Outbound Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing (Plus Definitions)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 14, 2021

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When marketing a product, a successful campaign strategy can increase profits and gain customers. Outbound and inbound marketing are two different approaches that marketing departments take when advertising a product for the first time. Learning more about these marketing tactics and the differences between them can help you better understand when and why you may use them. In this article, we explain the differences between outbound and inbound marketing and review the concepts of each with examples.

What is outbound marketing?

Outbound marketing is an advertising strategy where businesses initiate contacts with possible leads. A lead is a potential customer. With outbound marketing, businesses try to reach as many audience members as possible while the advertisement campaign is still active and don't wait for customers to find the product on their own. Instead, they work toward a more active campaign. Examples of outbound marketing include:

Emails

One prominent example of outbound marketing is emailing leads to potentially turn them into customers. This could be emailing at random or emailing those who have interacted with the company's website or engaged in another way. Outbound marketing through email uses any emails that the marketing team has to try and gain customers through deal offers, product advertisements and limited-time opportunities.

Related: How To Utilize Inbound Marketing

Cold calls

Cold calls are outbound marketing tactics that involve sales representatives calling potential customers directly to try and gain sales. Similar to emailing, cold calls aim to increase profit by offering customers deals, package offers and limited-time opportunities. Cold calls can also target previous customers and aim to make them repeat customers by asking about their previous experience and suggesting new products to them based on their preferences.

Related: Inbound Marketing vs. Content Marketing: Benefits, Examples and Tips

Direct mail

Another outbound marketing technique is direct mail. While similar to direct calls and email, direct mail has slightly more potential in converting leads to customers by being able to offer direct discounts by mailing them to leads' doors. While a cold call's efforts may end when the lead ends the call with a representative, a direct mail coupon serves as a physical reminder of the offer even after the customer has opened their mail and could encourage them to make a purchase.

Related: Account-Based vs. Inbound Marketing: Definitions, Differences and Tips

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is the strategy marketing departments use to create brand awareness by attracting new customers. By using pull marketing, or the effort of increasing demand for a product or service, they create as many advertising outreaches as possible to help encourage customers to buy products from a company. Instead of advertising through outbound marketing tactics such as calling or TV advertisements, inbound marketing seeks to reach customers on a casual level. Examples of inbound marketing include:

Blogs

Blogs are a form of inbound marketing that targets readers who may be interested in a product that relates to their interests. For example, a company may choose to write and publish a blog post about hiking boots to convert hiking enthusiast leads into customers. Employees may write blog posts, or a marketing team may commission external writers or influencers with a following on their blogs to write an advertisement as part of a sponsorship.

Related: How To Transition From Outbound Marketing to Inbound Marketing

Social media

Another way marketers who use inbound marketing try to lead customers to their products is by using social media. Similar to blogs, social media allows companies to distribute information in a way that may reach many prospective customers. This can be through the company's social media pages or through a sponsored post by an influencer, affiliate marketer or celebrity. Social media posts allow the products and the company's offers to reach customers naturally while they explore content related to their interests.

SEO

SEO, or search engine optimization, is another method of inbound marketing that aims to increase the amount of traffic to a website from search engines. By optimizing keywords and other aspects of content to pages to rank higher in search engines and increase visibility, a company can spread information about a product or service through social media posts, blog entries and website pages. This can help potential leads find company products more easily if it relates to what they're searching on the internet.

Outbound marketing vs. inbound marketing

Differences between outbound marketing vs. inbound marketing include:

Customer appeal

While outbound marketing is a more direct approach to a potential customer, it may not be as effective in appealing to the customer as inbound marketing. Outbound marketing contacts a customer directly, regardless of their circumstances at the time, and they may not be ready to discuss purchasing a product at that moment and disregard the advertisement.

Inbound marketing aims to encounter a customer while they're engaging with their hobbies or interests through a blog and social media posts or while they're browsing the web. This can have more appeal for the advertisement, as it pertains to their interests and arrives at a time where they are already engaging with content.

Marketing aim

Outbound marketing aims to sell a product by directly contacting a customer. This type of marketing requires different methods and mediums to be a success. Inbound marketing aims to sell a product by making an advertisement so appealing that the customer contacts the company. This instead causes the customer to do the work to research and learn about the company and its products, rather than the company doing the work to contact the customer.

Customer target

Because outbound marketers seek to reach leads who are potential customers, their methods may have different targets than inbound marketers. Cold calls, emails and direct mail methods may intend to reach customers based on their interest in the company, such as if they gave their phone number, mailing address or email address to the company at any point. This means that outbound marketing applies to both previous customers and potential ones.

Inbound marketers prioritize customers based on their interests, hobbies or internet search preferences. Because they advertise through social media and blog posts, they can advertise products that align with what a customer may already want or need to increase their chances of success. For example, a clothing company may advertise new shoes on a fashion blog.

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