What is the difference between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing?

Push messages to your audience or pull them to your business. We explain the difference between inbound and outbound marketing.

At Absolutely Write we’re often asked what the difference is between inbound and outbound marketing.

And as a journalist-led business, we’re known for helping business owners see things clearly, not confusing them with complex or fancy language or jargon that raises more questions than it answers.

So we’re going to explain clearly what the differences are between the two different approaches to marketing.

But before we get to that, we’re going to make a very bold claim that will hopefully help your understanding – If your business is doing any marketing now, it’s likely to be outbound marketing.

How can we say this without knowing your business? Well the simple answer is virtually every business in the world (over 99.9%) that does any kind of marketing is doing outbound marketing. They (maybe like you) focus on offline and online (PPC – pay-per-click) advertising, social media promotion, direct mail, email campaigns, sponsorships, events, and many other ‘push’ activities that are intended to raise awareness of the business and encourage their target audience to become customers.

Some of these companies have adopted a strategy of regularly writing blog posts and articles in a bid to ‘pull’ users to their site, but generally this is only a minor part of their marketing focus (and often it is done in a way that doesn’t achieve the results hoped for).

In reality, only a tiny fraction of businesses around the world adopt an inbound-only marketing strategy and do this well. And the reason for this is largely because most business leaders don’t know much about it and no one (particularly marketing agencies) have told them about the benefits.

But it’s not always a case of either outbound or inbound marketing. Some businesses do both, although the balance between the two approaches varies by company, due to factors such as budget and the effort put into each.

So in essence the differences between outbound and inbound marketing are as follows:

Inbound Marketing

  • Sometimes called ‘Content Marketing’ or ‘Magnetic Marketing’ because it is focused on using content to attract potential customers to the business or their website.
  • Is focusing on pulling prospects to the business rather than pushing out messages.
  • Is done well only by a very small percentage of businesses around the world currently, although more are adopting it largely thanks to the ground-breaking book ‘They Ask You Answer’ by former ‘pool guy’ Marcus Sheridan.
  • Inbound marketing methods (or tactics) include any kind of content that pulls potential buyers to a business or their site in a bid to build a relationship with them.
  • Examples of methods used include:
    • Blog posts on company websites – but these must be written to be of value to the reader, not just promoting the company!
    • Question and Answer style articles (these can be created as separate blog posts) – as above, they must be written to be useful to the reader.
    • Video explainers – as above, these can be created as separate blog posts and used to provide answers to questions that potential customers have.
    • White papers / research articles
    • Comparison articles (like this one!) that help the reader understand a subject more clearly.

Outbound marketing

  • Sometimes called ‘Interrupt Marketing’ because it is focused on interrupting the intended audience, like tapping someone on the shoulder at a network meeting.
  • Is focused on pushing a message (or messages) out to the audience.
  • Is the dominant form of marketing used across the world, hence there are numerous companies competing in the same way for the prospective buyer’s attention. This creates a lot of ‘noise’ which generally buyers learn to ignore.
  • Outbound marketing methods (or tactics) include anything that is pushed out by a company in an effort to ultimately generate sales.
  • Examples of methods used include:
    • Online advertising (PPC – pay-per-click / CPC – cost-per-click)
    • Print advertising – in newspapers or magazines
    • Broadcast advertising – on television or radio
    • Billboard advertising
    • Social media promotion
    • Direct mail campaigns
    • Cold-calling / telemarketing campaigns
    • Email campaigns
    • Event sponsorships
    • Other sponsorships
    • Trade shows
    • Networking
    • Leaflets and flyers
    • Discounts and offers
    • Special promotions

When adopting an inbound marketing strategy for it to be truly effective, it is essential that the content produced (whether this is in text form or multimedia) is good quality, impartial, and useful.

Readers quickly turn off (and go elsewhere) when content produced by a company is poorly written, blatantly self-serving, and overtly promotional, but unfortunately most businesses don’t seem to know this and see things like blog posts as just an opportunity to crow about how great they are!

They also typically UNDERESTIMATE the amount of information potential buyers want before making a purchasing decision and OVERESTIMATE the level of knowledge these same potential customers have.

This leads to them using language and terms that only people in the industry understand (which understandably is a barrier for the typical site visitor), failing to provide answers to the basic questions their potential customers have, and assuming that the little useful information on their website is enough to properly inform their audience.

When it comes to your business marketing, think carefully about which approach is best for you.

At Absolutely Write we focus on inbound marketing and ensuring business owners know how to powerfully resonate with their prospects and stand out against their competition without having to spend any money on outbound marketing or search engine optimisation (SEO).

We do this because we believe – based on evidence and experience – that this is far more effective than any other approach to marketing.

This makes us unpopular with many marketing agencies who typically focus exclusively on outbound activities. But we don’t mind this and see ourselves as resisting what’s popular and common in favour of an approach that is far less used and known about but delivers genuinely sustainable and meaningful results.

And to paraphrase a line from a famous film, if you’re reading this, maybe you’re part of the resistance too. 

Read our article ‘What is Marketing’ to learn more.

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