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Inbound Marketing vs. Traditional Advertising: Where to Draw the Line

October 8, 2021 3 min read

There are endless options for getting the word out about your company, and it seems like everyone is always trying to convince you that their way is the best. Digital marketing, traditional advertising, and everything in between—how are you supposed to set a realistic marketing budget when there are so many choices?

And—more importantly-- which one is really the best for your business?

I know you might not like hearing this, but—as with many things in business—the answer is that it depends on your goals.

But before we get too far into it, let’s define some terms:

Traditional Advertising

Traditional advertising is what most people think of when talking about advertising or marketing. It includes media such as newspaper and publication ads, television and radio commercials, or outdoor signs and billboards.*

Inbound Marketing

Inbound marketing focuses on creating quality content that attracts leads to your company and product where they naturally want to be. The inbound method works to attract the right visitors to your website, converting those visitors into leads, closing leads into customers, and delighting those customers into raving fans.

That’s just the 30-second explanation. For a complete definition of how inbound works, download the Beginner’s Guide to Inbound Marketing.

*Note: For the purposes of this article, we’re not going to be talking about digital advertising methods such as Google AdWords or LinkedIn Sponsored Updates. Depending on how they’re executed, these strategies often fall into a grey area between inbound marketing and advertising, so we’ll leave that for another article.

Is there a place for traditional advertising AND inbound marketing in your company’s budget?

In a word, yes. But like I said above, it all depends upon your goals. That’s because you should put your time and money into the initiatives that will result in the biggest impact for your company.

Traditional advertising is great for:

  • Gaining brand visibility
  • Increasing name recognition
  • Participating in the community and in your industry

Inbound marketing is great for:

  • Attracting and converting leads
  • Nurturing leads into new sales
  • Becoming an educational resource for prospects and customers
  • Using your website to facilitate the buyer’s journey

Deciding where to draw the line when it comes to inbound marketing vs. traditional advertising is about looking at the benefits of each and deciding which ones will make the biggest difference to your business.

Because of that, many companies place a larger emphasis on inbound marketing than they do on traditional advertising. For companies that are focused on lead generation, inbound marketing is the strategy that will yield the largest—and most measurable—return on investment.

And yet, even if inbound makes up the majority of your marketing strategy and budget, your company will still be presented with advertising opportunities that can be hard to pass up.

The key to using traditional advertising successfully is to be strategic and selective about the channels in which you advertise.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to help determine whether or not your company should jump on a traditional advertising opportunity.

  • Does the ad represent a charitable sponsorship?

I don’t think anyone should question the opportunity to sponsor a charitable event if it is something that is close to their heart or the hearts of their employees. Often, sponsorships for charities come in the form of placing an ad or a logo in the event’s brochure, t-shirt, etc. Choosing a few charities to sponsor is not only great brand exposure, but it reinforces a sense of community and purpose within your own company.

  • Will your ad reach your targeted buyer personas?

Getting a positive ROI from advertising is about getting your message to the right people at the right time. Traditional advertising channels will often provide information about their reach, circulation, viewership, etc. But consider whether those numbers truly reflect your intended audience. For example, a B2B company would probably be better off advertising in one of their industry publications than buying commercial space on the radio.

  • Is there a way to take an inbound approach?

Believe it or not, traditional advertising and inbound marketing can go hand-in-hand when used correctly. Think about whether you can take aninbound approach to traditional marketing. For example, if you’re placing a print ad, try incorporating an offer that’s tied to a specific landing page on your website and include the URL. Then you can more easily track and measure your efforts while getting all of the benefits of traditional ads.

Today, marketing has gone beyond simply getting your brand out into the world. Marketing is an investment companies make so that they can generate viable sales leads. Devote the bulk of your time and resources to the activities that grow your business.

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This post was originally published July 14, 2016