The Differences between Traditional and Inbound Marketing

By Scott Anderson Miller

Traditional media isn’t dead, but it’s dying. The traditional marketing methodology of interruptive “push” messaging is dying at an even quicker rate. This is due to the ability of the individual to dictate purchase patterns.

Here are some major changes occurring as you read this:

  • 2014 marked the first year in history that total search engine marketing (SEM) spending surpassed total broadcast TV spending in the U.S.

  • Two out of three marketers have moved at least 30 percent of their budgets from traditional media to digital media in the past three years.

  • Print ad revenues are now the lowest they’ve been since 1950.

  • Nearly half of consumers say they won’t return to a website if it doesn’t load properly on their mobile devices.

  • In 2015 mobile searches (85.9 billion) overtook desktop-based searches (84 billion) for the first time ever.

Traditional marketing

Traditional marketing was designed with good intentions, but it was limited by the medium. Before the advent of the Internet and the resulting proliferation of information and data, control of information rested in the hands of a few powerful media outlets. If you wanted to know the weather forecast, for example, you stayed up late to watch the evening news. Remember when TiVo was considered cool because you could watch your favorite show whenever you wanted?

Traditional marketing worked, and it can still work, but traditional marketing, by definition, is a one-way message from brand to consumer. Traditional marketing was founded on interruptive, product-centric messaging, and it relies on massive message broadcasting that’s not conducive to developing meaningful, personalized consumer relationships.

Further, more media choices means more fragmentation. Consumers accessing multiple screens simultaneously (TV, desktop, mobile devices) results in divided consumer attention, eroding the impact of your commercial message. Individual media consumption and behavior is migrating away from broadcast messaging. So although traditional marketing consumption is still great when measured in terms of hours spent with traditional media, it is becoming less relevant and less effective.

Inbound marketing

Inbound marketing works for the very reason that traditional marketing doesn’t. Inbound marketing meets a previously undiscovered or unfulfilled need: creating meaningful conversations based on individual actions.

By definition, inbound marketing systems create opportunities through bidirectional messaging between brand and consumer. This two-way messaging is attractive to individual consumers who wish to engage on their terms and based on their perceived needs.

Although traditional and inbound marketing campaigns may be combined, they are quite frequently misused, such as TV ads with QR codes or the annoying pop-up ads on websites. It’s too easy for online searchers to bounce from your website by clicking somewhere else, leaving your site and engaging elsewhere with another brand, maybe your competitors. Knowing that traditional marketing practices do not apply to your inbound marketing success helps you avoid costly mistakes, lost revenues, and negative reviews. (The table compares the features of inbound and traditional marketing.)

Traditional Marketing vs. Inbound Marketing
Traditional marketing Inbound marketing
Product-centric Customer-centric
“Push” messaging “Pull” messaging
Interruptive Attractive
One-way communication Two-way conversation
Transactional Relationship-based
Defined start and finish Ongoing loop
Linear Multi-faceted
Static Dynamic
Brand power Consumer power