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May 7, 2019

Your Guide to Outbound vs. Inbound Marketing

We know every moment (and dollar!) matters for your small business. It’s vital to efficiently communicate the value of your product, service, or brand to customers so you can make sales and drive interest. But what are the best, most cost-effective strategies for your company?

While the use of outbound marketing was traditionally most common, this has changed with the increase in digital and social media marketing campaigns. These days, many companies have turned to inbound strategies instead, or a combination of traditional and modern approaches.

Learn more about these marketing strategies, and the pros and cons of each, so you can create a better strategy to fit the needs of your business.

What is outbound marketing?

The difference between outbound vs. inbound marketing is about targeting customers.

Outbound (or traditional) marketing is the process where a company initiates the conversation and sends a message out to a broad audience. This happens through channels like tradeshows, TV commercials, radio commercials, print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine, etc.), direct mail pieces, cold calls, and email blasts. Basically, you’re blasting a broad message out to anyone that will listen, whether they are in your target audience or not.

Why use outbound marketing?

We know small businesses must maximize the number of customers while minimizing cost. Sometimes, traditional media is the best use of your marketing budget. But, in most cases, the reduced cost and trackability of inbound marketing outweighs the benefits of traditional, outbound marketing.

If you’re interested in outbound marketing, it works especially well with older customers. They’re often more comfortable with TV and radio ads than online marketing, and they typically make a point of scanning newspaper ads and flyers when they’re ready to buy a product. This audience feels they can trust traditional (outbound) communications, while inbound marketing is usually delivered via online technologies that are less familiar to them.

While outbound marketing is normally used to target a wide audience, it can also be effective in business-to-business (B2B) marketing or promoting premium goods and services. High-end products and B2B transactions typically have a low yield and aren’t looking to attract everyone, and these companies often must build trust and relationships before closing a deal. By utilizing traditional marketing techniques, these companies are increasing their brand awareness, thus increasing their brand trust. It takes time to earn trust and convince someone of a premium item’s value, which is why many luxury companies build credibility and relationships through outbound marketing.

Recently, many companies have opted to combine traditional outbound tactics with their digital marketing strategy by working to drive prospects to their website through brand awareness campaigns.

An effective way to do this is to include a discount code, free sample, or valuable “free” information in your mass-market offer. This can help lead people to your marketing funnel, or the journey people take when making a buying decision. Traditional media is typically used to drive potential customers to the broadest area of the funnel (the top), which is why it’s most effective as a brand awareness tool—not necessarily a sales-driving technique. Your goal is to just drive more people to your website. If your website is built for lead generation, your best prospects will work their way through the buying process and those not-so-great customers will weed themselves out.

A marketing expert can help you pinpoint your target audience and decide whether outbound, inbound, or a combination will be the most cost-effective for your business.

Outbound Marketing Pros & Cons


  • Can reach a wider audience
  • Familiar to most people
  • Builds credibility for high-end products


  • Challenges in tracking return on investment (ROI)
  • Increasing blocking techniques (“Do not call” list, spam filters, DVR, etc.)
  • High cost and low yield
  • Takes time to build trust with B2B or high-income prospects
  • Potentially resisting change in the marketing world

What is inbound marketing?

The difference between outbound vs. inbound marketing is about targeting customers.

For today’s business owners, creating engaging content—in a timely manner—is one of your most valuable tools. The goal of inbound marketing is to bring visitors in on their own terms and timeframe, rather than having to go out to attract prospects. Inbound marketing earns the attention of customers through relevant content that will address their specific needs. This not only attracts new prospects, but it also helps users (and Google) discover your business online. Inbound marketing may include blogs, podcasts, videos, eBooks, e-newsletters, whitepapers, social media, and other forms of content marketing.

This inbound strategy is rooted in the flywheel marketing concept. A flywheel is simply a type of wheel that collects momentum and then puts it back out into the environment. In marketing, this wheel is your strategy, and the momentum comes from your customers spreading the word (by sharing or engaging with your content). This model also encourages businesses to use their resources strategically and to reduce friction by smoothing out processes, mapping out communication needs and client touchpoints, clarifying major ideas, and unifying teams.

The flywheel urges business to attract, engage, and delight their prospects by drawing them in with helpful content they want to read and leading them to a product or service that solves a problem for them. Ultimately, this model focuses on putting the customer first (rather than the product and buying process) because happy customers return and make referrals that turn into sales.

Why use inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is typically a more affordable strategy than outbound because you’ll continually use your website or social media platforms to target specific customers who are actively seeking the products and services you provide. This is usually preferable to purchasing tons of outbound materials to reach every consumer, especially when your small business is on a budget.

Starting a successful inbound strategy only requires an online presence. Once you have an established website or social media platform to draw customers to, you can provide information that meets their needs by:

  • Creating content: You can post helpful articles and videos related to your business on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Doing so doesn’t directly promote your company, but rather provides useful content to consumers. This entices customers to stick with you and gives them a chance to share your content, which should lead to your website.
  • Offering incentives: Make following your business worth it by providing free eBooks or special deals on your products or services. A marketing expert can help you create a landing page where you offer consumers free goods or content in exchange for their name and email address.
  • Communicating: Unlike outbound marketing, inbound allows you to communicate directly with your clients and prospects. For example, you can post on social media asking followers for input about your products and services. This shows them that you care about your customers while giving you the chance to improve your business.

Inbound Marketing Pros & Cons


  • Affordable for small businesses
  • Attracts customers searching for your product/service
  • People-focused
  • Encourages two-way communication


  • Time consuming to create useful content

Deciding between outbound and inbound marketing will depend on your company’s goals and resources. If you need advice on the best tactics for your business and budget, don’t hesitate to contact a marketing agency. They can help you build the most cost-effective strategy to put your customers first and grow your business.

Learn the EXACT marketing strategy we use to help small businesses grow: The Flywheel Marketing Method.

Our proven marketing protocol helps companies make more money, free up time, and plan an effective strategy.

Treefrog Marketing is an agency in Lafayette, Indiana focused on small business. We specialize in strategic marketing and advertising, graphic design, web design, social media, SEO, and more. For more information, please visit our website. You can also connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

Leverage Kelly’s marketing experience, insights, and leadership to grow your business.

As the founder and chief marketing strategist at Treefrog Marketing, a co-host of the Priority Pursuit Podcast, a StoryBrand Certified Guide, and fractional chief marketing officer, Kelly Rice has spent more than two decades helping small businesses take their companies to the next level by providing trustworthy leadership and building effective marketing strategies and systems.

She has dedicated her career to helping small businesses succeed because she knows, firsthand, how hard they work to make their communities a better place. 

Still, many people undervalue the strength and ingenuity of small businesses, but not Kelly. She believes they deserve to have a marketing partner and strategy that works as hard as they do.

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