Question 8: What's the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

That question has two parts. First is the overt question: What's the difference between inbound and outbound marketing? Second is the implied question: Is one approach any better than the other?

In the simplest of terms, outbound marketing is how you actively seek out prospects, and inbound marketing is how you get them to find you.

Outbound marketing:

  • Cold calls
  • Events/conventions, etc.
  • Direct mail (snail mail and cold emails)
  • Print advertising and online advertising (Google, LinkedIn, etc.)

Inbound marketing (also called "content marketing"):

  • Blog posts
  • Articles posted in digital magazines and industry blogs
  • Twitter posts
  • LinkedIn discussions/groups and posted articles
  • Blog comments
  • Videos and slide decks posted online (YouTube, SlideShare, etc.)

Is One Better Than the Other?

The answer is an unequivocal no. They're different, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

Inbound marketing advocates would likely tell you that inbound leads are "more qualified" than outbound leads. That isn't necessarily true: Just because they found you online via a Google search or a link in an article on an industry blog doesn't mean they are any more ready to buy than the person who received an email from you out of the blue.

Inbound leads are simply "warmer" than outbound leads because they came to you first. They may or may not be actively seeking a solution. You won't know until you capture those leads and put them through the paces of your lead nurture sequence.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Inbound and Outbound

Among the main advantages of inbound are the following:

  • Lower long-term cost per lead (not including the cost of content creation)
  • Potentially higher-quality leads because they may be actively looking for a solution
  • Higher word-of-mouth promotion (sharing content with peers)
  • Potentially more leads over time as you increase ranking for keyword variations

Inbound disadvantages include the following:

  • Needs high content volume (3-5 pieces per week ongoing), which is extremely difficult to maintain
  • Long time to see ROI, taking up to six months to start generating inbound leads
  • Less control over what potential leads see, because they can land anywhere on your website and may miss your primary opt-in offer

Among outbound advantages are the following:

  • Quick ROI and test of nurture sequence (once initial system is developed)
  • Low ongoing content creation costs/time
  • Potentially greater control over targeting (depends on data)
  • Direct leads to landing pages of your choice

Outbound disadvantages:

  • Depends on highly reliable data (costly)
  • Ongoing costs if using PPC or advertising
  • Limited word-of-mouth (sharing across social media, etc.)

Tool You Can Use

Video: Content Marketing and Marketing Automation. This 10-minute video will give you a quick overview of how content marketing (Inbound Marketing) and marketing automation go hand-in-hand.
Question 10: With so much content to create, where do we focus our efforts?

Let's look at content from two perspectives:

  1. Content required to get a lead engaged in a conversation with you
  2. Content needed to nurture the conversation once it's already started

Earlier we outlined the difference between inbound and outbound marketing. Both address the first step: getting leads into a conversation.

Content Needed to Get Leads (Lead Generation)

Inbound marketing requires considerably more content because you have to cover a multitude of angles in a variety of places to get people to find you online. People find you via search engines and social networks. Generally, you'll need 2-3 new pieces of content per week to be effective.

Outbound marketing requires far less content: several emails, a couple of landing pages, and two or three larger content pieces you use as "lead bait."

Thus, your first area of focus is on how you get leads.

Inbound marketing requires a thoroughly thought-out content calendar that's closely managed, uses multiple channels, and has multiple value propositions—i.e., for each channel. Outbound marketing requires only that you have a clear value proposition and know the key sticking points that will get a lead's attention.

Inbound marketing requires more initial and ongoing focus, but it can help you reap tremendous rewards down the road with lower-cost, potentially higher-quality, and more-engaged leads.

Outbound marketing requires less up-front work and a more tightly focused set of content. The up-front costs can be higher, but outbound can give you quicker results and it can reach the roughly 60-70% of your target market who isn't actively searching for a solution.

Content Needed to Nurture Leads (Lead Nurturing)

To focus your efforts effectively in a nurture campaign...

  • Establish a clear and powerful value proposition.
  • Lay out the buying process (cycle) for your customers (one product at a time).
  • Identify the sticking points for each step in the buying process.
  • Create content that addresses each sticking point and allows the lead to move on to the next step in the buying process.

Tools You Can Use

Check out at Kapost's The Content Marketeer blog for some noteworthy posts related to inbound and content marketing. Take a look at the software at Kapost if you're planning on using agencies to create your content for you.

MarketingProfs also has some great content, including the following PRO member resources:

Also, download this infographic that shows how inbound marketing, outbound marketing, and lead nurturing fit together (PDF).

Enter your email address to continue reading

Lead-Nurturing and Marketing Automation: 15 Key Questions Answered (Questions 8, 10)

Don't's free!

Already a member? Sign in now.

Sign in with your preferred account, below.

Did you like this article?
Know someone who would enjoy it too? Share with your friends, free of charge, no sign up required! Simply share this link, and they will get instant access…
  • Copy Link

  • Email

  • Twitter

  • Facebook

  • Pinterest

  • Linkedin


image of Sid Smith
Sid Smith is lead copywriter and marketing automation specialist for Albertson Performance Group. Sid has written on topics ranging from flex circuits to motherhood, but gets a real kick out of putting together the puzzle pieces of complex marketing automation strategies. Reach him via