Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing:
Which is better?
Welcome to the newest, hottest trend in marketing today: inbound marketing. The web is ablaze with articles telling you why you’ve got to have it, why it’s replacing outbound marketing, and which online marketing automation platforms will help you do it best.
But just what is inbound marketing – and what is outbound marketing for that matter? And what’s the real truth about both?
Read on to get a balanced overview in this week’s installment of the ZUZA Marketer’s Blog.
Inbound Marketing – What it is
You’ve probably already heard of inbound marketing by its other name: content marketing. This is the practice of generating content with the purpose of educating or entertaining rather than selling. Such content includes:
- White papers, articles and eBooks
- Blogs (like the one you’re reading right now)
- Social bookmarking (with sites like Reddit, Digg, StumbleUpon and Delicious)
- Posts on social media sites (LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter)
As its name suggests, inbound marketing attracts visitors to come in to your website and social media pages by making desirable content discoverable via online search and sharing. When you produce this content, you enhance your brand by establishing your expertise and thought leadership and showing that you care about the needs of information seekers even if they don’t buy something from you. This builds trust and loyalty.
Inbound marketing is important because of the New Rules of Marketing which we wrote about in our previous blog post (you can read it here »). Today’s buyers wait until very late in their buying process to talk to a sales person, preferring first to gather information online and advice from peers. By providing educational and entertaining content, you’re giving buyers what they want and need earlier in their buying process, in a way that’s comfortable for them, without any sales pressure.
What is Outbound Marketing then?
Outbound includes all marketing communications you send out to try to gain the awareness of buyers in order to strengthen your brand and generate revenue. Outbound marketing is generally self-promotional. It includes the traditional vehicles we’re all very familiar with:
- Advertising – broadcast, print and digital
- Email blasts
- Trade shows and events
- Direct mail
- Collateral support for outbound sales efforts
Inbound vs. Outbound
- Control: With inbound marketing, you make your content searchable and sharable, but you have no control of how many people will find it and consume it, nor how or when they’ll discover your content. On the other hand, when people access your content, you have the opportunity to engage in a dialog with them, either when they share their contact information with you in exchange for the content, or when they start a conversation with you on a social media site. With outbound marketing, you control exactly where and how your messages will appear, but you have no ability to engage directly with the customer.
- Cost: Outbound marketing might seem to cost a lot more than inbound marketing. After all, you have to pay for the creation of your advertising, PR and promotional campaigns, as well as the distribution vehicles (paid media, mailing expenses, trade show booth costs, etc.). But don’t think inbound is free – you’ve got to pay internal and external resources to create all the content that will attract buyers, and to post links to that content across the internet so people can find it. This is an ongoing and time-consuming process. So in the end, it could be a wash, depending on your media mix.
- Credibility: Outbound marketing generally has lower credibility than inbound marketing due to its very nature: it is pushing out self-promotional hype to try to attract buyers from the competition (the notable exception being PR, which when picked up by journalists, is far more trusted by buyers). Inbound marketing, when done correctly, is more journalistic and helpful in nature, focusing on the needs of the buyer over the needs of the seller, which in turn helps build credibility for your brand.
- Desirability: Buyers will desire your content if it offers information they want or need. On the other hand, when was the last time a buyer desired to receive a self-promotional ad, email or direct mail piece from you?
Myth: Oubound Marketing is Dead! Long live Inbound Marketing!
The current wisdom is that outbound marketing, which is usually perceived by buyers as intrusive, is on its way out, to be replaced by inbound marketing thanks to the New Rules of Marketing, wherein buyers have complete control of the buying process and only seek informational content to help them solve problems and make buying decisions. This point of view is being promoted heavily by marketing automation companies, whose software is specifically focused on automating the inbound marketing process. And this opinion has merit. An excellent infographic from Blueglass Interactive (view it here » ), cites research showing that:
- “200 million Americans have registered their phone numbers on the FTC’s “Do Not Call” list” (so forget cold calling them).
- “91% of email users have unsubscribed from a company email that they previously opted into” (so they don’t really want to get your emails).
- “44% of direct mail is never opened” (so you’re wasting a lot of postage and paper).
- “86% of people skip television ads” (thank DVRs for that).
- “84% of 25-34-year-olds have left a favorite website because of intrusive or irrelevant advertising.”
With stats like these, one could easily believe that people are simply tuning out outbound marketing, making it a complete waste of our time and money. Yet, according to an article in B2Community.com from March 2012 (read it here » ), “…a recent Marketers’ Benchmark Report indicates that all this outbound vs. inbound talk is just a lot of noise. Marketers ranked brand awareness, email marketing, lead generation and event marketing — all outbound marketing activities — among their most critically important initiatives. What’s more, email marketing — clearly an outbound tactic — was rated the top-performing marketing channel in terms of ROI. So outbound marketing is still very much relevant.”
The “end of outbound” myth is reminiscent of the claims that the world is going paperless and print is dead (which we debunked here » ). To completely stop outbound marketing in favor of inbound is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. In truth, we need both, and we will always need both. Outbound marketing builds brand awareness, image and emotional connection in ways that inbound marketing can’t, and inbound marketing establishes trust, credibility and thought leadership in ways that outbound marketing can’t. So smart marketers know that to be truly effective, we need both.
Here at ZUZA, we wholeheartedly promote inbound marketing. We do it ourselves, and we employ a marketing automation tool (Pardot) to help us do it. And we’ve written extensively on content marketing in this blog. At the same time, we recognize that to be most effective, you need to employ a healthy balance of all appropriate marketing tools. To that end, inbound marketing doesn’t replace outbound – it complements it, and makes it stronger. Think of it as the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. Consider how you can best blend all available marketing tools at your disposal to build your brand, attract buyers and grow revenue. That’s the stuff of Marketing Champions.
Here’s to the Marketing Champion in all of us. See you in the next post.