Inbound vs Outbound Marketing – Characteristics, Distinctions and Resource Requirements
I can be challenged by definitions. The logical side of my brain thinks the definition of words should be black and white like math, but the creative side of me thinks there is room for expression and variance in everything.
The distinction between inbound and outbound marketing has caused similar challenges. We used to refer to inbound marketing as organic traffic or organic visibility. It has since morphed into a more complete way of thinking about driving new visitors and leads that relies primarily on content and connections. We have social media and the extended network to thank for this.
While this covers a lot of channels, it leaves out two important concepts:
- Brand – all of this activity, content creation, social media engagement, etc. is building your brand. Your brand name is the most powerful driver of qualified leads and all of these channels help define, build and expose your brand to the world.
- Interaction – each one of these channels has a direct interaction with some other number of channels. This interaction is one of the defining elements of inbound marketing. In the paid media world – there are very limited interactions and each channel can be managed independently. I’ll be diving into the interactions of inbound channels with tactics in a future post.
Here is a framework that I find helpful in thinking about major marketing categories. It separates inbound from outbound from retention marketing and provides some defining characteristics plus resources required.
While inbound marketing is free of media costs, there are very real organizational and human resource costs to execute successfully. Content creation, publishing, content syndication, design, development, editor/press relationships, etc. are all part of the human capital it takes to build a successful inbound marketing program.
Another distinction between inbound marketing vs outbound marketing is the timeline of execution and return on investment:
Inbound Marketing needs to become part of you website and organization DNA. It takes time to build content, grow your social networks, increase website authority, acquire high quality links, perform interesting research and speak to your audience. However, this foundation of expertise and authority that you create is much longer lasting and continues to provide visitors, leads and links long after the piece is written.
A great example of this is the Organic Search Click Through Rate Curve we created last year. It was a unique data analysis that SEO professionals found very helpful. We still get mentions, links, visitors and leads from this piece of content.
Outbound Marketing, since it is based on paid media, can be spun up much more quickly, you have a lot more control over the messaging and impressions, have a greater ability to test and tweak. But, when the media dollars stop, so does the traffic, leads and sales.
The final distinction that it is important to point out is that the cost and quality of leads from inbound marketing tends to be lower cost and much higher quality than outbound marketing. We track the source of visitors and leads very closely and consistently see better performance from sources like organic search, social media (yes, we are seeing a significant number of leads from social), PR and content syndication.
Here is one more way to visualize the differences between Inbound and Outbound marketing by generalized sales cycle.
I hope this discussion has helped to define the differences between inbound and outbound marketing. We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below and if you like the post – feel free to share! (it’s good for our inbound marketing ☺)
Here are some additional resources to help your research.
- Webinar: Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
- Twitter Recap: Inbound vs Outbound Marketing
- Guide: 5 Ways to Grow Your Agency with Inbound Marketing
- Webinar: Top Inbound Marketing Metrics for B2B Marketers
- PDF: Top Inbound Marketing Metrics for B2B Marketers