The Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing, and Why You Should Pick One

by Dana Detrick-Clark

Content Marketing vs Digital Marketing

Though Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing seem like new concepts, we all experience both daily. One invites us in, while the other is a surprise visitor that may or may not be welcomed in.

Inbound Marketing is when customers or prospects opt-in to your Content Marketing and Digital Marketing efforts, through methods including sign-ups, social media, making calls to your company or giving permission for you to call them, and links found in search engines.

This is opposed to the interrupt provided by Outbound Marketing which uses traditional tactics like television and radio commercials, cold calls and telemarketing, print ads, mailers, e-blasts and trade show appearances.

Inbound Marketing is about allowing and engaging people who care. Outbound Marketing is about selling and promoting to prospects and customers.

Inbound Marketing involves creating content and community. Outbound Marketing involves purchasing time and interest.

Both involve cost to develop, but in general Inbound Marketing is less upfront investment.

Related: Join the Mailing List!

The balance comes in the amount of time these efforts take to germinate: Outbound Marketing can reach more people in less time. From there, it’s a matter of determining how much of your message is cutting through to the percentage of audience that will move further into the sales process.

There is no right or wrong, and though it’s possible to use both, it’s not the most cost-effective way to market unless you have a competent team for each type. This is why for small businesses, the focus should definitely be on the one that gains you the most leverage. How to determine that comes from knowing who your current and ideal clients are, what you want them to do, and how much time and money you’re able to invest to get them there.

For example, if you specialize in Content Marketing (as Serious Vanity does), or are a Digital Marketer, a client may come to you for Inbound Marketing services after having success with Outbound Marketing like direct mail campaigns or television ads. But with a deep sigh they say, “Such and such told me I should be on Facebook.” If you aren’t in marketing, that client may sound a lot like you!

Related Post: The Difference Between Content Marketing and Digital Marketing, and Why You Need Both

If they really aren’t sure how Inbound Marketing fits into their overall marketing plan, it may be your job to dig deeper into discovering their actual goals (or helping them form some), or, if you see that Inbound Marketing makes no sense for their organization, giving them permission to let it go. If you are that business owner, this may be an assessment you’re coming to on your own.

It’s okay! Just as there are many businesses for whom traditional Outbound Marketing strategies make no sense (would a graphic artist run a radio commercial?), not every client will be a candidate for Inbound Marketing. Don’t try to create a channel where it won’t serve the overall investment in effort and cash for the business.

But by picking the one that is the best avenue to reach prospects and customers, and focusing your best efforts in that area, you will be better seated to tackle the other if and when it is the right time, and your growth allows for the shared focus.

The following two tabs change content below.
Dana Detrick-Clark has made it her mission to help creatives and small businesses like you broaden their reach in less time and with less effort. How does she do that? By providing premium content, creative consulting, and marketing confidence. Contact her today at

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Comments & Responses

3 Responses so far.

  1. I agree 100% with your basic premise that neither inbound nor outbound is the “right” answer. The marketing function has managed a mix of both for over 100 years, with emphasis placed on whichever has the best fit, as you said.

    I’m not sure I agree with your assertion that you need to “pick one”. As I said, it’s a matter of managing the mix, and I don’t believe that 100% inbound or 100% outbound is required. I think the only place you suggested this is in your title, but I wanted to put forward the idea that the need to pick only one method isn’t necessarily the case.

    Cost shouldn’t be the driving factor on choosing the mix. Strategy should. You wrote, “[T]hough it’s possible to use both, it’s not the most cost-effective way to market unless you have a competent team for each type.” I would respectfully disagree. I think that the decision on optimal mix comes first, then the challenge of fitting it into budget comes next, with the “competent team[s] for each type” coming from an outside agency that specializes in inbound and/or outbound (preferably both!).

    We are of the belief that unless you are a marketing company, the only marketing functions that should be done in-house are strategy, product management, and sales. All of the fulfillment — PR, advertising, lead generation, content creation, marketing automation, and marcomm — should be outsourced.

    For smaller firms, this make/buy decision is both more important and, frankly, more simple. You can “rent” an affordable slice of whatever amount of both inbound and outbound marketing you need from an agency who has expertise and economy of scale. Why would you try to hire a marketing person, a marketing automation administrator, writers, copyeditors, layout artists, and lead generation specialists (6 heads, minimum!) for a half million dollars in payroll plus $50K to $150K in software when you can achieve your entire inbound/outbound marketing function for under $100K by contracting to an agency? Not only do you get all functionality for the complete range, but you get it from people who already know what they’re doing, using software they already know how to use, with a 100% focus on the tasks. Most companies already contract out PR and advertising. Content marketing and the day-to-day operations of inbound and outbound marketing are the logical next functions for outsourcing. Doing so solves the problem of cost, allows smaller firms to look like large firms in their markets, and makes strategy the guide for the inbound/outbound mix.

    Don Montgomery
    WinGreen Marketing Systems

    p.s. Trade shows are “outbound”? They seem to me to be the original “inbound”. All attendees have made a choice to “opt in” to the trade show, and they choose to visit booths. Just because a method is legacy doesn’t make it automatically “outbound”.

    • Don, I want to thank you for adding so much to the discussion! We definitely are in a lot of agreement, especially on how a great firm can take the headache of all of this out of the equation for company.

      For smaller businesses, marketing can be so overwhelming. I believe even if a small organization is outsourcing their marketing, they should still understand these concepts. This understanding could also help in choosing the right firm that’s on the same page (again, I don’t think we’re in disagreement there!)!

      And I will concede that both inbound and outbound CAN be done in tandem – but they absolutely HAVE to have a great team for both. And I think it’s a little industry-dependent as well. I will use car dealerships as an example because they’re the source of my biggest experience in outbound marketing development. Certainly traditional advertising is still a part of most dealerships’ overall plan, but unless they’re really embracing inbound and all of the channel-specific opportunities for developing great content to draw the right audience, they just do it wrong. Traditional hard-sell ads do not work as video marketing content, and some really don’t get that. Luckily there are amazing firms that are focusing on this industry and the dealerships that are utilizing them are seeing results. I don’t think it’s outlandish to say that within a relatively short amount of time outbound tactics like direct mail will be replaced by far more targeted and effective email and social media marketing.

      Ok, I’ll say this – trade shows CAN be a bit gray area, but it’s all in the presentation (especially if they’re using tactics like digital signage, it can lean toward being more of an interactive experience). But to me it’s still very much about being the loudest in a sea of competition, with a pitch more than a conversation. Maybe that’s changing? Like everything else, I’m sure it is. 🙂

      Thank you again for such great insights! I’m so happy to connect with you, Don!

  2. […] the beauty of inbound marketing: when all of these elements come together, the magic happens! There may be a season of sowing where […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *