Business Insights

Business Insights

To Shoot Or Trap: Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

On the hunt for customers, it’s important to pack the right equipment.

A good marketers’ kitbag is filled with a mix of tools and maps, each tailored to catch a particular species of B2B customer. In general, these tools can be described in two ways: as inbound or outbound marketing.

The difference is between shooting prey and setting a trap. So which should you use on your next B2B hunting expedition?

Outbound Marketing

Sometimes described as ‘traditional marketing’ (or more unkindly, ‘old marketing’), outbound marketing has been around since the invention of the printing press. Outbound marketing relies on a business reaching out in search of customers, usually casting a very wide net in the process.

There are some marketers who would argue that casting a net wide is a good way to get customers. Byron Sharp, author of How Brands Grow, argues that growth is all about how many customers you can acquire, and that the best acquisition tactic is to advertise to as many people as possible. While this may be a good fit for mass market B2C brands, B2B SMEs are likely to benefit from a more targeted approach.

 Outbound marketing is also interruptive – think radio or TV adverts, website banner ads, or cold calling – and can be indiscriminate, pushed to those who would be unlikely to be interested in a particular business’ products or services. As a result, the public has engaged mechanisms to actively avoid outbound marketing, including ad blockers, the Telephone Preference Service and the fast-forward button.

This doesn’t mean that outbound marketing is ineffective. The best campaigns will employ a sighted rifle rather than a blunderbuss, to aim more precisely at a particular breed of customers. This could be through advertising in a particular trade journal, selecting radio stations that cater to a specific demographic, or buying proven, curated data sets for telemarketing campaigns.

Inbound Marketing

If outbound marketing is shooting until you hit something, inbound marketing is casting a hook into the ocean of potential clients and waiting for a nibble. It’s all about pulling in customers, and the key is putting the right bait on the hook.

The goal of inbound marketing is drawing interested people to your marketing materials using a series of breadcrumb trails that could start from any number of locations, be it a tweet, a mobile app, a search keyword or a blog post.

The most important difference with inbound marketing is that it offers avenues for two-way communication. While it may be tempting to shout at a TV advert, doing so is ultimately pointless. On the other hand, social media posts, forum comments and reviews on third-party websites can all generate a level of engagement beyond the point of purchase.

So which is best for businesses?

There are three things to consider before making the any decision concerning inbound and outbound marketing.


Dragnets are expensive. If a business wishes to undertake an outbound campaign, it needs to have a very clear idea of who it is they are aiming to catch. Market research and the analysis of previous campaigns will indicate which waters and which depths will be most fruitful, allowing the use of a much smaller net.

If a business lacks the necessary customer data, an outbound campaign could be casting its net into the wrong pool, or even missing the water completely. In these cases, inbound marketing is the preferable option. Hooks can be baited with a selection of lures (different search keywords or social media approaches, for example), and traps can be set at multiple locations (blog posts or LinkedIn articles, for example), ready for the interested passer-by to fall in.


Done well, targeted outbound marketing can deliver instant results. On the other hand, inbound marketing can require the patience of an angler, with the initial nibble developing into the reeling-in of a prospect over a much longer period of time. Businesses should, therefore, consider how quickly they need to generate results from their marketing campaign. There may be times when only a dragnet will do.


Any hunting trip will benefit from the skills of a good tracker. For all marketing campaigns, the tracking of results is vital, irrespective of whether a campaign is inbound or outbound. Both methods should include metrics to deliver feedback, identify issues and improve performance.

For outbound, ensure that print, TV or radio ads can be tracked in some way – for example, by using custom landing pages. Website banner ads or telemarketing calls are more straightforward, but the analytics from each point of contact should be analysed to establish which channels and which audiences are delivering the most ROI – i.e. which hunting spot is the most plentiful.

For inbound campaigns, it’s more about which bait or lure is the most effective. Which social media posts are people responding to? Which keywords are being hit? Which type of content is leading to the most conversions? Video? Blogs? eBooks? The feedback from successful inbound campaigns should also build the foundations of future outbound efforts.

Don’t be fooled by those who say that outbound marketing is dead and inbound marketing is the future. Both have their place in marketers’ kit bags, and will remain there for some time to come.

Going big on outbound can deliver quick results, while the subtleties of inbound can deliver at a lower cost, but over a longer timescale. B2B businesses must be clear about how well equipped they are to take on either field. Those just starting out or who lack the data to clearly identify their target customers should look to the shallower waters of inbound marketing before graduating to the choppier outbound oceans.

The Marketing Centre provides proven part-time Marketing Directors for businesses across the UK. To find out how we could help yours, browse our case studies.


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Written by Brian Hardie

Brian Hardie is Regional Director for The Marketing Centre and specialises in working with small and mid-size businesses. He has over 30 years’ experience working with clients in logistics, media, technology and outsourcing.

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