Rough guide to inbound & outbound marketing

If you’re marketing your business in order to acquire more new customers you will probably – at some stage – come across these two terms: inbound marketing and outbound marketing. You might feel confused by the difference, irritated by the glib terminology, or excited by the many possible ways in which you can get your message out in front of your prospects.

However you feel, I’m writing this post to help you work out where (in marketing terms) you should be focusing your efforts, why that is, and with what aims in mind.

There are two points I would like to be clear on first. Note – these are purely opinions of mine.

  1. Inbound and outbound marketing are actually just fancy new terms for marketing activities that have been around for a while. But before we had digital, we couldn’t really do inbound marketing. (Clue!)
  2. Almost every business needs to do both.  Why? Because they do very different things. One – if done well – creates a lovely loyal community of potential customers over time, and the other can drive sales and revenue in the shorter term.

Definition of inbound marketing

My favourite definition is this one – courtesy of Hubspot.

Inbound marketing is any marketing tactic that relies on earning people’s interest instead of buying it.

By earning people’s interest, it specifically refers to publishing useful, relevant and interesting information on the internet for people to find.

So, inbound marketing – how do you do it?

To be enormously (and inappropriately) generalist – everyone researches online before buying stuff now. You know that, and I know that.  But, by research, we don’t mean simply comparing the actual products or services they want to buy – though that’s a big part of it.

People also:

  • Research the wider topic
  • Gather different viewpoints
  • Look for information written by people with similar attitudes or values to them
  • Weigh up and contrast input from people who may have very different values from them
  • Learn about the different alternatives available

That means that your role in this should focus on being the most helpful and useful resource you can possibly be, in your own particular field.

Your inbound marketing activity might include:

  1. Regular blogging or article writing around the subject
  2. Giving expert viewpoint on a topical issue
  3. Sharing your own experiences – positive and negative, as long as it’s useful
  4. Providing a forum for people to openly discuss the topic, products, services available – not just yours!

Where do you put these resources to attract customers?

  • Your own website – to attract those enthusiastic Googlers direct to you
  • Other relevant social channels – to spread the word more widely
  • Industry and trade press forums – to demonstrate your specialist expertise
  • Commenting on other’s threads – to link back to a relevant article you’ve written
  • Guest blogging on other relevant websites – to build greater thought leadership

As you write all this stuff – it magically becomes content. (Which takes us to content marketing – a very, very close relative, or if you’re mathematically inclined, sometimes described as a subset of inbound marketing.)

There are a few ground rules to getting inbound marketing right.

  1. It has to be relevant.  (If you sell training services, there’s not much point becoming the world’s best resource for beekeeping information. It might be your hobby, and what you know most about, but it won’t help your business. Unless you train beekeepers.)
  2. It has to be informative, helpful or useful. (Give your knowledge away for free, it will be valued and appreciated.)
  3. It does not sell or promote your stuff. (This is such a turn-off, and sad that all that lovely writing will have been in vain).
  4. It is easily read in plain English. (Avoid the long words, industry jargon – sorry!)
  5. Write in a way that fits with the culture of your business. (If you’re corporate, write sensibly. If you’re more informal or alternative, mirror it. You want to attract customers to read your stuff who will also want to do business with you – and if there’s a big mismatch between how you write and how you actually are in business, it will lead to less satisfied clients.)

So, on to outbound marketing.

My favourite definition for outbound marketing is actually from a quote that includes the phrase “…where you buy, beg or bug your way in”.  Although this can sound a bit grim at first, we can break it down to see what it’s referring to.

  • Buy your way in = paid advertising.
  • Beg = press releases for publicity.
  • Bug = sales people, typically on commission.

Outbound marketing is really about you having to go out and find your customers – in sharp contrast to inbound, where they come to find you. So, outbound encompasses those more traditional marketing activities that stream outwards towards a customer that isn’t yet looking for you – including email marketing, telesales, direct mail, trade shows, PR, leafletting, online advertising etc.

When short term sales are an absolute requirement, when start-ups need their first couple of clients, no-one yet knows about you and tumbleweed is rolling along your pipeline – there is a place for outbound marketing, and it is important not to rule it out as inbound marketing raises its more fashionable head.

There are countless small businesses which start off with something as simple as a local leafletting campaign to gather their first customers, and grow thereafter on referrals and word of mouth.

A final word on inbound vs outbound.

So, as ever, it’s probably best to look at what you want to achieve; take a good, close look at your resources – and then make a common sense decision on what would work best for you.

It’s usually some sort of combination of the two 🙂

And there’s always the option for you to give me a call on 07827 297569, or email me at, and we can spend some time talking about what might be the best approach for your business. Because – if you hadn’t already noticed – I’m a freelance sales and marketing consultant based in Hampshire, UK. And I’m available for hire.

First you may want to find out more about me and the type of businesses I work with.

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