Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing, Which is Right for You?
Taking a look at two major marketing concepts
The world of marketing is huge. The menu is seemingly endless, and each and every option available has a set of strengths and weaknesses that make it hard to figure out which is right for your business.
Unfortunately, marketing isn’t one-size-fits-all. No, that’d be too easy. Every marketing activity is an ROI opportunity, but finding out which works best for your goals and objectives requires a lot of research and no small amount of trial and error.
So where do you start? How can you find the right set of activities for your business to help maximize the ROI of your marketing budget?
It’s certainly a multi-step process, but a great place to begin is taking a look at inbound versus outbound marketing.
These concepts act as two buckets for almost every top of the funnel marketing activity, and each has a distinct set of advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look at each and see if we can figure out which is best for you.
What is inbound marketing?
The basic concept of inbound marketing is simple: prospective customers come to you.
Okay, that’s awesome right? Sign me up.
Well, that’s definitely the over-simplified concept. There is a ton of work that has to be done to make that concept a reality.
Inbound marketing is one of the amazing strategies available to businesses due to the internet. With inbound marketing, your ideal customers find you organically. It eschews more traditional marketing pathways like list purchasing for more organic and diligent activities.
Think about one of your favorite restaurants that you visit regularly. Maybe they’re a local joint that you initially found on Google and saw some pretty positive reviews. You finally decided to go there for dinner one night and had a great experience. Months and years go by, and you find yourself going there pretty regularly, and often recommend it to friends and coworkers looking for a place to try.
That, in a nutshell, is the ideal inbound marketing strategy.
81% of consumers search online for a product or service before making a purchase. Inbound marketing is the way you get your business in front of that overwhelmingly large audience.
Inbound marketing is you using the internet to make your own marketing funnel. In general, your inbound marketing is a cycle where you gain new prospective customers organically, and through content and brand reinforcement, some of those customers convert, and a few even become such fans of your business that they promote you to their social circles.
Therein lies the strength of inbound marketing. It takes a traditional marketing funnel and turns it into more of a cycle, where prospects coming in can be nurtured into customers and potentially promoters of your business, leading to more organic inbound avenues.
So what activities are considered inbound marketing?
Inbound marketing activities
Inbound marketing activities are largely a result of how people interact with the internet. Right now, the options look like this:
- Website optimization
- Organic discovery through search engine optimization
- Paid advertising
- Social media interaction
- Co-branded or co-sponsored cross promotion
Getting the most from inbound marketing means being present on as many platforms as makes sense. Every business who cares about inbound marketing needs to have the right combination of all of these to maximize their results.
Give your website a tune-up
The healthy and crawlability of your website is the necessary first step to inbound marketing. All marketing activities you can do benefit from a website that loads quickly, is easy to navigate, and works well on mobile devices.
About 50% of web traffic comes from mobile devices, and 74% of mobile users only wait 5 seconds or less for a web page to load. On top of this, 85% of web visitors think a brand’s mobile site should be at least as good as the desktop version of that site. Quick loading times are king, and mobile usability is vital for a better performing website.
Your website also needs to be well organized, both for usability and SEO crawlability. Google prefers websites that are easily crawlable, and how easy it is to access and navigate your content directly impacts your search optimization. Things like broken links, 404’d pages, and duplicate content should be cleaned up before beginning your inbound marketing.
User experience, or UX, matters for the human side of things as well. Intuitive design language, unstandable layout, and natural navigation paths help promote brand interaction and return visits. And if you’re hesitant to update your website, consider that every dollar you spend on UX sees an average return of $100.
You’ll also want to consider adding a well-organized content section of your website. Since inbound marketing leverages so much content, a well organized and easily searchable content library can help new visitors easily interact with more content from your business.
Establish your search engine presence
Inbound marketing is defined in large part by search engine optimization (SEO). This is the main driver of organic inbound traffic for many businesses. Even compared to social media, SEO drives 1000% more traffic.
The search engine part of SEO is predominantly defined by Google.
So what does that algorithm look like?
According to Google, it’s a combination of:
- The meaning of a query: Google tries to identify the intent of a search, not just the words.
- Webpage content analysis and relevance: The content of the webpage relates to the intent of the search query.
- Content quality: Google prioritizes for sites that have similar traffic to that of the query, or have other pieces of content similar to the query. It also tries to remove results that are spam sites or lower-quality content.
- Webpage usability: Sites should work in all major browsers, load quickly, and be optimized for both desktop and mobile.
- Context and settings: Google uses past search history, location and search settings to deliver tailored results.
One of these is already handled by optimizing your website, as we covered above. The rest? A lot of strategy and content creation.
Tackling SEO goals requires content. Large amount of well written, strategic content. We’re talking 1 blog a week minimum, but preferably 2-3. This content helps to accomplish the other parts of the Google search algorithm. The strategy to it is extremely deep, and will be covered in another piece of content, but in general, you want to do several things when developing a content strategy.
- Target keywords, and organize them by how competitive they are
- Create content clusters that tackle larger, more competitive keywords as well as creating a web of smaller, more niche keywords
- Create a variety of content, like blogs, videos, lists, whitepapers, and reports. Different types of content can improve interaction rates
- Have a health amount of links in your content that go to other places on your website as well as other websites.
- Share your content through different channels, like social media and emails
Having a greater presence in organic searches is a major goal of inbound marketing, and is probably the most difficult goal to achieve. Appearing in more search results, as well as the right search results, requires a combination of strategy and commitment. What we covered here is just an introduction, so be sure to dive in deeper when you get the opportunity.
It takes a lot of time, effort and dedication to make SEO work for inbound lead gen. What if you could skip all that, though?
Digital advertising is another key component of inbound marketing. Platforms like Google, Facebook and LinkedIn have robust advertising integrations that make targeting your ideal clients and remarketing to them a breeze.
These tools essentially allow you to do the same thing SEO does, but pay to skip the line. Instead of a lot of work and time to get to the first page of Google results, you can pay to have your business show on the right keywords and websites.
This can be a tremendous boon to your inbound marketing efforts. Instead of fighting tooth and nail to get to the first-page results of competitive search terms, you can pay to appear before your competitors. From there, you can tailor the experience of your prospects, driving them to whatever content you deem to be the best.
Digital advertising covers a lot of media types and each platform has its own spin on the options.
- Search ads – pay to appear on the first page of google results for targeted keywords. Prices fluctuate based on competition
- Display ads – visual ads that appear on Google Ads enabled websites
- YouTube ads – video ads that can appear before, during, or after a YouTube video. They also come with a banner ad blow the video
- Text ads – plaintext ads that appear alongside the right banner area of LinkedIn
- Photo and carousel ads – image-based ads that appear in-line along the scroll. Look like normal LinkedIn posts, including space for a description, but are tagged with “sponsored.”
- Video ads – Similar format to photo ads
- Spotlight ads and follower ads – personalized ads that use account data to promote an offering
- Conversation ad – Deliver messages directly to inboxes using LinkedIn Messaging
- Image and carousel ads – Ads using images that appear in users Facebook feed and look like normal posts
- Video ads – Similar style as image ads but with video
- Collection ads – Display items from product catalog that showcase your products available for purchase
- Stories – 15 second snippets of images and videos that are used by more than 500 million Instagram accounts
- Reels – Instagrams response to TikTok, these 3 to 15 second video clips are made for quick, viral consumption
- Branded content – Instagram has the ability to form paid partnerships with influencers baked into their platform
As you can see, each platform has very similar offerings. One thing all of these platforms have in common, though, is remarketing.
Remarketing is where modern digital advertising really takes off. Using unique website tags and well as platform-based data, you can send a tailored set of ads to prospects that have interacted with your brand before. A few examples of remarketing include sending new ads to:
- All website visitors
- Visitors of certain webpages or groups on social media
- Uploaded lists of contacts
- People who have purchased a product or service from you before
This level of targeting opens up opportunities for you to dial in your content as well as messaging for specific audiences, industries, or users. This makes remarketing a natural fit for mid-to-low funnel activities.
Certain types of digital advertisements are great for top-of-funnel activity, like Instagram Stories, YouTube ads, or Google Display ads. Others are great for lower funnel activity, like targeting certain keywords with Google search ads. Here is a breakdown of how some of the basic ad types can support your inbound marketing funnel.
All that’s left is to find the platforms that align with your business.
Tapping into the social media zeitgeist
Social media has proven to be more than a trend. In fact, the biggest social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have taken a page right out of Google’s book and become an advertising platform as well as a social media company.
Still, the great strength of social media is the opportunity to grow and organic following that doesn’t have to visit your website to get the latest and greatest content. Cultivating followers, creating connections, and joining groups is an outstanding way to consistently get your content in front of people without requiring a search query or email.
Now, I know what you’re thinking: social media is for younger people, right? Well, to some extent. Social media is definitely most heavily used by people under 60, with 90.4% of Millennials and 77.5% of Generation X using social media. But social media is also a major influencer for Baby Boomers, with 48.2% of them using social media.
It has proven to be a natural fit for marketing with as much as 54% of social media users browsing social media to research products.
Tapping into this marketing requires a very similar commitment that SEO requires.
Posts, videos, photos, blogs, commentary, lists…Social media is the perfect place to share the content you’ve created.
There are a lot of options of where you can post this content. You have Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Reddit…and a lot more. Choosing the right platforms for your business requires a bit of research, but here are some helpful stats about some of the largest platforms to help you choose.
- 2.7 billion average monthly users (source)
- 69% of U.S. adults use Facebook (source)
- Political content generates the most views in Facebook Stories (source)
- The largest age group of users is 25-34 (12.7%), followed by 35-44 (9.1%) and 18-24 (7.7%) (source)
- 1 billion average monthly users (source)
- 2/3rds of users are 34 or under (source)
- Videos get 21.2% higher interaction than images (source)
- 83% of people use Instagram to find new products and services (source)
- 740 million members (source)
- 82% of B2B marketers find success on LinkedIn (source)
- Over 46% of social media traffic to company websites comes from LinkedIn (source)
- 40% of U.S. internet users from 46 to 55 use LinkedIn (source)
- >2 billion users monthly (source)
- Highly popular across all age groups, with only a 10% difference between the most used age group (77% of internet users aged 15-35) and the least used age group (67% of users aged 56+) (source)
- Second largest search engine
- YouTube reaches more 18 to 24 year olds on mobile devices than any TV network
Depending on your industry and ideal customer, social media sites can be a tremendous inbound marketing opportunity for your business. All you need to do is make sure your platforms align with your target audience and goals.
What is outbound marketing?
Now that we’ve established what inbound marketing is, it’s a lot easier to go over outbound marketing: it’s the opposite of inbound marketing.
Sure, there is a little more nuance than that, but at their most basic levels inbound and outbound marketing are opposites. Inbound lets prospects naturally find and come to you, where outbound marketing is you going after prospects.
Outbound marketing is defined by your team identifying and going after prospects. Traditionally, this is done through list purchasing. Any time you purchase a marketing lead list, you are committing to outbound marketing.
A lot of the concepts of inbound marketing are valuable for outbound marketing as well. Having a library of solid content covering relevant and popular topics is valuable. Web and social media presence help to reinforce your brand. Sometimes, even paid advertisements can help your outbound marketing efforts.
The biggest difference is where inbound marketing is much more focused on your prospects finding their own way to your brand, outbound marketing crafts a journey and delivers it to your prospects.
Outbound marketing activities
There are a lot of ways that companies outbound market, as outbound marketing was the original marketing strategy. All of your old school marketing activities, like TV commercials, radio ads, mail coupons, and magazine ads are examples of outbound marketing.
We’re not going to focus on those.
Instead, we’re going to focus on outbound marketing activities that fit into modern digital marketing. There are a few popular examples of this.
- Email marketing
- Cold calling
- Trade shows or in-person events
- Digital advertising
Yes, digital advertising was covered in the inbound marketing section. But it’s a unique marketing activity that really does fall into both outbound and inbound marketing. We won’t cover it here, as there really isn’t anything new to add.
The other three are extremely potent marketing strategies that are still used for a reason: they work.
Emailing your brand
Email marketing is a classic, and effective, marketing technique.
On top of that, email is still one of the best ROI opportunities for small businesses, boasting a massive $42 made for every dollar spent.
So what do you need to get started with outbound email marketing?
Find your leads
Before you can start emailing, you need people to email.
There are a lot of ways to get a list of potential customers, and there are even more ways of customizing the audience of that list. In general, the best way to get a well-sourced list is to purchase one from the experts.
The best mailing list companies have hoards of contacts and data that help you filter who you want to appear on any list you purchase. You can tailor your lists to prospect personas, and you should have settings for identifying info like:
- Business size
- Business revenue
There are also some DIY services that can help source fresh contacts for you, like seamless.ai. Keep in mind that contacts you get from here likely won’t be as vetted or high-quality as leads you purchase from a mailing list company.
Essentially, purchasing a list is like skipping the hard work of inbound marketing. Instead of creating massive amounts of content, managing it, and waiting for prospects to fill out a form or contact you, purchasing a list gets you straight to the direct marketing phase. We’ve found a great list size is at least 10,000 contacts, as a good chunk of those (10-15%) likely won’t interact with your emails.
Obviously, there are benefits and downsides to this. Inbound leads are actively looking for services, but with outbound lists you may be marketing to people who are not actively looking for your services or products. That being said, great marketing should overcome initial objects like that.
Additionally, there is something to be said for being able to market to tens of thousands of potential customers nearly instantaneously.
Now you need some content
Alright, you have your list. What else do you need to begin your outbound marketing?
Yeah, content is vital for both inbound and outbound marketing. That being said, you don’t need as much for outbound marketing.
Outbound marketing content needs to check a lot of the same boxes inbound marketing content would. You want it to be relevant, answer common questions, engage with interesting angles or insights, and promote continued interaction with your content and your brand.
One place where inbound and outbound diverge in how this content is used is with form fills. Inbound relies on form fills to gather identifying information for new leads. Since you already have your list, you don’t need that. Because of this, most, if not all, of your outbound content marketing should be free.
That means links and downloads with no information needed to access them. Outbound marketing content should achieve several goals.
- Establish your brand as a reputable source of information
- Present helpful, educational content and insight to businesses who may need it
- Reinforce the decision making process with supplementary info
- Establish your business as a thought leader in your industry
Accomplishing these four things will help establish your brand and help your outbound marketing convert at greater, more reliable rates.
We’re ready to send some emails
Got your list? Check. Got some content? Check.
Let’s send some emails.
…After we cover a little bit of email best practices and strategy. Didn’t think it’d be that easy, did you?
There is a dizzying amount of nuance to email marketing. What day you sent emails, what time, how long your subject line is, should you personalize the email, should the email be designed or plain text, how do you know if your emails are working, how can you compare email success…and a lot more.
Well, we’ll cover everything about email marketing another time. For now, we want to set you up with a solid foundation.
Our analytics at GlassHive indicate Wednesday is the best day to send emails, with 10 a.m. being the best time of day.
Ensuring your emails are mobile-responsive is vital, as 46% of all email opens happen on mobile devices.
Emails with personalized subject lines have a 50% higher open rate.
Videos in your email increase click rates by up to 300%.
Email frequency is harder to give you a number for. One of the main reasons people will unsubscribe from marketing lists is receiving too many emails. Unfortunately, that doesn’t give us a number. In our experience with several hundred businesses over the years, we’ve found that a good cadence is one to two emails a week. But really, pick your own cadence and see how it does. If you are pulling bad numbers or getting a lot of unsubscribes, dial it bad. If you’re getting great open and click throughs regularly, consider adding another email into the mix.
You should use a marketing software to help manage and analyze your email marketing. These softwares will not only make it easier to manage your email marketing, they will also provide robust insight into how individual campaigns perform. The two most important metrics for getting started on gauging email success are the open rates and the click through rates of your emails.
So we’ll get this out of the way: everyone hates cold calling. We all hate getting cold called, and, for the most part, few salespeople enjoy making cold calls.
All of that doesn’t change the fact that cold calling still works for outbound marketing.
Intuitively, a lot of people think cold calling is dead, replaced by other, less invasive ways of establishing contact like emails. The thing is, 57% C-level and VPs prefer to be contacted by phone. Calls are even effective with directors (51%) and managers (47%).
So how can you make cold calling work for your outbound marketing?? The first step is making sure the information you have about a contact is correct. The more in-depth information you have about your contact, the better tailored your conversation can be to them.
When you are on a call, make sure to have the proper balance of talking to listening. The “ideal” ratio is 55% talking and 45% listening. That means you want to be directing most of the conversation, but not steamrolling the person on the line.
The longer you’re on the line, the more successful the call is. Sales Hacker found the average length of unsuccessful calls to be 3 minutes 14 seconds, where successful calls last 5 minutes 50 seconds. The longer you keep them talking, the better your chances.
Improving success rates of your calls means dialing in your messaging. Your call strategy should include:
- Preparing for each call and knowing the important contact information
- Dial in your opener, and make sure to not start with “is this a bad time.”
- How you say things matters, and words like “we provide,” “discount,” and “I don’t know” can turn buyers off
- Have prepared responses to the most common objections
- Learn about the buyers pain points so you can sell to them
- Brush off bad or unsuccessful calls. They will happen.
It’s also important to have realistic goals for cold calling. Most cold calls aren’t going to be successful, but having a call method can help overcome the bad and move toward a good call. Keep in mind that most cold calls success isn’t a scheduled meeting. Often, a good cold call means the conversation continues in a follow up email. That’s why it’s so vital to follow up good calls with email and continue working on scheduling an appointment.
Events and trade shows
Nothing quite matches trade shows for sales and marketing.
These events are one of the few times where you get to see, in real time, how your messaging and product/service affect your prospects. It’s exciting and extremely educational, and can be a massive revenue opportunity for your business.
If you are in an industry where your ideal audience attends trade shows, you need to incorporate trade shows into your outbound marketing. 92% of trade show attendees want to learn about new products and services, and 81% of attendees have buying authority.
You cannot buy this quality of lead anywhere else.
Trade shows are an excellent sta\ple of outbound marketing. The main downside to them is cost: on top of travel and room and board for you staff, you also want to have booth space and potentially some level of sponsorship of the event. All of this costs money.
There are a few techniques for estimating your trade show budget. Some recommend multiplying the cost of event space by three. So if the event you’re attending charges $21 per square foot and you have a 20×20 foot booth you will want to budget around the $25,000 mark for the whole event. Keep in mind this doesn’t include any sponsorships.
Now how do you generate ROI on that budget?
Trade shows are wall-to-wall lead generation opportunities. The best events will have simple ways to get attendees contact info, such as scanning an event ID or bracelet. You can also use games or raffles to entice people to drop off their business cards.
In addition to this, people are going to be dropping by your booth. It’s important your booth is interesting from a distance, and engaging up close. That means booth design is important, and attentive, engaging staff are a must.
Using the right combination of these strategies, you can easily generate 5-10 leads an hour. We do recommend putting a strategy in place to help you team identify the hottest leads, so be sure to do some pre-event training on what to look for from prospect conversations. A lot of event attendees are tire kickers (which can still be leads that convert at a later date), so you need to have a system to identify the most sales-ready leads.
So inbound or outbound, which is right for you?
Now that we have a solid understanding of inbound vs outbound marketing, it’s time for us to tell you which is better.
The truth is, inbound and outbound marketing are both great, and the best marketers will use both.
Relying on inbound or outbound marketing alone can result in one-dimensional marketing. And if you rely on the same marketing funnel for all of you sales leads, it makes periods of bad marketing results seem even worse.
Truthfully, you need to find the best combination of inbound and outbound marketing for your business.
Find the right combination
We all wish we could do every single inbound and outbound marketing activity and craft beautiful funnels of ROI.
The reality, though, is only the largest businesses can support the staff and budget needed for all of that. The rest of us need to pick and choose the activities that suit our goals, budget, and staff best.
Maximizing your resources to attain goals
The first step to dialing in your inbound and outbound strategies is to take stock of your resources, including:
- Marketing budget
- Current sale and marketing lists
- Past marketing efforts
- Website and social presence
These are all items that impact what marketing efforts can work best for you.
Let’s start with staff. Most businesses have a marketing team of one to three people. That means, at most, you have 24 hours of marketing time a day, or 120 hours a week.
That may seem like a lot, but you can quickly burn through that time depending on what marketing activities are being worked on For instance, content creation for organic SEO growth can easily be a full-time or near full-time job for one person. Social media and digital advertising management can be another full-time gig. And email marketing and website management can be yet another full-time job.
It’s pretty easy to see how you can quickly use up your human resources. That’s why choosing the marketing activities with the best ROI for your business is so vital.
We could use a whole 4,000 word document to talk about what marketing efforts are best for what industries, but for now, we want to set you up with a smaller, more effective marketing menu based on your use case. Each item is in order of ROI impact.
- B2B service marketing – Email, digital advertising, SEO, trade shows, social media
- B2C service marketing – Digital advertising, SEO, email, social media, cold calling
- B2B product marketing – SEO, digital advertising, email, cold calling
- B2C (retail) product marketing – Digital advertising, social media, SEO, email
Sometimes it’s best to just start
We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and you’ve no doubt done other research before and you will do more after this. Research is great (we wrote this to help you research, after all), but at some point it’s even better to just start.
What’s great about many of these marketing activities is that you can start them today without spending huge amounts of money. You can begin doing keyword research and writing content, you can hop on social media and begin posting and interacting, or you can try out some marketing software and send a few emails.
The best way to find out what marketing activities are best for your business is, after all, with experience. So get out there, try some new things, and don’t panic if they don’t all work. Marketing has a learning curve, and while research is an incredible boon, experience is a timeless benefit.