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Traditional Marketing and Inbound Marketing: What's the Difference?

Colorful mailers and dense catalogues. Loud TV and radio ads. Scripted cold calls. Scented perfume ads in magazines.

Sound familiar? These are just a few examples of what is known as traditional marketing.

But how does traditional marketing differ from inbound marketing

Le't's dive in. 

What Is Traditional Marketing?

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This is a broad term that generally refers to all forms of advertising and marketing. Any activity you use to promote and sell your products and services falls under the traditional marketing umbrella. 

Generally speaking, traditional marketing consists of four methods:

  • Print – newspapers, magazines, etc.
  • Broadcast – TV, radio, etc.
  • Direct mail – mailers, catalogues, etc.
  • Telephone – also referred to as telemarketing. 

Not matter how you experience traditional marketing – if you drive by a billboard or get bombarded with cold messages – one common theme prevails: The messaging is trying to convince you why their product is the one and only solution for you.

How Traditional Marketing Has Changed

The evolution of traditional marketing is actually a reaction to the way consumer behavior is changing. 

Before the prominence of the internet in our daily lives, suppliers held the power. Consumers were unaware of the abundance of products available, so businesses told who they were and why they should buy from them. 

To put it simply, traditional marketing focuses on selling in order to inform consumers. It is interruptive, company-focused, and addresses the consumer in a one-way method of communication. 

Sure, it can be effective. But while direct mail may show immediate results, as you gain a few customers from your recent promotion, it is only a short-term success.

Once the ad is run or the mail is sent, that is essentially the end and another marketing endeavor must be made. This vicious cycle leads traditional marketing to be very expensive. 

Disadvantages of Traditional Marketing

Aside from cost, there are many other shortcomings businesses experience when they use traditional marketing

Minimal Interactions with Your Audience

The traditional approach is very impersonal. You're not engaging with your audience. Instead, you're talking at them. 

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This makes it hard for you to understand your audience. Sure, you're providing information for your audience, but you don't get much input from them. 

Intrusive and Disruptive

How often do you toss out all those mailers you find in your mailbox? When was the last time you were happy to get a call from a telemarketer? 

These techniques are often annoying from the buyer's perspective. In a digital world, consumers are savvy at researching solutions and finding their best options. While you're trying to get in front of them, they're either ignoring and blocking you or, worse, getting frustrated with your brand. 

Difficult to Measure ROI

It's hard to follow what traditional marketing techniques are delivering real results. Aside from surveying your customers to ask how they found you, it's nearly impossible to measure how many customers saw your billboard or read your magazine ad. 

Bottom Line on Traditional Marketing

Outbound marketing and traditional marketing are synonymous. And while outbound techniques still have a place in marketing, the future belongs the inbound. 

What Is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing takes the focus off of selling and shines light on earning the interest of consumers by producing quality content. Today, consumer buying power is at an all-time high.

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A consumer has the ability to know everything about products and services and make a choice based on their own personal criteria. And your brand has the ability to educate buyers and become a trusted resource for them. 

In this situation, the consumers find you. When a consumer shows interest in your product or service after reading an ebook or analyzing a case study, they don’t feel like they have been marketed to.

They feel educated, valued, and supported. And you can continually support them through the entire buyer's journey

How Inbound Marketing Has Changed

What really sets inbound marketing apart from other approaches is that it's just one small part of a much larger movement in how businesses operate. 

Simply put, inbound is a method of attracting, engaging, and delighting people to fuel business growth. You consistently provide value and build trust at every customer touchpoint.

Inbound marketing has changed a lot since its introduction over a decade ago. There is more data now than ever before, so you can better target your buyer personas and refine messaging to be more relevant. 

Plus, new technology is changing how businesses conduct effective digital marketing strategies. For example, tools like HubSpot make personalizing email marketing messages easier than ever before thanks to their personalization tokens. 

The inbound approach has essentially killed the old sales funnel model, replacing it with the flywheel framework. The flywheel is a must for organizations that want to lead the future of business. It centers on building long term relationships with your audience, which yields sustainable growth.

Plus, it brings all aspects of business – marketing, sales, and service – together, fully aligning how your company engages with your audience at every touchpoint. 

Disadvantages of Inbound Marketing

Just like everything in business and in life, there are some obstacles you need to expect when investing in inbound marketing.

Big Upfront Investment

Inbound marketing is more than just adding a blog to your website. While that is a good place to start, you need to take a holistic approach to fully enjoy the benefits.

This is why there are so many great softwares available to help digital marketers build integrated inbound strategies. For example, HubSpot combines marketing, sales, and service tools with a customer relationship management (CRM) suite.

When all these elements are integrated under one platform, maximizing your inbound marketing is easy. 

Consistent Upkeep

Just like any business strategy, you can't just set it and forget it with inbound marketing. There are so many business professionals who expect big results after a few weeks of blogging. 

This is not realistic. Once you can accept this fact, you can think long term and build an internal team or hire an agency to help you create valuable content and distribute it to relevant segments of your audience. 

The more effort you put into understanding your audience and building out a content strategy, the better equipped you are at generating awesome leads, who your sales team can connect with. 

Diversity of Skills

Your inbound marketing team should include a variety of experts. For example, content creators and copywriters helm your content marketing efforts, data analysts review your marketing data to inform your strategy, and community managers build your following via social media and PR campaigns.

This can be a hurdle for smaller organizations that are strapped with a tight budget. However, with the right people in place, the results over the long term far exceed the investment of hiring a full marketing team upfront. 

Bottom Line on Inbound Marketing

A whopping 75% of marketing professionals using inbound say their marketing strategy is effective. Additionally, 53% of all marketing professionals say inbound delivers a higher ROI, compared to just 16% who say outbound does. 

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What's more, inbound generates a lot more high quality leads than traditional outbound methods – 60% of marketers say inbound practices provide the highest quality leads to sales, whereas just 18% say outbound practices generate high quality leads. 

Simply put, inbound marketing is the future of how businesses attract, engage, and delight customers. This is accomplished when you're helpful, human, and holistic in your efforts. 

How Inbound and Traditional Marketing Stack Up

Outbound marketing has not been completely discarded, but it has definitely seen a steep decline in recent years. The decline in outbound marketing is due to the evolution of technology and consumer behavior throughout our society.

Inbound, on the hand, takes advantage of this transformation and presents a solution that works for marketers and consumers alike. The inbound methodology fuels sustainable business growth by ensuring a consistent, valuable experience for every relevant potential customer. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in March 2015. It was updated in December 2018 for accuracy and comprehensiveness.

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Jeff Previte

Jeff Previte

I am a Content Manager at Bluleadz. I enjoy spending time outdoors -- camping, hiking, hammocking, and everything in between. I also love reading, writing, and learning how to play guitar.