Inbound vs outbound marketing – what’s the difference?
local seo optimisation
by Brad Mylne

Bang for your buck: ultimately, that’s what you want from your marketing budget. You want the money you spend to generate leads, which turn into customers, and all for a decent return on investment.  

To get that sought after ROI you’ll have to develop a marketing strategy, and as part of that strategy you’ll need to decide whether to adopt inbound or outbound marketing – or a hybrid of both. But how do you make that decision? How do you know if inbound marketing is right for your business and the markets you’re working in? How do you know if the resources you have, the manpower you’ve got access to and the budgets you can allocate will be sufficient to make inbound marketing a success? Good news, I’m going to give you the answers if you keep on reading… 

What do we mean by inbound marketing? 

The best type of leads are so often the ones that come to your business – whether that’s through their own research or thanks to a recommendation. They’re already ‘warmed up’: they know your offering and acknowledge that they have a need for it. That’s why inbound marketing is all about generating more of this type of valuable lead – leads that are primed and ready to purchase. 

The fundamental principle of inbound marketing is based upon attracting your target audience to your brand – drawing them in like a magnet with content and communications that appeal to them. Inbound marketing then focusses on turning these initial interactions into qualified leads.  

These qualified leads can then be fed through to your sales teams, ready to be nurtured further and deals closed. Your teams don’t waste time endlessly trying to warm up cold leads with no potential. That means more productive teams, with better job satisfaction AND a lower cost per lead.  

But the journey doesn’t stop there – inbound marketing is about helping your business to grow, not just by generating new leads but by helping to retain the customers you have, turning them into loyal advocates of your brand. That’s great for your customer services teams too; they’ll be empowered to genuinely support customers. 

All-in-all that’s one of the biggest benefits of inbound marketing: it has a cyclical effect whereby the customers you generate help to generate more new customers. If you want to learn more about this, check out this blog on the inbound marketing flywheel. 

A common myth about inbound marketing is that it’s only appropriate for some sectors and industries. The methodology can in fact be used for all types of businesses – as long as they’re looking to grow! When you look at the basics of inbound marketing it’s about attracting customers to your business – and that principle can be applied to B2B and B2C businesses, in high value or low value purchase businesses, in all types of industries.  

By contrast, outbound marketing is about pushing messaging out to your target audience, often using more traditional marketing channels. There’s a more scattergun approach – messaging is distributed far and wide, based on the belief that it’ll stick at some point with someone.  

How can you measure the ROI of inbound marketing? 

You might be thinking that inbound marketing sounds great in theory, but does it really bring a good ROI? I’m not going to lie to you and say it absolutely, 100% does – because it’s more nuanced than that. Like any type of marketing, the ROI you’ll get will depend on: what budget you put in; the finer details of your strategy and plan, and how you execute it all (and whether you’ve got the right resources to execute it to the standard needed).  

But I can 100% tell you that it IS possible to measure the ROI of inbound marketing. There are a few ways you can approach it: you can look at the total outgoings of your inbound marketing (salaries, software, ad spend, agency spend etc) and add this up for the total time you’re running inbound marketing. Divide that by the total number of new customers acquired during the given period and you have a cost per customer acquired. You need to know the lifetime-value (LTV) of your customers to then know if this cost per customer is value for money.  

Add in the fact that you can assess the effectiveness of each channel used within an inbound marketing strategy, benchmarked against KPIs to see if they’re hitting expected targets, and you can look at whether inbound marketing is generating the results you need. 

The good news is, if you’re working with an inbound marketing agency then they’ll be able to help you calculate the ROI inbound marketing could bring you. They can help you assess the LTV of customers, set an appropriate budget and allocate realistic – but still challenging – KPIs.  

How does HubSpot fit into this? 

The term ‘inbound marketing’ was coined by HubSpot’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Halligan, in 2005. Since then, the term has been adopted by forward-thinking marketers around the world, whilst the HubSpot platform has also evolved with inbound marketing at its heart.  

The fact that HubSpot has been developed to enable inbound marketing is why it’s become the go-to platform for businesses looking to adopt the methodology. HubSpot has a host of tools designed to make inbound marketing as efficient and effective as possible – for marketing, sales and customer services teams. If you want to learn more about HubSpot, how it works and whether it could help you adopt inbound marketing, then have a read of Cetti’s blog: Could HubSpot be the perfect marketing platform for your company? 

Inbound marketing examples 

Now we know what inbound marketing is and how it differs from outbound marketing, let’s take a look at some practical examples of how it can work:  

Inbound marketing example 1:  

A business recognises it needs to grow its audience, attracting more people into the inbound marketing flywheel. To do this, they focus on improving the search engine optimisation (SEO) of their website: by improving SEO they will see their website appear in search engines more frequently when search queries are submitted relating to their business offering or the expertise and knowledge they can offer.  

To make sure they deliver on their new SEO goals they develop a winning content marketing plan. The plan includes content designed to answer questions their audience are submitting into search engines, using the expertise within their business – this could include creating whitepapers, blogs, ebooks and more. The content pieces can then also be used across other channels, from social media, to email marketing and PR. The key is that the content is on genuine value to the target audience – offering knowledge and insight.  

The content is something the audience is searching for, and not just a hard sales message. The audience perceive the brand as helpful and knowledgeable, so they’re more receptive to reading more from them in future – they’ve entered the first part of their inbound journey with the business. 

Inbound marketing example 2:  

Using social media to engage an audience is another great example of inbound marketing in action. A B2B business could use their LinkedIn platform to share content with their audience positioning them as experts in their field, whilst providing insights and expertise that helps their audience too.  

The content appeals to their audience, by helping them to overcome challenges, gain knowledge or achieve goals. The key here is that the business is utilising their social media platform to continue engaging their audience with the brand through the use of content – the audience is continuing to perceive the brand positively, experiencing more touchpoints and becoming more receptive to learning about the product or service on offer. 

Inbound marketing example 3:  

Inbound marketing, when done well, should also empower sales teams with the customer insights and knowledge they need to forge meaningful relationships, which are in turn more likely to lead to conversions. For example, say a business has launched a whitepaper that provides insight into a new industry trend – that’s something which is genuinely appealing to the target audience. When downloading that whitepaper people are invited to sign up to receive further insights from the business via email. If people sign up, they’re a captive audience for receiving email marketing.  

Using a platform like HubSpot, the sales team can then see data on how those sign ups engage with the emails – you can even use automation to notify sales team when someone has met certain engagement criteria, suggesting they may be ready to speak more directly about a product or service.  

The result? Your target audience is engaged, sees value in your offering and your sales team are able to work more efficiently focussing on warm leads more likely to convert.  

Outbound marketing examples 

The below examples show just how different outbound marketing is – particularly in the initial touchpoints with a potential customer. 

Outbound marketing example 1:  

One of the most obvious outbound marketing examples is telemarketing, particularly when using a bought or ‘cold’ list of prospects.  

Telemarketing to a bought list is, by its nature, getting in touch with prospects that haven’t been warmed up to your offering. You might get lucky and reach a contact who is aware of your business, but chances are you’ll be tackling a ‘needle in a haystack’ situation: you’ll have a long list of potential contacts, but just a few will be the right fit, ready to buy and receptive to the call.  

Outbound marketing example 2:  

Similar to telemarketing, email marketing blasts to paid-for lists or third-party lists fall under ‘outbound marketing’. In direct contrast to the inbound marketing example three above, where the audience has engaged with the business after being attracted to content of value to them, paid-for email blasts simply push a message out to a cold audience. Depending on the quality of the list being sent to, the recipients may not be expecting communications from the business and again, it’ll be a ‘needle in a haystack’ situation.  

Outbound marketing example 3:  

Out of home display advertising is another example of outbound marketing. Whether it’s billboards, digital screens or adverts on public transport, you’re displaying a message about your business to a wide audience (pushing that messaging outwards) – instead of attracting them to your business through the use of content.  

Is there still a place for outbound marketing? 

Now armed with the facts about inbound marketing, you might be ready to get started creating a killer strategy. That’s great! But that doesn’t mean you should throw your outbound marketing strategy out of the window too. Outbound marketing still has its place – particularly when it comes to raising general brand awareness.  

If you, however, are adopting a hybrid approach between inbound and outbound marketing be careful that one doesn’t disrupt the other. Make sure you’re not grouping warm, engaged inbound contacts into top-level, outbound communications – that will disrupt their journey, seem cold and in juxtaposition with the journey they’re already on. You don’t want to alienate contacts that you’ve worked so hard to encourage a feeling of familiarity with. 

Inbound marketing is a powerful strategy for many businesses, but it really benefits from a thorough approach – careful planning and mapping out of predicted ROI, a good balance with any outbound marketing and effective use of tools and resource to make the customer journey as streamlined as possible.  

If you would like to discuss this in the context of your business, assessing whether inbound marketing is right for you, then get in touch with us for an informal chat about what could work. We’re HubSpot Partners but most importantly we’re always in the corner of ‘what’s best for our clients’. We’ll look at what strategy is right for your business – there’s not a one size fits all approach, and that could mean inbound marketing, outbound marketing or a mixture of the two.

The Author

Brad Mylne

Brad is a digital marketing all-rounder. He and Rudi came to MM in 2021 when new business wins meant we needed extra pairs of hands. Based in South Africa, Brad has experience of working client side before joining the world of agency and now runs his own in Cape Town, alongside Rudi. He is an accomplished digital strategist, a great asset to be able to offer our clients. Passionate about inbound marketing and HubSpot, Brad firmly believes – and we 100% agree - that building and using the correct platforms to generate high quality leads, is the starting point for any good marketing strategy or campaign.
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