Inbound vs Outbound Marketing

by Jan Yuill

I have become an attentive student on the subject of marketing, and in particular the difference between inbound and outbound marketing, two relatively new terms to me. (Check out and for some goodies.) As I learn, I test the waters. To illustrate …

I am on many e-mail marketing lists. And I get lots of messages in my Inbox that I automatically delete … in particular, the ones that say ‘30% off for today only’ and ‘special discount for you’ and seasonal sale’ in the subject line. But occasionally I take a peek, because I am curious about how companies market themselves.

The other day my favourite funny airline sent me a ‘new destinations’ message. I opened the message, and sure enough, it was all about their new destinations. Yawn. No travel tips. Nothing about the destination itself. No travel anecdotes or jokes (which I would expect from them). Just ‘click here’ and ‘buy now.’ So I took a gamble, and hit ‘reply.’ (The e-mail address looked legitimate.) I asked them why they we only asking me to buy (outbound marketing) and not trying to create a relationship or dialogue with me, or add value up front (inbound marketing). And then I hit send. You guessed it. It came back as undeliverable. In order to give this company any feedback, I would have to go to their website, fill out their form (giving much more information than I care to give), and wait for an automatic reply, and then a formulated reply, and then a ‘thank you for you feedback, we really do value you’ reply. No way was I going to waste any more time doing any of that!

Sigh. I know my favourite funny airline is in trouble.

The marketing function in any organization is at the 5th interface of the Organizations Alive! Model, where Strategic Vision meets Customer Service. It is one of the two cross-over interfaces that deal with complete opposites, and as a result, is an ongoing challenge for any and everyone. The outbound marketing approach is the process of telling customers all about the organization’s mission, mandate, values, etc. and that they have what the customer wants and needs (Strategic Vision to Customer Service). Inbound marketing, where customers join in conversation about the dream and ideas (Customer Service to Strategic Vision), goes in the other direction. With the advance of social networking tools (e.g. Twitter, Facebook, etc.), the ability to engage in two-way customer-to-company conversations has become a streamlined, real-time possibility. Both inbound and outbound marketing are important for success. Understanding the distinction gives companies the competitive advantage.