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Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing

Inbound marketing and outbound marketing have gone into comparison for sometime with the perceptions:

  • Inbound marketing is considered permission marketing (or the new marketing).
  • Outbound marketing is known as interruption marketing (or the old marketing).
Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing requires you creating informative and useful content that the target audience in your industry or niche are interested.

The first most important objective of inbound marketing is to get your propects onto your website (or landing page) where they are willing to sign up your newsletter, join your online webinar, download your eBook, or take any other actions that you’ve planned.

In the process, the online sign up form on your landing page would have captured their email addresses and/or other information that you will require to engage or contact with them later.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing is when you actively reach out to your prospects through email marketing, telemarketing, online banner ads, and/or any other traditional marketing strategies including billboards, TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, direct mails, sponsorships to events (or local conferences).

Outbound marketing has been considered the old school of marketing (that are outdated and ineffective) by digital marketers who can well adapt to today’s latest technologies in online marketing.

Problems with the Old Outbound Marketing

Nowadays technology has changed how people get information and interact. Below are some examples.

Some people may have installed ad blockers on their web browsers which have prevented some online banner ads from displaying.

Most bulk emails or sales emails would end up in people’s email junk box (or spam filter) and are never opened.

Many direct mails that are delivered to people’s homes or offices are never opened or read.

When streaming digital music, online radio (or podcast) or online TV programmes, people can easily skip viewing ads.

No one read physical magazines or newspapers anymore. So all the advertising that are printed on these medium have gone into waste.

Almost no one sees any physical ad banners, outdoor billboards, or skyscraper ads when they’re walking in the streets or subways. People are mostly looking at or using their mobile phones when they’re on the move.

The younger generation of people don’t use yellow pages (or have never used yellow pages at all). They would Google for a specific phone number when they need it. So don’t even bother placing ads on yellow pages.

In the United States, 200 phone numbers are on the “do not call” lists. This makes the people who own these numbers unreachable through telemarketing. Others who aren’t on the lists are usually annoyed when they receive cold calls.

So the strategies that used to work well some 50 years ago and are now seen as interruptive, spamming, and annoying for users.

Inbound Marketing Strategies

The strategies of inbound marketing are more effective because inbound marketing can self adapt to the practice of permission marketing.

But how do these inbound marketing strategies actually work?

People use the Internet through their mobile phones, tablet devices, or desktop/laptop computers.

When they’re using the Internet, they may search on Google, Bing, Baidu, or one of other search engines. People search when they’re actively looking for something, a brand, a product, a solution to a specific problem, etc. Even almost every search engines would show text-based ads on their search results pages, nothing is disruptive with search.

People may see new content when they visit some websites or blogs, and when they click through a link that has been shared by their friends on social media. New content may be discovered by people using the Internet. Not like the old outbound marketing strategies, no one actually shouts at them when they’re exploring content.

The new or old content was published to the web over time by content marketers, bloggers, copywriters, etc.

Digital marketers (including SEO professionals) who are working in the online marketing industry would connect the content to the respective inbound marketing traffic sources (or channels).

The main inbound marketing strategies would include:

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

Everyone should know SEO is a traffic source for the “pull tactic” i.e. It isn’t interruptive, and you aren’t unnatrually pushing irrelevant messages to your audience. Your audience would actively search for what they want.

Often it takes more than several weeks and sometimes a few months for most websites’ desired keywords to appear in Google’s organic search results, provided serious SEO has been properly done.

Make a plan and start working on your website’s SEO as soon as you have the opportunity and resources. When it’s implemented properly, SEO will become a long term traffic source i.e. Users will find and come to your site through organic search engines for many years.

When you’re in the process of working on your website’s SEO but the results haven’t been achieved, you may temporarily get search engine traffic through paid search ads (i.e. PPC) with a small budget.

Social Media Marketing

Social network sites are places where you share content.

The objective isn’t for you to be the only person to share. The first goal is to have other people connected to you to also share (or forward) the content you posted.

Next is to get people who aren’t connected to you to also share (or forward) the content you originally posted. This is the difficult part. Only by continuously creating and/or curating content, and pick up the experience, then you’ll be able to produce content that people are willing to share without giving them incentives.

The best outcome on social media is that your content gets viral.

Another social media strategy would happen in Facebook. It is when you set up and run Facebbok groups. Again, you would share content in Facebook groups. The end results would be to sell on Facebook.

Content Creation and Content Marketing

Content can originally created, and can be curated. In content marketing, the “content” itself is the marketing materials.

Content may be in several different forms:


Text is the most commonly used format. e.g. Blog posts, articles, etc that talk about the know-how tips in your niche. Create a blog on your company website. Publish new articles to your blog, and start getting some organic search traffic from Google.

Photos (or Images)

For example, if you run an eCommerce website that sells fashion, then why not use your store’s fashion photos as marketing materials. You may share the photos on Pinterest, etc.


Audio is usually delivered as podcast. e.g. You may record your voice and make it a mini tutorial on how to launch your first Google AdWords campaign and ad. Host your original audio files on Libsyn, and then share it to other Podcast platforms including Apple Music.


For example, record a video where you talk about how to do online marketing for a startup company with constraint budgets. Use Youtube as the main channel to promote your videos.


Or in any other forms that will fit well into content marketing of your inbound marketing strategies.

If your content isn’t good enough, you’ll know. You will have to make your content good enough for marketing.

Landing Page Creation and Optimization

When your B2B website is the base for your company’s lead generation, creating a landing page that is optimized to capture email leads is important.

To trigger call-to-actions, you probably will provide one of these resources in exchange to your potential prospects’ email addresses: An industry whitepaper, a know-how guide, an eBook, an infographic, a webinar, etc.

Refer to the 31 list building strategies to improve your site’s lead conversion rate.

Email marketing

Email marketing isn’t about only building a list, and then sending all your emails to the list without optimization i.e. Segmentation.

For many B2B type of businesses, email marketing is a very important strategy which is close to the end of the sales/conversion funnel.

It is important to integrate your marketing automation strategy into email marketing. Many email marketing strategies can be and should be automated to improve end results and user experience.

Inbound Marketing - The Pros and Cons

The Pros

With inbound marketing strategies, time would be spent on email list building and/or follower base building. It may take from several months to 1-2 years to grow the lists to a reasonable size. Once the lists have reached a certain size, effect will be long lasting.

The cost of inbound marketing is lower than the cost of outbound marketing.

The nature of inbound marketing strategies is to “pull” people in, and not push messages out to annoy people. This helps to filter the unqualified leads, and your list would only contain qualified leads.

Inbound marketing usually provides a channel for potential prospects to send feedback to marketers (and/or brand managers). This allows a way for two way communication.

The Cons

For inbound marketing to work well, it certainly requires investing a large amount of time upfront. In many cases, for the first several months, results won’t be seen from inbound marketing strategies.

To execute all parts in the inbound marketing campaigns, multiple skills are always required. The skills include website (and/or landing page) development, SEO, social media marketing, email marketing, landing page optimization, user experience design, web analytics, and more.

Leads that are brought in by inbound marketing strategies would usually take a long time to nuture i.e. Become a paid member, a product buyer, etc.

Some strategies of inbound marketing have long sales/conversion funnel. Prospects may have engaged with multiple traffic sources or strategies in the conversion funnel. This makes it difficult to measure results and work out the return on investment (ROI) for each traffic source or strategy.

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I’ve been sharing my experience on local SEO & digital marketing for Hong Kong SMEs / small business websites.

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