise of the internet and social media prompted marketers to look for new ways to engage with potential customers that relied more on the ‘pull’ than ‘push’ factor. According to Content Marketing Institute, 80% of decision-makers prefer to learn about a new brand via an article series rather than via ads. This speaks volumes about why inbound marketing has become the go-to approach, with 3 out of 4 marketers across the globe prioritizing inbound campaigns to outbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing Methodology

Image Source: HubSpot

Blogging is inbound marketers’ bread and butter, with 60% focusing their efforts on creating valuable blog content. Other inbound marketing projects include, but are not limited to, SEO optimization and improving organic presence, content distribution and amplification, marketing automation, interactive content creation, long-form content (eBooks, guides, whitepapers, etc), visual content creation (infographics, slides, etc), online tools, how-to videos, webinars, and more.

The sole purpose of creating all this content is to ‘get found’ by potential customers who are actively looking for information online. Inbound marketing is designed to help businesses to better align with the natural search process of a modern buyer (search engines, referrals, social media, etc) and facilitate the buyer’s journey instead of interrupting it.

Since it allows a more targeted form of advertising, enabling a business to connect with a prospect in the ‘moment of relevance’, which is the time when a buyer is searching for a particular product, service, or information, inbound marketing campaigns cost 62% less per lead than traditional outbound marketing.

What is outbound marketing?

The main goal of an outbound marketing campaign is to market to the masses in hopes of grabbing the interest of a small number of people who actually need your product or service at that time. Considered a more “classic form” of marketing, outbound marketing has been around, literally, forever, with the earliest example of billboard advertising being traced to Pompeii, which had its walls blanketed with promotional messages.

Outbound marketing techniques focus on pushing the message out, without taking the buyer’s journey into consideration. It most often employs well-known (and highly disliked) techniques, such as TV commercials, cold calling, direct mail, pay-per-click ads, print ads, email blasts to purchased lists, and billboards. As an “in your face” kind of approach, outbound marketing has been suffering a decline in popularity among both advertisers and consumers ever since consumers got a taste of a more personalized shopping experience online.

The pros and cons of inbound and outbound marketing

The advent of technology and rapid social media adoption has led to a seismic shift in consumer behavior, which, in turn, has propelled marketers to become more innovative and user-centric. The inbound vs outbound discussion is a slippery slope since no one can wholeheartedly claim that one is better than the other; both approaches have their own pros and cons and your final decision should be informed by the needs of your business. Yet, in general, a quick overview of the good, the bad, and the ugly can be drawn to highlight the most prominent differences.

Inbound vs Outbound Comparison

Inbound vs Outbound marketing comparison. Image Source: Invoiceberry


Inbound marketing. The best thing about inbound marketing is that it doesn’t feel like marketing at all. Designed to educate and entertain the consumer, this approach relies on connecting with the right people at the right time. Since most of the inbound marketing campaigns are mapped to the sales funnel, marketers are able to segment their prospects and tailor and personalize the content they create, significantly increasing the chances of conversion from each customer. According to Annuitas, nurtured leads commit to a 47% higher purchase value than non-nurtured leads. And only 25% of the leads a business generates are ready to make a purchase within the next 12-24 months, while the other 75% need nurturing.

Consumers who seek out content to solve their problems or address their pain points tend to be lower in the buyer funnel, which means that inbound marketing campaigns attract better quality leads that need less time and investment to convert.  

Outbound marketing. For B2B marketers, face-to-face marketing remains one of the key drivers in raising brand awareness and building and cultivating business relationships. Trade shows are particularly favored by B2B marketers, as 80% believe they can increase brand awareness with face-to-face meetings. The potential to reach large crowds makes outbound marketing tactics particularly attractive to companies with substantial advertising budgets that can get away with smaller immediate ROI in hopes of achieving better brand recognition in the long term.


Inbound marketing. Inbound marketing campaigns take time to produce tangible results. Marketers who choose to create content, do need to spend a considerable amount of time and effort to produce content that’s valuable and unique in order to attract prospects’ attention. It usually takes at least 12 months for inbound marketers to see a decent return, so you shouldn’t expect overnight success.

Outbound marketing. One of the biggest drawbacks of outbound campaigns is that they target large masses of people. Not everyone who engages with those campaigns will be ready to buy, so the quality and number of leads generated can be lower than expected. Outbound marketing campaigns are often referred to as ‘interruption marketing, so it’s worth trying to anticipate consumer response to whatever tactic you choose to go with. Another thing to keep in mind is that outbound marketing often involves additional expenses, such as printing, mailing, production costs, and so on. Once an outbound campaign expires, it no longer benefits your business in any way.

How to get started with inbound marketing

The secret to inbound marketing success is knowing your customer. For your campaigns to be successful and generate leads, the content must be easily discoverable, tackle issues that consumers are dealing with, and create value either by educating or entertaining the reader. Yes, easier said than done, but in the online world, all roads lead to market research.

The first step when starting any new marketing program should always be to carry out an audit of your current strategy and performance. Take stock of the marketing assets you have at the moment (i.e., website, blog content, social media accounts, videos, printed content, etc.), evaluate your budget and team capabilities to have a clear idea of where you’re standing. Once you have a comprehensive overview, spotting gaps, and content opportunities will be a piece of cake.

Next step is research. Familiarize yourself with your target audience, their interests and pain points, the channels they use and the types of information formats they prefer. Understanding what your prospects are attracted to will be a huge help when you start thinking about content creation. In the beginning, it’s enough to establish rough buyer personas that you can continue to update and improve once you kick off the campaigns, but keep in mind the most important questions that you’ll need answers to:

  • What is their demographics?
  • What is their role in their company, family, community, etc.?
  • What are their desires and aspirations? What are they trying to achieve?
  • What pains and problems are they trying to solve? How can you help them?
  • What’s their story?

Developing buyer personas brings a lot of clarity and direction to marketing campaigns, so don’t skip this step however tempting it may seem.

Tying this information to your customers’ buyer journey is also key. To be able to target your buyer personas, you must know how they become aware of products like yours, how they compare and consider them, and how they make buying decisions. This will provide you with the much-needed context of how to string all the information together. According to Kapost, companies that craft buyer persona-driven content see a 45% increase in their volume of Sales Accepted Leads (SALs).

Next on the list is defining your marketing goals. It’s an integral (and obvious) part of any marketing campaign, yet many fail to recognize the risks that come with skipping this step. Without setting clear goals from the beginning, you won’t be able to measure your campaign’s performance and determine its success or failure. So use the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely) goals methodology to align your campaigns with your business needs.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing SMART Goals

With that out of the way, you can start putting your marketing plan together. This comprehensive document should be a living, breathing thing that you update as you collect new information and sync with your audience. Based on your buyer personas and campaign goals, work on your content strategy and conversion paths. Your content strategy needs to address the following aspects (not a definitive list):

  • Your value proposition (why should they choose you and not your competition?);
  • The keywords your prospects are using to search for your and similar products or services;
  • How frequently do you need to publish new content?
  • What kind of content do your prospects want and in what format?
  • What channels should you be using to distribute your content?

When it comes to conversion paths, make sure you map your content strategy to your sales funnel. Prospects at different stages in their buyer journey will require a different type of content to progress further – this will range from purely inspirational and educational generic content to raise awareness and attract new leads, to more product-focused content that’s optimized to drive conversions. So when you get to this part, consider the following questions:

  • How will you generate leads?
  • What ‘lead magnets’ will you use to attract new prospects? What content offers will you make to nudge them down the sales funnel?
  • How will this path be implemented on your website? This requires you to think about CTAs, landing pages, emails, forms, etc.

Now, all that’s left is to put these plans into action! To establish yourself as a thought leader in your industry and get found in search engines, start creating unique, compelling content. Blogging, social media, premium content (lead magnets, such as tools, calculators, long-form, videos, etc.), and content outside of your website (guest blogging, podcasts, etc.) are the most effective tactics that you can try.

P.s. don’t forget to promote the hell out of your content!

How to get started with outbound marketing

Getting started with outbound marketing can be challenging. But it’s important to remember that a well-rounded marketing mix that draws on both inbound and outbound marketing tactics is a surefire way to hit the lead gen jackpot; in other words, it’s worth the struggle.

The main difference with outbound marketing campaigns is that you actively go out to look for prospects, usually via paid channels. Different outbound marketing tactics will call for different levels of preparation and input, but they can be a great way to amplify your inbound efforts and target specific opportunities. 

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing - How to Get Started

Marketers often turn to outbound tactics when the organic reach of their inbound campaigns is too low. For instance, if you write a 30-page ebook on a hot topic and create a special landing page for it offering a free download (or an exchange of content for an email address), a couple of leads per day simply won’t cut it. For your hard work to yield results you need to go out and shout about this great piece of free content to everyone and anyone who’s willing to listen. That’s where outbound marketing comes in.

Social media ads, pay-per-click advertising, email prospecting, event marketing, content syndication or direct mail – any one of these tactics can be used to push the message out to a wider audience and attract new potential customers. In order to target the right audience through the right channel, you need to evaluate your content offer and determine who’s most likely to take you up on it and what’s the best way to reach that segment of the market. 

Things you can do today to upgrade your inbound and outbound marketing game

A combination of inbound and outbound marketing tactics is what drives the best results for most of the companies. Although these two approaches are often pitted against each other, aiming to calculate the ROI separately, there’s no reason why marketing efforts should be measured and compared that way. After all, they’re geared towards the same purpose. So instead of focusing on the inbound vs outbound debate, let’s look at how you can mix the different tactics to upgrade your marketing game.

Try content syndication to drive more traffic. Content syndication is the process of promoting your content, such as blog posts, videos or long-form pieces on third party sites. These content ads are typically displayed at the bottom of the articles in the “Similar Articles Around the Web” section. When displayed on sites like Forbes, CNN or similar outlets, high-quality content can drive quite a bit of traffic and help raise brand awareness.

Invest in pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to amplify your inbound campaigns. PPC can take two types of forms – AdWords ads and display ads which appear on search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo or social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. PPC ads can achieve great results at driving targeted traffic to purpose-built landing pages or special offers that relate directly to the search terms used by prospects. By using highly optimized ad copy, marketers can target specific keywords and attract higher quality leads.  

Automate your email marketing. Aligning your content strategy with your sales funnel will help you craft relevant content based on where in the buyer’s journey your prospects are. Automated email marketing campaigns will enable you to send that content at the right time and with the right offers, turning lukewarm leads into hot prospects and reducing conversion time. With the smart email marketing tools available to marketers today, even outbound email campaigns can be segmented and hyper-targeted. This further closes the gap between inbound nurture campaigns and outbound email blasts, the main difference being that inbound campaigns benefit from opt-in email lists.

Adopt a CRM system. Marketing automation and customer relationship management go hand in hand. Adopting a CRM will help you focus on providing value to the customers, personalizing and improving their experience with your business, and streamlining the buyer journey. Bringing together the customer data and all touch points will help you make sense of customer behavior and anticipate their needs. The insights you gather by using a CRM will not only help you cultivate stronger relationships with your current customers but will also contribute to developing both inbound and outbound campaigns in order to attract new leads.

Best resources for inbound and outbound marketing

Modern marketers are obsessed with optimizing and automating their efforts to achieve the best results in the shortest amount of time possible. So it’s no surprise that there are hundreds of useful tools and resources out there designed specifically to make marketers’ job easier. Here’s a list of some of the most popular resources that might come in handy.

Inbound marketing tools and resources

Must-read blogs:

Tools & resources:

  • Buzzsumo – find trending content by any topic
  • Keyword Planner – research the best keywords for your content and ads
  • Lead Scoring – rank your leads according to their likelihood of conversion
  • Unbounce – quickly build custom landing pages for your campaigns
  • SumoMe – build your email list and drive more traffic
  • Visme – add movement to your brand strategy with videos, animations, infographics, and more.
  • HubSpot Blog Topic Generator – easily generate a week’s worth of blog topic ideas
  • CoSchedule – organize your entire content marketing strategy in one neat calendar
  • Canva – create beautiful graphics for your blog and social media
  • Buffer – schedule and automate your social media posts
  • Marketo – automate your marketing efforts

Outbound marketing tools and resources

Tools & resources:

  • LeadGenius – identify and generate more leads
  • SmartDialer – all-in-one phone call service
  • Yesware – try email automation and tracking
  • Outbrain – experiment with content syndication

Inbound vs Outbound: the verdict

The best answer to the common question, “Should we be deploying inbound or outbound marketing tactics?” is a simple “yes”. One should not be replaced by the other, as the real magic happens when the two approaches are merged into one coherent strategy.

If you’re trying to decide which approach should dominate your strategy, be sure to address the following questions:

  • How soon do you need to see results? If your business needs an urgent uplift, you’ll probably be better off running a few laser-focused outbound marketing campaigns as they can produce immediate effects.
  • What’s your marketing budget? Big and bold outbound marketing campaigns, such as TV ads or adverts in the underground stations, can have a tremendous effect but will also cost you a leg and an arm.
  • What are your competitors up to? Keeping a close eye on your competition will help you identify and capitalize on overlooked marketing opportunities. Remember that it is better to differentiate your business from your competitors than to engage in head-to-head competition.

Chris Gulbinovic

Chris is a marketer and a growth hacker here at Teamgate. He writes everything about sales management, online marketing, awards and the best new features coming out.

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