Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing for Your Business

Updated: Dec 10, 2016 / Article by: KeriLynn Engel

All marketing can be divided into two different basic types: outbound or inbound.

You may have heard that outbound marketing is a thing of the past, and inbound marketing is the only way for your business to move forward.

But is that really true? And what exactly is the difference?

Read on and to find out – and to learn which strategy will get real results for your business.

What’s the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

The term “inbound marketing,” as opposed to “outbound marketing,” was first coined by HubSpot, but it’s become widespread among marketing professionals.

In a nutshell:

  • Outbound marketing is any type of active marketing strategy that reaches out to prospects.
  • Inbound marketing is any passive strategy that attracts prospects to you.

In other words, marketer Martin McDonald defines inbound as “being somewhere with the answer when someone is looking for it,” while outbound is more like proactively approaching people who need the answer.

There’s actually some overlap and grey areas between the two types (for example, PPC ad campaigns can be argued to be either inbound or outbound), but most marketing tactics can be divided into these two categories. Here are a few examples.

Examples of Outbound Marketing

This direct mail campaign by a laundry service was unusual and creative enough to get great results.
This direct mail campaign by a laundry service was unusual and creative enough to get great results.
  • Direct Mail Campaigns: Whether you’re going for creative and attention-grabbing, or simple and informative, a direct mail campaign can increase your brand awareness and get interested prospects to look you up.
  • Door-to-Door Canvassing: You can probably think of a business card or flyer left on your car or door that you found useful – maybe a new pizza place in your area you wouldn’t have heard of otherwise.
  • Cold Calling: The thought may make you cringe, but a well-planned B2B cold calling campaign can get amazing results without inconveniencing anyone. Carol Tice was able to drum up a lot of business by making 25 cold calls a day for a month.
  • Cold Emailing: The authors of The Predictable Revenue Guide to Tripling Your Sales used cold emails with exciting subject lines, enticing offers, social proof, and a personal feel to get a 21% response rate.
  • Banner Ads: Banner ads have been on the web since the 90s, and they’re here to stay because they work – if used correctly. According to Google’s Bob Arnold, a banner ad that’s compelling, concise, and clear can increase brand recall by 15%.

  • Commercials: A good commercial sticks with its viewers and gets people talking about your brand. A commercial by Halifax (according to Marketing Week) resulted in “a 150% jump in sales and 43% rise in profit per current account customer in the first year.”
  • Billboards: Billboards aren’t ideal for imparting detailed information, but they can increase brand awareness and recognition.

Examples of Inbound Marketing

Mercedes-Benz' social media campaign resulted in a 54% increase in website visits
Mercedes-Benz' social media campaign resulted in a 54% increase in website visits.
  • Blogging: The first example that comes to mind is the creator of the term “inbound,” Hubspot. According to Hubspot, B2B marketers that use blogs receive 67% more leads than those that don’t, and receive 97% more links to their website.
  • Social Media: With a bit of strategy, you can get great results from social media. Mercedes-Benz’s campaign for their first compact SUV was so successful, Instagram wrote a case study about it.
  • SEO: Learning the basics of SEO can give your business’s website a substantial boost in traffic.
  • Opt-in Email Newsletters: Email newsletters are an excellent way to keep in touch with your audience and turn interested prospects into loyal customers. has a highly successful monthly email newsletter that includes tips, customer stories, discounts, and news.
  • PR & Media Attention: PR campaigns can have huge gains for any business – or nonprofit: You may remember the famous Ice Bucket Challenge that resulted in over $100 million being donated to the ALS association.
  • Ebook Publication: Consultant Brian Carter notes that ebooks “are one of the best ways to generate leads for business.” His self-published Amazon titles have positioned him as an expert in his field.
  • Public Speaking: Public speaking is another great way to position yourself as a thought leader, network, and build brand recognition.
  • Sponsoring: Sponsoring blog posts or events is a passive way of getting your name out there in front of the right audience, without being intrusive.

What Are the Pros and Cons of Outbound Marketing?

You may have heard inbound marketing referred to as old-fashioned, obsolete, or annoying (it’s even called “interruption marketing” by some inbound advocates), while inbound marketing is considered new and modern, but that’s not always the case.

Each type of marketing has its pros and cons, and its place in any marketing strategy. Depending on how it’s implemented, any inbound or outbound marketing tactics can get your business results… but they may not be exactly the results you need. Here’s how either side can help your business.

Benefits of Outbound Marketing

  • Quick Results: Most outbound marketing tactics have much faster results than inbound marketing. For example, when you buy a banner ad placement, you know your ad will immediately be displayed in front of your target audience.
  • Easy to Target Your Ideal Audience: With outbound marketing, you get to pick and choose exactly who you’re sending your ad, email, or message to.

Drawbacks of Outbound Marketing

  • Can Be Costly: Many outbound marketing tactics generally cost more than inbound tactics. It’s free to start a blog, but you have to pay a lot to put together a TV commercial.
  • Results May Stop as Soon as You Stop Marketing: While your blog is on your site forever, your ad stops running as soon as you stop paying for it.
  • Can Have the Opposite Effect: A poorly-designed ad can turn more people away from your brand than it attracts. (I’m sure you can think of one brand you avoid because of the way they advertise – tell us in the comments!)

What Are the Pros and Cons of Inbound Marketing?

While outbound marketing may not be dead, inbound has definitely gotten a boost with modern technology and the popularity of blogging.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

  • Often More Budget-Friendly: Starting a blog, interacting on social media, and even publishing a small ebook don’t cost anything but time.
  • Results Are Ongoing: A quality blog will only continue to gain links and traffic as time goes on, and your ebook lives on as a marketing tool without any further effort from you.
  • Less Intrusive: Inbound marketing tends to be more audience-friendly and less intrusive, since it lets your audience seek you out when they need you instead of the other way around.

Drawbacks of Inbound Marketing

  • Takes More Time to Get Results: A blog takes time to pick up steam, and increased brand recognition doesn’t immediately translate into increased revenue.
  • Can Take More Strategy to Reach the Right Audience: With inbound marketing, you’re attracting your ideal audience instead of seeking them out. You need to know your audience very well in order to create the content that attracts the right people.
  • Can Be Very Competitive in Some Industries: Some markets and industries are already saturated with high-quality blogs, social media accounts, search-engine-optimized content, and more. It’s extremely challenging to get a foothold in an industry already full of inbound marketing.

Which Type of Marketing Is Right for Your Business?

As you can see, both types of marketing have pros and cons.

Which is better? The answer is: neither!

Each side has useful tools and strategies you can use to market your business, and you should use a balance of both.

The specific strategies that are right for your business will depend on:

  • How soon do you need results? If you need to grow your business ASAP, consider focusing more heavily on laser-focused outbound strategies.
  • What’s your marketing budget like? You may not be able to afford to produce a TV commercial, but you can certainly start a blog on any budget.
  • What are your competitors doing? If your closest competitors rule the search results with powerful SEO strategies, consider differentiating instead of competing directly for the same keywords.

By thinking carefully about the marketing strategies you choose, you can get real results from either inbound or outbound marketing.

About KeriLynn Engel

KeriLynn Engel is a copywriter & content marketing strategist. She loves working with B2B & B2C businesses to plan and create high-quality content that attracts and converts their target audience. When not writing, you can find her reading speculative fiction, watching Star Trek, or playing Telemann flute fantasias at a local open mic.