What is the difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

Traditional marketing professionals have been using language just to convince you to buy their products or services, but that’s almost ineffective in this digital era owing to the cultural shift that has transformed how marketing works.

Think about it: the average person gets exposed to at least 4,000 ads every day, but people have still managed to avoid having to sit through a sales pitch.

In fact, less than half of all direct mails aren't opened, while email sales letters are usually relegated to the spam folder or they’re not opened at all.

What’s more, people can skip TV ads, avoid radio ads through satellite radio or digital music, get their news online so they don’t have to see print ads in the dailies, and even use ad blockers to keep them from viewing banner ads online.

If you’re a marketer or you run a business, you’ve probably come across or heard of terms such as inbound and outbound marketing.  But what do they really mean?

Inbound Marketing Vs Outbound Marketing: What’s The Difference?

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a relatively new, hands-off and indirect marketing concept that’s designed to “pull” in prospects and potential customers from your target audience with appealing and interesting content.

According to Hubspot’s 2014 State of Inbound report, half of marketers across B2B/B2C and nonprofit sectors rank inbound as the main source for lead generation, going over and above the 42 percent average of all channels put together.

Inbound marketing, also referred to as content marketing, involves creating articles, blog posts, white papers, infographics, social media content, email newsletters among other content types that audiences want to read.

For example, Spotify, the largest driver of revenue to the music business, has more than 271 million users compared to radio, which has so many ads compared to music and this has led to losses, some stations even closing down altogether.

The modern buyer does maximum product research himself before reaching out to the company he is researching about.

They find your content via paid search and search engine optimisation (SEO) paid discovery, but your content has to be engaging enough to nudge them down the sales funnel as they interact, read and share it. They’ll leave impressed by your brand and ultimately influence the audience’s purchasing decisions.

Inbound marketing costs 62 percent less per lead, generates 3x as many leads per dollar, and 70 percent of people would rather learn about your company via content compared to ads.

It’s a slightly more complicated method of attracting customers, but more effective at reaching them.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Unlike inbound marketing, outbound marketing is more interruptive and pushes itself at your target audience, whether they want it or not.

It includes marketing methods like billboards, popups and pop-unders, telemarketing, TV and radio ads, cold calling, banner and display ads, seminar series, trade shows, email marketing blasts, newspaper and magazine ads among others.

Statistics from Hubspot reveal that outbound marketing isn’t working today because 91 percent of email users unsubscribe from emails they opt into owing to irrelevant content.

The main drawbacks with outbound marketing is that people no longer pay attention to them, and the cost of advertising on its mediums is less effective.

For example, Netflix is more attractive over TV, whose programming is laden with ads that people avoid by flipping channels or not looking at the screen altogether.

There are many ways of avoiding outbound marketing messages, which is why inbound becomes a more effective way of reaching buyers looking for your solutions and converting them to customers.

Here’s a table that outlines the major differences between inbound and outbound marketing:

Inbound Marketing

​Outbound Marketing



​Uses pull messages considering people’s interests

​Uses push messages regardless of interest

​Communication is two-way

​Communication is one-way

​Delivers value

​Offers little to no value

​Draws customers to you

​Seeks out customers

​Uses channels such as search engines, social media, blogs, opt-in emails, influencer marketing and referrals

​Uses traditional channels such as print/TV/radio ads, cold calls, telemarketing, billboards, magazines, display ads

​Writes messages for consumers’ needs

​Writes messages for product needs



​Is part of content consumption

​Disrupts audience consumption of content

Factors That Determine Whether To Pick Inbound Or Outbound Marketing

Inbound marketing may have its amazing benefits to businesses, but you shouldn’t completely rule out the power of outbound marketing. It still has plenty to offer, especially when used alongside inbound marketing.

Some businesses have successfully used either of the two marketing methods exclusively, while others have done well using them together. Ultimately, your choice boils down to what is right for your business as you consider your market, goals and your brand.

Your market is your ideal buyers, so you know what, how and when they shop for your offerings, plus where they go to find out more about your solutions.

Similarly, you have goals you’re trying to achieve, which can be anything from brand awareness, business growth, driving traffic and others. Inbound is great as a long-term strategy but it may not increase your business in the short term like outbound marketing does though with diminishing returns.

Finally, your brand image matters as it determines what marketing tactics you’ll use to reach your customers, and that your brand will be proud of at the end of the day.

Inbound Vs Outbound Marketing: Which One Is Best?

To answer this question, we’re going to look at the strengths of each of these types of marketing to avoid giving a biased answer. It also involves considering your business, target audience and marketing objectives.

Inbound marketing is more focused on delivering value to your target audience, through educational, non-promotional methods.

It’s aligned to the buyer’s journey, building a relationship between your brand and prospects, while attracting them to you even if they’re not in the market in search of your offerings.

It helps consumers instead of repelling them with annoying and irritating tactics, plus it has a long-term ROI. However, it requires a higher investment upfront, with slower results experienced in the first few months, during which you’d be building your digital marketing assets, increasing online presence and ranking higher on Google and other search engines.

The value of your digital assets increases compared to the amount you’d spend maintaining or improving them, as they continue generating leads long after you create them, at no cost to you.

Outbound marketing, on the other hand, isn’t completely dead or gone, because there are still some positives like ability to get in front of the masses, building awareness at a broader level.

If you get it right, you can reach out to millions of people and get new customers in a shorter time, but the results depend on your monetary investment. In fact, you spend more to get more results, and if you stop spending, you lose out, compared to inbound, whose tangible results are long-term.

​Wrapping Up

​As appealing and powerful as inbound marketing sounds over outbound marketing, it’s okay to try new things vis-à-vis the old ones that still work, while analyzing data, and any changes in the market and among your audiences.

What works today may not work tomorrow, so experiment, measure and repeat to connect with people.

tulip turner - What is the difference between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?


Tulip is a Content and Inbound Marketing expert at Snewscms. Over the years, she has helped dozens of businesses in defining their content strategy. She believes that creativity doesn’t inspire customers anymore. A true story when recited well, is enough to build a connect.

Tulip Turner

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