Inbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing Explained: Part 1

Chris Murvine

Chris Murvine

CEO at Madison Marketing Group

inbound vs outbound Inbound marketing vs. outbound marketing, via Scott Fasser at

Before I started working for our digital marketing agency, I had a very limited understanding of marketing. Essentially, I heard the word "marketing" and thought “sales." Any and all attempts to sell products, market services and attract customers, I lumped together in the very broad category of marketing.

When I came on board the Murvine Marketing team, however, I quickly discovered how many types of marketing there really are, and how important it is to consider the differences between them.

Who would have thought you could describe this one term with so many adjectives (Wikipedia lists 42 types of marketing!) and in doing so change its meaning in so many ways? What I've realized, however, is that each of these many categories fit into one of two larger groups: inbound and outbound marketing.

These are two terms we use frequently on our blog, and lately we’ve received some questions about the differences between them. Having just taken what feels like a crash course on the subject, I offer you an explanation of each and a summary of their differences.

Outbound marketing refers to those efforts made to buy the attention of potential consumers. In my latest post I characterized traditional, old-school political campaigns, with their use of billboards, radio broadcasts, TV ads, and paper mail, as grounded in this sort of marketing. These, and all outbound marketing campaigns, are founded on a simple trait: interruption. Marketers attempt to worm their way into consumers’ daily routines as often and as loudly as possible, to project their message whether consumers want to hear it or not.

Annoying, right? Constantly being inundated with sales pitches and irrelevant information gets sickening, and marketers must recognize this. So why do so many companies rely on outbound marketing? For two reasons: simplicity and control. Reaching consumers through paid media takes money but not much effort. With a simple phone call you can have your advertisement set to run after the 7 o’clock news. Using traditional, outbound methods also allows you to remain in control. You create the billboard, you record the broadcast, and you design the pamphlet.

The issue with outbound marketing, however, is that it is simply not relevant in this day and age. Consumption is changing. Rather than rely on television and paper mail to receive information about companies’ services, consumers are now turning to the web and seeking these details themselves. With a wealth of online shopping opportunities at their fingertips, web users don’t have to travel to actual stores to get the products they desire (and can therefore avoid the radio broadcasts and numerous billboards they’re sure to encounter on the way).

Marketers aware of changing consumer habits are changing their strategies to reflect them. They are adopting what we call "inbound" marketing. Contrary to its traditional counterpart, inbound marketing focuses on attracting those consumers who are interested in your product. Blogs, social media, podcasting, word of mouth, e-mail, and SEO are just a few of the many components of inbound marketing. Each of these tactics is used for one purpose: to promote engagement.

Inbound marketers know that consumers will likely ignore any information they’re not interested in, so they seek to earn their attention. Doing so requires much more thought and effort than simply throwing money at ad agencies. Inbound marketing takes time, largely spent creating compelling content that will boost search visibility and draw consumers to "inbound-ready" sites. It’s an investment, that’s for sure, but those of us who spend time crafting compelling content realize that the ability to establish ourselves as industry experts and the potential to draw in loyal customers is well worth the effort.

Tomorrow, we'll answer some of your FAQ's about the differences between inbound and outbound marketing — stay tuned!

Eager to get the ball rolling with an inbound marketing campaign of your own? Learn more with our free Digital Marketing eBook or contact one of our consultants for personalized advice.

We’d love to hear about inbound tactics that have worked for you! Please share your strategies in the Comments section below.

Topics: Inbound Marketing