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Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing: The Ultimate Showdown

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Choose the best marketing strategy for your business by understanding these key differences and approaches

Inbound marketing has skyrocketed in popularity over the past decade. But unlike fidget spinners and hoverboards, it seems like it’s here to stay. Customers are in control, and they are rewarding businesses that connect with them on a personal level and bring something of value to the table.

It’s taking over from outbound marketing, which focuses on the business rather than the consumer. You know when you’re watching TV and a car dealership commercial comes on at 10 times the volume of whatever show you were watching, talking about their amazing selection of used cars with some strange and nonsensical mascot walking alongside the dealership’s owner who seems to be screaming at you to come on down and check out the lot? That’s outbound marketing. Of course, not all outbound marketing is that obnoxious, but these tactics don’t necessarily take into account what the customer wants or needs. It’s all about telling you what the business can provide.

Marketers often pit inbound and outbound marketing against each other as if businesses have to pick one or the other to succeed. As with most things in life, it’s important to have a balance. Understanding the differences between the two strategies will help you understand how to use them in perfect combination.

Customer-focused vs. business-focused

Inbound marketing is focused on the customer and solving the needs and problems of that person. The goal of this strategy is to build a loyal customer base that grows organically through recommendations and great experiences. The only way to do that is to provide them with answers to their questions, solutions to their problems, and valuable information they didn’t even know they needed.

The inbound marketing process is centered around three pillars: attract, engage, and delight. How can the business get the customer in the door (or virtual door if it’s happening online)? How can the business be interesting enough to make a sale? How can the business continue to wow that customer after the sale to encourage reviews, recommendations, and repurchases?

Outbound marketing is focused on telling customers what the business can do for them whether they want to hear it or not and without knowing what their problems are. This strategy is less targeted because businesses are seeking out customers rather than the other way around, which means they have to cast a wide net to hopefully attract a few interested parties.

It’s like going to a bar to meet someone versus using a dating app. The app delivers a list of potential partners based on your interests, personality, and preferences. You can check the app whenever is convenient for you and have a conversation in your sweatpants before having to go out on a real date in actual pants. It’s tailored and targeted to you.

Going to a bar requires you to randomly interrupt strangers without knowing anything about them other than the fact that you find them attractive. Then, you pitch yourself as a partner and hope they find you interesting. It’s not about them and what they’re looking for, it’s about you and what you’re projecting. Apps sound pretty good right about now, don’t they?

Pulling vs. pushing

Speaking of attracting, that’s what inbound marketing is all about, bringing people to you with valuable information and educational content. Customers come to you for your solutions and insights and stay for the sale. They don’t feel like they’re being pitched to every time they interact with you, so they’re more likely to actually do business with you.

Businesses who use outbound marketing are pushing their message out to consumers and waiting for a response. The content is focused on the business and what the business has to offer, not what the customer needs from that business. Oftentimes, these messages try to hit a big target and see what sticks.

Seamless vs. disruption

Inbound marketing tactics are supposed to be like ninjas, silent and deadly. And by deadly, we mean landing a sale. Examples include blogs, social media, case studies, videos, and webinars, among many other things.

The goal is to meet customers where they are so they don’t feel like they are being sought out and sold to in an over the top way. This means creating content that resonates with customers so your website, blog, and social media pop up with the answer when they search for a question. The same goes for videos and case studies.

Outbound marketing is designed to disrupt a customer’s experience so they pay attention to what the business is trying to say. Examples of this include cold calling, TV ads, pop up ads on websites, trade shows, and display ads. Businesses play the numbers game with these tactics, putting themselves in front of as many people as possible and hoping to see a return.

Interactive vs. detached

Inbound marketing tactics try to provide value to the customer while simultaneously connecting with them in a meaningful way. You’ll see this a lot on social media with contests, testimonials, and campaigns. There’s an interactive quality that solidifies the relationship between business and consumer. The trick is to continue creating this experience for every type of customer in your sales funnel so they stick around after the initial sale.

Outbound marketing is a bit more detached. Think about it. You aren’t exactly delighted when your entire screen is taken over by a pop up ad. And you’ve never felt time drag on more slowly than when you’re waiting for a 15 second YouTube ad to end. You don’t normally click-through for more information. Outbound efforts are more about exposure and frequency than engagement.

And the winner is…

The truth is, both inbound and outbound strategies can have a place in your marketing plan. It largely depends on your budget and resources. Inbound marketing requires a heavier time and effort investment to create content for various customer types whereas outbound marketing requires a larger financial commitment to pay for ad placement, production, and design.

Smaller businesses are usually better off focusing on inbound tactics to build up their credibility and attract targeted customers. Larger businesses should do the same but can combine it with a more robust budget to push their message out farther.

Both methods are difficult to track ROI, but it’s important that you try. Pay attention to things like page views, followers, subscribers, and search ranking improvement. These KPIs will give you a good idea of how your strategy is performing.

Up until a few years ago, marketing was like screaming into a canyon and waiting to hear the echo return. Now, you have control over what customers you target, how you attract them, and the story you share about your business. Let us help you craft your story with strategic content that means something. Attract, engage, and delight your customers with a slice of bacon!

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