Marketing is a hugely broad discipline and, as such, covers a wide variety of methods and approaches. Breaking these methods down a little further can help us to understand their purpose, when it’s appropriate to use them and how they fit into a wider campaign.

inbound vs outbound


Broadly speaking, outbound marketing can be described as pushing marketing messages to consumers using ‘broadcast mediums’. It’s considered to be the traditional way of marketing because it was popularised by mediums such as direct mail, TV and radio. This has been taken online in the form of paid advertising (affiliate schemes) and paid search.

For the duration of an outbound marketing campaign, every click or impression has a cost. When the budget runs out or the campaign ends, the marketing stops and so does the benefit you get from it.

Some examples of outbound marketing:

  • Paid search (paid traffic from search engines)
  • Emailing bought lists
  • Affiliate ads (paid traffic from other sites)
  • Retargeting (keeping track of people who visit your site and displaying ads to them on other sites)
  • Any form of broadcast advertising

The benefits of outbound marketing are that it can be spun up quickly and if done correctly can leverage lots of leads in a short space of time.

However, because you’re often interrupting what a consumer is doing at that moment in time, outbound marketing methods can be seen to be ‘salesy’, ‘spammy’, distracting or simply annoying. Paid search advertising is an exception to this, as it’s designed to be relevant to the term the user has searched for, and can therefore, potentially, add value. Although it is an outbound method, it shares some of the characteristics of inbound.


Conversely, inbound marketing can be defined as any type of marketing which generates an organic source of traffic without needing to be paid for. Effectively, you are pulling customers into your world by offering them relevant and valuable content, engaging with them creatively, or responding to a demand. I must admit that before getting plays from I was virtually invisible, and inbound marketing in instances like these has helped me a lot.

Here are some examples:

  • Organic search (SEO)
  • Content marketing (blogs, infographics, video, online PR)
  • Social media (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Ning, forums, Q&A sessions, boards)
  • Email marketing
  • Premium offers (enticing sales offers and promotions)
  • Link building (direct links from external sites)
  • Podcasts
  • Word of mouth

These methods are sometimes referred to as ‘earned media’ because the cost is in the effort it takes to plan, research, produce and distribute content. It can take quite a bit of time and effort before the actions leverage any return, not to mention the effort in building up an audience and industry relationships.

The benefits of inbound are that once you have built a level of authority and expertise, content you produce can carry on working for you long after original publication. Think of it like a bank account. Once you’ve deposited your time and effort, it continues to  pay dividends in traffic, links and leads.

Inbound marketing is all about permission. It lets buyers choose when and where they are going to interact with your brand. For instance, they may subscribe to your blog or email newsletter, like you on Facebook or listen to a podcast. This is beneficial in a number of ways. If someone is already searching for a service, they’re already engaged and interested, and therefore far more likely to respond to your business. This means you’re not wasting your money and time targeting consumers who’d never use your services – only those who would.

Retention Marketing (honourable mention)

There are also some methods that technically fall into another category known as retention marketing. This is where existing leads become known and can be interacted with directly in order to pull them back into marketing sources.

  • Transactional emails (Event driven emails)
  • Email marketing to existing customers
  • Customer service
  • Social media


Different types of campaigns require different approaches to digital marketing.  We believe that a healthy balance of inbound, outbound and retention marketing can produce the best results. Outbound marketing certainly has its place – testing or kick starting a campaign’s traffic – but ultimately the real value to digital marketing is creating authentic, relevant value to customers. This is where inbound marketing comes in. Not only will inbound continue to generate leads far after your outbound budget has run out, but the quality of the leads tends to be much higher, as well at a lower cost, than outbound marketing.