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Inbound vs Outbound: Which Marketing Strategy Works Best for Small Business?

Illustration depicting Outbound v Inbound Marketing

Small marketing teams understand better than any other, the need for their strategies to produce big results for their small business. These days, small business marketers have two options at their disposal: inbound marketing and outbound marketing. Inbound and outbound marketing are two fundamentally different approaches to how a business acquires customers for its products and services. Here we examine the highlights of each approach, how they came about, the key differences between them, and which marketing strategy works best for small businesses.

What is Outbound Marketing?

You probably already know what traditional outbound marketing looks like, even if you’ve never heard of it. Outbound marketing uses interruptive tactics to push a message out to the masses hoping to appeal to interested buyers. It’s a seller-centric form of marketing that interrupts consumers’ busy lives with the message, “Hey, take it from us - you need to buy this product. It’s exactly what you need!” While in truth the seller knows little about what the consumer actually needs. Sound familiar?

Outbound marketing formats include tactics like:

  • TV commercials (where’s that fast-forward button?)
  • radio ads
  • direct mail (real mail, delivered to your real mailbox, and thrown straight into the recycling bin)
  • those annoying website banner ads
  • print ads
  • accident-inducing billboards

It is a mass-market form of communication that provides very little opportunity for messaging customized to a specific buyer.

Outbound marketing was born of an era where companies had to appeal to the whole market with just one message in order to reach the largest audience possible. So, they used large advertising budgets to buy 30-second spots on national television to maximize exposure.

A small percentage of that television audience may have had a problem that particular product solved. A smaller percentage may have been willing to try the product. And an even smaller percentage still would actually go out and buy it. Even though those companies understood that a large percentage of their ad spend was being wasted on uninterested consumers, they really didn’t have many other options to get their message out.

Illustration of customer looking for products online

Today, most buyers don’t want (or like) to be told what to buy. And now more than ever, buyers are in control of the information they consume and when they consume it.

Luckily, due to advances in technology (like the internet) marketers have more sophisticated ways of reaching the right audience at the right time - a highly-segmented audience they can send targeted messages to about products designed to satisfy their specific needs. Enter inbound marketing.

What is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing focuses on attracting and driving the right prospects (the ones who actually need and want your product) into your website and converting them into buyers once they are ready to purchase. It is a permission-based form of contact with people who tell you when they’re interested in your company or product. Inbound marketing focuses on earning a buyer’s trust by making relevant information available to them when they’re looking for it.

A company becomes a trusted advisor when it can consistently provide answers and support to a prospect as they move along their buying journey.

Inbound marketing uses things like content marketing, search engine optimization, marketing automation, and social media to provide value at each stage the prospect goes through from complete stranger to loyal customer.

Buyers are searching for different kinds of information at different times. From first identifying that they have a problem, to identifying potential solutions, and then choosing a problem solver. The businesses that are answering those questions at the right time are winning customers.

Why the Inbound Marketing Strategy Works Best for Small Businesses

So what does this mean for the small business owner? Given it's alignment with the way modern consumers purchase products, inbound marketing is the clear winner when it comes to small business marketing strategies. Inbound marketing offers numerous benefits to small businesses with limited marketing budgets.

Inbound Marketing is Cost Effective

For starters, let’s talk about the cost, a critical subject to the small business owner. According to HubSpot, inbound leads cost 61% less than outbound leads. Because traditional methods of advertising are far more expensive than inbound marketing tactics (i.e., SEO, blogging, and social media).

Your Marketing ROI is Easier to Measure with Inbound

The same tools that help make campaign planning easier can also make measuring results a breeze. Using HubSpot or Google Analytics, you can easily track the performance of your marketing efforts. Constant measurement and analysis allows for quick adjustments so you’re never stuck with a bad marketing strategy.

Inbound Marketing Produces Higher Quality Leads

Because inbound marketing is permission-based, rather than interruptive, connection with a prospect isn’t even initiated until they’ve said they’re interested. This means you’re not wasting your precious time chasing down leads that are never going to convert because they weren’t interested in the first place.

Your job as an inbound marketer is to nurture the lead (by answering their questions and being generally helpful) until they’re ready to buy.

Inbound Leads to Increased Trust, Credibility, and Customer Loyalty

Because inbound marketing is all about providing value and nurturing customer relationships it is more educational than promotional. And it takes time to do it well. But over that time, your customers and peers will begin to see you as a thought leader in your industry, which impacts the way customers perceive your brand and increase customer loyalty.

There are many ways to effectively implement inbound marketing in your small business, and you can make a large-scale impact even with the smallest of teams. We encourage you to download our ebook: “How to Run a Successful Campaign with a Small Marketing Team”. If you need help determining which marketing strategy works best for your small businesses then connect with us for a conversation on how to get big results.


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