What’s the Difference between Outbound and Inbound Marketing?
By Nate Vigil, Marketing Manager
Back in April of 2020, Jonathan Ebenstein, managing partner, Marcum Strategic Marketing, wrote a great article on the Six Inbound Marketing Best Practices to Combat the COVID-19 Outbreak. In this article, Jonathan does a great job of defining inbound marketing. To summarize, inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. Ideally, inbound marketing forms connections customers are looking for and solves problems they already have.
The Marcum Strategic Marketing team is fully invested in implementing an inbound marketing strategy for the businesses we support. Does this mean that we should throw away all of our outbound marketing strategies? If you asked me this a few years ago, I would have probably said yes. I believe the answer to that question now is not so cut and dry.
In this article, I will answer the following questions:
- How buyer behavior has evolved with technology.
- What is outbound marketing?
- What is inbound marketing?
- How do you know what’s right for your company?
Buyer behavior dictates marketing strategy
The goal of any kind of marketing is to make a connection with the desired audience. Hopefully, your storytelling and messaging is compelling enough so that your desired audience chooses you over the competition.
Over the last 20 years, advances in technology have radically changed consumer behavior. For example, if you were looking to buy a vehicle in 2000, you would have gone directly to a local dealership and worked with a pesky salesperson to learn your options, ask questions, and make a buying decision based on the information provided. In 2020, if you are looking to purchase a car you can research the type of car you want online. At the click of a mouse, you can easily sort through features, reviews, comparisons, problems, and pricing. Once you confirm the vehicle you want, it is very easy to determine the exact dealership(s) where you can make the purchase. At that point, for many people, the only reason to speak to a salesperson is to test drive and sign on the dotted line.
As buyer behavior transitions, it is only natural that marketers need to re-evaluate the way they communicate to their audience. Where outbound marketing was once the law of the land, the change in buyer behavior driven by technology has forced marketers to make in-bound marketing part of their arsenal. Let’s define outbound and inbound marketing then talk about what you should do for your business.
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing tries to reach as many people as possible, whether or not they are active buyers. I was originally trained in this industry using outbound strategies including TV commercials, print advertising, billboards, direct mail, and cold-calling as a means to get in front of your audience. These tactics can be categorized as interruptions – the commercial you fast forward through (thank you, on-demand technology), the magazine filled with ads selling you products you aren’t interested in, or the piece of mail you didn’t ask to receive.
By definition, outbound marketing refers to any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience.
What is inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing lets us build meaningful, lasting relationships with customers and prospects. It’s about valuing and empowering these people to reach their goals at any stage in the buyer journey. You will succeed when your customer succeeds – one by one.
How do you know what’s right for your company?
The biggest strength of outbound marketing is its ability to get in front of a large number of people quickly and build brand awareness. If done correctly, you can launch an outbound marketing campaign and get seen by millions in a matter of a few weeks. There is a direct correlation between the money you invest and the results you see. Generally speaking, you have to spend money to see results and when you stop spending money, the results come to a screeching halt. Since outbound is disruptive, the audience is less engaged with the story or message you are sharing.
On the other side of the coin, inbound aligns with the buyer’s journey, building a relationship between your customers and prospects and your brand – one that you can continue to grow over time.
Some businesses have found tremendous success by exclusively using inbound or outbound marketing. There is also a group of companies that have experienced success using both approaches. Ultimately, you have to determine what’s right for your company based on the following criteria:
- Your market: Who are your ideal buyers and how do they normally shop for your product or service? Ask yourself where else they turn to learn more about the types of solutions you provide. Take a look at your local competitors. What marketing tactics are they employing?
- Your goals: What are your company’s marketing goals? Are you trying to build brand awareness? Drive traffic to your website? Develop a strong product cross-sell strategy? What is the timeline to accomplish your goals? Inbound marketing is the best long-term strategy, while outbound marketing can help you get customers in the door quickly while you are building content and organic growth through inbound marketing.
You may find that embracing both methodologies can help you achieve both short and long-term goals. One tactic that I have personally used with a lot of success is a blend. One of the businesses I work with provides companies with system and organization control reports (SOC reports). These reports enable companies to feel confident that service providers or potential service providers are operating in an ethical and compliant manner. For this specific business, I run a PPC (pay per click) advertising campaign that promotes a free guide explaining the difference between SOC 1, SOC 2, and SOC 3 reports. Instead of directly promoting the SOC reporting service through PPC, I chose to provide my client’s potential customers with a free value-added resource that can help them determine the kind of SOC report they need for their business. This works because people are more likely to engage with a brand that helps them understand the buying process, instead of simply asking for their money.
In short, a strong business case can be made for using both outbound and inbound marketing strategies. As a business owner or marketing executive, it is your responsibility to know your customer and your goals. As consumer behavior shifts, it is essential that business owners and marketers reevaluate the way they engage with their ideal customers. If one of your main goals is to drive more relevant traffic and provide a better, user-friendly experience for your visitors, a website audit is a good place to start, as there are always ways you can improve your website, even a relatively new one.