What are the Differences Between Inbound and Outbound Marketing for Schools

You’ve heard the terms “inbound marketing” and “outbound marketing” used frequently, but what do they actually mean?

At its essence, inbound marketing uses online content to attract, or “pull”, targeted audiences into your enrollment funnel. Outbound marketing, the type most of us grew up recognizing as “marketing” uses conventional marketing tactics to broadcast, or “push” marketing messages out to audiences, sometimes quite indiscriminately. Inbound marketing relies on content marketing, such as blogging, landing pages, opt-in email nurture flows and social proof. Traditional outbound marketing tactics include radio and television ads, billboards and direct mail sent via snail mail.

In order to gain a better understanding of these conflicting marketing strategies, let’s take a deeper dive into the difference between inbound and outbound marketing.

What is Outbound Marketing?

Outbound marketing refers to any type of marketing where an organization, such as a business (or a school), tries to achieve its marketing goals by “broadcasting” sales messages, usually to large, untargeted audiences (most of whom may not even be a good fit for the marketer’s product or school), hoping some of them will decide to purchase a product (or enroll their child). A characteristic of outbound marketing is that it’s a one-way conversation that focuses on selling. Outbound marketing efforts aim to persuade the audience to buy something.

Traditional forms of outbound marketing include:

  • Television commercials
  • Radio ads
  • Print advertisements (i.e., newspaper, phone book, magazine, flyers, brochures, catalogs, direct mail circulars, etc.)
  • Buying vendor space at an event and setting out marketing materials on a table, hoping parents will stop by to learn more about your school
  • Outbound telephone calling (also known as “cold calling”)
  • Buying databases of email addresses and “spamming” them indiscriminately
  • Pop-up internet ads

Benefits of Outbound Marketing

There are some advantages of outbound marketing tactics. Some of these include:

  • Brand awareness

There will be some people who haven’t heard about your school before who will become aware of your school.

  • Is a type of marketing people are familiar with

Sometimes parents will trust traditional advertising because they are used to seeing ads in the Sunday paper or listening to radio ads, or watching a TV ad.

Challenges of Outbound Marketing

Outbound marketing can be difficult to get right. Here are some common disadvantages of using these types of tactics.

  • Too general

It’s difficult to appeal to anyone and everyone; outbound marketing rarely appeals to very many people to whom it’s broadcast.

  • Most people tune it out

People are tired of being “sold to,” so they tend to silence their remote (or fast forward past the ads), avoid listening to radio ads, so they don’t listen to commercial stations, or immediately toss out direct mail without even looking at it.

  • Difficult or impossible to measure the effectiveness

It’s challenging to measure the results of outbound marketing tactics (i.e. billboards).

  • Expensive

Outbound marketing is notoriously expensive. Paying for TV, radio, banner ads, and billboards is costly.

  • People delete spammy emails

People will delete emails from an entity they don’t know, like, and trust.

  • People have other options

Pushing messages out isn’t effective anymore because audiences have ways to avoid them, such as blocking spam phone calls.

What is Inbound Marketing?

An inbound marketing strategy is based on attraction. The goal is to target marketing to people most likely to be a good fit for your product or service (in the case of schools, parents who have shown an interest in your school, or whose family is likely to be a good fit for your mission and programs). Generally, your target audience is going to be families who are actively looking for an independent school like yours. When these families find your website or other online properties, they find the help, guidance, and information directly related to the searching they’ve been doing online.

The heart of inbound marketing is content:

  • Blog content
  • Video content
  • Podcasts
  • Social media marketing
  • Search engine optimization
  • Ebook downloads such as case studies, guides, tip sheets, etc.
  • Emails that nurture and build a relationship
  • Pay-per-click advertising

A hallmark of inbound marketing is that the messaging is tailored to a specific audience and seeks to nurture a relationship; it invites and welcomes engagement and two-way (or group) conversations. The goal of inbound marketing is to educate its audience.

Benefits of Inbound Marketing

There are many benefits to inbound strategies, such as:

  • Inbound marketing is non-invasive

Parents can read your blog posts, watch your videos or listen to your podcasts on their own time.

  • Inbound marketing content is relevant to where the parent is in their enrollment journey

The goal of inbound marketing is to provide the right information to the right person at the right time. What this means is to design content that aligns with specific points in the parents’ enrollment journey.

  • In the beginning of the journey, parents are getting familiar with your school and what you offer.
  • In the middle of their journey, they are researching your school and comparing your school with your competitors at a deeper level.
  • At the end of their journey, they are getting ready to make a final decision to enroll their child in your school.
  • And then there’s the current parent experience, where families who are enrolled (or have students who have been enrolled).
  • Lower cost

Inbound marketing is less expensive than outbound marketing because it’s customer driven. In research conducted by Hubspot in 2012, inbound marketing has a cost of $135 per lead, whereas the cost per lead of outbound marketing is $346 per lead.

  • More effective

Inbound marketing practices produce 54 percent more leads than traditional outbound practices. (Invesp) It is also more effective; not only does it offer a lower cost per lead, but it also generates 3x as many leads as outbound.

  • Higher trust and credibility

When parents find your school on their own through inbound marketing avenues, they will have more trust in your school, and your school will have more credibility.

  • More likely to enroll

Inbound marketing isn’t just about creating brand awareness. It’s also about attracting parents who are more likely to enroll in your school because they were searching for a school like yours.

  • Opportunity to learn and evolve

Engaging with potential families on social media and listening to their concerns, questions and feedback helps you better understand how to improve your marketing efforts.

  • Inbound marketing is quantifiable

You can track and measure inbound marketing efforts. Learn more: Top 10 Metrics School Marketers Need to Measure

Challenges of Inbound Marketing

There are a few drawbacks to focusing on digital content.

Inbound marketing:

  • Requires continual involvement

Inbound marketing requires perpetual engagement in order to be responsive to your audience.

  • Takes time and effort

It takes time and effort to create and execute a content marketing strategy. And then, once your content is created, you have to promote it so that your audience can find it. Also, it is imperative you conduct A/B testing so you can improve and refine your content based on testing outcomes.

  • Demands a holistic strategy

You will need to invest in tools to help you implement integrated, cross-channel campaigns.

Read more: 26 Social Media Tools for 2021 and Beyond, 25 Top SEO WordPress Plugins and Tools School Marketers Should Be Using, 12 Top Email Marketing Services for Schools, 15 Tools to Help School Marketers Improve Content Writing Skills, 10 Tools to Use to Monitor Your School’s Online Presence

Finding the Right Marketing Strategy for Your School

Ultimately, the best marketing strategy for your school will be the one that works. Remember, audiences and markets change, so it’s imperative you analyze your data frequently. What worked last year may not work this year.

Most independent schools will include both inbound and outbound marketing strategies in their overall marketing plan. Keep in mind marketing experts recommend spending 90 percent of their efforts on inbound marketing and 10 percent on outbound marketing. Your mix of inbound and outbound marketing almost certainly will change over time, especially as technology evolves and becomes more sophisticated. The most important thing you can do when it comes to marketing is to measure, optimize and repeat.

Does your school’s marketing plan include both inbound and outbound marketing strategies? What percentage of each do you estimate your marketing plan includes? Please share in the comments below…

About the author 

Brendan Schneider

Hey, I’m Brendan, and this is my blog. After 28 years working in private, independent schools in mostly admissions, enrollment, marketing, communications, and fundraising roles, I decided to make SchneiderB Media my full-time job, where I help schools get more inquiries through my Fractional Digital Marketer program. I also started the MarCom Society, a membership created expressly to help, support, and train marketing and communications professionals at schools.

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