(Last updated on February 7th, 2019)

Are you tired of your marketing plan not delivering optimum results? Maybe you’re not using the right strategies. This comprehensive inbound vs outbound marketing guide will help become a better marketer.

You think “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing” are just another fancy terms coined by marketers just to confuse you? No, you’re wrong!

In fact, they are two vastly different (and interesting) approaches to marketing products, services, or whatever you have to offer, on a fundamental level. And, in modern day and age, you must have a basic know-how of what mediums, strategies, and tactics are employed in both of these contrasting approaches, no matter the nature of your business or industry you are in.

After all, marketing is an essential component of all successful businesses.

And It is only possible to create an effective marketing plan – a plan that yields “real” results – when you have a clear understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Before delving into details and making a comparison between inbound and outbound marketing, let’s first take a brief look at both of these marketing methodologies.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
Inbound vs Outbound Marketing (Image credit: Wordstream)

What is Inbound Marketing (a.k.a Permission Marketing)?

An evolved form of marketing, Inbound marketing focuses on winning customers’ attention and trust through quality content and engaging them with your business in a manner that is beneficial for both parties involved.

It is less aggressive (and more efficient) in nature, and based on the principle that if you create helpful content that addresses the problems that your potential customers may have, you’ll acquire more leads and prospects.

Inbound marketing strategy revolves around customers’ interests, so they naturally find your business via content marketing, social media, search engines, opt-in email marketing, and more. Instead of proactively searching for prospects, you actually let them come to you and find your business.

Not to forget all of this happens with their consent, and hence inbound marketing is also called “permission marketing.”

Also, you develop credibility and trust for your business in the process, which is vital as it greatly influences the purchasing decisions your prospects will have to make at some point.

A great example of inbound marketing is Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertisements, where you set up certain ad copies to show up when someone searches for a keyword that is relevant to your business.

Hubspot pictures the whole process of inbound marketing like this:

Inbound Marketing Methodology

What is Outbound Marketing (a.k.a Interruption Marketing)?

Outbound marketing is a traditional marketing methodology that refers to any kind of marketing practice where a company distributes messaging and content to a relatively large audience in an obtrusive manner, despite knowing that the majority of recipients won’t be interested.

The basic concept behind outbound marketing is to market your product or service to as many people as you can, and hoping that some of them will actually care and take an action. Instead of creating valuable content that addresses their needs or helps them solve problems, you actively pursue them.

Unlike inbound marketing, outbound marketing strategies are less personalized and more aggressive.

TV and radio ads, direct mail, email blasts (spam), cold calls, billboards, and pop-ups are all outbound marketing tactics.

Outbound marketing is also sometimes called “interruption marketing” since you are forcibly trying to push your product or service to people.

Now that you are familiar with both marketing terminologies, it’s time for a detailed inbound vs outbound marketing comparison.

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: Which Delivers Better Results?

Back in the days, the only type of marketing approach companies solely relied on was outbound marketing. But that has changed now with the rise of social media and search engine marketing, both of which offer a great opportunity for a highly-targeted, sophisticated form of advertising.

While there is clear proof that companies still spend as much as 90% of their marketing budget on outbound activities (according to Hubspot), you can’t deny that the trend is rapidly shifting towards inbound marketing.


  • Inbound marketing gives a better ROI

Inbound marketing gives a far better return on investment (ROI).

According to one study by Voltier Digital, inbound marketing costs 61% less per lead than outbound marketing.

And that difference is projected to further increase in future as people are getting more and more aware of technologies like ad blockers, spam filters, caller ids, and more – all making it tough for traditional advertising methods to work.

  • Inbound leads have a better conversion ratio

Another interesting statistic from Eric Sui at Search Engine Journal is: Inbound leads convert at a better ratio than outbound leads; the close rate of the SEO-generated inbound leads at a staggering 14.6%, as opposed to outbound which generates 1.7%.

One of the main reasons behind this huge disparity is because inbound leads are generally much more qualified; these are the people who’ve shown genuine interest in your product or service.

  • Inbound marketing gives compounded returns

Another problem associated with most outbound marketing tactics is that the moment you stop paying for the advertisements, the results stop too.

But that’s not the case with most inbound strategies. For example, a blog that you write today could help drive potential customers to your website now, and in the future.

  • Outbound marketing results are harder to track

As technology has evolved and more tools are available at our disposal than ever, it has become a lot easier to measure the overall effectiveness of inbound marketing campaigns.

Also, you can make great use of certain metrics like bounce rate, conversion rate, page views, time on site, etc. to instantly get an idea of what’s working and what’s not working.

On the other hand, it’s not always possible to get insights (or results) in such great detail with outbound marketing. For instance, it’s not feasible to figure out how many people read your newspaper advertisement, what they liked and disliked about it, and how you can further improve on it.

If you’re still not convinced that inbound marketing is a superior approach, check out this factual infographic by Voltaire Digital that breaks down the whole inbound vs outbound marketing comparison:

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing (Infographic)

Should You Completely Give Up On Outbound Marketing?

“Should I stop investing in outbound marketing strategies?”, people often ask. Well, it depends on what type of business you’re in.

If you are a small company, you should allocate a majority of your marketing budget to inbound marketing, since it’s less expensive. If budgetary constraints are not a problem, creating a blend of both outbound and inbound strategies is most effective forward.

Either way, inbound marketing should constitute a majority portion of your marketing budget, if not more.

Some Practical Steps to Start Off With Inbound Marketing

“How do I capitalize on inbound marketing?”, you may ask. Well, there are few solid ways…

  •  Create a Google Adwords campaign

One of the smartest ways to leverage the power of inbound marketing is through search engine marketing. Google’s Adwords platform is unique in that it only shows your ad to the people who are highly relevant to your business. And creating a campaign on Adwords is super easy.

  •  Make a list of keywords to target

You should make a list of keywords that are relevant to your business and your target audience searches for in search engines like Google, Bing, etc. These are the keywords that will drive traffic and customers to your website. There are quite a few free and paid keyword research tools available in the market that you can use for that purpose.

  • Generate compelling, quality content

If you want to attract people and build trust and credibility for your business, start creating content that your target audience may find helpful. It could be blogs, videos, podcasts, courses, or whatever that provides value.

  • Market your content

Creating quality content is not enough, you need to actively promote it. In other words, you need to have a solid content marketing strategy in place. There is a reason why marketers are going crazy over content marketing – it seriously works.

Related: 5 Personal Branding Examples That You Should Absolutely Follow

Final Thoughts

Today’s marketing landscape is not the as it was a decade ago, and old hat tactics that used to work in the past may not necessarily work today. While it is true that outbound marketing tactics can still deliver results and ROI, but solely relying on them alone is the smartest of decisions you’ll ever make.

That’s it! If there is anything else you think I should include in this inbound vs outbound marketing comparison post, let me know in the comments section.

Also, you would be doing me a huge favor by sharing this post on Facebook and Twitter 🙂

Additional Resource

  • 7 Essential Inbound Marketing Strategies for Every Startup by Jayson DeMers (Read here)

Related: How to Leverage Outreach Marketing to Promote Your Content

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