Marketing is a push-pull system. Inbound marketing works by attracting customers into your funnel, while outbound marketing nudges them toward whatever it is you’re offering.
Inbound and outbound marketing approaches have the same goal: capture new customers and entice them to buy. The strategies each use to get there is where inbound and outbound marketing differ.
Outbound blasts your message to everyone out there, actively seeking and engaging potential customers. With outbound, you start the conversation with your audience. The goal is to reach everyone within your pool of potential customers.
Inbound is a bit more surgical: it involves subtly crafting content with the goal of pulling people in. It’s clever and strategic. You’re getting people to come to you by offering them what they want — whether that’s educational material, engaging content, or something in between. Understanding inbound vs. outbound marketing starts with knowing when you want to push or pull.
What is outbound marketing?
Outbound marketing initiates the conversation by broadcasting your message to a wide audience. Also known as push marketing, it focuses on reaching as many people as possible to increase brand awareness and promote your product or service.
The goal is to capture the audience’s attention and convert as many of them as possible into customers. Like casting a wide fishing net, outbound marketing won’t catch every fish in the sea, but it’ll increase the chances of reeling in potential customers and leads.
Traditionally, mass media channels — such as television commercials, radio ads, and direct-mail materials like flyers — are popular outbound mediums that target a wide range of demographics. In the digital age, websites and social media now also serve as effective outbound channels, allowing advertisers to captivate audiences with interactive content that builds relationships and drives customer action.
Outbound marketing stages
Outbound marketing relies on three stages to target potential customers and guide them into taking action.
1. Define your target audience
While outbound marketing aims to reach a broad audience, focusing on who you’re most likely to convert ensures the most efficient use of available time and resources.
Assess your ideal customer’s demographics, like their age, location, and occupation, to tailor and personalize your messaging. Consider developing buyer personas — fictional representations of ideal customers — through market research and analysis to gain insight into their needs, desires, and pain points.
2. Push your message
After identifying potential prospects, it’s time to actively push your message. Those buyer personas you’ve developed can help you decide which channels, content types, and publication schedules resonate the most with your target audience.
Creating short-form videos for Instagram Reels or TikTok, for example, might be a better fit for a Gen Z audience than a post on LinkedIn or Facebook. Timing is also important. For example, if you’re running a TV commercial, you want to place it at the time people are most likely to see it. Nielsen found that 9:15–9:30 p.m. is when most people are glued to their TV, with watch times starting to flatten and then drop until around 11 p.m. when people tend to head off to bed.
The goal is to direct tailored content to the right place at the right time to ensure your message reaches — and resonates with — the right audience.
3. Follow up with potential customers
Capturing your audience’s attention starts the conversation, but following up nurtures the relationship.
If a customer has filled out a lead-capture form — a tool that gathers contact details from potential customers — your next step might be including a discount code in a personalized email that incentivizes them to make a purchase. The aim is to convince customers to buy from you by addressing any questions or concerns they have and showcasing the benefits and value of what you’re offering.
Outbound marketing examples
Outbound marketing is generally thought of as advertising, with the primary channels being display advertising, direct mail, and media buys like commercials on television or banner ads on websites.
Remember: The goal is to put your product or service in front of as many people as possible.
What is inbound marketing?
Unlike outbound marketing, which pushes information to a (generally) broader customer base, inbound marketing organically attracts smaller prospective audiences to build trust, establish credibility, and foster long-term relationships.
The goal is to attract qualified leads who want what you’re offering and then entice them to stick around for more information or make a purchase. If outbound marketing is like casting a wide fishing net, then inbound is like using a lure on a fishing rod to reel in specific prospects and then give them what they came for.
Digital platforms provide ample opportunity to engage with potential customers. Strategies like SEO (search engine optimization) that work with premium content creation serve as the lure. From there, it’s about optimizing your process and interacting with your potential customers to find out how best to serve them.
Inbound marketing stages
Inbound marketing has three stages that provide a framework for getting your message across.
1. Capture attention
An inbound marketing strategy revolves around serving clients and offering them what they need. Blog articles, videos, and social media posts are your tools to find customers’ pain points and aid in solving them — before you ever ask for anything in return. The goal here is to cultivate an audience by giving, which turns out to be a great way to start a relationship with anyone.
2. Engage your audience
After drawing in potential customers, it’s time to nurture and develop the budding relationship. By responding to comments on your blog or social media posts, offering personalized advice, and encouraging participation through interactive content and contests, you foster a sense of community and establish rapport.
Reciprocal, two-way communication also helps gather valuable feedback and insights, providing a deeper understanding of your target audience. Use these insights to refine your marketing strategies, optimize your messaging, and tailor your offerings to improve and strengthen the connection between your brand and your customers.
3. Delight your customers
Providing recommendations based on purchase history, access to loyalty programs, and exclusive offers for repeat customers helps customers feel valued and appreciated, encouraging them to remain loyal to your brand and recommend it to others.
If you exceed your audience’s expectations by providing value even after they become customers, they’re more likely to turn into devoted brand advocates.
Inbound marketing examples
Here are some examples of effective inbound strategies in action.
- Content marketing: A web hosting company creates and shares informative blog articles, ebooks, and gated content to educate and entertain audiences while showcasing industry expertise and authority.
- Social media marketing: A pet food brand interacts with customers by responding to comments, posting quizzes and contests, and running ad campaigns that target specific animal owners.
- Email campaigns: A vacation property rental company nurtures leads and fosters loyalty through personalized email campaigns that deliver exclusive content, like discounts and special offers.
- SEO: A foreign language learning app optimizes website content using effective keywords to rank higher in search engine results, driving organic traffic and attracting relevant leads.
- Podcasts: An independent news organization starts a podcast to share industry insights and in-depth knowledge or generate leads on breaking stories.
Reach the right audience
Inbound and outbound marketing are two sides of the same coin. Each is unique, but they focus on reaching and engaging target audiences differently.
Applying both inbound and outbound methods extends the reach of your marketing efforts, helps you appeal to your target demographic, and ensures you get the best marketing outcomes for your investment.