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Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing: Which Should You Use?

Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing


There is a ton of different avenues you can use for your marketing efforts. But how do you know which one will yield the best results? It can be difficult to know when to use inbound marketing or outbound marketing. Let’s take a look at how you can decide which one will be most effective for your product.

What’s the Difference? confused about inbound vs outbound marketing

Before we get into whether you should use inbound marketing or outbound marketing, let’s talk about the difference between the two.

Inbound Marketing Defined

HubSpot, who coined the term ‘inbound marketing’ defines it as follows:

Inbound marketing is an approach focused on attracting customers through content and interactions that are relevant and helpful – not interruptive. With inbound marketing, potential customers find you through channels like blogs, search engines and social media.  

Essentially, inbound marketing involves creating information about an issue and then highlighting how your product can assist with that problem.

Inbound marketing stems from the shift in how modern consumers buy products. HubSpot believes they go through a decision process, known as the ‘Buyer’s Journey’, when making a purchase. This journey has three stages: Awareness – Consideration – Decision. Consumers become aware of an issue they are experiencing, they consider possible solutions and then decide on which product can solve it for them.

Inbound marketing examples Include:

  • Blogging
  • Social Media
  • Podcasts
  • Viral Videos
  • Ebooks
  • Whitepapers

Outbound Marketing Defined

Marketing-Schools.org definition of outbound marketing is:

Outbound marketing tries to reach consumers through general media advertising, as well as through in-person contact. Depending on the venue, the approach can be extremely broad (TV advertising), thoroughly personal (face-to-face meetings), or “impersonally personal” (cold-calling or blanket emails). Through each outbound method, sales leads are generated and then followed by internal sales representatives.

Outbound marketing is the more traditional approach to marketing. It’s all about actively advertising to people by bringing the information about your product to them directly. This type of marketing does not need a buyer’s journey by nature.

Outbound marketing examples include:

  • Paid Google Advertisements
  • Paid Facebook Advertisements
  • Direct Email Marketing
  • Tradeshows
  • Billboards
  • Flyers
  • Television Advertisements

Choosing Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing

Now that we’re clear on the difference between the two let’s talk about how to decide when to use inbound marketing and when to use outbound marketing. Each one has its place and it can sometimes be difficult to determine which one you should use – but don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing

Any marketer worth their salt will know that the same tactic doesn’t work for every business. Something that works for a marketing agency isn’t necessarily going to work for an online clothes store.

To decide which way you should go, there are three key factors that you need to take into consideration.

  • Your Market
  • Your Product
  • Your Goals

Your Market

Paint a picture of your target market. Look at their demographics. Consider their professional goals, life goals and their challenges. Study how they get information to make a purchasing decision. The answers to these questions will do more than help you decide on inbound marketing or outbound marketing. It will also point you to which marketing channel is best for reaching them. If the right people don’t know about your product, how can they buy it?

Inbound Marketing

  • When your target market prefers to do their own research before making a purchasing decision e.g Techies.
  • When your target market prefers to consume information online. e.g Millenials.

Outbound Marketing

  • When your target market makes quicker purchasing decisions. e.g extremely busy people.
  • When your customer prefers to physically speak to a real person before making purchasing decisions. e.g Generation X.
  • When your target market gets information from more traditional sources. Such as word of mouth, television, or print. e.g Baby boomers.

Let’s take a practical use case. A dog walking service wants to increase downloads of their app. They’ve been running a paid Facebook ad campaign to target people aged 50-60 years old. But their posts haven’t been getting much interaction. So they sit down and take a look at their current customer base and assess the market.

After speaking with their customers they discover that the majority of their customers are aged between 23-30 and after studying the app download and usage statistics it’s clear they haven’t assessed their target market correctly.

Your Product

Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing

The next major consideration is the actual product that you’re selling. Different product types can be better suited to inbound marketing or outbound marketing.

Inbound Marketing

  • Products that take a lot of consideration. e.g computer software.
  • Products that need to be explained to highlight their value. e.g niche health foods.
  • Products that people aren’t yet aware of. e.g new to market products.
  • Products that have heavy competition in their market. eg. car dealerships.

Outbound Marketing

  • Products that don’t need much consideration. e.g a burger.
  • Products that are very straightforward and don’t need much explaining. e.g cell phone packages.
  • Products that have a loyal following. e.g Apple products.

Let’s look at an example of how important your product is when deciding on an inbound marketing or outbound marketing strategy. Coca-Cola decides to launch a new product, Strawberry flavored Coke. (This sounds awful, but luckily I don’t work for Coca-Cola! ) The company then decides that it is only going to use inbound marketing to promote this product. They begin writing blog posts about how strawberries are good for you and that people should try their new flavor. They are ranking #1 on Google for ‘Strawberry Coke’ but nobody is searching for this phrase because they don’t know it exists.

Food products like this don’t need much consideration. People don’t need to research and decide if they’re going to buy strawberry Coke or Dr.Pepper. An outbound marketing approach would be much more effective here.

Your Goals

The final piece of the puzzle is your marketing goals. Do you need to see some quick short-term wins? Or can you wait it out with a longer-term strategy to get wins in the future?

Inbound Marketing

  • Your goal is to get highly qualified leads.
  • You can afford to wait for these leads.
  • Your goal is to use a long-term strategy that will continue to generate leads well into the future.
  • You have a big team so you can churn out valuable content quickly.

Outbound Marketing

  • Your goal is to get some more general leads quickly.
  • You want to use a short-term strategy.
  • You can afford to invest some money in outbound strategies.
  • You don’t have time to wait for the returns from inbound approaches.

For our final example, let’s take an entrepreneur who has just developed a new piece of software. This software helps sales managers record their team’s sales calls. This entrepreneur is currently working part-time while he gets his business off the ground. He doesn’t have a lot of income to implement outbound marketing. But since he’s working part time he doesn’t need his leads to start pouring in immediately.

So he decides to use an inbound marketing strategy. He begins creating valuable content every day on his blog. It takes a long time, but he starts to see people downloading the free trial of his software. Then these people start buying his software and he uses that money to invest in outbound marketing for some quick wins. But while he’s working on this, the blog posts and ebooks he already created continue to perform.

He can now afford to work on his business full-time because he assessed his goals at that time and made the best decisions to match.

Let’s Wrap It Up

Inbound Marketing or Outbound Marketing

These three factors will help you decide if an inbound marketing or outbound Marketing strategy is right your business. There will be times when your market, product and goals pull you in different directions. But remember, there’s space for both inbound and outbound marketing. The key is to select which one best aligns with your market, product and goals at any given time. Try different methods, test things out and you can even use inbound and outbound marketing to compliment each other.

Resources for Inbound Marketing:

Resources for Outbound Marketing:

At a recent Rebrandly event, Hubspot’s David Ly Khim also gave a great talk about inbound marketing and how HubSpot used it to double its organic traffic. Check it out below:

Further Reading:

This Article is About:

  • Rebranding
  • How to rebrand
  • When to rebrand
  • Companies that rebranded

Originally Posted: May 16th, 2017.
Post Updated: May 11th, 2020.


Louisa works on putting together creative and useful content for Rebrandly customers to read. Though she spends a lot of time reading and writing online, she still loves to buy the Sunday papers.