Inbound vs Outbound Marketing, or Both?

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There’s currently a lot of talk and analysis about the respective advantages of inbound and outbound marketing, with most experts preferring inbound marketing. This can be a confusing topic, especially since not everyone even defines these terms the same way. Let’s look at the differences between inbound and outbound marketing and why the whole debate over “which is better?” is really beside the point.

Outbound Marketing

We’ll start with outbound marketing because this is basically traditional marketing, the kind that everyone was used to before the digital age. Of course, before the internet, no one talked about outbound marketing. There was just marketing and advertising, period. The key characteristic of outbound marketing is that it reaches outward to potential customers. Some familiar examples include:

  • TV and radio commercials
  • Print ads in newspapers and magazines
  • Cold calling, also known as telemarketing
  • Direct mail
  • Billboards and signage

While these and other outbound strategies are old, they’re still very much in use. They also evolve, along with everything else. For example, today you’re just as likely to see a commercial on a streaming service such as Hulu or Pandora (if you haven’t upgraded to the commercial-free versions) as on TV. It’s worth noting, however, that many of the traditional forms of marketing such as print ads, billboards, and direct mail are still operating much the way they did 50 years ago.

There are both pros and cons to outbound marketing. Many digital marketing agencies are fond of focusing on the cons but you should really recognize both.


  • Potential to reach a wide audience
  • Good for brand building
  • Because many businesses are now focusing on inbound marketing, you may be able to gain a competitive edge with outbound tactics


  • Often costly
  • Less targeted than inbound marketing
  • Audiences may be less receptive to outbound messages because of over saturation

Inbound Marketing

The main characteristic of inbound marketing is that your audience is motivated to seek out your message rather than you having to broadcast it. Many (though not all) digital marketing strategies fall into this category, such as:

  • Email marketing. For example, if you entice people to sign up for your list with a free offer, your prospects willingly give you their email addresses. On the other hand, mass email campaigns (i.e. spam) are outbound marketing.
  • Social media. You can find targeted followers on sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn. You can also interact with groups and run targeted advertising campaigns.
  • Content marketing. One of the most effective forms of inbound marketing is creating content that your audience values such as articles, blog posts, reports, and e-books. Videos, podcasts, webinars, and infographics can also be part of your content strategy. Search engine optimization (SEO) overlaps with content marketing as you use keywords and other tactics to get your content to rank higher.

Now let’s look at the major pros and cons of inbound marketing.


  • Cost-effective. Many inbound techniques are free or very cheap. For example, you can write articles, create a blog, or post videos to YouTube for free.
  • Highly targeted. You can target your campaigns with keywords to reach a specific audience.
  • Less intrusive. People often ignore or actively block outbound advertising (as with software that blocks ads or commercials). With inbound, however, you’re offering information that they’re actively seeking. This makes it ideal for getting customers into your sales funnels.


  • Requires extensive tracking. To get the most out of SEO, content marketing, social media, and other inbound tactics, you need to pay close attention to analytics.
  • Increasingly competitive. Because so many businesses are using these techniques, it’s getting harder to stand apart and get your message noticed.

Inbound vs Outbound: Why the Division is Artificial

While it’s fashionable to emphasize the superiority of inbound marketing, the fact is that you don’t really have to look at it as an either-or proposition. In fact, contrasting the two is actually artificial in some ways. In reality, these two types of marketing overlap more than you might realize. Additionally, the above-mentioned pros and cons are only generalizations. They don’t always apply in a predictable manner. Your results are based on many factors, and it’s oversimplified to think of a simple separation between inbound and outbound.

For example, inbound marketing is generally touted as being less intrusive than outbound. This, however, really depends on how you conduct your campaigns. If you post content that’s not relevant, email your subscribers too often or repost the same content on social media sites, it will annoy your audience in much the same way as an annoying TV commercial. Conversely, a well-designed outbound ad, whether a commercial, billboard, or print ad, can feel more like entertainment than advertising and thus not feel like an intrusion.

We live in a seamless world where promotional messages are everywhere. Our minds don’t actually divide outbound vs. inbound messages. While it’s useful to examine the differences, it’s also important to realize that you don’t actually have to choose one type over the other.

The Benefits of an Integrated Marketing Strategy

Inbound and outbound marketing co-exist everywhere in the world today. There’s no reason you can’t use both. In fact, the two complement each other. You can use outbound tactics to reach a wide audience and build your brand while using inbound to reach a more targeted population. These two approaches are not mutually exclusive. In fact, they work very well together.

  • Gain a competitive edge. Many businesses are increasingly focusing on inbound marketing today. This means that an integrated campaign can give you an edge. For example, sending out postcards, putting up a billboard, or advertising on the radio adds to your brand awareness and supplements your email, social media, and Facebook ads.
  • Outbound has its advantages as well. While outbound is often criticized for being un-targeted, this isn’t always a bad thing. When you reach a broader audience, you have a chance to lure new people into your niche. You’re also building overall familiarity with your brand.
  • You focus more on the quality of your messages. When you integrate inbound and outbound strategies, you start paying less attention to the differences between the two and more on how helpful and interesting your actual messages are.

It’s always helpful to know as much about marketing as possible, including the latest terminology and buzzwords. At the same time, getting too bogged down in definitions and distinctions can distract you from what’s really important. Your customers, followers, subscribers, and prospects aren’t interested in what kind of marketing you employ. They care about finding information that’s helpful and interesting. The best way to provide this is with an integrated marketing strategy that includes both inbound and outbound methods.

RedShift offers digital, traditional, and integrated marketing services that position your business for growth. To learn more, contact us.

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