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Inbound and Outbound Marketing

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Digital Marketing - Study Notes:

Key concepts

Two of the most important principles of digital marketing are inbound and outbound marketing.

Outbound marketing

It's a concept that we're all kind of familiar with from the world of traditional advertising and marketing. Outbound marketing begins when the brand pushes their message out to a specified audience, usually with the intent of driving awareness of a product or service or sale, different things like that.

It's generally done online using things like banner ads and video formats that are served to people multiple times to ensure they remember the product. This is known as product recall, and it's achieved through audience reach and frequency, again and again. Just to note, other formats include TV, radio, print. All those traditional media formats are also a form of outbound marketing. You're not necessarily looking for the product, but they show you the ad because you kind of fit a certain profile and you just might be interested in it. Outbound marketing really is more your traditional way to do marketing.

Inbound marketing

Inbound, on the other hand, is the exact opposite. It's kind of like reverse marketing. Essentially, it's when people seek you out. Basically, the audience comes to you. It's about anticipating audience needs and creating the type of content or choosing the type of keywords that people might ask Google as a question to solve their problems. And you're going to provide a solution to this with your reaction.

Inbound is really clearly shown in the world of search marketing, and that is SEO and PPC. So, think about the journey: they type something into Google or a search engine, you present them with your solution, they choose it, and they come to you.

So the goal is to drive traffic from those people who are actively seeking you out as a solution to a need or a want. With inbound, potential customers find you through channels such as search engines, email subscriptions, word of mouth, blogs, online reviews, and recommendations. The value of inbound marketing is the user is looking for solutions. They're in a certain mindset. They might buy something that might be comparing a service but they are actively in the market for a solution which you can offer.

So from a motivational point of view they're showing what's called intent. Now that's what drives them towards you with intent-driven mindsets. They're far more likely to take action or buy something because they're in the market.


So inbound is a far more valuable type of traffic. It's highly valuable to a business from a commercial perspective, and it has to be top of mind for any digital marketer. So if you think about a user searching for something like hotels in Vienna, or is reading reviews for Viennese hotels, they're probably looking to book a hotel in Vienna.

So, we really want to be visible at the time when they were seeking out this type of content, so we can capture their need or want and turn it into our own business opportunity.

This compares with outbound, which is a more passive mindset. People aren't actively looking for a hotel in Vienna. But they fit a certain profile and they're not actively seeking at that time, but they've now become aware of your offering. So, in the future or when they're ready, maybe that awareness influences them to interact and become inbound.

So when we think about it as a marketer we have a number of tools available to us. We're always attempting to create the conditions where people are drawn to your brand via your content, your search keywords with the objective of turning them into a consumer. They're coming to you.

Now inbound marketing, it's usually suited to those conversion-based objectives – sales, leads, that kind of stuff. Outbound is more suited to awareness-based activities.

Now just in case we think that there's a strict split between the two, in most cases, you'll probably need to use a combination of both inbound and outbound techniques to deliver on your business objective. So while they're distinct and different, they do work together to drive towards your goal.

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Cathal Melinn

Cathal Melinn is a well-known digital marketing director, commercial analyst, and ecommerce specialist with over 15 years’ experience.

Cathal is a respected international conference speaker, course lecturer, and digital trainer. He specialises in driving complete understanding from students across a number of digital marketing disciplines including: paid and organic search (PPC and SEO), analytics, strategy and planning, social media, reporting, and optimisition.  Cathal works with digital professionals in over 80 countries and teaches at all levels of experience from beginner to advanced.

Alongside his training and course work, Cathal runs his own digital marketing agency and is considered an analytics and revenue generating guru - at enterprise level. He has extensive local and international experience working with top B2B and B2C brands across multiple industries.

Over his career, Cathal has worked client-Side, in digital marketing agencies and media owners with brands including HSBC, Amazon, Apple, Red Bull, Dell, Vodafone, Compare the Market, Aer Lingus, and Expedia.

He can be reached on LinkedIn here.

Data protection regulations affect almost all aspects of digital marketing. Therefore, DMI has produced a short course on GDPR for all of our students. If you wish to learn more about GDPR, you can do so here:

DMI Short Course: GDPR

The following pieces of content from the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library have been chosen to offer additional material that you might find interesting or insightful.

You can find more information and content like this on the Digital Marketing Institute's Membership Library

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    Digital Channels
    Cathal Melinn
    Skills Expert

    This module opens with a comprehensive overview of channel planning including the challenges this presents to marketers. It covers inbound and outbound strategies, cross media planning, the digital channel mix, and mobile marketing. Next, the module dives deeper into key topics related to each of the channels, covering social media marketing and content marketing strategy, search engine marketing, SEO, conversion rate optimization, and paid search, email and affiliate marketing, and display and video advertising, including ad formats and creative.