Yes, this is another inbound marketing post. But wait - before you roll your eyes let me stop you. I'm not taking sides here. To be honest you can call your marketing whatever you want just so long as you're taking a holistic customer-centric view of your marketing and engagement efforts we'll be all right eh? But what I did want to talk about today are some of the most common questions I get around this thing we're calling "inbound marketing". Because even though we may not be able to agree on what is or what isn't "inbound" we should at least be able to agree on some of the basics.

What, Exactly, Is Inbound Marketing?

Great question and wonderful place to start. Okay, here's the thing. There are only, like maybe two people in the marketing space that can agree completely on what inbound marketing actually includes or whether or not we even need the term. A lot of the rest of the people are left arguing about it. I'm not going to try and settle the argument here. But what I will do is just lay out how you can approach it.

You can think about inbound marketing like this. Just as it's name suggests inbound marketing happens when a customer has a need of some kind, seeks a resolution through a particular channel, and ultimately comes to a brand to the solution. In real life terms - I want to go on vacation. I search for "Italian vacations" and end up on a website that provides me information and booking options. Or...through social engagement I am made aware of a new product offering of a company I'm already aware of and follow a link on a social post and buy said product.

The visual Rand has created over at Moz is a good general look at inbound vs outbound, or as he calls it - interruption marketing.


You can see the general break down of the two sides. Some would say that they align on free vs paid, others argue they align on intent. Decide for yourself I suppose. But it is clear there are pretty big differences between the two sides.

Is Inbound Marketing Free?

No. There is no marketing your brand can do that is free. None. Even the things that have no defined cost have a time component that essentially costs at least from an opportunity perspective.


Can I Do Inbound Once In Awhile?

So here's the thing. With inbound marketing it's not as simple as turning a switch. Inbound tactics are mostly relationship driven and, just like in real life, solid healthy relationships are only created over time and are built on trust and mutual respect. That cannot be turned on or off quickly. It certainly cannot be half as*ed either. When you're practicing relationship based marketing (call it inbound if you want) you are building your brand and reputation one fulfilled promise at a time. This doesn't happen over night so be patient and understand that you have to make a serious investment to reap serious reward. No one wants to do business with a company that isn't willing to put in the work.

Outbound tactics do tend to have quicker turnarounds and are therefore more attractive for some. But don't think of it as a choice. Rather how can inbound and outbound tactics work together strategically to build your business over time and showcase customer value? How can one amplify the other? That's your sweet spot.


Can I Only Do Inbound Marketing?

No. I mean...technically speaking you can of course. But this would not be recommended. Any solid marketing strategy is holistic and considers all appropriate channels. Ignoring any one channel leaves money on the table. So you're best bet is to not ONLY do inbound or outbound. Do them in concert. Together. The cohesive front your brand will put forth when it's firing on all cylinders will blow your competition away. Why would you ONLY want to do inbound?


Is Outbound Marketing Dying?

No. Don't be silly. The people that are talking like that are being dramatic for dramatic sake. Seriously. Pay attention to what is working for your brand. You may see shifts over time in success from one channel to another, but Email isn't dying. Direct mail isn't dying (okay but it's probably slowing pretty dramatically right?). Banner ads aren't even dying. If they die for you - then stop. Well, figure out if you are doing something wrong first, then stop. Until then, just keep doing what works.


So here's the deal guys. You can call it whatever you want. It's fiiiiiiiiine by me. The thing to remember is that there is a host of tactics in your marketing toolbox. They may have different purposes but you're going to need them at all at some point. The key is to knowing how to balance your investments across the spectrum so you're getting the biggest bang for your buck. Stop looking for the easy and free solutions. Put your customer and the long-term vision of your company at the fore front and you'll gain some serious ground. This will deepen your customer relationships and build loyalty. Those loyal customers can then be turned into advocates and that's when the "scale" switch gets flipped. That's better than free. And that doesn't happen by ignoring inbound or outbound or whatever we all decide to call it.

Kristy Bolsinger

Kristy Bolsinger is a Senior Associate at PwC in Seattle, WA. She has previously worked at Ant's Eye View (acquired by PwC in 2012), and RealNetworks (GameHouse). Prior to her time at RealNetworks, and Ant's Eye View - Kristy was working as a Social Media Marketing Consultant and completing her MBA at Willamette University. She maintains a social media blog and can also be found on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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3 Responses to “Inbound Vs Outbound: Clearing Up Some Frequently Asked Inbound Marketing Questions”

  1. Abhay Hendre says:

    Very nice and informative article Kristy. I read that post published by Rand on moz. It was awesome. Inbound marketing really is the best and holistic way of doing marketing. I really feel sorry for people who spend time and money on blackhat and spammy techniques in their online marketing promotions. As you said, as long as we are helping our visitors/customers to get what they want without pissing them off, we'll be fine ;)

    • Kristy says:

      Yes you are completely correct when you say that outbound is decreasing. But I do know that it's efficacy is greatly related to the industry you're in and your target market. There are many other methods marketers can leverage to garner attention of their consumer beyond outbound channels that they need not rely solely on them any more. But I do believe there will always be a place in our plans for those channels. For the right company/consumer coupling of course.

  2. Some good points you raise here Kristy, and it's certainly a topic that people in the sector like to debate. (I have my own post on the differences between inbound and content marketing I'm putting together… Another area rife with debate!)

    I do disagree with you on the "is outbound dying" topic, though. As a whole, outbound marketing's effectiveness is decreasing. That's simply because with so many companies competing for mindshare, and so much ad space available, people just don't pay as much attention as they once did. Ad blockers are becoming more common in browsers, most people I know skip all the ads on TV, and physical magazine/newspaper sales are spiraling downwards.

    In the end though, that makes sense, I mean why would people consume forced advertising, when they can go online and look at whatever they want, whenever they want?

    Whilst outbound marketing will never "die", I expect its efficacy to continually decrease, making it harder for smaller businesses in particular to generate an ROI.

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