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The Important Difference: Outbound Email vs. Inbound Email

July 24, 2019
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In marketing today, many people in a digital marketing agency associate the term “outbound” with “outdated” and “inbound” with “in style.”  If you share this opinion, you’re not totally wrong. Modern technology has made relics of once-popular outbound marketing strategies and has created inbound opportunities that make the task of attracting customers feel like shooting fish in a barrel.

Though the ROI on inbound marketing is an average of three times higher than that of outbound marketing, there’s still a time and place for outbound, and every marketing campaign needs some combination of both. This is especially true of email marketing when the lines between outbound and inbound strategy are easily blurred. Read on for an overview of the crucial differences between inbound and outbound email, and when you should rely on both.

An Overview of Outbound Email

An outbound email is any email advertising your company sends out to a potential customer who didn’t request the email. 

In most cases, the recipients of outbound emails are people who have either never heard of you or know who you are but haven’t yet considered enlisting your services. The hope is that the recipient of your email comes from a targeted list of people who, based on their background, are likely to benefit from your company’s services.

Why Outbound Email Has a Bad Reputation

Many people equate outbound email marketing with spam, and it’s easy to understand why. Outbound email comes from the same outbound family of traditional marketing strategies as maligned, old-school tactics like annoying telemarketing cold calls.

And yes, an outbound email marketing is essentially the digital version of a cold call. But arguing that you don’t want to send any outbound emails because it falls under the same umbrella as cold calling is like arguing that you don’t want to own a dog because they descend from wolves. 

⁠ Sure, there are rabid dogs just like there are spammy, overly-salesy outbound emails that recipients roll their eyes at and move immediately to their trash folder. But when constructed and executed properly, an email outbound campaign become an indispensable contributor to your company’s lead generation strategy.

An Overview of Inbound Email

Whereas outbound email entails making an educated guess on who might value your company’s services and then pushing the message out to them, inbound email marketing comes with the luxury of knowing that the recipient is interested. 

Whether a potential customer signed up for your newsletter, requested a demo, or followed up on a lead magnet to receive a discount on your services, they’re already on the hook. The goal with inbound email marketing is to nurture them en route to reeling them in as a repeat customer.

Where the Line Between Outbound and Inbound Email Gets Blurred

Inbound email lies within the category of inbound marketing, an inbound marketing strategy that capitalizes on potential customers who have already opted in for a company’s services.

Whenever you’re on a website and see an internal pop-up with an offer to sign up for the company’s newsletter, find a company after typing in keywords on Google, or interact with a company’s social media page, that’s all inbound marketing at work. The potential customers are coming to you without you having to do anything to attract them.

But unlike fellow inbound tactics like search engine optimization, social media or various online content, inbound email still requires the active effort of sending the email out. And because it mirrors the process of pushing out the message of an outbound email, it’s easy for people to get the two confused.

What Outbound and Inbound Emails Should Have in Common

Regardless of whether an email is outbound or inbound approach, the goal of every email should be to build trust with the recipient in a way that makes them want to learn more about your company and consider becoming a full-time customer.

To accomplish this, you should strive to compose emails that are:

  • Personal – Making a potential customer feel like you wrote the email to them personally is the most crucial aspect of a successful marketing email. Pack your emails with as many specifics as possible to demonstrate that you’ve taken the time to learn about the recipient and their needs. When the content of an email feels like a one-on-one conversation, it makes the recipient much more likely to want to listen to what else you have to say. When the email reads like it’s been sent to everyone and their mother, on the other hand, the recipient is likely to identify it as prime spam folder material.
  • Concise – People these days are so eager to find ways to avoid reading things that the phrase “too long, didn’t read” has become an acceptable response to emails at even the corporate level. Even the phrase itself gets shortened to TLDR! Don’t give your recipients an excuse to blow off your email before they even start reading it. Keep it short and get to the point.
  • Original – Statistics show that the number of emails marketers send out each year is in the hundreds of billions. Needless to say, the only chance of your email surviving a recipient’s flooded inbox is to stand out from the noise. Make your emails as compelling as possible and infuse them with visuals and some humor. Video content, in particular, is never a bad idea.
  • Informative – Fill your emails with information that provides value to the customer. An increasingly common method that companies are utilizing to accomplish this is sending out written content that doesn’t even include a sales pitch, but rather just demonstrates their expertise. For example, a basketball coach who runs a summer clinic may send out an article like “Five Ways to Improve Your Jump Shot” before he even mentions his clinic.
  • Appropriately Timed – Hounding your target audience with incessant emails is a fantastic way to convert their interest into irritation. Be consistent with your outbound emails and make sure to send them out on a basis your audience can rely on, but don’t send them out so frequently that you become a pest. Also, take into consideration what time of day you send your emails out. Generally, afternoons between Tuesday and Thursday are a good time, but you can always test to see what works best for your particular brand.
  • Generous with Links – Obviously, you want your emails to include a link to your website and call to action links that invite the recipient to opt-in for your services. But you also want to display that you value your recipient’s time and needs by providing links with the option to unsubscribe from your email list, as well as a link to change the frequency of how often your emails come in.

The Key Difference Between Outbound and Inbound Emails

Though the action of sending an outbound email is the same as that of sending an inbound one, the circumstances surrounding the two are different. Remember, the target audience for an outbound hasn’t shown interest in your services yet, while the recipient of an inbound email has. 

Thus, the language and approach you use in constructing the email should cater to the specific situation. For example, you may want your outbound emails to place a greater emphasis on CTA links, whereas your inbound emails may focus more on providing your recipients with useful information. 

The name of the game is to know which type of email your target audience is most likely to appreciate based on your past relationship with them, and then tailor the email accordingly.

Why It’s Important to Understand the Difference

Back in the mass media era, when telemarketers still roamed the advertising landscape like dinosaurs, the common perception in marketing was that you have one shot at reeling in a client. If you don’t get them to show interest after your first call, you’re done. Any ensuing follow-up calls would accomplish nothing save for annoying the recipient. 

Since email is so much less intrusive than cold calling, however, it has made the concept of the marketing funnel a wider and more elastic one. No longer does the funnel simply have yes on one end and no on the other. Now, there are multiple touchpoints throughout the funnel where you can reach potential customers.

Today, the common understanding in marketing is that converting a potential customer into a loyal one requires at least five interactions. Because it takes multiple touchpoints to compel potential customers into making a decision, it’s essential for you to understand the difference between outbound and inbound email, and use a diversified approach that utilizes both based on the customer’s specific circumstances.


The ability to rely on sending inbound emails to leads who are interested in what you have to offer is a wonderful luxury to have. But your capacity to attract those leads in the first place are going to come courtesy of your outbound emails.

That’s why, even in an era when inbound marketing tactics are all the rage, it’s important for your business to complement your inbound emails with outbound ones and understand the difference between the two to identify which one to enlist.



1) “Inbound vs. Outbound Marketing – Which is More Effective?” by Lo Jia Thong


2) “The Fundamentals of Executing Profitable ‘Outbound’ Email Marketing Campaigns” by Daniel Faggella https://marketingland.com/fundamentals-executing-profitable-outbound-email-marketing-campaigns-113231 

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