The Difference Between Inbound and Traditional Marketing

There is a major transition occurring in the marketing world. In the last few years, we have seen a big change in the way we market our products and services. We are moving away from trial-and-error, shotgun methods of marketing and turning to more strategic, user-focused marketing efforts what we call Inbound Marketing.

So what's the big hype? Is it really better than traditional marketing? Here is a little insight...

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Reaching Your Audience

Traditional: Reaching your audience in traditional marketing is about meeting the customer throughout their day. This could be through a variety of actions:

  • Watching television
  • Reading the news on a website
  • Listening to the radio on their way to work

Your possible audience may not even be thinking about your product when they receive your advertising message. Traditional marketing is about leaving an imprint on individuals so when they have the desire or need for a product, they hopefully remember your brand.
Inbound: Reaching your audience through inbound marketing is more about meeting the client when they begin to realize a need for a product or service. With inbound marketing, you answer questions that individuals may ask when they first begin their quest for a solution.
It’s about getting to these individuals and answering their early stage questions so you are there to guide them through the process as they make a purchase decision. This makes your company, not only the authority in that market, but also the clear choice when they decide it is time to take action.

Generating Interest

Traditional: Traditional marketing is about generating interest, often through broad branding messages placed in mass mediums. The messages go to large demographic groups who may or may not be your target audience.

Inbound: Generating interest through the Inbound Marketing methodology is focused on an individual rather than a group. To do this, you must first develop your targeted persona. Who are they? What kind of hobbies do they have? What kind of car do they drive? While these may seem like arbitrary questions, the more we know about these individuals, the more we know their behavior.

Once we understand who these individuals are, we can answer their common questions and develop nurturing content around their needs. This means getting in front of our personas to answer their questions when they are ready. While we may not get thousands of impressions like we do with traditional marketing, the quality of those impressions drastically increases.

Obtaining Leads

Traditional: The original way marketers obtain leads is by creating or purchasing a list that is likely (but not 100%) interested in the product you offer.
Traditional marketing and advertising are about using Obtaining-Leads-Inbound-Vs-Traditional-Marketinga “shotgun” method—sending your message to as many potential leads as possible and hoping for a return. Traditional marketers target leads through mediums such as:

  • Direct mail
  • Telemarketing
  • Networking
  • Referrals

While you may able to reach a large group of potential leads, conversion rates are usually incredibly low and the cost per lead is sky high.

Inbound: Obtaining leads through inbound marketing is about providing value to a visitor. This might include education, insight, or help in exchange for their information. From this information, inbound marketers can easily qualify the lead and determine if the visitor and the product are a fit.

Tracking Results

Traditional: Reviewing results through traditional marketing methods can be difficult and inexact. Often, all you get is a projection of impressions based on past behaviors.

Tracking Results - Inbound-vs-TraditionalIf you advertise on television, radio, or print, your numbers are presented to you at the end of your campaign if at all. This allows for few changes or tweaks as the campaign runs. 

Inbound: The great thing about marketing and advertising using the inbound marketing methodology is the number of tools we can use to gauge the success of a campaign. No longer is marketing a guessing game or estimate. There are many tools available for free or cheap that can easily track success or failures of a campaign. A few of these are:

Using these tools can easily and accurately reveal what’s working and what’s not, which allows for making improvements and changes during the campaign!

Optimizing for Returns

Traditional: Traditional marketing is kind of like a carrier pigeon—you have to let it go and hope it reaches its destination. We don’t have the ability to stop and adjust its course. While testing measures, like focus groups, can be used, they are expensive and usually not as accurate as you would like them to be. Even small things, like a spelling error, can mean your campaign is seen incorrectly by possibly thousands.

Inbound: With an ability to track results, inbound provides a unique advantage that allows you to adjust in real time as you see user’s real reactions to your marketing. Using our hypothesis, testing, and review, we can see what worked and why. We test and constantly monitor, and the more we continue to adjust, the more success we see from our marketing efforts.


Without a doubt, inbound is the the future of marketing. It raises our marketing efforts to a new level. No longer do we have to sweat and guess what we are doing. With that being said, inbound marketing wouldn’t be what it is today without our old, traditional counterpart.

Claude C. Hopkins, author of Scientific Advertising, introduced us to the earliest forms of testing: coupons. Through the use of coupons, we were able to measure our efforts more accurately. Over 90 years later, we have adapted these strategies to fit our ever-changing, fast-paced digital environment where it has evolved into inbound marketing.