Inbound marketing vs outbound

If I tell you that there are two types of marketing in the world, would you agree? It might be oversimplified in saying so, but if you think about it, there are only two marketing approaches that we, marketers or consumers deliver or receive. And, those approaches are either outbound or inbound. This concept is marketing 102 because it’s slightly more than just a basic. It is because understanding the differences between inbound marketing vs outbound determines the culture of your company.  

Outbound Marketing

Let start with outbound marketing because it’s easier (by easier, I don’t necessarily mean better, and we will find out later). When you do outbound marketing, you apply a mass marketing mentality, which means you don’t understand your customers well either because you don’t have data or you don’t have times (I try to avoid the word ‘lazy’). You just blast your messages out and hope some will stick. As you can imagine, this approach usually is expensive and unpredictable. Outbound marketing could be in forms of TV advertising, email blast (underscore the word ‘blast’), billboard, telemarketing, and more. The worst kind of outbound marketing, in my opinion, is cold calling, which is done in a way that a company buys customer data and calls those data to sell products or services. Outbound marketing has a tendency of being intrusive, annoying, and easily blocked by today’s technologies. 

I used to work in a company that focuses solely on outbound marketing. The company has a big outbound call center. My marketing routine was all about lead generation. Why? It is because leads are the lifeblood of the call center. The culture of the company that dictates every conversation was all about lead quantity. Our days were all about having new lead generation campaigns every week or month. Success was determined by the number of leads and the lowest cost per lead. When the performance was terrible, a lead conversion rate was brought up. The problem was how you could expect high conversion when you only drove things by financial incentive. 

Outbound call center

If you happen to work in an outbound marketing company, you have to set your expectation right. Your focus is on lead generation. You have to deliver quick results. Do not expect to get anything from branding or customer engagement. You don’t have the time to engage with customers. The company and the call center expect new, or ‘fresh’ leads from you daily. Also, you should monitor call center performance very closely. If their performance is bad, you can expect blame on lead quality. It’s funny when you think about it. In order to get lead quantity to feed the call center, you have to incentivise people to give their contact detail. In a typical lead generation campaign, you have a short online form that captures name, phone number, email address, and consent. And they expect quality from this practice.    

Let I remind you again that this post is about the difference between inbound vs outbound marketing. I explained what outbound marketing is. The picture below from WordSteam summarises the differences well. If you want to know more, I suggest you read this article from Hubspot. Hubspot is a pioneer of the inbound marketing term. They are an expert in this area. 

We will look into inbound marketing next. 

inbound marketing vs outbound
Image credit: WordStream

Inbound Marketing

What about inbound marketing? It’s a much harder approach, because it requires you, a marketer, to do a lot of homework. And most importantly, this approach doesn’t use a quick (financial) incentive to generate customer’s interest. Inbound marketing tends to create long-term benefits for companies because it takes time to build a relationship with customers. How to do inbound marketing then? On a high-level, inbound marketing involves the below activities:

1. Understand your customers: it means you know who your customers are, and what pain points they have. 

2. Coming up with a content plan: yes, that’s right, with inbound marketing, you offer your product or service as a solution through content. By content, it could mean blog posts, infographics, videos, whitepapers, etc. 

3. Design a customer interaction plan: this step is about designing a customer journey on how you want the content to be consumed. There are two activities you need to consider here. 

Activity 1: Generate interest through awareness. You need to think about how to make your potential customer aware of your product and solve their problems. There are many online activities that you could do, e.g., SEO, SEM, Adwords, social media ads, etc. 

Activity 2: Create a series of content journeys and interactions through a workflow. Remember, some customers might not know about your solution. Therefore, you might want to have, for example, a 5 step email activity starting from telling your potential customers that you understand their pain with the 5th email ensuring them that your product can solve their problem. The gist here is not to just send a sales message in the first interaction. You don’t ask someone to marry you on the first date, do you?

Below is the famous, high-level inbound marketing concept from Hubspot.

Inbound marketing flywheel
Image credit: Hubspot

What if cold calling is your company’s thing? 

What do you thing about inbound marketing vs outbound so far? Let admit it. It wouldn’t be easy to switch from cold calling (the worst form of outbound marketing) to do inbound marketing. However, if you don’t want to extinct, you need to find a way to do inbound. If not, more and more customers wouldn’t talk to you. The only way to do this from my experience is to start small (in Blue Ocean term – atomization). Below are a few useful steps that might help:

1. Choose a program or a campaign that is not working that you have tried to make it works for a long time. If you use cold calling, chances are the campaign is not working because people don’t want to talk to you. 

2. Educate your team about the inbound philosophy. You can just explain that “inbound doesn’t necessarily mean customers call you. Inbound actually means people want to talk to you. It could be in the form of outbound calling, but customers are waiting to receive a call from you”. That is what I call the inbound philosophy. 

3. Write down descriptions of your potential customers (aka personas). Are they a family with two young kids that both husband and wife work? Or are they a young couple in the late 20s? 

4. Write down your customer’s pain points that relate to your offerings. 

5. Create 3-5 content in forms of blog posts, videos, infographics, etc. 

6. Design a content journey – a step-by-step of how you want your content to be consumed. 

7. Start with online ads with a small budget, e.g., $500/month. Get people to give you consent to contact them through emails in exchange for downloading your content. 

8. For those who provide email consent to you, put them through the rest of your content journey. Remember, you can ask them to marry you in the final step. 

I hope this post helps you understand the difference between inbound marketing vs outbound. Inbound marketing is the future. It’s not optional anymore. To be successful in inbound marketing, it requires a culture shift, a commitment, and sacrifice. It’s the only way to avoid extinction. 


Strategy in Bytes helps businesses create differentiation marketing strategies to  drive growth and increase profitability.

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