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Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing: What’s the Difference?

There are more ways to connect with your customers than ever before—and not all of them require reaching out to them directly.

Marketers use “outbound” strategies to target prospective customers directly, such as keyword, display, and social media advertising and cold outreach, in combination with “inbound” strategies like content marketing and organic SEO.

Best-in-class brands use a combination of inbound and outbound marketing efforts to capture and nurture new sales leads. In this article, we’ll look at the difference between the two methods and how to incorporate them both effectively in your marketing strategy.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing refers to marketing in which your customers find you organically, through content that you’ve created to attract and engage them.

Typically, this refers to written, audio, and visual content, such as landing pages, blog content, research reports, ebooks, whitepapers, infographics, videos, podcasts, and other forms of content marketing that draw the audience in. Such content may incorporate your brand, but generally, the goal isn’t to promote or sell your products—instead, it should focus on using your marketing personas to understand each customer’s unique pain points, and developing content that addresses them.

For instance, if your brand is a mattress company, rather than promoting content that spotlights your mattress’ cooling technology, you might focus on developing a content marketing strategy that’s centered on helping your customers get a better night’s sleep. The content can incorporate sleep tips from scientists, and strategies to help customers build better habits for winding down at night. Think: top-of-funnel and mid-funnel marketing.

These pieces of content may not showcase your products upfront, but that’s actually a positive for customers who are still in the early phases of researching brands. By focusing first on building a relationship with them and solving their pain points (lack of sleep, for instance) with product-neutral content, you’ll build trust with your customers in your earliest interactions. Now, they’ll be more primed to buy from you at the point that they are ready to make a purchase.

Because of the non-salesy nature of inbound marketing, the content created can also be highly shareable. Your customers and prospects might promote a helpful article on sleep tips on their own Facebook accounts, helping you reach an even broader audience.

And, because you’re creating content related to the problem that your brand solves, you’ll be able to incorporate keywords relevant to your audience’s pain points. Then, when they go searching for answers on Google, your content will be more likely to pop up.

Inbound marketing is a powerful strategy for building trust in and familiarity with your brand, that you can then utilize to nurture your leads through the entire sales cycle. By using inbound marketing to generate new leads who’ll sign up for your newsletters and blog updates, you’ll have a large contact list to work with.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing refers to more traditional marketing tactics in which you reach out to your prospective audience through various methods. This might include strategies such as signage (billboards or in-store displays), linear TV or OTT ads, radio ads, cold calling, cold emailing or calling, trade show booths, direct mail, and digital advertising.

In contrast to inbound marketing, in this case, you’re focusing on promoting your solution, and, because you’re reaching out to your prospects directly, you’ll need to make the best possible impression in limited time and space to encourage them to give you a try.

This might mean delivering an enticing promotional offer, such as a “40% off one item” coupon, to all households within a certain zip code. Because the zip code fits both your demographic and geographic profile, this community is a good bet for targeting. You also know that once a customer has purchased from you once, they’ll be in your customer database so that you can remarket to them and continue to build trust and brand familiarity.

Building an Inbound and Outbound Marketing Mix

To deliver the best results in marketing, it can be helpful to develop a hybrid approach, combining both inbound and outbound marketing. You can use outbound marketing to identify people within your target audience and scale your customer base by advertising to them, whether through digital advertising, direct mail, or other forms of media. This can help you cast a wide net to reach as many people within your target market as possible.

When a customer responds to your outbound marketing efforts, whether by making a purchase or just visiting your website, you can nurture the lead and continue to build brand trust.

For example, you might start out by setting up a social media campaign offering 30% off sitewide for your cosmetics brand. You know that your target audience is women 40-60, so you set up targeting criteria to segment women within that age group and your target income bracket who have previously expressed interest in makeup brands.

While only a small fraction of your audience may make a purchase immediately, a larger portion of the audience is likely to fill out a form to get the coupon, which means they’ve signed up to receive your inbound marketing content, which could, for example, include emails with daily makeup tutorials. They might continue viewing your tutorials over a period of weeks and months, until they’re eventually ready to make a purchase.

It can also work the opposite way, by using outbound promotional efforts after you’ve obtained a lead through inbound marketing. Your brand might develop a sophisticated content marketing strategy that regularly generates new customer leads through SEO and whitepapers. In that case, a new customer might discover your brand because they saw their friend share your latest makeup tutorial. When they sign up for updates of their own, they’ll begin receiving the daily makeup tutorials, but your brand can also develop sophisticated cross-channel outbound marketing campaigns to encourage them to make a purchase, sending out promotional offers via email, push notifications, SMS, your app, and even direct mail.

The most effective strategies will combine a mix of inbound and outbound marketing tactics to give customers the tools to make the choice to buy when it’s the right time for them. By combining an educational stream of nurture content (inbound) with targeted promotional offers (outbound), you’ll be able to build strong relationships with your customers to help them convert without friction. And, by leveraging cross-channel marketing strategies to create a seamless customer experience, you’ll be able to engage with your customers when and where they prefer.

Iterable is a cross-channel marketing platform that powers unified customer experiences and empowers marketers to create, optimize and measure relevant interactions and experiences customers love. Leading brands, like Cinemark, DoorDash, Calm, Madison Reed, and Box, choose Iterable to power world-class customer experiences throughout the entire lifecycle. Discover our growth marketing solutions for personalization, increasing customer engagement, and more. Discover our platform and schedule a demo today.