Your Ultimate Guide to Understanding Inbound and Outbound Marketing

There is a lot of mystery surrounding inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing. Whether you are a marketer or an ad agency, you might be curious to know the effectiveness of both strategies. 

Well, you will get all your answers as you read through till the end. If you are an amateur marketer, this blog can polish your basic understanding of inbound and outbound marketing. 

Let us get started!

What is inbound marketing?

What is inbound marketing


The above image says it all, but let us define inbound marketing in words for you. 

Inbound marketing is a strategy that attracts potential customers to your product or service through quality content. You can engage with the attracted customers (leads), convert them, and upsell or cross-sell over time.

The strategy has existed since 2006 and evolved in many ways to suit specific products and services. But you can see the basic blueprint of inbound marketing in the following image:

Process of inbound marketingSource:

Inbound marketing is non-promotional, and people come to you by choice. But it is not as easy as it sounds. You will need solid content creation and marketing strategy in place to get the desired results. 

For example, most brands use social media to attract quality traffic. Wendy’s is famous on Twitter for its cheeky humor. You can get a taste of it in a snapshot of their witty bio.

Example of inbound marketing on Twitter


What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing involves proactively reaching out to customers to get them interested in a product or service. Some of the traditional outbound channels are TV ads, billboards, magazines, newspapers, etc. Nowadays, it is common to use digital methods like PPC ads for outbound marketing.

Many digital marketers think that outbound marketing has lost its charm. But it is not correct. 

Marketers can get open rates of about 17.8% and CTRs of up to 14% using tailored outbound tactics such as cold email outreach. 

After understanding the basics, it is time to look at the differences between inbound and outbound marketing.

Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: 05 Key Differences You Should Know

1. Audience engagement

Outbound Marketing:

Outbound marketing is also known as interruption-based marketing.

You have to find mediums with a large following and interrupt the followers with random ads. There is some hope that a small percentage of your chosen demographics will pay attention to the ads and convert them into a customer.

Thus, opportunities in outbound marketing are like a needle in a haystack.

Inbound Marketing:

Inbound marketing is also known as permission-based marketing, and you can do it in two ways:

  • Communicate through mediums in which you have the permission of your audience to communicate. Examples are subscription-based email marketing, social media platforms, blog subscribers, etc.
  • Answer people’s questions and use those answers around the web to attract quality traffic. Examples are SEO, keyword targeting, landing page strategy, content strategy, etc.

Inbound marketing services can guarantee a higher ROI if done correctly. You can also enjoy a loyal customer base in the long term.

2. Marketing strategies

Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing adopts a linear approach. You have limited mediums to choose from, such as radio, TV, tradeshow, billboard, event sponsorships, etc.

You start by assessing which mediums can help you reach your target audience effectively. Next, you allocate a higher percentage of your budget to the most effective mediums and eliminate the least effective mediums. Then, you send a unified message to your audience across all mediums, and your job is complete.

You have to repeat the entire process for your next outbound marketing strategy.

Inbound Marketing 

In inbound marketing, the marketing strategy is holistic. It involves a more complex approach as compared to outbound marketing, requiring:

  • Simultaneous use of all the relevant digital channels.
  • Improve your website consistently.
  • Creation of high-quality content.
  • Implementation of measurement tools such as Google Analytics.

A successful inbound marketing campaign consists of:

  • A strong brand voice.
  • An effective content marketing strategy.
  • Informative blogs.
  • A responsive UI/UX design.
  • A good call-to-action strategy and lead magnet.
  • Micro and macro conversion opportunities.
  • An easy-to-use content management system (CMS) at the backend level.

Once your website is good to go, content creation and distribution can begin. Content should be engaging and based on your keyword strategy. Distribute it across all avenues, including blog subscribers, social media channels, lead nurture campaigns, etc.

Your strategy should adapt to the current scenario. Tweak it depending on the metrics in your Analytics tools.

Some digital marketers tend to ignore the above complexities. They are stuck in their comfort zone and apply the outbound marketing approach to the digital world. If you do the same thing, it will not get you the returns as per your expectations.

Thus, you can compare inbound marketing to a holistic lifestyle. You should be consistent, disciplined, and ready to experiment in everything you do. The following quote relates to inbound marketing perfectly.

Famous quotes about inbound marketing


3. Brand positioning

Outbound Marketing

In outbound marketing, you are like a footnote. Your customer relationship depends on attention rather than value.

For example, you have the best booth and the best giveaway prize at a popular trade show. But you are not one of the keynote speakers. Thus, your presence is merely a footnote to the main event.

Companies using outbound marketing services have to go to great lengths to get noticed by their potential customers. But still, they may not get the results in the end. 

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing lets you be the main story. You are the keynote speaker.

You create great and valuable content to engage with your audience and tell compelling stories that convince them to come to you. Then you convert them by offering solutions to their problems.

It is not as simple as it sounds in the last paragraph. But when done correctly, inbound marketing can reward you with incredible returns and long-term customers. 

4. Data and attribution

Outbound Marketing

With outbound marketing, it is hard to measure success. You can ask your prospects to fill out the “How Did You Hear About Us?” form. But still, the results would be unreliable. It creates a margin of error, leading you to make assumptions about success.

Assumptions do not work well for any marketing strategy. You are at risk of losing more than your initial investment in outbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing

With inbound marketing, everything is digital and measurable. Complex algorithms and tools can track the effectiveness of your marketing strategy. 

An inbound marketing strategy lets you analyze everything from the ROI of various content strategies to the size and shape of a CTA button.

Measuring CTA clicks in Google Analytics


Inbound marketing allows for closed-loop reporting, which means:

  • It lets you track your visitors’ IP addresses from the second they hit your website.
  • It shows you how that IP address got there and how much time it spent on the website.
  • You get to understand the thought process of a customer. You can see which blog posts they like to read, which pages they view the most, etc.

Using the above data, you can align your marketing funnels to attract more leads over time.

5. Distribution

Outbound Marketing 

In outbound marketing, you are always renting your distribution. It means that your reputation in the market is only as good as your last campaign. If the campaign works and sales get a boost, you can carry on with the next campaign. Else, jobs and budgets are in jeopardy.

Let us assume that you are a wholesaler of sports accessories and specialize in cricket. We all know that the World Cup happens once in a while, and so do the other big tournaments. 

You have to come up with a new outbound marketing strategy every time. As you know, people do not like seeing the same banners at stadiums every time. So the stress is high, and the chances of success are low!

Inbound Marketing

You own your distribution in inbound marketing, and it depreciates like an asset. Let us explain it to you:

  • You build a subscription-based email list.
  • Earn a top ranking on your product-related keywords.
  • Attract followers on social media.

The email list, top rankings, and social media followers are your assets. The assets come with a cost of acquisition (creating the content) initially, but the assets continue working for you. They generate revenue even after you have stopped creating content.

For example, your website has 10,000 blog posts generating 1,500 leads per month through online searches. If you stop posting blogs for a year, that lead volume will only diminish slightly. We hope you got the point!

Summary of the difference between inbound and outbound marketing

Inbound Marketing Outbound Marketing
Definition Focuses on creating high-quality content that organically attracts people. Uses traditional non-digital strategies and jargon-filled messaging to grab attention.
Examples Blogs, keyword targeting, SEO strategy, social media strategy, etc. TV commercials, billboards, direct mail, newspaper and magazine ads, etc.
Audience Engagement Permission-based and relevant. Interruption-based and usually disassociated.
Marketing Strategies Integrated, cross-channel strategies. Linear strategies with limited marketing options.
Brand Positioning You are always the main headline. Stand out, or you will not get noticed at all.
Data and Attribution Continuous and iterative. Inconsistent and varied.
Distribution Everything is digital and quantifiable. Immeasurable and hard to track.

When to use inbound marketing

Both inbound and outbound marketing require upfront investments from your end. 

If seen from the long-term perspective, inbound marketing is 62% less expensive compared to outbound strategies. 

Even though inbound marketing is better than outbound marketing in many aspects, you will not get immediate results. The reason is that it takes time for the search engines to index, understand, and rank your content. 

So you can opt for inbound marketing if you intend to stay in business for the long term. Also, you must have loads of patience while investing in quality content creation.

You can sustain with inbound marketing only if you have a well-defined strategy. The strategy must cover everything, including audience research, competitive analysis, exceptional blogs, link building, and other technical stuff. 

B2B case studies to inspire your next inbound marketing strategy

Many brands use inbound marketing to delight their audiences, expand their reach, and ultimately convert leads to sales. We will discuss two real-life examples of inbound marketing in action.

1. Airbnb’s Print Magazine


Airbnb’s Print Magazine


Airbnb has disrupted the travel industry by creating a peer-to-peer channel through which travelers can make their travel arrangements. The population that has used this platform might be familiar with its ordinary, glossy, paper magazine: Airbnbmag.

Airbnb often distributes and places the magazine in restaurants and other entertainment venues in well-populated cities.

By creating its omnipresence in well-traveled areas, Airbnb can introduce its business idea to potential customers. Airbnb’s B2B model relies on customers becoming business owners and renting out their apartments or villas. 

Interestingly, Airbnb can create a lot of user-generated content in the magazine. It is exciting for the users, as they get to be in a print publication and also cost-effective for Airbnb. Besides, the content looks authentic to readers.

Key Takeaway: Conventional methods of marketing are not dead. Print media, such as magazines, can still be effective if marketed in the right way. A digital magazine can bring in leads smoothly. You can also release it in a print format based on the demand.

2. Cisco’s ”SuperSmart Security” Graphic Novel

Tech can get boring sometimes, especially with topics like cybersecurity. There is a limit to how many whitepapers a business owner can read in a given timeframe. 

Instead of investing in blog posts and infographics, Cisco created one of the most memorable B2B outreach experiences in its industry, the SuperSmart Security graphic novel

Cisco’s ”SuperSmart Security” Graphic Novel


The novel shows its audience how cybersecurity is evolving rapidly and highlights the need to enhance security without being paranoid about it.

It is available in multiple languages and explains everything in a fun and intuitive manner. Readers can understand complex tech concepts and also share the novel in their social circle.

It is interesting to note that Cisco does not prompt B2B clients to connect with it immediately. The novel instead prompts them to check for updates regularly. It ensures constant audience engagement for the brand.

Key Takeaway: Any brand can stand out and attract potential customers even with a dry topic. If you want to try it, be creative with your content, and follow a well-defined strategy. 

When to use outbound marketing

Outbound marketing can work well if you are a startup or planning to build awareness for your new product. The only thing to keep in mind is the budget.

Yes, outbound marketing through TV ads, newspaper flyers, billboards, and other channels costs a lot of money. 

You can cut the costs to some extent by using the digital mode for outbound marketing. Take the help of an experienced digital marketing agency to target your prospects using digital outbound ads. 

If done right, you can get immediate results instead of waiting for your content to rank on Google. 

You also have analytics at your disposal. Identify your potential customers based on their online habits and data touchpoints. Then, develop a proactive outbound marketing strategy and execute it.

Outbound marketing also works if your customer base falls in an older age group. Older customers are comfortable with radio ads, billboards, and TV commercials. They are not tech-savvy to scroll through blog posts. Also, they might not trust the digital presence of a business.

Last but not least, outbound marketing can be effective for a business when the prospect is another business (B2B marketing). 

A Final Word

We have reached the point where you have a better understanding of inbound and outbound marketing. You know the differences, pros, cons, and when to use a particular strategy.

Remember, there is no rule to use a marketing strategy as it is. Be ready to experiment with everything. Some brands use both inbound and outbound marketing alongside each other. 

Our final advice is that do not invest your entire budget in one go. Start small, test the efficiency of your chosen strategy, improvise, and then scale up the campaign. We wish you good luck!

Leave a comment below if you liked the blog, and also share it with your peers. 

I'm Rahul Jade with 2+ years of experience in different forms of content creation. It makes me happy when my content gets clients what they deserve. For me, it's all about aligning my clients' goals with their customer's needs in the present moment.


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