Digital Marketing Demystified | Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

Inbound and outbound methodologies represent two distinct approaches in sales and marketing. Learn more about the strengths and weaknesses of each and how you can use them to your advantage.

Digital Marketing
Wong Wing Lum

Conduct a simple search on Inbound and Outbound marketing – you’ll find thousands of articles pitting one methodology over the other. Thanks to its focus on building lasting relationships, the consensus of the majority seems lean in favour of Inbound as a more approachable and modern form nurturing leads. Meanwhile, changing consumer behaviours have led to Outbound being painted as a backward and a shove-in-your-face kind of marketing that no one desires in the first place.

But does this really mean that out goes the outbound?

Not exactly.

You're lying if you say you can't hear this | Credit: Tenor

As the image of Cristiano Ronaldo’s swaying hips bobbing left and right to a Shopee rendition of Baby Shark is still freshly (and painfully) engraved in our minds, we are reminded that outbound marketing still has its charms. Not because we asked for it, but because it sticks.  

What is Outbound Marketing?

Remember that awkward moment when you answered a call from an unknown number and it turned out to be yet another insurance agent?

That’s cold calling – an outbound sales technique where a salesperson gives an unsolicited call to prospects who have not signalled their interest to the product or service.

OUTbound Marketing, as its name suggests, are marketing tactics where a company or sales representative takes the initiative to reach out and push messages to prospects.  This broad umbrella includes more traditional forms of marketing, such as print and broadcast advertisements as well as outdoor billboards. Tapping on the networks of mass media, outbound strategies aim to cast their nets wide in hopes of capturing potential customers who may or may not be actively looking for solutions to their problems.

Outbound marketing examples
Examples of Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing is also commonly described alongside terms encapsulating more negative connotations, such as “interruption” and “push marketing”. This is because outbound sales are often seen as unwarranted, one-sided sales pitches that force a company’s agenda onto consumers, whether they want it or not.

Due to its confrontational message delivery, outbound marketing has largely fallen out of favour with consumers in recent years. These days, people can easily tune out of online display advertisements by installing adblockers, opting to enter DNC (Do Not Call) registries, or using spam email filters.

Even with adaptations to online platforms such as display advertisements on websites and social media banners, the oversaturation of outbound messages has contributed to the prevalence of banner blindness. This phenomenon describes the selective attention of web users as they deliberately choose to ignore page elements they deem to be advertisements.

But before you go on to denounce outbound marketing completely, keep this in mind:  An advertisement may be the only opportunity for your brand to be noticed by prospects outside of your radar. The goal of outbound marketing should be to generate leads, not to nurture them. Like Ronaldo’s Shopee jingle that you can’t seem to erase, the power of an effective outbound marketing is to show prospects that amongst the myriad of other competitors in the market, you exist. That is perhaps the most crucial first step before they open the door to any future conversations with your brand.

Pros and cons of outbound marketing
Pros and Cons of Outbound Marketing

What is Inbound Marketing?

INbound Marketing is a relatively new concept coined by Brian Halligan and Dharmesh Shah, the co-founders of HubSpot. It describes a technique where marketers attract potential prospects by pulling them to their website. Inbound strategies achieve this through the provision of content that prospects actually desire and value. In other words, inbound marketing provides value by addressing immediate needs. If the content is engaging and helpful, it creates a delightful experience even if prospects are not ready to make a purchase.

The grand vision is this: When the time comes for the customer to buy, the favourable impression left will positively and significantly influence their purchasing behaviour.

The duo conceptualised the methodology in 2006, right around the time when social media was starting to experience exponential growth. That’s because the use of digital marketing tools and channels are integral to a successful inbound strategy.

Social media provides a platform for customers to enjoy direct and intimate interactions with the brand. Some of its key features – such as link-sharing and market segmentation – allows brands to deliver relevant content to specific customer groups before directing them to their sales channels. Meanwhile, search engine optimisation (SEO) helps relevant information appear organically on search engine results pages. Collectively, these tools ensure that the right information is delivered to the right person, at the right time.

Inbound marketing examples
Examples of Inbound Marketing

The most defining feature across all inbound strategies is their absence of an explicit sales pitch. The trick is to patiently nudge prospects down the sales funnel by increasing the frequency of pleasant engagements through informative content. The persistent online encounters eventually help convert leads into customers.

The success of any inbound strategy is almost entirely reliant on building trust between the brand and its customers. And this takes time. While it may seem like a no-brainer to pursue an inbound strategy for its merits, it is important to remember that a ton of leg work goes behind building a successful inbound strategy. Its execution requires consistent effort and resources to push out quality content that are both relevant and desirable. Furthermore, its returns are difficult to measure and translate to sales metrics. With more companies fiercely adopting inbound marketing, there’s no guarantee if any of these efforts would eventually pay off.

Pros and cons of inbound marketing
Pros and Cons of Inbound Marketing

Which strategy should I use for my company?

As mentioned above, there are trade-offs to both methodologies. The rise of inbound signifies a tectonic shift in how customers consume information in the digital age. Modern buyers prefer to have the autonomy to research and weigh their options before making a purchase. On the same note, when the company initiates the first point of contact with prospects in an outbound strategy, they are letting them know exactly what they offer and their value proposition. Outbound methods can kick off conversations with pre-qualified prospects and close deals in a much shorter timeframe.

Here is a side-by-side comparison of both methodologies.

Outbound Inbound Marketing Comparison
Comparing Outbound and Inbound Marketing

One approach is not inherently better than the other.

The secret is not to settle with outbound or inbound alone, but to balance the two within your company’s marketing goals and resource capabilities.

Timeframe | If you are looking to see immediate results and hit KPIs, an outbound strategy is most effective in casting a wider net and capture the greatest number of potential customers in short time period. For a long-term strategy, you should invest in an inbound strategy to build brand loyalty and foster meaningful relationships with your customer base.

Target audience | The strength of an inbound strategy lies with its ability to become highly customised around a prospect’s digital footprint. Go with inbound if your target audience are individuals who are conscientious in researching and consuming information online before settling on a product. If your target audience value information from more traditional sources such as newspapers or word-of-mouth referrals, an outbound strategy will provide the best channel for you to reach out to this group of people.

Budget | Outbound tactics are usually costly as it involves media buying on billboards, print and broadcast channels. Inbound tactics are cheaper to get started with in terms of purchasing a website domain and blogging.  

Type of products or services | If your product i) is completely new to the market, ii) faces stiff competition or iii) requires more time for customers to consider before making a purchase, an inbound strategy helps your customers decide why your product is different. In contrast, an outbound strategy is more suitable for straightforward products which do not require detailed explaining.

Final words; TLDR

Yes, the winning strategy is a combination of both inbound and outbound tactics. Outbound marketing can help you secure some quick wins while you figure out the direction for your inbound strategy in a long-term marketing plan. Most importantly, you must understand your business’ priorities and bandwidth to determine the best combination of strategies that will fulfill your marketing goals and needs.

Hatch is an impact-driven business with the mission to make digital and design opportunities accessible for all.  That's why we are committed to sharing valuable resources like these freely and openly for the community.

Interested to learn more about what it takes to be a successful Digital Marketer? Join the Hatch Immersive, our training and job-matching programme designed to kickstart your career as a Digital Marketing professional in under 6 months. Enquire with us now.