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Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: Full Breakdown

Table of Contents

The difference between inbound and outbound marketing

Inbound marketing is marketing where you’re pulling potential customers in to you. This is usually done by creating valuable content to attract the attention of your target audience.

Here are examples of inbound marketing activities:

  • Content marketing
  • Search engine optimization (SEO)
  • Social media
  • Word-of-mouth

Think of these channels as putting bait out and waiting for people to bite. You put great content out into the world and hope that people gravitate toward it when they see it.

Outbound marketing, in contrast, is marketing where you’re pushing a message out to prospective customers. This is generally what you think of as the traditional marketing approach.

Outbound marketing channels can include:

  • Direct mail
  • Online ads
  • TV ads
  • Radio ads
  • Cold outreach

Think of these channels as intercepting your audience’s awareness. You’re waving a flag trying to get their attention.

A complete marketing strategy includes both inbound and outbound marketing campaigns. They work best when used in conjunction. Outbound tactics can bring quicker results while an inbound strategy can deliver higher quality results because people are coming to you on their own after they’ve appreciated your quality content.

Let’s take a look at how to best leverage inbound and outbound marketing.

Types of inbound marketing

Content marketing

Make something of value that attracts the attention of potential customers. Entertain them and show them how competent and authoritative your business is in the process.

Content marketing can include:

  • Blogging
  • Webinars
  • Podcasts
  • E-books
  • Guides
  • Videos

By giving away high-quality, relevant content, you have a chance to build trust with your audience. Then later, when it’s time for them to buy a product like yours, you may still be top of mind.

Content on its own won’t attract attention. You need to drive traffic to it for people to appreciate it. Search engine optimization (SEO) is one way to do that.

Search engine optimization (SEO)

Potential customers Google keywords related to your products every day. SEO is how you rank at the top of Google for those keywords.

There are a few things you should keep in mind about SEO:

  • The process of search engine optimization isn’t an exact science. Results aren’t guaranteed.
  • It can take months or longer for your website to rank for competitive keywords.
  • It’s a zero-sum game. Meaning there are only 10 results on the first page of Google. Not everyone can win. Your content needs to be fantastic.

It’s a long-term game. But once it works, people never stop finding your content, and it costs you nothing.

SEO should almost always be considered a part of your digital marketing strategy.

Social media

Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and other social media platforms are sometimes worthwhile opportunities to grow your online following.

The most sustainable way to grow a social media following is by consistently putting out valuable content and engaging with your audience. You’ll show that you reliably make their lives better, and as a result, people will connect with your brand.


The best way for someone to hear about your company is from a friend or co-worker. People do business with people they trust.

By going above and beyond for your customers, they’ll be delighted to talk about you to their friends. As one example, Wine Library TV once sent a Jay Cutler jersey to a customer who was a big Chicago Bears fan. The following week, a different customer placed an order 40x bigger because of his friend’s surprise gift.

You can spark conversations between potential customers by doing something worth sharing about.

Types of outbound marketing

Direct mail

The coupons, magazine subscriptions, and credit card offers you get are all forms of direct mail. Older demographics are more likely to respond to physical mail than younger ones, which is why this marketing technique works well if you’re targeting older audiences. It can also work for smaller impulse buys where a sample can be easily shipped. Also, local businesses can add a personal touch to their mailings by hand-delivering letters to nearby customers.

Sending marketing materials in the mail is expensive. If your marketing budget can’t afford to pay $50 per customer, direct mail may not be worth investing in.

TV and radio ads

These can be effective for local businesses advertising to local customers. But unlike online marketing efforts, you don’t know exactly how many people bought your product after seeing or listening to your ad. So the challenge with TV and radio ads is measuring their impact.

You could use a unique link in your advertisement that people can visit. But most people will just Google you after seeing the ad, and you won’t know where they came from. Poor attribution makes it hard to know where to spend your money next time.

Cold outreach

This is one of the cheapest forms of outbound marketing, and often one of the most effective for B2B companies in particular.

There are lots of ways you can perform cold outreach:

Cold emails

A personalized email from you to a potential client in your target audience.

Social media

Responding to someone’s tweet complaining about their cable bill can work well for your competing media streaming service.

Cold calling

This can sometimes be used strategically for a personal touch, but is often harder to make work. Telemarketing tends to work better for older audiences.

These methods are often effective but time-consuming. The nice thing is it costs you $0 to get started.

Need help growing through outbound? Our ads agency can do exactly that for you. We've grown over 100+ startups with paid ads.
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He leads sales and partnerships at Demand Curve, and has given advanced growth workshops to thousands of early stage founders worldwide.

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