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Inbound and outbound marketing are both methods to promote your services and products. However, they differ in many ways while creating a campaign. Learning the differences between them may help you create a good mixture of inbound and outbound marketing tactics.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing is any form of marketing that targets wide groups of people based on their demographics, general interests, or even, just locations with ads for a particular product or service.

Most traditional advertising activities, including television ads, radio ads, direct mail, flyers, billboards, newspaper ads, cold calling, telemarketing, and event sponsorships, fall into this category.

Outbound marketing can also be found within digital advertising like some display banner ads, YouTube video ads, email marketing to purchased lists, and social media ads. However, with display, YouTube, and social media ads, there are ways to better target them to make them fall into the inbound marketing category as well.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is any form of marketing that helps your company and products get found by people already looking for your product or industry, based on keyword searches, in-market or intent audiences, or remarketing people who have already visited your website. This may be through actions like local listings (Yellow Pages, Yelp, Google My Business), search engines (both SEO and PPC), subscription-based email marketing, content marketing, webinars, blogs & vlogs, social media, and website optimization.

Inbound marketing can also be through traditional sources, like networking at industry trade shows, hosting conferences, or seminars on topics related to your products. Your audience is already interested in your product and you are engaging them as a thought-leader in your industry.

What are the differences between each type of marketing?

Outbound marketing is spreading your message to a large group of people, hoping that a few of them may be interested in your product and will convert. It is interruption-based, meaning that the ads need to stand out because they are not the main focus of what the audience is consuming. You are taking the consumer out of their TV show or reading to try to get them to purchase your product in a few seconds. Bright, bold, shocking, and disturbing advertising is rewarded because of how it helps you get noticed.

Inbound marketing is spreading your story to people already interested in your product(s). They may be just researching your product for now or they may be nearly ready to purchase. You earn user interest with this type of advertising. It is permission-based, meaning your content is the focus of what your audience is consuming. Telling stories and creating great content is rewarded because of how it presents you as a thought-leader in your industry.

What resources are needed for each type of marketing?

  • Outbound marketing requires more visual creative resources to create videos, banners, print, and radio ads that will stand out and convey the message quickly. Campaign creation is normally easy but ad costs may be high, depending on the platform and competition. For example, a television commercial during the Super Bowl in the United States will cost millions of dollars, but banner ads with millions of impressions may only cost 3 dollars. Generally, more-targeted ads will cost more than less-targeted ads.
  • Inbound marketing requires more content creative resources to create website content, blogs, organic social media posts, and more to make a hub for quality content in your industry. There is also some visual creative needed for the website, social media, and some ads but the focus is on long-form content. Since you are reaching a much smaller audience (one that is much more likely to convert) advertising spend may be less than with outbound advertising. And most of the focus will be on organic marketing, as opposed to paid ads. Inbound marketing also requires an excellent website, focusing on ease of use and conversions, to bring people from researching to converting.

Depending on the needs of your company, it might be helpful to hire a team of experts to steer your company’s marketing strategy.

Which is the best type of marketing?

Inbound marketing has many advantages. The conversion rate for inbound marketing is 759% higher than outbound marketing. You are targeting a group of people already interested in and researching your products. However, inbound marketing can be extremely competitive. If you already have competitors with strong online content and authority, it can be difficult to make your voice heard organically.

You may still be able to find content gaps or new niches to show your worth. And consumers are more likely to click on content from brands they recognize. With this in mind, it’s worthwhile to build your brand awareness in the industry as a whole.


Ideally, you’d be able to rely on only inbound marketing for new customers but, in most industries, that’s not always realistic. There are limitations on how many people you can get your website and its content in front of while they are immediately searching for your product.

Most companies need to use a mix of inbound and outbound marketing to fill their sales funnel. The percentages are dependent on your industry and where your audience spends their time. If you have a gas station on the interstate, then a billboard may be the best advertising for your business. This is outbound advertising.

However, if you have an online e-commerce business, shopping ads and Amazon ads will probably get the biggest return, which is inbound advertising. Since 88% of consumers research products online before purchase, it is essential for companies to be able to be found online and have a good website experience.

Outbound marketing can be a good way to build general brand awareness so that when people start searching for your products, they recognize your brand as an authority in your field. In most cases though, it should be a small part of your advertising focus. The majority of your resources should go to inbound marketing efforts, both organic and paid ads, that target people who are already interested and searching for your product.

Data should be the biggest driver of where you spend your resources on marketing. However, while the bottom of the sales funnel marketing is often easy to attribute, outbound traditional marketing and top of the funnel marketing can be difficult to measure with analytics data.

How do you measure brand awareness that makes someone more likely to click on your content when it shows up in the search engine 6 months later? The impact of brand awareness and top of funnel marketing may not show directly in the data but should still get a portion of the marketing budget to grow the bottom of funnel future audience.

What does a good mix of inbound and outbound marketing look like?

As an example, let’s suppose that you are the marketing director at a nationwide B2B service company. What should your marketing mix look like?

First, you need to focus on a good foundation for your company, your website, and listings. You should put your resources into having a website optimized for good customer experience and leading to both macro- and micro-conversions. Optimize your website for search engines and get a good website analytics tool and CRM database.

Start to publish great content around topics that are important to your clients that are optimized around keywords with search volume. Research content gaps of your online competitors and fill those gaps. Launch accounts on social media platforms where your audience spends their time and post links to your content there.

As you build your organic search and social presence and develop a library of great content in your industry, start to show ads for people searching for your products on search engines.

Use remarketing, custom intent, and in-market targeting on Google Display and YouTube to target people who have recently searched for your products or industry with creative ads that have a cheaper cost per click. Show ads on social media remarketing to people who have recently visited your website to bring them back to your site and keep you top of mind. Network with companies at industry conferences.

So far, this has all been inbound marketing and bottom of the sales funnel, people who are already searching for you or your products and are close to purchasing.

However, to grow your audience at the top of the sales funnel and to get more brand awareness in your industry, outbound marketing is needed. This does not mean blanketing everyone with your ads; your ads should still be targeted by interests, affinity, and demographics to narrow it down to people most likely to purchase from you in the future, even if they are not actively searching now.

Start with online marketing to grow your outbound marketing. Target ads on social media by an interest in business, demographics of a business owner, metropolitan area locations, and age between 25 and 65 for your B2B business.

Use Facebook “lookalike” audiences or Google “similar to” audiences to let their algorithms match demographics and interests between your current customers and their database of users. Target display and YouTube ads to business professional affinity audiences. Place display banner ads on the Wall Street Journal website or other business professional sites. Target radio ads to business stations or reports or television ads to business news stations.

Is there still a place for ads that have very wide targeting, like television ads during primetime, general radio ads, billboards, flyers, direct mail, and others? There could be, depending on your business type, audience, and resources.

If you have a product that everyone could be interested in, like breakfast cereal, wide targeting could work for you. If you are a local company, billboards, flyers, direct mail, signs, and other traditional marketing could work well for your small audience. Every industry and business is different–which is why it is important to test and compare data on the impact of each marketing campaign.

Final thoughts

Both inbound and outbound marketing has benefits and drawbacks to each business. Most businesses use a mix of both to obtain new clients. Your particular mix is going to be determined by your audience and resources.

For the best advertising results, you want to work with an agency, like Perfect Search Media, with experience in many platforms that rely on testing and data to find the most profitable mix of campaign types for your customer base.

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