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Inbound vs direct marketing

Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash
Hedley Swann

Hedley Swann

Co-Founder at Dash

As a business owner, you know that it’s important to get your name out there, chase sales, and directly market your products and services. It’s an effective strategy, one that has existed as long as people have traded with one another, but is there another way? Inbound marketing is the answer.

What is inbound marketing?

Inbound marketing is all about creating an audience around your business that generates qualified leads. In short, it’s all about having your customers come to you, instead of you constantly chasing them. It’s about your audience identifying your business as the best solution to their problem, instead of you trying to convince them that you’re “the best”.

The stages of inbound marketing look something like this:

  1. Attract visitors to your online content (blog, social media, webinars, videos).
  2. Visitors engage (newsletter sign up, social media follow, subscribe to updates) with your content, recognise you as an authoritative source, and become a member of your online audience. At this point, where a visitor has actively engaged (taken an action), they’ve validated you as an authority, or potential problem solver, and identified themselves as a lead.
  3. A lead then converts into a customer by actioning your sales offer.
  4. Measure everything, optimise and improve.

Comparing direct vs inbound marketing

By no means am I suggesting that inbound marketing is the “magic bullet” of small business marketing (believe me, there’s no such thing). What I am suggesting is that it’s a scalable, long term strategy that can continuously be optimised for better results, and has the potential to deliver very high yields once established. Let’s put it side-by-side with direct marketing and take a look at the differences.

Ramp up time

Typically, direct marketing yields better short term results. Airing an advertisement, calling a prospect, or sending a print mail out all get your message and offer to your leads instantly. Inbound marketing has a longer ramp up time. In the beginning, you’ll have a small audience that gradually gets bigger as you publish more content and attract new visitors to your online presence. However, inbound marketing can result in a better cost-to-result ratio. Take telemarketing for example, if a salesperson can complete five sales calls in an hour, and you’d like to reach more prospects, your only option is to add more salespeople. In contrast, any content on your online presence (blog, social media, landing page) can be accessed by many people simultaneously, as can the calls to action attached to them. Inbound marketing also benefits from being asynchronous: your audience doesn’t have to be present at the time of publishing in order to see it. This usually isn’t the case with direct marketing; viewers must be sitting in front of the TV when your ad plays, or pick up the phone when your salespeople call.


Direct marketing usually involves paying for access to someone else’s audience. Whether that’s paying a station for TV or radio spots, or a distribution agency for mail outs, or purchasing a call list, there is a direct dollar cost. In contrast, inbound marketing can be significantly cheaper; however, the real “cost” with inbound marketing is time and effort. Time to stay up to date in your industry, time to write blog articles, social media posts, create videos, and continuously monitor and optimise your efforts. Speaking of which…

Measurement and optimisation

Online inbound marketing has become effective due to its measurability. The way your audience interacts with, responds to, and engages with your content will give you insights into how best to maximise your return on investment. You’ll be able to develop a clear picture of:

  • their interests and content they like (what you should produce more of)
  • how they like to consume that content (written, video, podcast, email)
  • who they are (demographic data)
  • when they’re most active and most reachable
  • how they find and enter your website
  • the intricacies of your audience’s buying behaviour
  • how and when someone engages with your business, and how that changes during the different stages of the buying cycle

Direct marketing strategies vary in terms of their measurability and optimisation. Sales staff can refine their sales call scripts and processes for better results, and measure their progress and conversion rate, but when it comes to media advertising your ability to garner useful information, and improve campaigns, is limited.

Why is inbound marketing on the rise?

With a smartphone in their pocket, a tablet on their desk, and a computer at work, consumers are able to research products and services like never before. People are also able to control the information and messages they see, and are far more savvy about drawing their own conclusions about what the right product is for them (rather than being told by a direct marketeer).

In short, your business should strive to earn the interest of your target market, rather than try to push products onto them, and inbound marketing offers a sound strategy to do just that.


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