You may have heard the terms “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing” at some point in your business life, but what do they really mean? Simply put, they are the two main approaches to marketing.
There have been a lot of buzz around inbound marketing and how it’s undoubtedly better than traditional outbound strategies. Almost every article puts inbound marketing forward while keeping outbound marketing in the shadows.
This guide however, aims to teach you everything you need to know about both, inbound and outbound marketing, how they work, their differences, and which one to utilize in your business in an unbiased fashion.
Inbound marketing has been getting a lot of traction over the past few years and already become the preferred marketing approach for many businesses.
Here, instead of pushing your message out to potential customers and interrupting whatever it is that they are doing, you let them come to you.
Didn’t understand? Then answer this, how did you find this article? Did I reach out to you and personally asked you to come here? No. You came here on your own free will. No one forced you or made you come here.
Therefore, I have your consent to market my products/services. That’s inbound marketing. And that’s why it’s known as “consent marketing”, because you market products/services only after getting your visitors’ consent.
Lets now dive deeper into the mechanisms of inbound marketing. You first publish content on your website or blog, and let people find them organically via search engines and social media.
When people click through to your site, it means they are interested in reading your content, and therefore, gives you indirect consent to engage and market your products/services to them.
But how and when you market is entirely up to you. You may choose an obtrusive method such as a popup or simply show a form, asking readers to sign up to your newsletter. Just don’t get too crazy with your marketing.
So to wrap it up, inbound marketing is the type of approach where you don’t disrupt the browsing experience of potential leads, and instead, let them find you on their own. The better you are at answering their questions, the more likely they are to trust and buy from you.
The most popular inbound marketing methods are blogging, podcasting, YouTube-ing, social media, search engine optimization, search engine marketing and opt-in emails.
Content curation can also be considered as an inbound marketing method, since it’s about making your content available to as many people as possible. It’s the same with guest posting as well.
The websites you guest post on are likely to receive a ton of organic traffic from search engines and social platforms. So by writing guest posts on other sites with links linking back to your own blog, you are effectively capturing inbound leads.
Take this blog as an example. The majority of my traffic comes from search engines and social media. However, only a portion of the people who find my content online are bound to click it.
Once they are here, I would market them my consultancy services. The ones who are interested will surely contact me for more information. Even if they don’t need consultancy right now, they would remember me when they do.
Outbound marketing was around long before inbound marketing even existed. It focuses on pushing your marketing efforts out, instead of waiting for leads to come to you. This is why it’s given the two names “push marketing” and “interruption marketing”.
Outbound marketing interrupts the users’ browsing experience and distracts them, by bringing your product or service right under their nose, expecting them to take some sort of action such as sign up for a webinar.
The buyer isn’t the one who chooses the time and channel of interaction here, it’s the marketer. And most methods are not evergreen, meaning, they would stop generating leads once you stop spending money.
The one thing people want more than security is convenience. They want to see your products/services only when they are interested and ready to buy. This is the only major problem with outbound marketing.
They include TV commercials, radio commercials, telemarketing, social media advertising, banner ads, sponsored ads in third-party websites, billboard spots, email campaigns sent to purchased lists and etc.
You may be wondering why SEM or Search Engine Marketing isn’t in on the list. The reason is, search engines do a great job at keeping paid results highly relevant to the search query, regardless of how much a customer is willing to pay.
The ads are approved only if they are relevant to the chosen keywords. And since people are searching those keywords on their own, the paid results shown in SERPs are not considered obtrusive.
Earlier I mentioned that sending emails to opt-in users is considered as inbound marketing. Purchased email lists however, works without consent.
Those people didn’t give their consent for you to send them emails. They gave someone else their consent and they probably decided to sell the list to make some money. Instead of generating leads, it will ruin your brand’s reputation and authority.
Webinars use the outbound approach as well. People usually use YouTube ads to draw users in to sign up for their webinar, and even though they signed up on their own free will, the ad that led them there was shown without consent.
Say you are a SIM carrier, and a new WIFI package came out. The best way to generate leads is by calling existing WIFI users who are using a lower package than the new one. You can then request a few minutes of their time to upsell them.
The warmer the leads, the more likely they are to go down your marketing funnel and buy from you.
Unlike outbound marketing, where you push the message out to people who you think are interested in purchasing your product or service, inbound marketing lets potential leads find your content online.
The content that led them to you reveals their pain-points. So by marketing products/services targeted at those pain-points, you are likely to get a decent percentage of conversions from leads.
For example, you are reading this article because you are interested in knowing the difference between inbound and outbound marketing, which means you are probably either a marketer or small-business owner.
Say you are indeed a small-business owner. I could then reach out to you, either via a popup or banner, featuring the marketing consultancy services I offer. And that’s how you address the pain-points of your inbound leads.
Since you reach out to inbound leads with well-targeted marketing offers, the conversion rate tends to be higher than that of outbound marketing. And the higher the conversation rate, the warmer the leads.
Inbound marketing creates positive brand awareness by allowing people to find your content organically.
Tell me this, what will happen when you see a website over and over again in search results for different business-related queries? You begin to think that the website is trustworthy.
Even if you don’t click through to that site the first few times, you will get used to that brand and start to trust it over time.
This kind of brand awareness is extremely good since you are not forcing your brand inside peoples’ head. It happens naturally.
This is where the magic happens and yet, only a few mention it. In inbound marketing, once content is published and shared, it will be publicly available in search engines and social media.
An article you wrote last year might still be generating leads two years from now, even if you don’t re-share it or keep the content up to date. You can therefore, focus on creating new content while the older content is generating traffic.
As the new content gets old, it will stack up with the rest of the old content and produce compound returns. The more content you produce over time, the better you will do in the future.
It’s different from outbound marketing, where leads either plateau or drop as soon as you stop paying for them.
Compound returns won’t work if you are a news site like BBC, where content holds no value after a few days. You would need to product evergreen content to experience compound returns.
This article is an example of evergreen content, since inbound and outbound marketing will prevail even two years from now.
You can’t expect to generate leads overnight or within a few days like you could with outbound marketing. You need to build your audience in social media, optimize your site for search engines, write in-depth content regularly and grow your emails list. And this takes time.
If you can’t afford writers, it would take you 2-3 months to write the content to get your blog off the ground, not to mention the time it takes for you or a web developer to actually design and set up the blog.
You would then need to do SEO, which may take 4-5 months to bear results for the money you spent. You would also have to work towards growing your social profiles everyday.
On top of everything, you would have to produce quality content over a long period of time to see any actual results or an increase in your site’s organic traffic.
Your social profiles grow in the same way as well. As more and more people become aware of your brand, they would want to be up-to-date with your content on their favorite social platform.
Finally, would have to spend time tweaking your site’s design, content structure and opt-in forms to better optimize the conversion rate. Therefore, it won’t surprise me if it takes you anywhere from six months to two years before you can get a decent amount of traffic and conversions.
Inbound marketing is a long-term game, but once everything is in place, you don’t even have to lift a finger, money will start flowing passively.
Here, you don’t have to customize your marketing strategy according to the best interests of lead, and instead, you create a single marketing offer such as “Sign up to my course”.
You would then advertise it on social media, and send emails en masse to everyone in the email lists you purchased. The people who are interested will join, the ones who aren’t won’t. Simple as that.
In inbound marketing however, you cant possibly market graphic design services to people who came to read an article on “how to secure funding for startups”. You would then need to have a separate offer such as, offering credit card stacking services or etc.
Therefore, outbound marketing is great if you don’t have the time, money and skills to create different marketing offers for different types of content.
Outbound marketing generates much quicker results than inbound marketing strategies, since you don’t have to waste time creating high-quality content and wait until people find them organically via search engines and social media.
Here, you just create the offer and advertise it as either a display or video ad on social media, or you could just buy a massive email list from a related company and email those subscribers your marketing offer.
A decent number of people are bound to take you up on that offer or would contact you for more information.
With outbound marketing, you could get potential leads and even conversions overnight or within 2-3 days. Therefore, it’s a much faster approach.
Here, the conversion rate, when compared to inbound marketing, is very low. It doesn’t matter whether you bought an email list with 1,000 subscribers or 100,000 subscribers, only a small portion of them would actually purchase from you.
This is true for inbound marketing as well. However, since inbound leads have the pain-points that you are addressing in your marketing funnel, the conversion rate is likely to be much higher.
For example, say you bought an email list and my email address is included in it. Most of the time, Gmail will put your emails either in the spam folder or the promotions section of your inbox, in which case, only a few would even notice them.
Let’s just suppose your email came to my inbox. I may open it out of curiosity. I may even click through to your site for further information, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to purchase whatever it is that you are selling.
I’m just gathering information. And besides, getting emails from someone I don’t know or remember will really make me judge your credibility and trustworthiness.
The other drawback of outbound marketing is that you will stop receiving leads once you stop spending money on your marketing campaigns. In inbound marketing however, you would be generating traffic for an article you wrote years ago.
According to Hubspot’s inbound marketing statistics report, 68% of inbound marketers were happy with the results they were getting, whereas the majority of outbound marketers (around 52%) who were interviewed stated that their efforts bore no worthwhile results.
Around 32% of marketers ranked paid advertising as the top money and time waster. You won’t get much conversions from social media and publisher ads unless you are really lucky.
However, I do recommend search engine marketing. They have built their systems in way that generates boosted organic leads, although the majority of people tend to ignore paid results in SERPs.
And when asked which marketing approach gave them a higher ROI, a whopping 53% said inbound marketing while only 16% said outbound marketing. This goes to show how effective of an approach inbound marketing really is.
Say you ran a massive ad campaign on Facebook for a few months, spent a lot of money, but generated little to no conversions. Would you take the risk and re-try? Or move on with another marketing strategy? Move on, right?
But inbound marketing is doing so well that 46% of marketers stated that their companies have allocated a larger budget for inbound marketing than the previous year. And 32% told there has been no change in the budget, which goes on to show how effective and reliable inbound marketing is.
60% of marketers said inbound marketing gives them the highest quality leads, while only 18% settled with outbound marketing. Both sides however, have improved since 2017, because at that time, these percentages were 59% and 16% respectively.
It’s also worth noting that marketers specified Search Engine Optimization, content creation, content curation and marketing automation as their company’s top priorities in marketing.
The above statistics were compiled by Hubspot after reaching out to over 6,200 marketers in over 99 countries, coming from different industries, markets, company sizes and job roles.
The inbound methodology developed by Hubspot, shows the process where inbound leads convert into buyers and finally promoters of your brand.
The image shown below illustrates the four stages of the inbound buying process, and which strategies to use in each stage.
The attract stage is where people become aware of your brand and begin to trust you over time.
They won’t click through to your site / blog if the title or meta description of your content doesn’t seem to be related to what they are looking for, so be sure you optimize them.
Search engines dominate this part of the process by bringing over 85% of inbound leads to businesses on average.
The only problem is that people who are searching for something won’t include your product or brand name in their queries, instead, they would just type the problem they are having in the form of a casual question.
Therefore, the only way to get impressions and clicks from search engines is to keep your content super targeted and thorough.
The best way to attract inbound leads is through blogging. Why? Because search engines prefer textual content more than videos and images. And blogs are completely text-based. So it’s a great way to generate traffic via search engines.
But how can you make your blog stand out from the rest? There are hundreds of thousands of blogs in almost every industry, so how? That’s where SEO comes into play.
You could either hire an SEO firm or build backlinks yourself. You should also focus on optimizing the design, loading speeds and internal linking structure of your site.
Be sure to make use of your social profiles as well. Share blog posts on your social profiles so that people can find them.
This not only makes sure your content is in front of as many eyes as possible, but also makes your site/blog look much more credible and authoritative than it really is, especially if you have a good following.
The key here is creating valuable and in-depth content that address the concerns of potential customers. They would be more than happy to share their contact details with you. It’s just how Psychology works.
Would you rather give your name and email address to a website with short, unprofessional content or a site that answered your question thoroughly to-the-point? Yeah, I though so.
But how you get those contact details, is entirely up to you. The most basic way is to implement a newsletter opt-in form in the sidebar of your website or blog. This however, doesn’t convert well. Give them something they really want.
When I was running idealgamer.com, a gaming blog, I created an opt-in form on the sidebar featuring a monthly contest. The contest gives away one premium game completely for free to one of my lucky email subscribers within each month.
This made my list really grow at an astonishing rate and ended up getting around 100-200 subscribers each week. That’s pretty good considering it was just the 4th month of the blog.
Besides opt-in forms, you could send leads to a separate landing page where you feature your products/services, or a call-to-action button at the end of each article. Just make sure you don’t abuse their contact information, or worse, sell them to someone else.
This is where the sale actually happens. Even if they converted into known leads by sharing their contact information, they won’t rush their purchasing decisions. The majority of email subscribers end up not purchasing anything at all.
That’s why it’s important to separate the subscribers who engage and click the links of your emails from those who ignore you no matter what you send. You might as well erase them from your email list completely.
You could also do something like in Hubspot, where they let visitors choose the content category of their weekly or monthly newsletter, including the time of the day they would like the newsletter to be received. This will make your newsletter stay on-topic for everyone.
You could even automate the process of sending newsletters each time you publish a new piece of content. It would keep your subscribers engaged until they are ready to purchase to purchase from you You just have to wait until they are comfortable enough to spend money on your site.
Here, delight means retaining existing customers. In inbound marketing, leads hold just as much or even more value after they make their first purchase.
Besides, the majority of revenue in most companies come from their existing customers, not new ones. So keep them up-to-date with your latest content and personalize areas of the blog, so that they would feel special and stick around more.
You could even earn referral income by directing existing customers to other businesses. And they are bound to trust you since they have already purchased from you.
Another option would be to up-sell your products or services.
An ideal outbound marketing software would allow you to distribute content en masse, set up a landing page, track email opens & link clicks, and etc.
It should also have a lead scoring or segmentation feature, where you can identify the leads who engage with your promotional content, from the leads who don’t.
The same set of features are included in inbound marketing software as well. But in addition, you will be given some helpful tools related to Search Engine Optimization and a platform to blog on.
In simple terms, any email marketing software or marketing automation software any be used for outbound marketing.
You can use them for inbound marketing as well, but only if you combine other tools such as SEO tools, blogging software and etc.
Now you have a concrete idea of what inbound and outbound marketing is, but which is better? Given all the points and statistics, inbound marketing gets the upper-hand because of how efficient it is at capturing leads and retaining them.
Besides, you don’t have to keep spending money to generate leads. You just have to publish content and wait for people to find them organically.
That’s not to say outbound marketing is bad. It’s still effective and it always will be, but relying on outbound tactics alone isn’t wise, since the ROI is very low.
But you would have less leg-work and be able start generating leads in a matter of hours or days, whereas it would take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years in inbound marketing.
In all honesty, both inbound and outbound marketing have their own set of pros and cons, but I would have to say inbound is better because of how warm the leads are, how high the conversion rate is, and how well those leads can be retained.
If you have any questions on either of the two marketing approaches, let me know in the comments section below.