Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
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Inbound or Outbound - What's Best for You?

"Inbound marketing." "Outbound marketing."

In recent years these two buzzwords have been tossed around quite a bit in the business world. With so much internet hype and positioning for new "inbound marketing" products and service offerings, it's understandable if you're already biased to believe that "inbound" is blooming effortlessly like a field of wildflowers while "outbound" is going the way of the brontosaurus.

Let's get a little perspective on the battle between inbound vs outbound marketing and examine how they aren't necessarily opposing concepts but how both can play a role in an effective marketing plan.

A Tale of Two Marketing Methodologies

Before we get into the defining characteristics of the "inbound" vs. "outbound" approaches to marketing, let's briefly summarize what they mean:

Outbound Marketing
Tactics that involve "pushing" your message to an audience, sometimes called "interruption marketing." Examples include:

  • Advertising – both Traditional (print, TV, radio, billboards) and Digital (online display ads and "retargeting" ads, or real-world digital displays)
  • Direct mail
  • Trade shows
  • Public relations
  • Cold-calling / Telemarketing
  • Unsolicited, paid emails (i.e. you pay for the use of someone else's list)
  • Website popups

Inbound Marketing
A term coined by Hubspot (which sells a Marketing Automation solution). Tactics involve more of a "pull" strategy where you share useful content to establish trust with an audience in order to organically attract them to your product or service when they're ready to engage with you. Sometimes called "permission marketing." Examples include:

  • SEO ("Search Engine Optimization") and SEM ("search engine marketing")
  • Content Marketing—blogging, video, e-books, case studies etc.
  • Social Media marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Marketing Automation "lead nurturing"

Let's look at the characteristics of each approach.

7 Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing

There are 7 areas of difference between inbound and outbound marketing—which way does your business lean in each area? (Please click to tweet this!)

(1) Communication

  • Inbound communicates where there is "permission", i.e. when information is requested by the prospective customer.
  • Outbound "pushes" information out to the marketplace in hopes it will reach prospective customers.

(2) Audience / Type of Traffic

  • Inbound gets unpaid "organic" traffic.
  • Outbound gets traffic via paid channels.

(3) Medium

  • Inbound relies on "content" to establish trust and authority in order to attract prospects.
  • Outbound uses advertising as the sales driver.

(4) Orientation

  • Inbound has an "educational" orientation, focusing in helpful, useful content to address a pain point or need.
  • Outbound has a "promotional" orientation, focusing on pricing, offers and product features.

(5) Depth of Field

  • Inbound thinks "long term" with a lead nurturing strategy.
  • Outbound thinks "now" with reliance on the strength and urgency of a sales pitch.

(6) Objective

  • Inbound aims to engage and retain—a more purely "marketing" approach. (Ultimately, of course, sales is the objective.)
  • Outbound aims to maximize transaction velocity—a more purely "operational" approach.

(7) Relationship

  • The Inbound relationship originates with the prospect, saying "I'm here for you."
  • Outbound originates with the seller, saying "Here I am."

The following handy infographic sums it up (click image to tweet):

inbound and outbound marketing infographic

Pros and Cons

Looking at the list of differences between the two approaches, you might think "inbound" is the clear winner—the very future of all marketing. After all, it looks like it has none of that pushy "sales-y" thing, and it gets its traffic organically by being helpful.

While that's all true, proponents of inbound marketing may be pushing the concept a bit too far. It's not the easy cure-all to your marketing challenges, and it's not suitable for every organization.

(And by the way, the "godfather" of inbound marketing, Hubspot, would also like you to spend $18,000 to $43,400 upfront per year on its Marketing Automation platform to help you execute your inbound marketing. We offer a better solution for a fraction of the cost. Contact us for details. )

Don't get us wrong. We love inbound marketing. We also love outbound marketing. There are pros and cons to each approach. And good execution of either approach requires a significant investment of resources—whether in terms of time and effort or financial.

Inbound Marketing Pros and Cons

If your organization is suited for an Inbound strategy, think of Inbound Marketing as a long-term investment. You won't see an immediate return on your investment, but consistent care and feeding of an inbound program will yield long-term, sustainable results and a superior ROI to an Outbound strategy.

Pros include:

  • Low cost-per-lead / customer acquisition cost - rather than spend budget on advertising, quality content is the attraction to leads or customers, and that has no ad cost associated with it; your cost-per-lead or customer acquisition cost will be minimal. According to Hubspot, Inbound is 62% less expensive than outbound.
  • Builds customer loyalty and trust / thought-leadership - the idea is to maintain a continual conversation with your customers and prospects. For B2B businesses, "thought leadership" is vital to establish trust. According to the Custom Content Council, 61% of customers are more likely to purchase from a company that tailors its content to the customer's needs.
  • Greater customer lifetime value - a successful inbound strategy will keep your brand "top-of-mind" with consumers, resulting in a long-term relationship with repeat sales and upsell opportunities.
  • Boosts brand visibility - A continual stream of valuable content is an effective way to establish and boost brand visibility.
  • More successful at reaching younger demographics - as an internet-based approach, inbound is more effective at reaching younger demographics.
  • Superior ability to target customers and track audience reach and ROI - customers can be targeted—even "hyper-targeted" down to the individual level—and ROI on inbound efforts can be easily tracked even using "off-the-shelf" analytics platforms like Google Analytics.

Cons include:

  • Results are not instant - key aspects of an inbound strategy, such as SEO and content creation, take several months or longer to execute and show tangible results.
  • Requires significant investment in quality content creation - it's not at all enough to post a blog and post to your social media pages. Success requires a diversity of content to respond to the prospect or customer at every step of their purchase journey.
  • Requires investment in marketing automation system to aid execution and ROI measurement - once leads arrive, you need to do something with them. Responding to prospects and customers at various steps through the sales funnel requires an automated system to execute this at scale.
  • Not as effective as Outbound for high-ticket offers
  • More successful at reaching younger demographics - as an internet-based approach, inbound is more effective at reaching younger demographics.
  • Requires truly valuable and unique content - regurgitating what everyone else puts out will not yield results; there is enough clutter in the market from companies executing a so-called inbound campaign by pushing the same tired content.

Outbound Marketing Pros and Cons

For organizations with higher marketing budgets, an Outbound approach can work very well, particularly as an Inbound strategy is getting off the ground in those cases where Inbound is also appropriate.

Pros include:

  • Quick results - rather than wait for an inbound strategy to take shape and for website traffic to reach "critical mass," outbound tactics yield instant traffic.
  • Effective at reaching older demographics
  • More effective than Inbound for high-ticket offers
  • Older audiences are more comfortable with Outbound tactics - while some people may be reluctant to submit their personal information into an inbound lead form for subsequent follow-up before they can receive offer details, they may be more comfortable with an advertisement leading them to the offer details.
  • Boosts brand visibility - Outbound is effective at quickly providing broad brand visibility, which is especially useful for more "mass-market" products or services as opposed to those suited to a more tailored audience. You'll reach a broader range of consumers than just those interested in your product or service.
  • Some tactics are a MUST for B2B organizations - tactics like trade show presence and seminars are considered essentials in some industries.

Cons include:

  • Expensive - Outbound campaigns can be expensive to execute compared to inbound.
  • Tracking audience reach and ROI can be challenging - accurately attributing sales to an outbound campaign can be difficult, requiring the use of promo codes and dedicated phone lines in some cases.
  • Less effective at targeting audiences - most forms of outbound marketing lack sophisticated means of targeting specific audiences; however this is less of an issue with some digital forms of outbound marketing, like online retargeting ads and display ad networks.
  • People have begun to "tune-out" outbound tactics - ad blockers, "banner blindness", ignoring that "junk mail" and just changing the TV channel are just some of the ways outbound tactics have been made ineffective. Millennials in particular have become adept at filtering ad messages.

How Inbound and Outbound Overlap

For many organizations, inbound and outbound strategies can co-exist. When they do, there are common ways they overlap.

For example, "outbound" channels (such as digital ads) can also serve as effective ways to draw attention to useful "inbound" content (such as case studies) in the effort to establish a relationship with your audience. The interaction would look something like this graphic:

example of outbound to inbound marketing

Likewise, you might want to use outbound "retargeting ads" to stay top-of-mind with website visitors attracted by useful "inbound" content (such as a guest blog post). Here's a simple visual of this strategy:

example of inbound to outbound marketing

Even old-school outbound tactics like print ads and direct mail will benefit from a bit of inbound smarts. Here's a graphic of this strategy:

example of smart direct mail

Omnichannel Approach

In the end, whether your marketing plan calls for an inbound or outbound approach (or both) is entirely dependent on what works for your business. Typically, the most effective approach is one which blends the two into an "omnichannel" marketing strategy.

According to Google, 90% of those who own multiple devices switch between them three times per day on average to complete a task. And 213 million adults in the US access the internet using 4 devices on average.

Consumers are more connected than ever before. They are interacting with brands anytime, anywhere, and they have more control over the buying process across physical and digital channels.

The objective of an omnichannel strategy is to identify the individual consumer at each interaction touchpoint and provide them with a relevant, seamless customer experience. (Click to tweet!)

Why is this important? Omnichannel consumers are more valuable.

A 2017 Harvard Business Review study of 46,000 shoppers revealed that omnichannel consumer spent 4% more on every in-store shopping occasion and 10% more online. And the more channels a shopper used, the more valuable they became; those who used 4+ channels across their purchase journey spent 9% in-store on average.

The biggest challenges in an omnichannel strategy are (a) stitching the customer experience together across channels and (b) determining how to weigh the contribution of each channel to measure the ROI for the final transaction ("attribution").

For example, a consumer may first engage with the brand by clicking a Google paid search ad using a mobile device. Later they may research various products on the company's website using a desktop computer. Two days later, they might make their purchase in a physical store, and that evening they might share about their experience via social media.

"Stitching" the user experience together across these various channels requires a means of identifying the same user across channels. Combining tracking technology with dynamic content and offers unique to the individual customer is one way of accomplishing this. For example:

example of omnichannel stitching

But the question remains: at what point did the consumer decide to purchase? To what channel do we attribute the sale? Aside from obviously requiring the ability to "stitch" the chain of user interaction from one channel to another, how you wish to split each channel's contribution to the final sale is a business decision. You'll need a "holistic" system spanning from initial interaction to point-of-sale to effectively track to this multi-channel attribution model.

Finally, implementation of an omnichannel strategy is difficult for organizations that operate in a "siloed" way—where marketing, sales, product development and operations don't work in coordination with one another. Departments needs to be working in concert, coordinating initiatives with executive buy-in.

Now that you know more about Inbound and Outbound Marketing...

It's a complicated subject with many moving parts. Having a high-level understanding of the elements involved is useful, but you might need help creating and executing a marketing plan. We're here for you! Brass Ring Consulting Group provides world-class Marketing services. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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