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Inbound vs Outbound Marketing | Which Is More Effective?

Ulf Lonegren

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing | Which Is More Effective?

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Water bottle and tire pumpIt’s a dichotomous world we live in, isn’t it?

Left or right-wing, Apple or Samsung, innie or outie.

Some we don’t get a choice in. Others we have a bit more sway over. Either way, it seems nobody wants to be left stuck in the middle. We all want to belong to a tribe of some sort.

So, when it comes to choosing between inbound and outbound marketing, we inevitably feel like we have to pick a side quick or be left out in the cold to fend for ourselves.

“What if I pick the wrong team? Is outbound the right choice for my company? Mike said inbound marketing is the way to go, is he right?” 

Relax. Take a breath. It’s okay.

The age-old inbound vs outbound marketing debate has sparked a few misconceptions and has divided the marketing world into a couple of somewhat hostile Hunger Games-like factions. Both outbound and inbound marketing have their strengths and weaknesses though, and by the end of this article you’ll have all the facts and will be able to pick a side with confidence.

Or even better, dabble in a bit of each.

See how marketers can utilize both inbound & outbound

What Is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing tends to get a bit of a rap these days. Before the concept of inbound marketing came to be, this would have just been considering marketing. So, in many ways, outbound is considered 'the old way' of doing marketing. While it is a little dated, and maybe not appropriate for all audiences, outbound still has some validity.

The ethos of outbound marketing is seen as "throw sh*t at the wall and see what sticks." That’s pretty reductive, and to be honest in reality it takes a little more finesse than that. It's more like "throw targeted sh*t at specific walls and see what sticks." Regardless, you're still throwing sh*t around the place, and there's only a small percentage of the population who are into that.

Perhaps a more savoury metaphor rests in a typical supermarket visit. Outbound marketing is that lady who stands out front of the store handing out coupons for 2-for-1 cans of vegan cat food.

It's interruptive, and it gets in front of an audience whether they like it or not. Traditional outbound marketers use TV and radio ads, billboards, telemarketing, and newspaper adverts. In the digital world, this looks like pop-ups, contextual ads, and PPC search marketing. 

PPC Marketing

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is all about getting your customers to come to you. It’s touted as the “new and improved” version of marketing, and to be fair, it offers many benefits over outbound. For example, inbound marketers create double the average website conversion rate.

Inbound marketers use several tactics to create “valuable experiences,” which align with the customers’ buying process and, over time, build trust in their brand, product, or service. These include:

  • Blogging & Other Content Marketing
  • SEO
  • Email Marketing
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Influencer Marketing


The ethos is this: when people are ready to buy, they’ll know where to find us. It’s like your girlfriend’s best guy mate who you don’t really trust, but she assures you is completely platonic. When you inevitably break up, he’s waiting there in the wings.

Rather than pushing coupons on unwitting customers at the supermarket doors, you’ve created a roadmap to finding your product on the supermarket shelves. And, if you’ve done a good job, they’ll waste precious little time browsing the myriad options on said shelves, and go straight for your free-range, non-GMO, organic cat food, which they already know is far better than that crap the lady out front is trying to hock off.

So, you’re trying to be the company buyers turn to when the time is right. That isn’t easy. As a result, there are a few different types of inbound agencies. In considering which approach is right for your business, you should think about choosing a HubSpot inbound marketing agency.

What's The Difference Between Inbound And Outbound Marketing?

So we know outbound is all about interrupting prospects, and inbound is about being there when the timing is right, but there are some other subtle differences between the two approaches.

Outbound Marketing Inbound Marketing
Goal is to persuade Goal is to educate
Interruptive Permission-based
Attention is bought Attention is earned
Linear growth Exponential growth
Company-focused Customer-focused
One-way communication Two-way communication

Educating vs Persuading

Inbound and outbound have very different goals in mind.

Of course, in the end, they are both about driving leads, but they do it in very different ways. Outbound marketing seeks to persuade, where inbound focuses on educating.

What this means in practice is that outbound marketing says to the customer, “Hey, see this thing. You want it. Let me tell you why.”, and if that doesn’t quite work, then it usually turns to “Please buy it, I’ll give you a discount if you do.” and “All your friends are doing it.”

Sale Example
Outbound Marketing Example

Inbound marketing is about asking yourself the question, “How can I be helpful?”. It goes out and says to the customer, “Hey, you might find this information valuable.”, and then “Oh, you liked that? How about you give me your email, and I’ll send you some more?”. It doesn’t sell. It continues to educate and to provide value until the prospect decides on their own that they need to solve that problem. Then, they turn to you to help them solve it.

Inbound Marketing Example

Permission vs Interruption

Put yourself in your customers' shoes.

Groan. How many times have we heard that? Let's try that again.

Imagine you've died, and you've come back as a demon who chose to inhabit the body of one of your customers' bodies. And we're back in…

Which marketing approach seems preferable to you? A permission-based one, or an interruptive one? I'm going to take a wild stab in the dark and assume it's the prior. 

From the customers' perspective, inbound marketing is much more agreeable. That's because it's customer-centric. It's not about you and all the great things your product or service can do. It's about them and the value you provide to their lives. And that value starts before the point of purchase, well before it.

Before your prospect even knows they have a problem to solve, you're educating them through informative blog posts that are relevant to their industry or interests. Once they realize they've got a challenge, you're showing them how to solve it. And when they're ready to put the cash on the table to address that issue once and for all, they know who to call. The choice is all theirs, and you're permitting them to make it for themselves.


That concept makes some business owners anxious, however. “What if they can’t find me?” they ask. “What if they choose someone else?” These are valid questions, though the answer to both is probably “You didn’t do a good enough job.” 

Either way, outbound marketing does have its place. Sometimes it’s necessary to get up in peoples grills. For starters, it’s an excellent way to make an impact. Granted, it may not build the trust you want in the long term, but on the whole, outbound marketing offers a quicker response from the market. It’s also costlier in the long run, but if you’re a new business, you might consider running some outbound tactics while your inbound strategy gets rolling.

In general, outbound marketing strategies (particularly the more traditional tactics) are a better option for older audiences. You know, the ones that read newspapers and listen to the radio. If your product or service is aimed at this demographic, then interactive video tutorials and email marketing campaigns just might not cut it. 

Outbound Sale

Earning vs Buying Attention

The key difference between inbound and outbound marketing is when your prospect engages with your marketing assets. In outbound, that’s on your time. In inbound, it’s on theirs.

Surely we want it on our time, you’re thinking. Well, the problem with that is that it costs—a lot.

More than twice as much as inbound, in fact.

Outbound marketing is like buying tomatoes at the supermarket. You go in every week, get a bag of 8 tomatoes, and hand over the cash. You know what you’re paying, and you know what you’re getting. Some weeks they cost a little bit more, some weeks a little less, but you know either way you have a cost per tomato each week. That’s buying attention. In the world of search, this is achieved via PPC (pay per click) advertising.

Inbound marketing is more like planting some tomato seeds in your garden. You get some nice soil (a decent website), sew the seeds (implement your strategies), and water them every day (keep adding new content and refining your tactics). Soon you’ll start to see some stalks growing (engagement), and you keep them growing nice and straight with some bamboo sticks (continuously realigning your strategy based on your results). 

In a few months, you’ll start to see some plump, juicy leads coming through. I mean, tomatoes. And, just like real tomato plants, if you take care of them properly, your yield will improve year on year. That’s earning attention. You’ll achieve this in the search engines by consistently working on your SEO.


The kicker is in what that means for your bottom line...

Linear vs Exponential Growth

There comes a time for every company (hopefully) where you can take a holistic look at your product or service and go “Yep, we’ve got it right now. Time to scale”.

You’re probably there right now, which is why you’re trying to decide which type of marketing is best for your business; inbound or outbound. Ultimately, the best choice is what works for your audience, but the two approaches tend to result in different types of growth.

Outbound marketing typically offers a fairly linear growth trajectory, and it correlates very closely with your marketing spending. It works like this:

Let’s say you’re a SaaS company, and you’ve decided to run a LinkedIn InMail campaign. After a month or so of tweaking and adjusting, you’ll have some reasonably reliable metrics that tell you if you spend X, you’ll get Y number of leads. Quite simply then if you double X, you’ll double Y. Obviously, there are a number of other factors that affect this, such as the effectiveness of your ad copy, but the concept stands regardless.

Inbound marketing tactics tend to be more of a long game. You put the money in upfront, develop some decent content assets, invest in search engine optimization, and work on a strong email marketing campaign. 

The likelihood that this investment offers a significant return on investment in the short-term is low. However, as things progress, your company becomes more well-known, and your SEO and blogging efforts bear fruit in the SERPs, you’ll start to see the leads pour in. And it will continue to grow, as your success breeds more success. You’ll begin to be able to leverage earned media such as customer reviews and testimonials, and they’ll start sharing your stuff on social media. Soon, your marketing spend will be seeing crazy ROIs as you reap the benefits of the seeds sown earlier - as much as 80% more after five months.

Company-Focused vs Customer-Focused

When most people think about marketing, they think product-focused marketing. Endless flyers, banners, and billboards that tell you why you should buy this new and improved thing.


This is outbound marketing; it's all about pushing your product or service, selling the features and benefits, and hoping you've hit the prospect at the right time. That seems to make sense, right? How else are your prospects going to know how great you are?

While it is a logical point of view, and one that's served markets pretty well for the last couple hundred years, it does have one fatal flaw: it doesn't align with the customer's decision-making process. This decision generally follows a 3-phase process:

  1. Awareness
  2. Consideration
  3. Decision (Purchase)

First, the customer realizes they have a problem; that is, they develop an awareness of it. As they inevitably come to understand how annoying it is, they start considering their options. Once they've gone through days, weeks, or months of research and deliberation, they'll make a decision and put their money on the table.

At any given time, your company has potential prospects in all three stages. With outbound marketing, particularly in its traditional form, it's a lot harder to align with this buying cycle. In fact, many types of outbound advertising simply throw up an ad with little consideration of the prospect's progression through a buying cycle.

Inbound marketing, on the other hand, is purposefully aligned with the customer buying process. Inbound marketers will use blog posts to target prospects in the awareness phase, webinars for consideration-stage customers, and tactics such as free trials or demos to close potential buyers in the decision making phase.


All the while, they’ll ensure that whatever they produce is customer-focused. That is, it’s helpful, valuable, and doesn’t seek to simply self-promote. For example, a blog post might focus on the pros and cons of feeding your cat vegetables, a webinar might bring in a leading expert on carnivorism to discuss the health consequences of vegan cat treats, or an educational video might demonstrate the domestication of felines over the last 4000 years. None of these tactics are company-focused, yet they demonstrate your knowledge and expertise in the industry, and inevitably build trust in your brand.

One-Way vs Two-Way Communication

Consumers like brands that communicate like actual humans. Funny that.

Well, you don’t see many interactions between humans where one repeatedly yells at the other until they get up and do something. Okay, my parents, but other than that…

This is what outbound marketing is like; there’s minimal opportunity for two-way communication. Inbound marketing, however, is all about it. Inbound encourages prospects and customers to share blog posts with their friends and leave their thoughts and comments below.

This puts the power back in the hands of the customers, and forces brands to be honest, transparent, and genuine. Is that such a bad thing? It turns out it’s a good thing. In fact, brand authenticity was voted the second most important thing to millennials, beaten only by loyalty discounts.

Two-way communication also allows your company to grow. It will enable you to hear back from your customers on what they like (and don’t like) about what you do. It also gives the opportunity to find out why people aren’t buying from you. Plus, over time, you’ll build earned assets as customers leave third-party reviews and recommendations.

Inbound Marketing vs Outbound Marketing - Which Is More Effective?

This is a pretty broad question, and to be honest, it really depends on your vertical and your target audience. For example, it has been shown that inbound marketing helps close deals in the SaaS sales funnel.

Overall though, inbound is typically thought of as the more effective marketing approach. Not only does it offer a lower cost per lead, it generates 3x as many leads as outbound.

The main issue is that people are getting tired of interruptive marketing tactics and are beginning to ignore them:

  • TV ads can be skipped on most devices
  • There are so many billboards in most cities it becomes effortless to block them out
  • Digital banner ads are easily ignored, or shut down altogether with an adblocker

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing Example

Even outbound calling, a staple of many sales teams, is becoming seriously difficult.

That said, outbound might be a better choice for your company if you tick one of these three boxes:

  1. You need fast lead generation
  2. Your buyers are older (65+)
  3. You aren't looking to build a long term relationship

Inbound And Outbound Marketing - Which Should I Choose?

Is outbound the way to go, or will inbound marketing work for you?

In general, inbound offers a stronger return on investment, a better customer experience, and more organic, exponential growth. Chances are then; inbound marketing is the approach you should choose.

If you're a reasonably new company, or you need leads fast, then perhaps consider integrating a long-term inbound approach with some shorter-term outbound activities. That should give you the fast growth you need right now, but ensures you're still future-prepping with a solid inbound marketing gameplan.

If you're struggling to get your inbound marketing strategy off the ground, or you're just keen to have a chat about growing tomatoes, give us a call, we're experts in the area. The inbound marketing area that is.

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Ulf Lonegren

Ulf Lonegren

Ulf is one of the co-founders here at Roketto. His passion shines brightest when tasked with increasing business growth through inbound marketing. If you want to talk strategy, give Ulf a shout and you’re likely to see him spark with excitement.