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Before the days of the Internet, marketing was pretty straightforward. There was inbound and outbound marketing, but it was simpler in those days. Inbound was a much smaller arena that consisted of word-of-mouth, client referrals, and media relations. As the Internet and social media have assimilated into daily life, inbound marketing has grown in significance and complexity.

inbound vs outbound marketing

There are constantly evolving new layers of complexity. It is understandable why the differences between outbound vs inbound marketing have become a point of confusion.

In many ways, the lines between the two approaches are less defined as companies and organizations have learned to develop them together. Both styles are valuable and relevant. How and when to use each approach is a matter of message, need, and intent.

Inbound marketing vs outbound marketing: what does it all mean?

In very simplistic terms, they may be defined as:

Inbound marketing is about drawing consumers to you through engagement. It is called inbound because it is about bringing the customers “in.”

Outbound marketing is about drawing consumers to you for advertising. It is called outbound because it is about sending a message “out.”

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing: Differences and Similarities

Both approaches intend to build a business or organization by expanding market share, customer base, and brand recognition. Beyond that, both approaches have these similarities:

  • Both have the objective to generate leads, interest, and sales.
  • Both require resources of one kind or another.
  • Both approaches result in awareness of a brand or business.

Now here is where it gets interesting! There are specific differences between the strategies and results.

Inbound Marketing Outbound Marketing
  • The objective is to generate interest and draw the people to you based on engagement and resonance.
  • The objective is to publicize your brand and draw people to you based on a hook, promotion, gimmick, or sale.
  • Even when it is inactive, inbound marketing will continue to draw leads.
  • Outbound marketing only draws leads when it is active.
  • Paid advertising is not necessarily a part of inbound marketing.
  • Relies exclusively upon paid advertising of one kind or another.
  • Tends to result in slower, but sustained expansion, long-lasting relationships and customer advocacy.
  • Tends to results in a short period of rapid expansion; creates a few loyal customers that stay on long-term.


Resources for Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing

Make no mistake about it:  just because outbound requires paid advertising and inbound does not, it does not mean that inbound marketing requires no resources. Both approaches require resources of one kind or another. Both strategies also require clear brand image and message.

Inbound Marketing Resources

This type of marketing requires people power, and a lot of it. First, you have to develop a social media strategy – which entails deciding where to engage, how to use each platform, and messaging for each environment. Then, you need content producers and content managers. This includes copywriters, editors, graphic designers, and PR representatives. Finally, you need people to monitor the channels and engage the leads/responses.

To sum it up, you need creative people on staff or contract to create and distribute content, respond, and convert responders into leads. Since inbound marketing is about engagement, it requires an ongoing process of intuitive content creation, promotion, responsive engagement, and conversion.

Outbound Marketing Resources

When comparing outbound vs inbound marketing, outbound is somewhat “hands-off.” You only need people power to create the hook, write the message, create the media and handle the subsequent inquiries. You also need money to buy advertising space. This approach is defined, limited, and decisive. It is not an ongoing process; rather it is a series of campaigns and initiatives.

Resources Needed for Both

Besides the fact that both approaches rely on clear brand image and message, they also share these two resource needs:

  • Ability to track conversions – which is easier to calculate with outbound vs inbound marketing.
  • Understanding of SEO – keywords are critical to both inbound and outbound marketing reaching the right people.

Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing: Bringing them together

In 2013, it is not a question of which is more effective, but rather how well can you make them work together. Companies that rely on one approach or another tend to fail at worst and miss opportunities at best. Consumers are changing. They prefer to seek out information rather than have it – for lack of a better term – crammed down their throats.  Invasive marketing is out. The name of the game is engagement.

Companies are learning to bring them together. An example of this is when a call to action in a television ad asks people to visit Facebook to vote on a new flavor, share a picture, or learn how something is made. Another example is when a print ad contains a QR code that sends consumers to a blog post, social media based contest, or white paper.

Bringing them together is why it is crucial to start with a clear brand image and message. This way, when they are designed to work together, there are no gaps created by inbound marketing vs outbound marketing. Rather, it comes off as one seamless message.