Many small business owners have heard the terms inbound and outbound marketing, but if we asked what they are, those same people wouldn’t be entirely sure. So let’s get into the details of each one.

First of all, what are they?

Outbound marketing is the direct approach that  demands customers pay attention.

This includes TV ads, telemarketing, billboards, print or direct mail, trade shows, and email campaigns. While these methods have been successful, and likely will continue to be in some form or another, they’re also fairly expensive, and not very agile. Customers may toss the direct mail in the trash, but they’ll still look at it, even if it’s just a glance. They may change the channel or station when a commercial comes on the TV or radio, but they’ll still see or hear a portion of it. They may hang up on a telemarketer, but they’ll still (possibly) answer the phone.

Outbound marketing is hard to ignore, but we’ve become attuned to it in a way that allows us to filter out most of it. Driving to and from work, commuters pass countless billboards, but other than being aware they’re there, they may not pay any attention.

Breaking through that apathy with outbound techniques is difficult at the best of times. Customers don’t like to be pitched to, and will tune out, particularly when the advertising isn’t very personal.

Inbound marketing is subtler, making information about products and services available when the customers are READY to seek that information.

This may sound passive, but that doesn’t mean it’s less effective. In fact, HubSpot’s State of Inbound report for 2017 shows inbound leads outstripped outbound leads in terms of quality 59% versus 16%.

(And by the way, a “lead” is a potential customer.)

Inbound marketing opens the door to a more personalized, less intense approach to reaching the customer. It builds relationships over time, so when a customer is ready for what that company sells, they know they can buy without hesitation.

Examples of inbound marketing: include SEO strategy, content marketing on a company blog, social media posts, and email marketing (yes, we know it’s on the outbound side, too, but keep reading).

SEO – How People Find You on Google

SEO strategy allows businesses to position themselves as a ranking expert of their industry. With Google’s growing sophistication in ranking content for businesses, it’s harder for scammy SEO to get noticed, which means searches are more trusted now than they have ever been. Get your company’s content at the top of the rankings, and you don’t have to go looking for customers; they’ll come looking for you.

Content Marketing – How People Begin to Love and Trust Your Brand

Content marketing is the cornerstone of good inbound marketing strategy. This is where you inform your target audience about the beauty of your products or services without interrupting their day and starting off on an annoying note. You offer the information, and when customers are ready for it, it’s there for the taking. Just make sure to have content for all stages of your marketing funnel, because customers weave in and out of those stages at all points these days. If your content is relevant from a variety of angles, you’ll meet their needs without them having to dig for help.

Social Media – How People Hear Your Brand’s Voice and Values


Social media allows you to interact with customers over everything and nothing. Not all conversations on Twitter have to have a business purpose. In fact, plenty of brands that are nailing it are doing the opposite, and bringing the sass with them, like this tweet from Meriam-Webster, or Moon Pie poking fun at Hostess on the day of the 2017 total eclipse. It’s silly, entertaining, and brings awareness of your brand to customers without encroaching on their privacy or routines. Over time, those conversations, from the frivolous to the informative, build a relationship with the customer base, who will remember your company the next time they’re in the market for what you’re selling.

Email Marketing – How People Engage With Your Brand One-on-One

With email marketing, it’s a bit of a hybrid of inbound and outbound marketing. It’s not a spam email blast like the outbound marketing emails of old, but a more personalized, hyper-focused inbound version. It is still, however, you speaking to specific customers on their turf about your brand. But because of the potential analytics, you’re able to understand more of your customers’ reactions than what you would learn from a TV ad spot.

The major difference between inbound and outbound marketing is simple: with inbound, the customer holds all the power.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

The buyer isn’t dependent on a sales pitch to learn about the product. They’re free to research on their own, see what other customers think through reviews, and vet your company on any number of other criteria, such as environmental impact or social conscientiousness. Other than providing content through your inbound marketing channels, you have little to no control over the information they learn.

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As such, inbound marketing is significantly less expensive, and much more agile mid-strategy thanks to analytics available through digital platforms, so you can tell if your keywords are working, if the content is engaging, if the social media platform you’re on is the most effective.

Old versus New

That’s not to say outbound marketing isn’t useful in many ways, or that it hasn’t evolved since its heyday.

Take radio for example.

Instead of placing an ad spot with a local station, a brand can choose to advertise on Spotify. But the data of their target market may tell them their customers are more inclined to listen to Ariana Grande than Chris Stapleton, so they can target their ad to play to a more relevant audience with certain songs on their playlists. It’s still outbound marketing, still your brand initiating contact at the user end (though with Spotify, those short commercials are not terribly invasive), and you still may not know how the customer reacted upon hearing the ad, but it’s more targeted than previous outbound marketing efforts of old.

What to do if you’re a B2B model

Outbound marketing is also still very relevant in the B2B arena.

Many B2B companies have a cost associated with customer acquisition. If an interested corporate customer engages with a B2B company due to an inbound marketing strategy only to find they’re not a good fit, both companies lose out on time, opportunity, and cost. By targeting the right sort of customers through outbound marketing, even if they’re not looking for you, you stand a better chance of connecting with them because your interests align with theirs.

For example, Wine & Dine Restaurant opens dozens of bottles of wine a night in the course of business, priding themselves on their thorough wine list and appeal to the discerning wine drinker. If, at the end of the night, some of the bottles aren’t entirely empty, they may simply take that wine as a loss knowing by the open of business the following day, it’ll be too oxidized to serve, and not up to their standards. To the Wine & Dine staff, it’s the cost of doing business. But one afternoon, a salesman for a wine preservation system company with patents on brand new technology contacts them and explains how they can save them all that wine waste by prolonging the freshness of the wine in the bottle. The sommelier may then get on board, and even be very excited, because he’ll now be able to add better or rarer wines to their list.

That outbound strategy works because the sommelier may not have known about the new tech, and so would not have gone looking for it. The wine preserver and the restaurant’s goals align nicely.

But a sports bar that sells maybe three or four wines by the glass may find the expense too great for the preservation system.

The wine preserver won’t waste his or the bar owner’s time because they’re not a good fit, even if initially they might have a common interest: selling wine.

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This ability to segment outbound approaches refines what was once a blast as far and wide as possible, and adds a touch of personalization. In the evolving market, it’s the personal touch, either with inbound or outbound marketing, that will help sell the message, and eventually, the product or service.

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