Inbound vs. outbound marketing: What’s the difference?

Marketing has changed radically over the past few years. As a business owner, are you keeping up?

In our search engine optimized world, if you are not updating your marketing methods, you may be leaving potential new customers and revenue behind.

Here, we are going to explain inbound marketing, how is it different from outbound marketing and when to use it.

Why inbound marketing?

Not all potential buyers in your market are ready to sign on the dotted line today. Active shoppers only make up a small percentage of people during any given week.

Most markets may be divided into five groups according to a customer’s readiness to buy:

3% are actively shopping for your service.

7% are open to deals, but not actively shopping.

30% are aware of a future need for your service, but not ready yet.

30% are unaware of their future need for your service.

30% will never be interested, regardless of future need.

If you only pursue the top 3% of active shoppers with your marketing, you are neglecting the “magic middle,” 67% of potential buyers. This where inbound marketing comes in.

What is inbound marketing?

To reach this 67%, you must understand a fundamental truth. That is, your buyers are not really purchasing goods and services. Rather, they are buying solutions to their problems, and what you sell is simply a means to that end. Therefore, position yourself as an expert with the right solution for your customer’s specific problem.

Inbound marketing is a series of content you create that is designed to accomplish three major objectives: 1) make your business easier to find, 2) attract attention by describing the exact problem your ideal customer is facing and 3) propose a solution to that problem. The content is designed to be helpful, intriguing and easy to share, in contrast to a traditional advertisement or a sales solicitation.

Inbound content may take the form of blog posts, infographics, free reports, videos, seminars, newsletters, sponsorships and dozens of other formats.

It is called “inbound” because the process relies on customers finding your content online via search engines, social media or other sources. Once your customer has moved from the “problem recognition” phase to the “seeking solutions” phase, and has consumed your inbound marketing content, you will have gained enough trust to be placed on the top of their list.

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is the process of identifying customers and marketing to them directly, unsolicited, rather than waiting to be found in an online search. Examples of outbound marketing including advertising (traditional and digital), email marketing, direct mail campaigns, etc.

In most cases, outbound advertising targets the top 10% of the market—those who are actively shopping or open to attractive deals. Depending on where and how you advertise, this method can get expensive, so make sure you manage your budget wisely and track your campaign’s success rate.

If you are selling to other businesses (aka B2B), which are a much smaller and more manageable group, outbound marketing is essential. This method allows you to create highly personalized marketing campaigns that will get the business buyer to notice your valuable solutions and pay attention. If you would like to read more about this strategy, I recommend you look up articles and books on the subject of “account-based marketing.”

The upshot

Inbound and outbound marketing are not mutually exclusive and one method is not better than the other. The key is to choose the right marketing tactics for your audience at the appropriate stage of their “buying readiness.” Ideally, you will want to use a combination of both inbound and outbound marketing in order to maximize your business potential.