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The key differences: Inbound vs. outbound marketing

3 mins read

Originally Written: Apr 2015
Blog Updated: Nov 2019 

Outbound marketing is one-dimensional as companies reach out through interruptive or obstructive techniques. Inbound is adaptable. It refers to a marketing style where customers search for helpful and holistic content supplied by businesses relevant to their needs.

aleks and mel office

There’s a lot of debate surrounding inbound vs. outbound marketing - how do you know which one to use? As someone who has worked using both, I prefer the former.

Let’s explore:

  1. A quick comparison: inbound vs. outbound marketing

  2. How has the marketing environment changed?

  3. The product of these changes: inbound marketing

  4. Why is outbound marketing less effective nowadays?

  5. What does inbound marketing involve?

A quick comparison: inbound vs. outbound marketing

Let's sum up the debate in an easy table:




Overall premise

Interrupt and pushes their products and services

Earn people's interest by helping when looking for a solution


Marginally so, but still relatively mass market

Extremely, content is created to help people which need your solution

Communication style

One way

Two way

Content found via

TV, radio, print, telephone and trade show

Search engines and social media

Value to customer

Little to no value added to the customer

Value is added by helping inform and educate the customer


Outbound marketing gets a message across, whether people want to hear it or not. Alternatively, inbound marketing puts your message within easy reach of your target market. 

To easily understand inbound, imagine two magnets. One magnet represents the customer who has a need or problem they want to take action on. The other magnet is relevant, holistic and reliable content provided by your organisation. These two magnets naturally attract each other and create a strong bond. 

But there's a lot more to inbound than a clever metaphor...

How has the marketing environment changed?

Outbound was the original marketing style. Plaster your adverts on billboards, in newspapers and on websites and hope someone will say ‘That! That’s what I’m looking for!’ It’s why outbound is known in the marketing community as ‘spray and pray.’ Honestly, it’s had a good run, but times are changing.

To illustrate these changes, here are some shocking stats on the current marketing landscape:

Nowadays, the customer is more empowered and isn't as easily persuaded by interruptive marketing tactics. In fact, they can find them annoying. We dislike ads on YouTube videos, get annoyed by them on Instagram stories, and hate when our favourite TV show cuts to a commercial at a really crucial moment. 

The internet has changed the customers’ buying journey considerably, allowing them to research and learn solutions to their issues. The power now rests in their hands, or more accurately, their search bars. 

The product of these changes: inbound marketing

Inbound is the hip youngster on the scene. While outbound marketers spend massive amounts of money on ad campaigns, inbound marketers create relevant, client-specific content that ordinary people search for and connect with. It’s an important and adaptive marketing process.

When using inbound marketing strategies, the average cost per lead is significantly less. Research has shown that, on average, inbound marketing costs are £16k cheaper than outbound costs. It's not all about cost-saving as 57% of the sales cycle is now complete before a prospect even reaches out to a salesperson.

One of the key focuses of inbound marketing is to provide content at the research stage of the buyer’s journey, when the buyer becomes aware that they have a problem. Your site should contain relevant and helpful content that answers a prospect’s questions. If this content is present, then it’s your business they’ll think of first when deciding where to use their spending power. 

Inbound also makes it easier for the marketer. Distribution of digital marketing content through the use of online tools makes the analysis of your content easily measurable. Therefore, inbound is results-oriented - it adapts to the responses it receives.

faizal and mark

In the inbound vs. outbound marketing debate, when it comes to what’s more cost-effective, trustworthy and user-friendly, inbound reigns supreme.

Why is outbound marketing less effective nowadays?

Whether it’s through direct email or letters, cold calling or advertising; outbound relies on aggressive techniques which involve interrupting peoples’ daily lives.

When I worked in an in-house marketing team who used outbound techniques, we would put large amounts of money into our advertising campaigns. More often than not, we saw little return on our investments. It was like throwing lots of stuff at a wall and hoping something would stick. 

Outbound marketing is much less effective today for a number of reasons. For example, it's expensive. What’s the point in putting money into something if the results aren’t guaranteed?

Furthermore, the customers’ buying journey has changed. Before people buy, they research. And what’s the most convenient way to research? A quick internet search. Customers can easily access all of the information they need at the touch of a button. This gives people the freedom to figure out who to trust.

For more information on the pros and cons of outbound, check out this blog.

Outbound was born before our interconnected society and it hasn’t adapted to the times. In the inbound vs. outbound marketing debate, the latter is looking a little tired. So what’s the alternative?

What does inbound marketing involve?

With so many marketing messages forced into our lives, it’s not surprising when consumers ignore non-stop advertising. 

People like to be in control of the content they interact with. The inbound methodology understands this need. It aims to provide the content the customer will search for, rather than force something upon them. The focus is always on providing value via content which will help to get customers onto your nurturing list.

Andrew chilling on the sofa

Inbound marketing encompasses many tactics of digital marketing. SEO, social media, blogging, email marketing, landing pages, content downloads and calls-to-actions are all used simultaneously to bring in leads.

The big change for most companies is to realign their emphasis, from adverts that sell services to content creation that promotes and educates on which services are available. 

An innovative look into the inbound method

Our view is that in the inbound vs. outbound marketing debate, inbound comes in on top. Yet the inbound method can seem a little mysterious to those who haven’t used it before. To provide some clarity to the inbound process, you can explore what applying the inbound methodology looks like over a 12-month period, by downloading our guide.

‘A Year in Inbound’ explores how your marketing calendar will look over the year, explaining the process of inbound strategies, persona research, SEO and more. It truly has it all.

To experience more of the inbound world, get your free download below.