In the olden days, outbound marketing was called “marketing.” Remember KFC’s “Finger lickin’ good” and Rice Krispies’ “Snap, crackle, pop”? The emergence of the Information Age has created a whole new class of marketing called inbound marketing.
Naturally, this has caused a heated debate in the marketing world – outbound vs. inbound marketing: which is better?
Rather than adopting an either/or approach, it’s time to flip the script on how we approach the answer to this question. You don’t necessarily have to choose between outbound or inbound marketing to hit your KPIs (key performance indicators).
Instead, consider the advantages and disadvantages of both then measure against your marketing goals to uncover the strategy that best suits your needs. There are ways you can effectively blend inbound and outbound marketing to reap the benefits of each.
But before we jump into the pros and cons, let’s start by getting clear on the definition of each marketing strategy.
What Is Outbound Marketing?
Outbound marketing delivers a message to your customer rather than your customer seeking out your message. Outbound marketing aims to reach a larger volume of less-targeted people.
Marketing messages are delivered across multiple channels in hopes that the right message reaches the right person. This has given outbound marketing a bad reputation as a ‘spray-and-pray’ approach. But before the internet, outbound was the best (and only) way to ensure that customers found your brand instead of your competitor's.
Seth Godin refers to outbound marketing as “interruption marketing” in his book, Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends and Friends into Customers, because it involves getting your marketing message to the most people possible using aggressive techniques that interrupt their daily lives.
Everyone has been exposed to TV commercial jingles you can’t get out of your head, flyers stuffed in your mailbox and unsolicited phone calls during dinner.
Common outbound marketing examples include:
The traditional outbound strategy can even be found in modern-day digital forms such as email blasts, banner and display ads, PPC (Pay Per Click), and SPAM (we’re not condoning the use of this one!). Each of these pushes a message “outward” to people rather than attracting them “inward” to it.
What is Inbound Marketing?
Inbound marketing doesn’t feel like marketing because it’s not pushing a “hard sell.” With inbound marketing, you provide valuable content like white papers, infographics and blog posts, all of which are designed to educate and attract your ideal customer.
Inbound marketing also requires you to know your customers at a deep enough level to create content that will engage them--even when they are just beginning to understand their problems and needs.
Seth Godin refers to inbound marketing as “permission marketing” because it’s intended to reach customers who actually want to hear from you rather than sending your marketing messages to people who didn’t ask to hear from you.
Common inbound marketing examples include:
Social media marketing
Organic Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Inbound marketing is an approach adapted to the modern consumer who does 70% of their own research on a product before reaching out to the company to make a purchase.
Now that we’ve clarified the definitions of inbound and outbound marketing, let’s dive into the pros and cons of each.
The Pros & Cons of Outbound Marketing
As we mentioned earlier, outbound marketing has a bit of a spray and pray approach.
Pro: You have an opportunity to put your brand in front of a large audience.
Pro: With some cold hard cash you can be seen by millions, which could bring in new customers quickly.
Con: Outbound marketing can be expensive.
Con: Smaller businesses with tighter budgets may find it difficult to gain traction with outbound marketing.
If you have the budget, there are several pros to outbound marketing:
Targeting people who get their information from traditional sources like TV, print and radio. For example, if you’re targeting people who watch a lot of afternoon television, then it’s a great idea to run ads during the most popular programs in that time slot.
Targeting people who aren’t tech savvy. Many industries like the financial investment sector that have a large older audience can still benefit from outbound marketing.
Targeting people who are in a hurry. Folks that don’t have a lot of time to do research rely on brands they’ve been exposed to through traditional advertising when making a purchase.
Outbound also offers some great opportunities if you’re into multi-channel marketing. Outbound marketing can be integrated with your inbound campaign to provide your customers a seamless and consistent brand experience across all platforms whether IRL or online.
For example, the event marketing industry has combined in-person sponsored events, like conferences, with social media marketing to give attendees a 360 degree brand experience.
Check-in and networking apps, and social media photo booths are some ways they’re integrating the offline with the online.
A Forrester study found that 75% of consumers expect consistent experiences across mobile, social and in-person.
While analytics can teach you about your audience, some believe nothing replaces personal interaction and communication.
Cons: the darker side of outbound marketing:
Expensive. Print or radio ads can be costly. You can spend thousands of dollars on a TV ad, send it out into the world, and then just hope for the best. It’s like turning on a faucet … when you turn it off, the leads dry up.
Not targeted. ROI and KPIs are not always easy to track. How do you know if someone has contacted you because they heard your radio ad or saw your TV ad? Without a corresponding phone number or web URL, it can be difficult to track where leads are coming from.
Often ignored. As our lives are increasingly conducted online, the number of ads we’re exposed to has become overwhelming, with some studies suggesting the average person sees as many as 4,000 ads a day. This has caused ad blindness among consumers, with an ever larger number purposely ignoring and blocking ads.
Intrusive. Launching an aggressive cold-calling campaign might get some sales upfront, but it may negatively affect your brand’s long-term reputation. In fact, entire businesses have been built on the premise that consumers can choose an ad-free experience. For example, part of Netflix’s attractiveness over TV is that its programs aren’t chock full of advertisements.
Today’s consumers are more digitally empowered than ever before. They prefer to seek out information about products and services they’re interested in, rather than having the information pushed upon them.
For many marketers, this means the solution is simple: stop showing customers messages they don’t ask to see. Embrace inbound marketing.
The Pros and Cons of Inbound Marketing
One of the biggest strengths of inbound marketing is that it focuses on providing value to your prospects. Unlike outbound marketing, inbound marketing is not “selling” in the traditional sense.
By providing valuable and educational content like white papers, infographics and blog posts you attract your ideal customer to you. No pushy salespeople or irrelevant ads required.
The main pros of inbound marketing are:
Affordable. It levels the playing field. Smaller businesses can now compete with larger competitors by employing a strong inbound marketing strategy that does not require thousands of dollars to initiate. Even enterprise companies, like Casio, have used inbound marketing tools from Hubspot to reduce marketing costs and drive more qualified leads than simply relying on traditional outbound marketing. According to Hubspot, “Inbound marketing efforts are 62% less expensive than outbound.”
Easy to track. With inbound marketing, information and results are effortlessly recorded. You can see the entire customer journey, from a visitor landing on your site to their purchase.
Targeted. Because inbound is easy to track, you can easily discern which campaigns are working well and which ones need adjusting. Once the changes are made, you can use analytics to explore the impact of your changes on conversions and use the data to improve your site further -- all thanks to AB testing.
In line with the buyer’s journey. Inbound marketing builds relationships between your prospects and your brand. Better still, inbound attracts prospects throughout various phases of the buying cycle, so you’re meeting them at the right time in the right place with the right message.
Despite all the pros, there are some inbound marketing cons:
It requires constant attention. Inbound marketing isn’t a one-time solution. It’s a holistic strategy that works to seamlessly connect your brand’s digital presence. Sometimes marketers can put too much faith in the idea that “if you build it, they will come.”
It requires a diverse skill set. If you do it yourself, you’ll need to know about copywriting, web technology, aesthetics, SEO and SMM. That’s why a lot of companies outsource their inbound marketing efforts to a reputable firm. Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.
Remember, if your content isn’t nurturing buyers at all stages of the buy flow, you could be driving them away.
Our best advice? Experiment, measure, pivot.
Both outbound and inbound marketing have their pros and cons. But rather than having to choose between them, you might find you’re better off striking a balance between the two.
How Inbound Marketing Complements Outbound Marketing
In general, inbound marketing is far more cost-effective and delivers a superior ROI compared to outbound marketing. But ultimately, we’ve found that the best marketing strategy for your business will be the one that works.
A blend of inbound and outbound tends to deliver the best results. Hybrid tactics are becoming the cornerstone of marketing. But don’t panic. We’re not suggesting you have to completely rethink your entire marketing strategy.
At ACT360, we use outbound marketing strategies to boost inbound marketing efforts for our clients.
If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you combine inbound and outbound marketing, or if you’re just curious to hear a second opinion, give us a buzz to claim your free consultation.