Digital Strategy

Inbound vs Outbound Marketing: Can there Only Be One Winner?

February 2018
Melissa Sorini

If “Inbound vs Outbound Marketing” could be billed as some sort of title fight it would be less like pairing George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in their prime, and more like one of those perennially mismatched bouts where the lesser contestant gets KO’d in the first couple of rounds. Because truth be told, inbound marketing has overpowered it’s traditional rival with a deft and speed that’s almost embarrassing.

So how do the two shape up, and why has inbound eclipsed its old marketing rival?

Outbound: The elder statesman of marketing

Outbound marketing seeks to BUY our attention.

Traditional forms of outbound marketing include trade shows, email newsletters, purchased lists, cold calling, telemarketing and print/television advertising. These methods are used in order to go out and “find” potential leads, with the ultimate end goal of turning them into customers. It’s the sort of marketing that we grew up with as we munched on popcorn at the cinema while waiting for the movie to start or watched mum politely fending off the cold callers who always rang in the middle of dinner. Outbound is interruption-based marketing from businesses vying for – or buying - our attention.

Inbound: The scrappy young marketing upstart

Inbound marketing seeks to EARN our attention.

It does this through a combination of engaging and useful content, which attracts the interest of their desired target audience or buyer persona. This content adds value in some way, creating a positive connection with potential customers and encouraging them to engage with your brand, product or service. Content can take many forms, including company websites, social media, blogs, podcasts and other forms of free content like e-books or white papers. The rationale behind inbound marketing is that people seek out your business voluntarily, because you’ve come up with content that entertains or educates them.

What are the key differences?

Inbound has a better ROI

Inbound keeps surpassing outbound because it has a much better ROI. In fact, inbound marketing costs 62% less per lead than equivalent forms of outbound marketing. They don’t just generate leads – they also generate revenue.

Inbound is a two-way conversation

The rise of the digital age has completely changed the playing field when it comes to marketing, and the internet has created a space that enables two-way communication between businesses and their customers.

Inbound entices rather than entraps

Outbound marketing wants to distract and disrupt you in order to forcibly capture your attention. Inbound, on other hand, entices you to engage voluntarily by producing content that interests, entertains and delights.

Outbound vs Inbound Marketing Examples


  • Billboards
  • TV
  • Print advertising
  • Direct mail
  • Email Blasts


  • Websites
  • Social media
  • YouTube channels
  • Blogs
  • E-books

Five Reasons Why Outbound is on the Way Out

1. It’s more expensive

Inbound marketing has taken the lead over outbound because it costs  significantly less than traditional marketing. Billboards, print ads and tv commercials all require a large investment to procure and produce.

2. It’s more likely to be ignored

Most direct mail never gets opened, people go to the toilet during ad breaks, we flick past print ads and we zone out or click out if the websites we visit have too many intrusive pop ups or banners.

3. It’s old-fashioned

One-way communication is so last millennium, and today’s consumers are much more savvy – and talkative. Instead of being spoken at people want to join the conversation, and you can’t shoot the breeze with a billboard.

4. It’s intrusive

Let’s face it, no matter how fancy or entertaining your advertisement is it’s still designed to interrupt whatever I’m doing and insist that I pay attention to it - which is irritating at best and kind of rude at worst.

5. It’s been superseded

The internet changed the way we spend time, consume media, research products and make purchase decisions. People stream content to avoid ads, register for “Do Not Call” lists and no longer buy print media. The old media is slowly dying.

Outbound still has its place but there’s no denying that the advent of inbound marketing has transformed the way businesses communicate with their customers. At it’s heart, inbound has a much more egalitarian dynamic, and the shift to digital forms of media has empowered consumers in ways that weren’t possible when outbound reigned supreme. The great thing about inbound – and the reason for its growing success - is that it creates a win-win situation for the customer and the company.

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