Outbound marketing is communicating to would-be customers; inbound (digital) marketing is enabling them to connect with you.

Outbound marketing is communicating to would-be customers; inbound (digital) marketing is enabling them to connect with you.

In outbound marketing, you look for the right customers; in inbound (digital marketing), you enable the right customers to find you.

What are the characteristics of each, and when are they a good way to run a business?

For outbound marketing, you think of collateral, sales training, demos, traditional advertising, sales funnels, CRM (customer relationship management) systems.

Economist George Stigler once wrote an article showing that, counterintuitively, advertising for glasses actually reduces their price. The reason is that by educating the customer through advertising, the amount of searching for answers is reduced, which reduces the support cost for the glasses supplier, who otherwise has to answer all of these arbitrary customer questions.

Sales training enables a sales organization to accurately pitch a product in the company’s portfolio. How does it solve problems that people in the customer base might encounter? How is it differentiated from competing offerings? What is the expected cost and expected benefit of using it? Does it fit the customer’s resource plan? Is it part of the mix for an annual budget and should there be a regional pilot to prove it out, or can it drop right in on a single-user, month-to-month subscription, or free trial or even freemium basis?

Collateral, demos, advertising are all part of the same outbound communications mix.

For inbound (digital) marketing, on the other had, you maybe think first of things like SEO and SEM in web traffic, social media, webinars, focus groups, content marketing, surveys, meetups, trade shows. These are all things that enable a customer to find you. Given a rough idea of what the customer is looking for, and educating the customer can be part of inbound marketing.

The reality is, you can’t really have outbound or inbound in isolation. They go hand-in-hand and complement each other. And what is “digital” here? It’s just all marketing. The difference really comes down to the fact that the utility of digital information keeps increasing, while the channels for outbound marketing keep fragmenting, and the timelines for customer decision making keep getting shorter.

Marketing is all about messaging.

Take the webinar as a case in point. It can be a way to understand better how customers talk about a product category, so that the appropriate words can be featured in messages in your website SEO or SEM, and make it easier for customers to find you.

But how do you find the right participants for a webinar in the first place? Maybe it’s by determining the persona of ideal particpants, or by slicing and dicing databases like Reference Solutions or AtoZDatabases to find who to invite based on SIC/NAICS industry codes, number of employees, growth stage of the company, or geography.

Is that outbound or inbound? It’s just marketing which has more digital attributes.

It really is just a reflection of the fact that the amount and quality of digital information keeps increasing, which changes how we look at messaging, the core of marketing.