Inbound Marketing versus Outbound Marketing
What is the difference between inbound and outbound marketing?

If you're new to marketing, you may be confused about two terms that you'll hear often:

  • Inbound marketing
  • Outbound marketing

The Difference Between Inbound Marketing and Outbound Marketing

Often, they are even somewhat confused by people who should know better. The fault is not entirely to be placed on them, however, because the two methods are not completely exclusive. Let me explain.

I like to start any conversation about the meaning of words with dictionary definitions. Then we go from there and flesh things out a bit with examples.

Wikipedia defines inbound marketing as follows:

Inbound marketing is promoting a company through blogs, podcasts, video, eBooks, enewsletters, whitepapers, SEO, physical products, social media marketing, and other forms of content marketing which serve to attract customers through the different stages of the purchase funnel.

In short, customers are finding your information and coming to you. You are creating content that attracts customers and brings them to your various properties (could be back to your site or to your store or somewhere else like your YouTube channel).

Wikipedia defines outbound marketing as follows:

Outbound marketing is buying attention, cold-calling, direct paper mail, radio, TV advertisements, sales flyers, spam, telemarketing, and traditional advertising.

Outbound marketing is your more “traditional” interruption marketing.

[tweetthis url=”″]Permission, proximity, and timing are three factors that can help you understand the difference.[/tweetthis]

So let's give a few examples of inbound marketing.

inbound marketing blog
Your blog is great for inbound marketing

Your blog is your best source for inbound marketing. You publish posts about a specific topic, those posts are found through social media and search, and people who are interested in what you've published visit your site.

If you create a how-to video on YouTube, and people find it through Google search or a search on YouTube, you've practiced another way to inbound market.

Let's say you produce a weekly podcast. Your subscribers share that with their friends on social media. Those friends become podcast subscribers, subscribe to your email newsletter, and then buy something from you (or through you) — you effectively used inbound marketing to gain a new customer.

Now, a few examples of outbound marketing:

  • You run a television ad with your local cable station. That commercial is broadcast to everybody watching a specific channel at a specific time. They have little choice but to watch it or ignore it (unless it's a show you've recorded, where you can skip commercials with your Tivo).
  • You create a Facebook ad campaign that targets single moms with school-age kids in the Toledo, Ohio area. Those moms may see your ad in their newsfeed, and while it's easy to block such ads or simply ignore them, you are still imposing upon someone a broadcast message designed to get their attention even if it's not something they are seeking at the moment.
  • What about running a Facebook ad whose purpose is to get people to sign up for your free newsletter? I mean, you're not selling them anything, right?

It's still outbound marketing. Potential customers didn't come to you – you went out and grabbed their attention by shouting at them, “GET MY FREE NEWSLETTER!”

After they subscribe, what you send them is pushing information to them. And while they gave you specific permission to market to them, and they have a choice to ignore or consume the newsletters you send them, it's still outbound marketing.

In short, you are still pushing information. That's outbound marketing.

Let's say you write a guest post for an influencer in your niche. That influencer's audience may be attracted to more of your content by what they read. They may want to visit your site to learn more from you. That's inbound marketing.

It's kind of a subtle thing when you get into the nuances.

In both cases, you're definitely trying to get people's attention. It's just two different ways of doing so.

outbound marketing is like a megaphone
Megaphones vs. Microphones

It's almost a distinction between using a megaphone and a microphone. Think about that for a moment.

If I don't have a willing audience (say I'm on a not-so-busy street corner), I may resort to using a megaphone to get people's attention. Those people may not want to be entertained. They may not care about the widget I'm trying to sell or the charity I'm raising money for. They may not be close enough to take the effort of walking over.

Consider TV cop shows, where the police negotiator always uses a megaphone to talk to the kidnappers or “holed up” crook with hostages:

The “audience” certainly don't want to hear the message the police is sending. However, when the real negotiations take place, they talk on the phone.

Contrast that with a Taylor Swift, who has attracted a very large audience of ardent fans who willingly pay hundreds of dollars for a ticket to see her perform with a microphone. She doesn't have to go out on a street corner to conjure up a crowd with a megaphone (though if she did, it would be pandemonium).

Both tools project your voice. One is designed to get people's attention, whether they care about your message or not. The other is designed to deliver a message that people want to hear, when and where they want to hear or see it.

Make sense?

Inbound marketing is about getting the message when your prospect wants it
Timing is everything

You can also think in terms of what does somebody want to hear, watch, or participate in, and when? Outbound marketing wants to attract that audience when the outbound marketer wants to make a pitch.

Inbound marketing wants to deliver the “pitch” when the customer wants to hear or see it.

Put another way, outbound marketing is marketer-centric, whereas inbound marketing is more focused on the potential customer.




inbound marketing, interruption marketing, outbound marketing, permission marketing

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