Inbound Marketing vs Outbound MarketingThe great debate: should you switch from outbound marketing to inbound marketing?

Over the past few years, “Inbound Marketing” had become more or less a household term among modern marketers, taking its place as the “successor” to outbound marketing. The term was coined by one of the pioneers and now front runners of the marketing automation industry, HubSpot, to promote its platform for permission-based email marketing.

What is “Inbound Marketing?”

Inbound Marketing, alternatively called “permission marketing” is intended to distinguish itself from  more traditional “outbound marketing.” So to define inbound marketing, it is helpful to first define outbound marketing: marketing communications that are one-way mass-marketing. Think TV and radio commercials, billboards, web banner ads, and emails you didn’t ask for. These are marketing communications that you encounter by chance; they happen to accidentally be where you are and hit you with messages to buy, buy, buy, or at minimum, “Know our brand!” You might consider these communications more like pollution than communication, and you might describe them as many do: “Interruption Marketing.” To tie it back to the term “outbound,” these are communications that emanate “out” from a company.

Conversely, “Inbound Marketing” consists of communications that eschew marketing messages, instead offering helpful, informative content – information that people will seek out because it is interesting and/or genuinely useful to them. This content forms the basis of effective lead nurturing. People discover this content by searching for it – such as, “how to improve my content marketing” or “best way to clean the rotor blade in my lawn mower.”

Take the latter as a hypothetical example. A customer named Angela might perform a Google search to learn the best way to clean her lawn mower. Let’s say that Angela’s search reveals an article published by Toro® lawn mowers (they might want to consider actually publishing such an article, by the way). Angela reads it, and, aside from the logo at the top of the page, the article is completely free of any language promoting Toro®. She comes away with the impression that Toro® would like to help everyone with their lawn mowers, regardless of what brand they own. This increases her trust in the Toro® brand. Angela tries the advice in the Toro® article and finds it works perfectly for her own lawn mower. She is so happy with this that she posts a link to the article on her Facebook page and to her Twitter account. Her friends and followers click the link, read the article, find it useful, thank her for sharing it, and in turn share it themselves.

Angela also leaves a comment on the article page (because Toro® was wise enough to encourage comments at the end of the article). She thanks Toro for publishing this very helpful content. Within a few hours, Toro® posts a reply thanking her! Toro® also thanks her for the tweet with a direct message to her Twitter account. This highlights another feature and benefit of inbound marketing: the ability to have two-way communication between a customer and a company. This cannot happen with outbound marketing, which is by its very nature purely one-way broadcasting.

This is inbound marketing at its finest: building trust with a customer by helping her and asking nothing in return. Notice also that there is no advertising fee for posting and sharing inbound marketing content. That doesn’t mean its free to marketers – there are still the costs of creating and promoting the content using SEO and social media. But there are no ad placement fees, as with outbound marketing, which can be comparatively quite expensive.

Make the switch?

Countless articles have been published already explaining why outbound marketing is on the decline and inbound marketing is on the rise. The reasons stated (and backed by equally countless studies and statistics):

  • The customer is now fully in control of how he/she consumes content, including marketing messages, thanks mainly to the power of the internet and smart phones
  • Outbound marketing costs are significantly higher than inbound marketing costs
  • Outbound marketing is not trusted by consumers and found by them to be intrusive
  • Inbound marketing is trusted by consumers, found by them to be helpful, and builds their trust in a brand
  • ROI for inbound marketing is higher than for outbound marketing

The majority of articles will make a case for shifting to inbound marketing as the future of marketing. One article, by J-P De Clerck for i-SCOOP, takes a refreshingly more balanced approach, suggesting that both inbound and outbound have their utility, and the right proportion of both in a marketing mix is determined solely by your customers’ journeys. In other words, used properly, inbound marketing and outbound marketing will complement each other to drive the highest possible ROI from your combined marketing spend.

Achieving this requires really knowing your customers, and being able to collect and analyze data provided by your marketing interactions with customers to determine the optimal mix of inbound marketing and outbound marketing. As a result, determining ROI on a cross channel marketing approach is of paramount importance for marketers today. It is also one of their biggest challenges, as marketers struggle with data collection from various channels, and how to properly interpret the data. This will be the subject of another post coming soon.

Inbound marketing AND outbound marketing

If you take one thing away from this article, we hope it is that this is not an either/or proposition. The right mix of both inbound marketing and outbound marketing is determined by the journeys and needs of your customers. The more you are able to obtain data about your customers’ behavior, the better you’ll be able to create the right mix of inbound marketing and outbound marketing to both meet your customers’ needs and maximize your marketing ROI.

Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.




(From your Carlsbad printing company, ZUZA.)


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