We typically think of all marketing as an outbound thing, right? We proactively spend our time and our money promoting our business and propagating our message...getting the word out.
So then what is inbound marketing? It sounds rather counter-intuitive, but the term was coined within the marketing industry to make an important distinction between two different types of marketing efforts.
Inbound (organic) — Earning people's attention by being in the right place at the right time, when you know they're already interested in what you have to say.
Some examples are blogging, speaking engagements, opt-in email lists, word of mouth, social media and SEO.
Outbound (interruptive) — Getting people's attention by trying to stop what they are doing to listen to you, when you really don't know whether or not they're interested.
Some examples are advertising (print, radio, TV, web), trade shows, telemarketing, rented email lists and pop-up windows.
From a consumer's point of view, inbound marketing is almost always friendlier and more informative, while many outbound marketing methods are less than desirable. Outbound marketing can repel as easily as it can attract, so as a marketer, you have to do your homework with the demographics and invest in developing really great content and branding. Good graphic design and copywriting earns lots of brownie points from the public, too.
You might assume inbound marketing is free or easy on the budget, and outbound marketing costs lots of money. But the truth is, marketing is never free. Your time is valuable; time is indeed money. It's easy to create categories within your marketing plan based on the outlay of cash required...but in doing so, you might end up putting more time into an effort simply because it's free (hey let's do it, why not, it's free!), instead of doing it because you know it works.
The key is to work toward your own "perfect blend" of both inbound and outbound efforts. Your blend should not be dictated solely by the availability or constraints of your time and resources. Base it more upon the unique nature of your business and the varied dispositions of your customers. Your blend will also need room to adapt as market conditions change.
In short, you need outbound marketing to expand your reach and you need inbound marketing to make meaningful connections.