What’s the Difference Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing?

Within the world of digital marketing, there are two main subsets of marketing tools: inbound, and outbound. (Also known as “push and pull” marketing.) Decades ago, before the Internet became the go-to place for all manner of consumerism, outbound marketing was really all that existed. People would see television ads, hear radio jingles, see billboards, and that was how they found out about products. 

The problem became consumer fatigue. The world was, and is, filled with tons of advertisements, all vying for the limited time and attention that a consumer has to offer. Around this time, many businesses started to realize that drawing customers to come to them, rather than forcing their way through the noise, was a much better strategy – thus, inbound marketing was born.

But what are the differences between the two? Can outbound marketing still work? Are there any reasons why a business wouldn’t want to use inbound marketing? We’re here to answer all the questions, and more.


To put it very simply, outbound marketing is when you go to your customers. You initiate the contact, you start the conversation, or you send a message. However, the true definition of outbound marketing boils down to money. Outbound marketing costs you money – and when you stop paying for that advertising to be hosted and distributed to your audience, the leads being generated by your efforts disappear.


In the past, outbound marketing meant newspapers and TV commercials. These days, businesses are more concerned with reaching customers online. Therefore, outbound strategies often include:

  1. PPC Advertising: Pay-per-click advertising means purchasing a top ranking spot on a search engine results page. Every time a consumer clicks on that promoted link, you pay.
  2. Email marketing: The initial generation of an email list could be considered inbound marketing. But once you have the email addresses of your consumers, you are engaging in outbound marketing. Every time you send a newsletter, an announcement, a coupon, or any other content, you are going to the customer, hoping to attract them back to your site.
  3. Online events: Hosting a webinar, online conference, live chat, Facebook group meeting, or any other type of online event can be a good tool to have in your marketing strategy. By going to the customers and inviting them to join you for a special event, you make a lasting impression on your potential leads.
  4. Social media marketing: When you pay to have a message promoted and shared to millions of users, you are engaging in some outbound marketing. This can help you get your message and link out to a much wider audience than you have, based on algorithms within the social media site itself to match your product or business with those who have an interested in what you offer.
  5. Content Syndication: Promoting content on social media is actually a type of content syndication, though many don’t realize it. Any time you pay to have your content gathered and displayed to a whole new audience that you didn’t have, you are engaging in content syndication. Guest websites, RSS feeds, and similar tools can work wonders for a startup or small business.


There are some reasons why businesses may want to use outbound marketing. For example, companies that primarily sell to Baby Boomers would want to focus on outbound marketing because it is familiar. Other pros of outbound marketing include:

  • Not very time consuming; typically runs automatically once being put into place.
  • Spreads local awareness much faster.
  • Reaches demographics that may not be active Internet users.

Outbound marketing is not always the best choice, however. Some of the cons include:

  • Expensive, and lead generation stops when you stop paying.
  • You approach customers when they may not be ready to buy.
  • No engagement typically results from outbound marketing.
  • Your advertisements can be blocked by spam filters and other technology.


On the opposite end of the spectrum is inbound marketing. This is any type of marketing you do to entice customers into making the first move. For example, putting great content on your website, or posting on social media, are both invites to the public that allow them to engage with you first. This also includes tools designed to help customers “organically” stumble over you. SEO, for example, helps customers find you better in a search engine results page, so that they can then engage with your content.


Inbound marketing can sometimes not even look like marketing at all. For example, you may think of number one on this list as putting out a product, but think again.

  1. Publishing an eBook: This inbound marketing technique is designed to drive traffic back to your website, your service, or your other books. Choose an eBook topic that you or a ghostwriter can write quickly, make it relevant to your service, and link your service at the end.
  2. Blog: A blog is the most basic type of inbound marketing. The blog has to be filled with relatable content that is often expected to be both vast and deep. A blog is a great digital marketing tool because it comes with a lot of analytics tools where you can test out what is working and what isn’t.
  3. SEO: Getting any content online to the top of a Google Ads Page full of results is just wishful thinking…or is it? By optimizing your content to reach more people, you invite them to start a dialogue with you or to take some action.
  4. Social media marketing: Presenting a strong brand image on social media is essential. Social media trends change over the years, but Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn are all still solid choices for your social media marketing attempts.
  5. Make videos: Just like a blog, a video channel should produce high-quality content that viewers really want to see. Make the branding and CTA subtle while you focus on drawing in the most followers and providing them with useful information. Most small and large businesses are starting to address the rise in video marketing and are hiring video marketing agencies or creating in house teams to create branded content


For most businesses, inbound marketing is a great choice. It is very cost effective, with almost no upfront monetary costs. And because inbound marketing is initiated by the customer, you have a much higher chance of getting clicks from those who are ready to buy.

However, there are some things to know about inbound marketing. It can be very time consuming to prepare advertisements, and keep up with changing networks. It also relies, at least in part, on luck, when you are waiting for organic follows from search engine results.


The biggest difference between the two types of marketing is who is doing the initial approach. However, you can see how this tiny little point can change the entire experience for everyone. Unless you are totally confident in your ability to know your customer inside and out, outbound marketing can leave them feeling spammed. But inbound marketing has its own unique challenges.


Depending on your goals and budget, you may end up doing just one type of marketing at a time. However, using both inbound and outbound strategies together is the best way to create a balanced strategy. The most important part of following through with your marketing is knowing your clients well enough to create personalized marketing messages to each sub group. If this is something you’ve struggled with, find out how we can help at Noble Digital.

How to Build and Hire a Marketing Team

How to Build and Hire a Marketing Team

Struggling to get the word out about your brand’s product or service without breaking your cashflow? Stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard...