Inbound marketing VS outbound marketing


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

 The famous opening to Dickens’s novel may have been describing the French Revolution but – with a bit licence – it could easily be applied to the state of marketing today. I’ve worked in SEO since 2005 and in general PR and marketing since 2011, and it’s harder to get your message across now than ever. But at the same time, there are huge opportunities for those who can cut through all the white noise. Huge.

Outbound marketing

Outbound marketing has driven business for generations. It’s defined by its interruptive nature - cold calls, non-permissive email marketing, display ads, newspaper ads, etc. It has the following characteristics …

  • Natural habitat: display ads, billboards, telemarketer scripts, newspapers and magazines, radio and TV ads
  • Interruptive
  • Pushes at everybody, regardless of interest
  • Written for the product’s needs
  • Inert, one-way conversations
  • Seeks out customers
  • Disrupts content consumption

 The cold hard truth is that outbound marketing just doesn’t work anymore. Potential customers are super savvy at tuning out outbound marketing. And it’s no wonder. According to Hubspot CEO Brian Halligan, the average person today is inundated with over 2000 outbound marketing interruptions per day. PER DAY! And that figure is only going to increase. If people responded to just 25% of the daily outbound marketing they are subjected to, they simply wouldn’t get anything meaningful done in their day. So people tune it out.

Clickthrough rates for display ads are now at a dismal average of just 0.05%.  Display ad blindness is real –look at these heatmaps … 


And according to Hubspot’s State of Inbound 2018, marketers consider paid advertising like print, outdoor, and broadcast to be the most overrated marketing tactic.

 I can certainly recognise the above in my own buying habits. If I’m looking at some training or some new tech or camera gear, I’ll research hard to make sure I’m as educated as possible before committing.

 People do not want to feel like they are being sold to – people want to feel like they are buying. And this is where inbound marketing wins … every time. 

Inbound marketing 

Inbound marketing, in essence, is about aligning your marketing and online content with how your customers and potential clients are educating themselves about the services/products your organisation provides. 

To cut through the noise and win people’s attention and time, you have to offer them something they love or something that is really helpful and/or really valuable. 

Inbound marketing is all about helping and educating existing customers and prospective clients and building that trust. Inbound is the science of nurturing people through the buying process with quality, helpful content.


 Inbound has the following characteristics …

  • Natural habitat: blogs, social media, opt-in emails, search, influencer marketing, ebooks, whitepapers, webinars
  • Pulls in interested readers
  • Written for the consumer’s needs
  • Interactive and fluid conversations
  • Draws in customers
  • Is naturally part of content consumption

There are many benefits to inbound, but one of my personal favourites is its long tailwind. All that useful, helpful, valuable content will carry on working hard to attract people to your website while you’re in meetings, while you’re on holiday, etc. And all those blogs, infographics, videos, ebooks, etc, mount up over time bringing big gains to your search results. 

Inbound marketing generates, according to Hubspot, three times as many leads as outbound BUT costs 62% less.


One of the biggest criticisms of outbound marketing traditionally has been that it’s expensive, not responsive, and it isn’t targeted. A company can spend hundreds if not thousands on a print ad or billboard, send it out into the world, and hope for the best. And while most companies aren’t going to increase spending on those kinds of outbound advertising, recent upgrades in audience targeting are breathing new life into digital advertising.

Things like retargeting pixels, contextual ads, and Lookalike Audiences allow Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google display ads to be directed specifically to users based on what they are interested in. This kind of advertising crosses-over - unlike outbound marketing of the past, it incorporates inbound’s strategy of showing users things they specifically will find helpful or interesting. I use targeted social ads to amplify the reach of inbound marketing all the time and it does work really well.

One of the big issues in the past with inbound has been a lack of measurability. It's always felt like the strategic equivalent of "build it and they will come". However, in the past few years the tech around data capture and tracking content has advanced incredibly. Powerful software, such as Hubspot, allows unprecedented insight into what individual visitors are interacting with on your website, social and email platforms. And this backed up by an array of smart tools to help automate lead nurturing. 

Ultimately, the best strategy for your business will be the one that works. Always try new things while you continue to do the old things that are working. Fundamental to this is the frequent analysing of your data. And remember that audiences change, too. What worked previously might not work now. Your mix of inbound and outbound marketing will almost certainly change with time and as technology adds new features and ways of connecting with people. And so, the most important strategy will always be: experiment, measure, repeat.

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By | October 24th, 2018 |Categories: Inbound marketing | 0 Comments

About the Author: Dan Urben

Dan Urben

Inbound marketing evangelist and creative director at tprc. Dan is a massive geek and loves tracking and measuring content as well as making videos

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