What's the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

As marketers, we all want to generate more leads. However, there are so many different tactics for generating leads it can be hard to know where to begin. You may have heard about inbound and outbound marketing tactics: so...what are they? How are they different? And which tactic works better online? 


What's the Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing?

The difference between inbound marketing and outbound marketing is who initiates the conversation. In inbound marketing, customers begin the conversation, typically by finding a company's content online. In outbound marketing, a company begins the conversation, typically by sending out mailers.


What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is customer-oriented and customer-driven. Simply put, inbound marketing starts with valuable content that your target audience wants, instead of just advertising your services. In a traditional marketing model, you would simply “spread the word” about your business through print or online ads. With inbound marketing, you instead focus on providing valuable information or items your customers can use. For example, you might start with an ebook, a quiz, a checklist or a blog that your ideal customer might find useful. You dangle that content offer to get nibbles in exchange for a form fill or phone call, and then follow-up with more direct advertising. 

The key takeaway is that inbound marketing is customer-centered. They find you, you don't find them.


What is Outbound Marketing? 

Outbound marketing is also the traditional marketing model. You start with your value propositions and try and get it in front of as many people as possible. This often includes offline marketing, such as direct mailers, billboards, events and telemarketing. However, outbound marketing is also a mindset. Instead of focusing on your customers' needs like inbound marketing does, outbound marketing tends to focus on your company's strengths. 

The key takeaway is that outbound marketing is company-orientedYou find your customers, they don't find you.


How Do I Get Started with Inbound Marketing?

You can start your inbound marketing journey at any time. We have an entire guide on how to do inbound marketing you can follow, but at a glance here are the key steps:

  1. Set SMART goals – Define what “success” is to you in order to guide your strategy.
  2. Define your ideal customer – Create buyer personas to determine who exactly you want to reach in the attract stage.
  3. Research – Once you know your customer, figure out what language they use to search online and what behaviors they take.
  4. Create assets – Create the specific content offers and follow-ups your ideal customer would want to download.
  5. Set it live – Turn on your advertising, set up automation and plan and schedule content pieces.
  6. Analyze – Make sure to consistently monitor your performance and adapt your strategy as needed. 

Both inbound and outbound marketing are ways of promoting your brand. However, when it comes to connecting to your customers online, inbound marketing is the proven strategy. 53% of marketers say inbound marketing has given them higher ROI, as compared to only 18% who say outbound marketing has given them higher ROI (source). Ready to get started with inbound marketing? 

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Free Guide: The Beginner's Guide to Inbound Marketing

All you have to do is follow the guide! Download the The Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing to get started!

In this download you'll find:

  • A step-by-step guide on how to create an inbound marketing strategy, including building buyer personas and setting SMART goals
  • Sample lead magnets to use in your inbound marketing campaigns
  • Step-by-step instructions to create a lead capture form
  • A checklist for creating an effective landing page
  • Instructions for building automated emails
  • Actionable tips for marketing your campaign to a new audience
  • Steps for optimizing your campaign for search engines

Download Our FREE Guide to Inbound Marketing


BizzyWeb is a Minneapolis-based digital marketing and web design agency that helps companies get the high-quality leads they need to grow and thrive. Our tactics include inbound marketing, SEO, advertising, web design, content creation and sales automation. We are an accredited HubSpot Platinum Partner and we offer full-service HubSpot onboarding, enablement and strategy for new and current users.

Dave Meyer
Author: Dave Meyer
Dave Meyer is President of BizzyWeb. Dave has more than 20 years of experience in marketing and communications and has presented digital marketing topics to thousands of people across the US and Canada.