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Inbound versus outbound marketing: what you need to know

Inbound versus outbound marketing is one of those ongoing debates.  I’m not a fan of the debate itself, although it is always healthy to get different perspectives and consider all opinions as part of an ongoing discussion and to learn.  This post, the first in a series on inbound marketing and outbound marketing, looks to address what the issue is, what each have to offer, and what each of their benefits are.  I also aim to dispel the myth that they are battling it out – they are complementary, not adversary.  How are you targeting your audience?  Read on to find out more!

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Inbound versus outbound marketing – the debate

Outbound marketing used to be king, but as people became desensitised and immune to (and basically fed up with) interruption marketing, inbound marketing began to get a foothold with its less invasive, more personalised approach of permission marketing.  It’s therefore easy to see where the inbound versus outbound marketing debate comes from.

 

In a nutshell, outbound marketing is often portrayed negatively by a megaphone.  A brand is trying to push their target audience down their sales funnel by shouting at and interrupting them through ads, cold calling or direct mail.

 

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is often portrayed positively by a magnet.  A brand is trying to pull prospects in by facilitating a two-way dialogue between brands and audiences through content that adds value.

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I prefer to use a different analogy for the inbound versus outbound marketing dilemma, which is hopefully just as visual: the “shouting man angrily shaking a banana at you” versus “peaceful and calm nectar attracting bees and insects to its pollen”!

 

But is this really fair?  

So is this portrayal of the inbound versus outbound marketing debate fair?  Not really, no.  Outbound marketing has moved on and evolved with the times.  And is still evolving and adjusting.  We’ll look at this in more detail in one of the later posts in this series.

 

For me, both have a vital role to play for brands trying to accelerate the growth of their business.  Yet there is the ongoing inbound marketing versus outbound marketing debate.  And a lot of it see folks looking at them in isolation – which one should I do?  I simply do not see it as one or the other.  Not in this brave new digital world.

 

Yet the either / or debate continues.  Which delivers more ROI?  Which delivers most business value?  Which is best for driving leads and sales?  What provides more brand awareness?  Does either have a significant enough impact on the customer journey?  Why should it be one or the other, and not both together?

 

Inbound AND outbound marketing together

Let’s get one thing straight – neither are easy to get right and whether you opt for one or the other, or both, it can seem like you’ve got a mountain to climb.

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When approached in balanced harmony, both inbound and outbound marketing will deliver huge business benefits when used together (not “inbound versus outbound marketing”).

 

Think about it: strawberries and oats are different food types, just as inbound and outbound are different marketing types.  Although very different, they work beautifully together when blended into a nutritious smoothie with other ingredients, or even just the two of them together in a healthy bowl of porridge.

 

“Different” does not mean “wrong”, and it certainly doesn’t mean “one or the other is best”.  So we need to stop the inbound versus outbound marketing mentality.  Let’s first take a look at each of them.

 

Inbound marketing summarised

Inbound marketing, as a term, came into being around 2009.  It was shiny and new, and promised to change marketing forever so that it could capitalise on the digital era by making marketing work online and, of course, on social media.

 

Let’s take a look at Wikipedia’s definition, for the sake of clarity:

Inbound marketing refers to marketing activities that bring visitors in, rather than marketers having to go out to get prospects’ attention. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers, makes the company easy to be found, and draws customers to the website by producing interesting content.

 

Right, so what does this mean?  It’s actually quite straight forward with a huge part of inbound marketing focussing on content marketing.  Inbound marketing relies on building trust with target audiences by delivering value (typically through content) and information.  It also helps establish a two-way dialogue between brands and prospects.

 

The type of content that is used within inbound marketing strategies includes blog posts, online articles, infographicsvideoeBooks, podcasts, case studies, white papers, SEO, social media, and so on.

 

The benefits of inbound marketing

Without wishing to give away too much on a subsequent post going into detail on inbound marketing, below are five key benefits of inbound marketing:

  • Trust is built, brand reputation is strengthened and a dialogue is opened – two-way communication
  • Traffic is driven to your site / landing page via higher SERPs (e.g. on Google), social media, referrals etc.
  • Traffic is generally high quality (as they have chosen to visit your site based on the trust they’ve built in your brand) and therefore has higher conversion rates
  • The audience buys into the brand due to the non-intrusive approach – they are being communicated with on their terms, not on the brand’s terms
  • Value is delivered through educational content, or even humour and entertainment, which therefore helps humanise a brand

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Outbound marketing summarised

Outbound marketing has been around for a long time, but has been falling out of favour rapidly over the last year or two.  It has been given a bad name and sometimes rightly so – intrusive ads being pushed onto people who probably aren’t going to be interested and haven’t asked for this type of product or service to be waved in front of their faces are going to annoy people in the long run.

 

But let’s take a step back for a moment and see what is is first. Outbound marketing is typified by telemarketing / cold calling, direct mail, trade exhibitions, broadcast advertising, email marketing, traditional print ads, online advertising, and the rising force of outbound marketing: social advertising.

 

The problem for this type of interruption marketing is two-fold: we’re all so much more adept at avoiding them or blocking them out (there’s a thriving app industry built around ad blockers for phones and tablets), while inbound marketing is cheaper (see image above).  Let’s be honest – outbound marketing can become very expensive.  That’s the blunt truth of it.

 

Social ads to the rescue?

But hang on a minute.  This is all quite negative, isn’t it?  Let’s try to even the playing field a little here.  Social advertising.  Brands knew all about the limitations of traditional display advertising, make no mistake about that.  New mobile formats and social media products, on the other hand, offer advertisers far greater efficiency and targeting, and for consumers this means more relevancy.  And relevancy has always been the issue for outbound marketing.

 

Some stats to reinforce the rising value of social ads:

 

Why?  Well, have a look around – nearly everyone on the planet is online at some point.  Whether that is on the laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or smartphone.  Whether that is at home or at work, out shopping or at a gig, or commuting or grabbing a coffee-to-go.

 

The basic premise of any type of advertising through any channel on any medium is to raise brand awareness and visibility.  What’s more, a carefully thought-out social advert like a sponsored tweet or boosted Facebook image has the potential to go viral…or, if we tone down the hype a little bit, to be shared and re-shared by concentrically growing online groups of friends or communities.

 

And guess what?  Social advertising is much less expensive than traditional advertising.  You can spend as little as £1 and still get extra traffic or likes or retweets or sign-ups.  Does “cheaper” mean “ineffective”?  Good question.  But no.  The likes of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn provide some excellent and quick ways to segment your audience and specifically target even certain niches in particular cities, let alone much broader and wider.  Enough on this for now; it’s for the subsequent outbound marketing post later in this series.

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The benefits of outbound marketing

It’s hard, therefore, to summarise the benefits of outbound marketing without focussing purely on social media advertising, but let’s attempt to here with these five points:

  • Outbound marketing puts your brand in front of a far larger and broader audience; therefore it gets your story, USP or message out very quickly indeed
  • Highly targeted social ad campaigns provide little wastage of budget and higher percentages of quality traffic and leads
  • A perfect complement to inbound marketing, when used in a targeted manner as part of an integrated marketing campaign
  • Social media advertising offers a much more cost-effective and less expensive way of conducting outbound marketing than traditional advertising
  • The tracking and metrics providing by online tools and social media networks now deliver far more accurate benchmarking, analysis and ROI

 

Still think it’s inbound OR outbound marketing?

No?  Good.  If you didn’t realise this by now, I believe that brands should not even consider the inbound versus outbound marketing conundrum but, instead, harness the power of both.  Of course, if you have zero budget then it’s a no-brainer: inbound marketing wins every time in that case!

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There’s also a very cool infographic courtesy of Modern Marketing Partners worth checking out that, although a couple of years old, shows a simplified version of the inbound and outbound marketing process working together.

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What are your experiences with inbound marketing and outbound marketing?  What’s worked and what hasn’t?  Do you agree that it shouldn’t be a case of “inbound versus outbound marketing”?  Would love to hear your thoughts as they would be used to inform the next posts in this series!

 

But enough from me!  Perhaps we should give the final thought to marketing evangelist Guy Kawasaki…

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Dan Purvis
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Dan Purvis

Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings
Dan Purvis is Head of Integrated Marketing Communications at Fintrax Group Holdings, and is also a Media Champion for the Alzheimer's Society, helping spread awareness and understanding of this cruel disease.

Previously, he was Director at Comms Axis, a full service marketing agency specialising in content, social media & website services for businesses of all sizes.

Dan Purvis writes for a number of leading business, social media and marketing sites, including Smart Insights, MarketingProfs, Marketo, MarTech Advisor, Marketing Tech News, MarTech Today, MarTech Exec, and more.

Dan was also ranked by Brand Republic as one of the Top 50 UK Marketing & Social Media influencers.
Dan Purvis
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2 Comments

  1. Jon Butt Says:

    Hi Dan

    Most pitch inbound and outbound as enemies, but you make a good point of them being complimentary. I’ll be sharing.

    Btw, I love the quote from @GuyKawasaki 🙂

    Jon
    Twitter:

    • Dan Purvis Says:

      Thanks Jon! Yes, I do believe that they work well together, providing the approach is thought through and metrics are tracked!

      Yeah that’s a great quote!!

      All the best
      Dan

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