Inbound and outbound marketing in B2B and B2C environments

Margarita Constanta  /  17th October 2018

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When it comes to marketing your business, there’s a huge choice of different tools, techniques and ideologies to use or follow. It can be particularly hard to make a distinction between what is good for B2B or B2C environments, or what can be used in both. Here we will provide insight into the most prominent marketing techniques, inbound and outbound marketing, and explain where each is best used.

Outbound marketing

Starting off with the “traditional” approach, outbound is a form of marketing that aims to reach vast numbers of people through interruptive messages designed to attract attention. This includes print advertising (magazines, newspapers, billboards) tv ads, radio ads, cold calling and cold email. The main benefit of outbound marketing is that it reaches large numbers of people, much quicker than any inbound methods. TV and radio still show the most reach in key demographics. Mobile advertising, an outbound technique, has the largest reach among younger demographics. As a result, brand exposure increases brand awareness and recognition — an important equity for any brand.

Aware, Evoked and Inept consumers

In marketing, it all comes down to staying top of mind. Consumer psychology states that brands exist in the mind of the consumer in 3 different sets: the awareness set, evoked set and inept set. The awareness set is made up from the brands the consumer is aware off in any given category. For example, when someone mentions trainers, Nike, Adidas and Reebok are some of the brands in the awareness set of most people. The evoked set is the group of brands the consumer will most likely choose from. For example, Colgate is a brand in most consumers’ evoked set for toothpaste. Brands in the evoked set are brands that the consumer has either purchased before or perceives as being of high quality. The inept set is made up of brands that people are not aware of and therefore will not choose to purchase.

According to studies on consumer psychology, purchase behaviour greatly varies based on the investment being put in a product. Investment in this case is classified as the level of risk a purchase entails, or the amount of loss a bad purchase will incur. Low involvement purchases are often low cost, repeat purchases where customers engage in routine response behaviour. High-risk purchases, or high involvement purchases, are usually higher cost and happen less frequently.

Outbound marketing is most often used by B2C brands. It’s no wonder, as outbound marketing works best in B2C environments for increasing awareness and keeping brands in the awareness set of consumers. B2B companies don’t traditionally benefit to the same extend from outbound marketing, as their customers’ buyer journey is different. Choosing the right company to partner with is more often than not a ‘high involvement purchase’. For example, a car manufacturer who’s considering components for a new design will likely contact many component manufacturers. Extensive research will be carried out, several offers will be exchanged and finally a deal will be closed. While a brand already in the evoked set will likely be considered first, that will not be the sole determiner of the decision. In other words, there are no impulse buys in B2B.

Although ideal for increasing brand awareness, the biggest criticism of outbound marketing is that it’s disruptive in its nature. In order for your print ad to be noticed it needs to attract people’s attention, therefore interrupt them from what they were doing. Over the years, people have learned to ignore disruptive messages, either by blocking out print advertisements, changing tv channels or by installing ad blockers and caller ID. Traditional advertising is also very expensive; TV advertisements can cost up to several thousands of pounds to be produced, and as much if not more to be distributed. It’s also quite impossible to measure exact ROI, even with the various digital tools available today. These challenges have led to a decrease in the use of outbound marketing methods.     

Inbound marketing

The term inbound marketing was first coined by Brian Halligan, co-founder of Hubspot, in 2005. The idea behind inbound is to attract customers to you, without being intrusive. Inbound takes into account the buyer’s journey as it has evolved; consumers type their question in a search engine, looking for answers and solutions to a problem. The aim is for people to come across an answer provided by your company which will act as the catalyst for a relationship with your brand. From there it’s up to you to carry them through to the finish line and turn them into a customer.

The higher involvement a purchase requires, the more content  — and time — is needed to nurture and convert leads. Let’s take Hubspot, for example. For a person to become a client of Hubspot, i.e. purchase its software, they need to own a business (that’s when they will most likely need the platform). However, HubSpot provides educational content that is useful to not only business owners, but also employees, recent graduates and even students. HubSpot provides all of this content in the hopes that the student, recent graduate or employee will one day suggest HubSpot software to their boss or buy it themselves. And it works! But it’s a long process.

Inbound marketing is often the go-to marketing technique for B2B businesses nowadays. Elaborate content strategies designed to establish brands as experts in their field are what can set companies ahead of the competition. Search engine optimization can help the content and company website be found, and with the use of digital marketing tools such as analytics, tracking links and remarketing lists, every effort can be monitored, measured and optimised.


Each technique is most effective in its respective field. If budget is limited, you should utilise the tool best for your needs. However, a good use of both techniques is encouraged for best results. Inbound will help attract the right customer and therefore increase conversion rates and ROI, and outbound will help keep your brand in the minds of consumers.