for creative entrepreneurs

The InBound OutBound Battle Royale

Just about any marketing strategy can be categorized under two competing heads: InBound versus OutBound. InBound is the younger of the two competitors, born straight out of the Internet age. OutBound is the cranky old uncle grumbling against this young whippersnapper, who thinks he’s the world’s gift to marketing.

InBound and OutBound marketing really are rivals, with very different approaches, sensibilities, and traditions. As their names imply, InBound is about attracting customers to you, while OutBound marketing depends on you to reach customers yourself. The advocates of each approach frame their benefits in stark relief to the other’s liabilities. This heated feud has been going on for a few decades now.

Let me cut to the chase: I believe there are merits to both approaches, and if they could just get along, we might be able to craft more robust marketing strategies to serve our creative practices. Let’s consider the strengths and weaknesses of both approaches.

The Old School OutBound Camp

OutBound marketing is old school. Before the internet, if you wanted to get your message in front of your market, you had to reach out to them—they were not going to find you by magic. Advertising, in one form or another, was the most common path to attention. Whether it was broadcast ads, radio ads, billboards, or print advertisements—the financial bar to entry was pretty high. Running ads on network television was a multi-million dollar proposition. Regional advertising was somewhat more affordable, but if your market was broad, you had few options other than spending lots of money. And while consumers of television and radio understand that ads are necessary, nobody enjoys interruptions to their programming.

Alternative OutBound methods included direct mail and cold calling. And it’s this form of bulk marketing that really gives OutBound a bad name. Who likes being interrupted at dinner time by a telemarketer, or chucking loads of junk mail into the trash?

Enter the Young Hero, InBound Marketing

The internet enabled people to discover products and services through their own deliberate searches. No longer do we have to wait for marketers to find us. We find what we need, when we need it. The marketing challenge now is to optimize our products and services in such a way that, when consumers are looking, we will be found. InBound marketing is essentially focusing on efforts that lead to others finding us, rather than hunting for potential customers—using interruption tactics to get their attention. InBound is the hero who’s delivered us from the clutches of the Evil Interruptor.

That reminds me…

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

Interrupting cow.

Interrupting co…


Trust me, your kids will love it.

InBound is the Golden Child

InBound marketing, when it’s working, is not only less expensive and more freeing. It’s also a more powerful lead generation process. When a prospect finds you through their own discovery, utilizing tools like search or social media, makes that first contact all the more weighty. Whereas when you make the first contact, asking for some attention, it tends to give the opposite impression. No wonder InBound evangelists are so passionate about their strategies.

Should we Leave OutBound Out in the Cold?

InBound marketing, however, has some liabilities. We can’t always afford to embrace InBound exclusively. For one, InBound techniques can take much longer to gain momentum. It’s wonderful when a piece of published content is found by a prospect in search. But search engine optimization can take quite a while to gain traction. It’s awesome when a social media post goes viral, but how do you make something go viral on purpose?

We should always be angling ourselves for optimized InBound opportunities. We should use content strategy, SEO, social media, and all the tools of the InBound trade. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that we can’t always afford to wait for InBound results. Especially when we are starting up a new, or re-positioned company, or we’re introducing a new product. Early on in our marketing efforts, we still need to make OutBound efforts—even as we invest in longer term InBound efforts.

One of the liabilities of going “all in” for InBound is that we can begin to disdain anything that utilizes interruption tactics. Our InBound enthusiasm may give us “permission” to avoid all OutBound efforts, treating those old fashioned methods with contempt.

OutBound Marketing Builds Muscle

But sometimes, when we need to market our services, we simply have to roll-up our sleeves, find a list of prospects, and make the first contact. I don’t know of any creatives that love the idea of cold calls, cold emails, or making cold social media connections. We have very thin skins when it comes to the normal pattern of rejection we must face when taking the initiative in OutBound efforts. Frankly, an over-reliance on InBound might be turning us into marketing wimps.

Using Both Strategies

There is a way to bring both approaches together? By all means, write content. Post to social media. But you need to add some good old fashioned door knockin’ to those efforts. While it can be hard to do, OutBound efforts really can pay off. Especially if, as prospects open their door a crack, they don’t encounter a vacuum cleaner salesman who immediately throws dirt on their floor to prove how great their product is—they instead find a professional with insights and services they really need.

The problems associated with “OldBound” marketing are not its channels or methods—it’s the messages delivered through those channels. Any form of marketing, any tactic, can work—it just takes some skill to use channels right, and deliver clear and appropriate messages through them.

So don’t get caught up in the rhetorical battles between InBound and OutBound marketing. Learn to employ the best practices from both. Then you’ll have a strong united team—rather than a divided front.

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?