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In or Out: Comparing Inbound and Outbound Marketing

Published by in B2B Marketing

Heidi Klum asks, “Are you in or out?” every week to aspiring designers. While the fashion reference is obvious, this question can also apply to today’s marketers: are you in or out? In other words, is your marketing inbound or outbound? comparing inbound outbound mktg

First, what the heck is inbound versus outbound marketing? Isn’t it all just “marketing”? Since technology and the Internet have become integral to marketing, it’s become common-place to separate the two main categories of marketing. And so, “inbound” and “outbound” were born!

Outbound Marketing

I’ll start with outbound marketing, which is associated with traditional marketing strategies. It focuses on paying to have your message broadcast to a mass audience in order to find customers. Brands use this strategy in the hopes of generating as many sales as they can through these messages. Basically, the brand is pushing its product or service onto the customer, interrupting what they were originally doing.


When a typical consumer thinks of “marketing” channels, they’ll usually come up with various outbound marketing strategies, including:

  • TV commercials
  • Print ads
  • Direct mail
  • Telemarketing
  • Email marketing
  • Press releases
  • Trade shows

The list goes on! Outbound marketing encompasses traditional marketing and advertising strategies that you see Don Draper pitching every week on Mad Men. (Well, most…except for email!)


One of the main advantages of outbound marketing is that you expose a large audience to your message at a time of your choosing. For example, print ads are not randomly placed throughout a magazine or newspaper; companies pay to have them placed where they know their target audience is looking. After all, you’re not just selling a product or service – you’re selling your brand, and the more people who are familiar with it, the better your advertising will resonate with them in the future.

Another advantage is that you’ll see the results of your marketing right away. For example, say that your store is having a sale, and you decide to advertise it using various outbound channels, such as T.V. ads, direct mail pieces, and inserts in the newspaper. On the day of that sale, you will be able to measure the success of those efforts that day by how many people showed up and many sales you made. However, since it’s difficult to track the source of sales from outbound marketing, the only way to truly measure how each channel performed would be to ask your customers directly.

Finally, consumers are more familiar with these tactics. They’ve been exposed to commercials, print ads, and direct mail for most of their lives, meaning that they could be more receptive to these channels and pay more attention to your message.


More and more, the disadvantages of outbound marketing are growing. Even though people may be more familiar with outbound advertising practices, they’re also more likely to ignore them. With recorded shows and DVR, consumers can now skip TV commercials. According to this infographic by Voltier Digital, 86% of people skip through commercials. The infographic also shows that 44% of direct mail is never opened, and 200 million Americans have put their numbers on the FTC’s “Do Not Call” list. Even when outbound marketing is administered online, the numbers aren’t much better. 84% of 25-34-year-olds have left a website because of intrusive or irrelevant advertising, and 91% of email users have unsubscribed from company messages that they previously opted into.

Outbound marketing doesn’t allow for immediate feedback. It consists of one-way communication strategies with no opportunities to have a conversation with your target audience. To find out if their message is resonating with consumers, marketers have to conduct surveys and focus groups to get feedback.

Finally, outbound marketing has much higher costs than inbound marketing. For example, you incur the creative expense of developing a commercial or direct mail piece, plus the media expense of distributing the ad, all with the hope that the target audience sees your message and reacts positively to it.

Inbound Marketing

Instead of pushing a message onto a potential customer, inbound marketing focuses on strategies that pull customers directly to you with the help of content, such as a website or blog post. Unlike outbound methods, inbound marketing is not an interruption, rather it’s information your target audience actively seeks out.


Inbound strategies tend to be newer to the advertising scene. Most inbound channels are online and content-based. Examples include:

  • Social media
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
  • Blogs
  • Infographics
  • Ebooks
  • Webinars


As I mentioned before, inbound consumers are choosing to listen to your message and are actively looking for it. Therefore, they’re closer to being qualified leads than outbound prospects (and all before you even begin to interact with them)!

Because most inbound channels allow for two-way communication, there’s also an opportunity for feedback. For example, after reading a blog post, someone can leave a comment; on social media, you can interact with your followers by sharing with them and even having conversations with them.

Finally, inbound marketing is low-cost, and pretty cost-effective. There are free blogging platforms on which you can create your company blog; the majority of social media outlets are free; you can distribute most of the content you create yourself, and if it’s good, people will want to read it, so you won’t have to pay certain outlets to promote it. And, again according to this infographic, inbound leads cost 62% less than outbound ones.


Like all marketing strategies, there are still some disadvantages to inbound marketing. You’re only reaching people who are open to hearing what you have to say, which naturally attracts a smaller audience than a TV commercial or an ad in a major publication.

Also, it may take time for you to see results from your inbound campaigns. Unlike a direct mail offer where people start using your coupons immediately, prospects that come from blog posts, ebooks, and social media typically need more nurturing and may not be sales-ready right away. Plus, with the ability for two-way communication comes uncontrollable feedback. If someone writes a negative review on Facebook about your product, all of your followers will be able to see it. If someone has a bad customer experience and writes a blog post about it, they can spread their message to your potential customers, sometimes faster than you can spread your own message!

Finally, with more online content being developed by the minute, your message can get lost in the wealth of information available to your audience. It’s up to your team to fight this by creating engaging content that will stand out from the rest.

So which one should you use: inbound or outbound marketing? Or both? Check out my next post where I discuss if one strategy is better than the other and how this affects your business.

Looking for Marketing Automation software? Check out Capterra's list of the best Marketing Automation software solutions.

About the Author

Caroline Malamut

Caroline Malamut

Caroline is the Vendor Marketing Manager at Capterra. Her love of marketing began while growing up in Philadelphia and has only grown since attending the University of Pittsburgh. In her free time she enjoys reading, spending time with friends and family, and cheering on her Philly and Pitt sports teams.


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Comment by Brad Seaman on

Great Post! I think the choice to inbound or outbound depends on your business model, but I think for most companies need to Allbound (Doing everything to generate leads) a term coined by Allen Nance of WhatCounts. If you have a B2B product that is low cost low service, inbound maybe your only option, but if you have a complex sales cycle you need focus on doing what ever it takes to create a repeatable stream of leads. I think its only human to take sides, but the truth is that it takes all kinds of touches and experiences for a buyer to gain interest.

It most cases the actual cost of creating an inbound lead is cheaper, but an important figure that isn’t considered is the length of time it takes to grow that lead source. If I write a blog post that takes 12 months to generate a lead then the cost isn’t just the time spent writing the blog.

All forms of marketing should be exercised. One of the advantages not listed for direct/outbound is that ability to target a specific group. Email, Direct Mail, Phone Prospecting, Trade shows give you an unique ability to target your prospects and to catch them on the front end per-evaluation stage of the sales cycle. On the flip side Inbound creates a trust level that is unarguable. Blogs, content, Ebooks, Webinars, make us feel like we know people intimately even though we don’t.

Ultimately, Inbound and Outbound should be cohesive tactics in your marketing plan. Inbound, Outbound need to work together like a right and left punching combination.

More thoughts on inbound and outbound mix at – http://www.blogmonsterconnect.com/

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