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Inbound Marketing Vs. Outbound - Why Inbound Has The Advantage

Written by Lucy Jones

Jun 3 2016

inbound narketing vs outbound

What is Inbound marketing, and why does it have the advantage over outbound or traditional marketing approaches?

Inbound Marketing Vs. Outbound: What’s Changed?

Imagine the marketing world a decade or so ago.

The digital world of 2005 was a quiet place compared to today’s easily accessible, fast paced marketing landscape. Facebook was just over one year old. Twitter wouldn’t exist until 2006. The BlackBerry, supporting push email, had been around since 2003, but the first generation iPhone wouldn’t be introduced until 2007.

A decade ago, marketing for B2Bs was largely a traditional or outbound process. For marketers to reach consumers, they had to interrupt via direct approaches. But as technology evolved and audiences became digitally savvy, consumers increasingly expected more personalised and relevant messaging.


As a result, interruptive, poorly targeted traditional marketing plummeted in effectiveness, and targeted, persona relevant Inbound marketing grew in popularity.

Understanding Traditional (Outbound) Marketing

Outbound marketing:

  1. Consists of: cold calling, direct mail, event sponsoring, trade show attendance, purchasing marketing lists, print media, TV, radio ads.
  2. Interrupts people and focuses on pushing the final sale - adhering to the business’ defined timescales.
  3. Lacks targeting abilities. It’s generally harder to access specific relevant prospects so campaigns are high cost with low results.
  4. Lacks visibility. ROI is hard to track as marketing and sales are siloed and not aligned - each is unable to/ does not report to the other.
  5. Efforts are increasingly blocked (think call ID, spam filters, do-not-contact lists).

Understanding Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing works to attract your best-fit personas to your website with helpful content, then works to educate and nurture those good-fit leads through to decision.

  1. Consists of: campaigns centered around Buyer Personas, which recognise each unique lead’s purchasing stage, and business challenges. Relevant content attracts quality leads in to your site, then nurtures and converts them to qualified leads, working with sales to ensure only the best leads are prioritised for the sales process.
  2. Works to help and attract people in, rather than going out to sell. Sales activity maps to nurturing and solving buyer problems at a timescale that suits the buyer.
  3. Marketing automation aligns marketing and sales activity for complete visibility, accessible lead data and clear ROI tracking.
  4. Works with the way people research and purchase today, using the digital channels your target market are active on (search, industry blogs, social channels etc).
  5. By targeting prospects who want your help to solve a challenge, your marketing content has added relevance, is not ignored, and builds trusted buyer relationships.

Why Does Inbound Have The Advantage?

Outbound Tactics Are Being Seen As Overrated

Outbound tactics like paid advertising (from print ads to broadcast) are increasingly being viewed as overrated when it comes to securing ROI.

Inbound Can Be Implemented In Conjunction With Current Outbound Tactics For A Smooth Transition

Of course switching to Inbound is not an instant process. You need to be able to calculate ROI, secure and allocate budget, and take the time to implement a campaign. Likely because of this, larger companies (with larger budgets) tend to use both outbound and Inbound tactics, and companies with 200+ employees split Inbound and outbound marketing strategies equally:


Inbound Tends To Be Achievable At A Lower Investment Than Outbound

The level of investment Inbound campaigns require will vary, but in general it tends to be less than a full outbound campaign. As a result, Inbound is the preferred marketing method for all companies that spend under $5M annually on marketing. Organisations who spend less than $100,000 on marketing annually, are four times more likely to practice Inbound than outbound.

As another example, see this graph from the Luxus Drafthorse Content Production Benchmark report, comparing the marketing cost and complexity between traditional marketing aproaches (blue), and more a more Inbound-style marketing automation approach (orange):

inbound vs outbound content complexity graph

Inbound Prioritises Marketing and Sales Alignment, Making ROI Easier To Track

Organisations who use Inbound tend to achieve higher ROI than those using outbound methods, and this holds true across different company sizes and budgets. According to the State of Inbound, each company surveyed was three times as likely to see a higher ROI on Inbound campaigns than outbound, regardless of marketing spend.

With Inbound, it’s also easier to track ROI as marketing and sales teams are aligned. Working to ‘close the loop’, Inbound sales teams are enabled with marketing’s data to gain a better understanding of a lead’s history. Equally, marketing can use sales’ insight to adjust activity, and inform marketing asset creation.

Inbound Works Across The Board

B2B, B2C, not-for-profit - Inbound works for all company types. As of 2015 Inbound was also 3x more popular than outbound, regardless of region.


Why Inbound Has the Advantage as Today’s Solution

How do people buy today? Online research is integral to today’s decision and conversion process, and Inbound has been created to align with that buying approach. By understanding exactly who the buyer is and building a campaign that resonates with their needs, Inbound attracts relevant, genuine interest.

Outbound and Inbound are marketing opposites. Where the first goes out to demand attention but lacks targeting, the other works to earn relevant attention and is targeted to a select few. So while a balance of both may be preferable for those starting out, to really succeed in the marketing landscape of 2016 and onward, adopting an Inbound approach is the answer for quality leads, increased and tracked ROI and long term success.

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