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Inbound Vs. Outbound Marketing: which one to use in 2024?

Inbound marketing is the practice or methodology of drawing customers into your business. On the other hand, outbound marketing is the practice or methodology of pushing your brand out to your target audience.

These two definitions are quite literally the opposite of each other, but that doesn’t always make it easy when trying to identify a specific strategy or when it comes to creating a marketing campaign based on either one of them.

That’s where this article will come into play. Today, the goal is to help you better understand the difference between these two marketing strategies, some examples, and the benefits of both. Let’s get started with the basics.

Inbound vs. outbound marketing

As I mentioned above, the difference between inbound and outbound marketing is pretty clear on paper. That being said, there are some things that make them stand out from each other when it comes to differences. 

Take a look at the examples below.

Inbound marketingOutbound marketing
Pulls interested customers in.Pushes your message out.
Focused on solving needs.Focused on selling products.
Leaves all channels of communication open.Typically one-way communication.
The audience becomes leads through helpful content.Content is disrupted as it’s being consumed.
Typical channels: Website, blogs, eBooks, social media, SERP, opted-in email marketing.Typical channels: Cold calls (telemarketing), cold emails, PPC and display ads, TV ads, billboards, magazines.

What’s important to note here is that each strategy is useful for a different purpose. Although one company might look at inbound marketing and think it’s too slow for them or see outbound marketing as the wrong strategy for reaching their audience, each approach is useful in some way.

Additionally, many people think of outbound marketing as an offline strategy. While it is true that many of the techniques within the strategy rely on more traditional forms of marketing, this is the 21st century, and everything is being digitized, and automated — PPC, display advertising, and cold emails are a big part of outbound marketing today.

Inbound marketing strategies

The truth is that there are a lot of strategies we could discuss for both inbound and outbound marketing. Depending on your approach, some might be more effective than others. 

Whatever you decide to go with, in order for it to be considered inbound marketing, it has to be focused on drawing the customers to your brand rather than pushing your message out. 

With that in mind, here are a few ways brands big and small have used inbound marketing:

1. Content marketing

Content marketing is huge; there’s no debating that. For years, companies have utilized blogs, social media platforms, video content, and more to draw in customers with organic SEO. That being said, content in the form of blog articles has been and will continue to be a significant player in the inbound marketing realm.

Think about it. A lead has a problem that they need a solution to. How are they going to find it? By searching keywords. If optimized correctly, a blog article with those specific keywords could rank high and grab their attention, leading them to convert.

In this case, and many others like it, no message was pushed to the lead. They sought after a solution and found one. This is the very definition of inbound marketing.

2. Organic SEO

Since we mentioned it above, let’s talk about SEO. SEO (Search engine optimization) is designed to draw in the customer. Anything from landing pages and Youtube video descriptions to meta titles and blog articles can and should be optimized.

Like we discussed above, this helps search engines understand what your content is all about and makes suggestions based on the relevancy of the searched keyword. It may sound complex, and the truth is that it can be, but it should always be the biggest priority for anyone looking to publish something that they want to see online.

Bringing customers to your content based on an organic search will always be more valuable than a paid ad campaign. On the one hand, the user finds your content based on their own needs (or, as marketers call it, “intent”). On the other, the user sees an ad based on specific criteria that they meet. Organic will always be more accurate and, therefore, have higher conversion potential.

3. Organic social media

Speaking of organic, did you know that social media is one of the easiest ways to grow an organic audience? Sure, social media platforms have quickly become the most prominent advertising platforms on the planet, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be done organically.

In many cases, social media messages and accounts are indexed, which means they can be found with some keywords. On top of that, platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn promote specific messages based on the users’ interests. 

4. Email marketing

The key with email marketing is to attract the customer, engage with them, and then nurture them. 

The critical thing to understand about inbound email marketing is that the contact must express explicit interest in receiving emails from you. For instance, they have to sign up for a trial, download a lead magnet, or subscribe to a newsletter form with a clear understanding that they will hear more from you.

This makes inbound email marketing very different from outbound email marketing (also known as cold emailing or cold outreach) aimed at cold contacts that have never heard from you or possibly even your brand.

Tools like Encharge, ActiveCampaign, Mailchimp, and others focus on inbound email marketing and do not allow cold emails or messaging to cold leads in any form.

Here’s how to do inbound email marketing:

1. Attract

First, the lead has to be attracted to your brand and what you’re selling. After all, you don’t want just anyone coming to your website. You want someone likely to convert! The best way to do this is to create relevant content, as we talked about above. Find a niche in your industry, fill gaps in content, or simply cover content and be competitive. The overall goal here is to attract them first.

The goal of this stage is to capture the leads once they visit your website or blog content. When the lead is captured and sent to your email marketing or marketing automation tool, you can start to engage them with your emails.

2. Engage

Now that they’re here, it’s time to engage. 

What’s important here is that you engage them through the channels they prefer, email being one of them. 

But, you can also use chatbots, automatic messaging, and live chat.

With a tool like Encharge’s Flow Builder, you can map out their journey and efficiently decide what emails need to be sent based on their journey stage.

3. Nurture

You can nurture your leads with drip campaigns and targeted messages

The key is to give them only the information they need and not overwhelm them with irrelevant emails. Create content that they enjoy, and then share it with them. If everything is done well enough, the lead might even be inclined to share it.

Of course, there are many ways you can go about these three steps. You could use inbound sales calls instead of emails or even stick with chatbots and surveys. However, as has been proven time and time again, email is always a go-to medium for customers in a multitude of industries.

This is what a typical time-based email lead nurturing sequence looks like:

Click on the image to start with this flow

5. PPC retargeting

Now, you might be looking at this and thinking, “PPC is outbound, is it not?”. Traditionally, you would be correct, but there is another way to look at it.

Think about it like this. According to our definition above, inbound marketing is being somewhere with the answer when someone is looking for it, right? Well, by that extended definition, PPC is indeed inbound marketing.

Using PPC retargeting, you’re able to retarget based on what you know works. This means more conversion and more ROAS. You could look at PPC as a more aggressive approach to inbound marketing, but it is inbound, nonetheless.

You can use Encharge to automatically add or remove inbound leads to your Facebook custom audiences.

Inbound marketing challenges

Although inbound marketing is a great way to get more conversions for your company, it’s not always a saving grace. 

  • Inbound marketing can be time-consuming – With everything we talked about above, you can imagine that inbound marketing takes more time. Not just to perfect, but to implement in general. Regardless, it is still a very viable marketing tactic.
  • Results can take time – In addition to taking time to implement, results will take time to come in, too. For example, when you post an article on a blog, you typically don’t have any actionable results for several weeks, if not months. The organic side of things takes time to grow. Just like a strong oak tree, you’ll have to wait a bit before you can climb on it. 
  • You need the right tools – Admittedly, marketing tools are a lot easier to come by nowadays. That being said, it still takes some time to find the right one. For inbound marketing leads, Encharge is a great example. Encharge can automate the whole customer journey and send hyper-targeted personalized emails to your inbound leads.

Inbound marketing benefits

Let’s face it, the benefits that come with a specific marketing strategy entirely depend on the company and the audience. No one company is the same, regardless of what industry they’re in. That being said, there are some examples of inbound lead marketing benefits that do apply to most situations:

  • Lower costs – It’s incredible when you think about how much money some companies spend on advertising. Fortunately, if done correctly, inbound marketing can save you some money with its more organic approach.
  • Build trust – Building trust is important for any business. When the customers come to you, it instills this layer of trust and confidence in them, which cannot be matched with outbound marketing. Why? Because it’s done organically.
  • Quality traffic means quality leads – Without leads, you have no customer. But, you can have a lead without having a customer. Many companies lose out on serious profits every day because they spend time and money on a lead, and they never convert. On the other side of things, when customers find you by their own will, they are up to 33% more likely to convert.

Outbound marketing strategy

Although some people think of outbound marketing strategies as old-fashioned, it doesn’t always mean they don’t work. Outbound marketing can be just as effective as inbound marketing, depending on the application and execution:

1. Cold emails

The age-long debate of cold emails vs. inbound (a.k.a. solicited) emails.

On the one hand, you can potentially reach a lead that would have never seen your email otherwise with cold emails. 

On the other, with inbound emails, you’re targeting people that have opted-in for your communication and are much more likely to open your emails. Not only does it mean that you’re sending emails to people that found you, but they’re much less likely to send you away to the spam folder by reporting your emails.

However, cold emails have their place in the world of marketing. For instance, cold emails could be a great solution if you need to quickly reach out to an untapped audience and don’t have the time to build up your own audience from scratch. 

It’s critical to understand that if you plan to do cold outreach, you can’t use the same tools for inbound email marketing. If you use a platform like Encharge or Mailchimp for cold emails, you will quickly get suspended, as these platforms do not allow emailing of unsolicited contacts.

Instead, you need a tool specializing in cold email marketing like Mailshake, Lemlist, or Woodpecker. These tools connect directly with your Gmail or SMTP account and use it to send your emails. In other words, your Gmail account is the one sending the emails (not the servers of the tool). When you receive spam reports and bounces, it’s your Gmail account that takes the blow, not the cold email tool. For that reason, these platforms allow sending unsolicited emails and are focused on this specific use case. 

2. Cold calls

We’ve all been there. A random number calls, we answer, and it’s a sales pitch. Cold calls are one of the most used and popular outbound marketing strategies out there. 

However, there are a lot of factors at play. If you catch someone at the wrong time, they could immediately have a flawed conception of your business. Call someone that’s not interested in what you’re selling; then, you’ve potentially wasted your time.

It’s all about balance. Even though it might seem like a wrong approach, many experts agree that cold calling is not dead. What gives it a bad reputation are the poor practices that some less-professional companies put into place. The key is not to inconvenience whoever you’re calling. You are on their time, so use it wisely.

3. Trade shows and seminars

Trade shows and seminars are a great place to meet new people and expand your network. But do they also work for outbound marketing? In short, yes.

Trade shows and seminars can be great places to meet professionals looking for solutions. Solutions that you just so happen to be selling. The most significant benefit in marketing here is that you are face-to-face with the potential buyer. They can get a better sense of who the company is and who you are as someone trying to sell to them. The best advice here is to use your time wisely and always make sure you’re passionate about what you sell. 

4. PPC ads

But wait, weren’t PPC ads an inbound marketing strategy. Yep! PPC retargeting is indeed an inbound marketing strategy. PPC ads for cold audiences, however, are outbound marketing.

The major difference here is that, in this case, you’re advertising to people that are most likely unfamiliar with your brand. They are just another number on your screen, and they may or may not see your ad. Typically, these kinds of ads are targeted towards a keyword. Something like the example below.

Cold audiences are called that because there’s no initiative for them. Meaning they don’t necessarily have a problem. They are targeted based on standardized criteria, and your ad platform singles them out as likely leads. 

This can prove to be effective when you want to expand your audience. After all, plenty of people out there have no idea that your brand even exists. Cold PPC ad campaigns are ideal for those audiences.

Just to shed a little more light on this situation, picture a scenario where you’re sitting there, watching an outdoor hiking video on YouTube, and get an ad for Encharge. These two subjects have very little to do with each other, but you’ll automatically see the ad because you clicked on the video. This doesn’t guarantee conversion, but it does get your brand in front of more eyes.

Outbound marketing challenges

Just like any strategy in marketing, outbound marketing comes with its own set of challenges. Again, these aren’t things that are impossible to overcome, but depending on your goals, situation, and company, they may or may not be worth it. 

  • Difficult to track ROI – ROI can be hard to track when using offline outbound marketing strategies. For example, if you make a cold call, they don’t convert right away over the phone, and then later make an online purchase, there’s no real way to track that.
  • You could be blocked – Spam filters, do-not-call lists, pop-up blockers, and gatekeepers in organizations, are all something to take into consideration when implementing an outbound technique. The truth of the matter is that if people don’t know who’s calling, emailing, or have no real need to see your loosely targeted ad, they can just as easily block you from ever contacting them again. 
  • Expensive and time consuming – It’s no secret that outbound marketing can be expensive, especially when we talk about ads. Setting up a massive PPC campaign for hundreds of thousands of people is risky, and may not yield the result you’re expecting. 

Outbound marketing benefits

The challenge portions of this article aren’t here to scare you. They’re here to provide a balanced view on the subject. With every single marketing strategy currently in place, there will be pros and cons. Although outbound marketing is seemingly riskier, there are some decent benefits to help balance it out.

  • Instant results – Unlike inbound marketing that can take weeks or months for organic results to come in, outbound marketing is almost instant. Think about it like this: With a cold call or email, the prospect will enter the middle or bottom of your sales funnel right away. Yes, there will be times where they don’t convert over the phone or through an email, but the results are instantly measurable as long as they do convert fairly quickly.
  • Easier to target – Cold audience PPC is easy to set and implement. You simply pick a budget, your target ad audience, and let it go. With cold email or cold calling you can target specific companies, and even roles within the companies, instead of waiting for that company to visit your website or read your content.
  • Better brand awareness – You know what they say, no PR is bad PR. There are some exceptions to this, but you get the point. When you implement an outbound marketing strategy, you’re getting your brand in front of eyes that most likely have never seen it before.

Inbound vs. outbound marketing — final thoughts

There are always going to be skeptics of inbound or outbound marketing. The truth is that each strategy comes with its own set of benefits and challenges, and each one has its place in almost every company. The key is to find what works for your business. It’s up to you to test and see what works best. 

One way to approach this is to start with outbound, as it can bring quicker results. Then, gradually implement long-term inbound strategies.

All-in-all, we can boil inbound vs outbound marketing down to two simple descriptions.

  • Inbound marketing is designed to be there and provide the right answer when the customer is looking for it.
  • Outbound marketing meets the customer (regardless of where they are at) with an answer they may or may not be looking for.

If you are looking for a powerful marketing automation platform to automate your inbound efforts and inbound email marketing, make sure to try out Encharge.

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