Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: What is better for your business?

Long gone are the days when outbound marketing reigned supreme. Now, in an increasingly digitized era, inbound marketing has steadily become the new digital marketing darling. However, some outbound practices have remained; they adjusted, adapted to the new reality, and continue to see use. So, you may wonder – inbound vs outbound marketing, what is better for your business? We at Digital Dot have explored the merits of both before, so let us use this article to weigh in on that debate.

Inbound vs outbound marketing: a settled debate?

First things first, let us begin with a strong assertion; outbound marketing is by no means dead. Indeed, modern consumers actively frown upon many outbound practices. Yes, inbound marketing generally fits much better into Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and robust content strategies. And yes, inbound marketing is much more popular, as DigitalMediaStream finds:

A graph on how many organizations across different countries "primarily conduct inbound marketing".

However, those facts and digital marketing trends do not mean that outbound marketing is dead. There would be no inbound vs outbound marketing debate otherwise, right?

Consider Justin McGill, the founder of LeadFuze, for example. He found tremendous success using cold emails, reaching a massive $30k in monthly recurring revenue (MRR) within 12 months. Neil Patel, who we will cite below, found similar success with outbound marketing – though, notably, when done right.

So, what are the benefits of each, and how can you choose what is best for your business? Let us explore both to find out.

Outbound marketing: the “push”

First, let us briefly examine outbound marketing. Labeled the “push” approach to marketing, it seeks to push its message onto audiences instead of attracting them to it. To do so, it traditionally involved such advertising platforms and practices as:

  • TV commercials
  • Billboard and printed ads
  • Cold calls

In the digital age, these practices have evolved to such new, digital forms as:

Now, you might already suspect why modern audiences may frown upon these practices. The truth is, they are often disruptive; they “push” your message out there, instead of “pulling” audiences to you. Wordstream defines outbound marketing a bit more leniently, as “any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience”.

An illustration of inbound vs outbound marketing tactics.

Still, it’s not without its benefits. The 3 most notable ones, in no particular order, are:

  • Faster results. Inbound marketing takes more time, effort, and overall investment. With outbound marketing you hit the ground running, and see immediate results.
  • More measurable. Inbound marketing, especially when (rightly) grounded in SEO, is notoriously harder to track. PPC is much easier to track, and may still be fueled by your SEO insights.
  • Easier targeting. Finally, especially in the case of local outbound marketing, it’s much easier to target audiences that are likely to engage.

That said, there’s always the disclaimer; outbound marketing needs to be done right. That often means to have it align with inbound marketing for optimal returns. Think audience segmentation, Landing Page Optimization (LPO), email automation, and so forth.

So let us explore the alternative – or rather, the fitting partner – before concluding on what is better for your business.

Inbound marketing: the “pull”

Inbound marketing, in contrast, is the “pull” approach to marketing. That is, it takes the customer’s journey into account, and seeks to “pull” them in by addressing their pain points. That’s typically achieved through valuable content that caters to each stage of the customer journey, which is why SEO is so crucial to inbound marketing. SEO aside, inbound marketing includes, among others:

  • Warm emails
  • Blogging
  • Content marketing

Yum Yum Videos explains inbound marketing, and its underlying appeal, in the following video:

So, what does inbound marketing offer that outbound marketing does not? Its 3 main benefits are:

  • First, inbound marketing caters to each visitor’s journey and search intent. It thus offers a much more personalized experience, which typically incites more engagement.
  • Then, and perhaps most crucially, it constitutes marketing the audiences have consented to. That translates to better open rates, click-through rates, and overall effectiveness.
  • Finally, because of these factors, inbound marketing is generally more effective, as the above findings have also shown. It may take longer and be less easily measurable, but modern audiences prefer it – and it shows.

Nonetheless, inbound marketing is not the uncontested winner here. Or, put differently, it may not be what is better for your business specifically.

Inbound vs outbound marketing: what is better for your business?

So, both have demonstrable merits, despite the popular appeal. What’s more, the two can synergize. For example:

  • Keyword research can inform your PPC campaigns. Should you find your SEO can’t let you rank for some coveted keywords, PPC can target them instead.
  • Audience analytics can inform your cold emails. When this option exists, “warm” and “cold” are a matter of degree.
  • Each can attract different audiences. There’s no better example of this than different age demographics; attracting older, less tech-savvy audiences may hinge on outbound marketing, whereas younger internet natives will typically need inbound tactics to entice.

Finally, both will frequently converge under the same tools. For example, Neil Patel identifies the pivotal role of lead scoring for both:

Illustrations of two funnels, one blue, one orange, named “outbound marketing” and “inbound marketing”.

 

What’s more, he too argues for engaging in outbound marketing in the “right way”. In many cases, “[i]t’s a great complement for your inbound marketing and an excellent way to grow your brand”.

Deciding on either – or both

So, all that said, you may not need to decide between inbound vs outbound marketing. Rather, you may need to decide on the degree to which you use each, and how each serves your goals. You may deduce this degree, and what is better for your business overall, by considering the following questions:

  • What are your goals? One of the other may better serve your short, medium, and long-term goals. Consider each individual campaign’s needs, and determine whether the benefits of one or the other serve them best.
  • What is your budget? Similarly, consider your budget. Inbound marketing requires a solid SEO foundation and a robust content strategy, which may strain your budget to solidify. Outbound marketing is much more affordable, and may suit your short-term goals better, but boasts less long-term effectiveness.
  • How will either reflect on your brand? Finally, as a matter of degree, consider how either will affect your brand’s image. Is either a mainstay in your industry and if so, to what degree?

Still, overdoing it with aggressive outbound marketing will typically not be the best course of action. Both revenue-wise and image-wise, “going inbound” with your outbound strategies should be the safest, future-proof approach. The exact degree will still depend on your unique business and campaign needs, which is why nobody but you can ultimately decide on it.

Conclusion

To summarize, there is no clear-cut winner in the inbound vs outbound marketing debate. Rather, both have their strengths and weaknesses, and the two can synergize – as many marketers will suggest. Therefore, what is better for your business will ultimately be up to you to decide. Yes, inbound marketing may largely pave the way forward, but outbound marketing still has its place in the digital era. Moreover, the two both overlap and complement each other, so a case-by-case combination may best address your needs.

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