Buying vs. Building an audience: What’s the right approach?

June 25, 2021


What’s the difference between inbound and outbound marketing? Or to look at it another way, is it better to build or buy an audience?

Paying to get in front of prospects has an advantage. Media sponsorships. Advertising. Buying an email list. It’s direct and immediate. But it comes at a cost – both literally and figuratively. The audience you’re trying to reach with outbound marketing wasn’t looking for you. They didn’t choose to engage with your brand. They might not even be a decision maker or influencer in the buying process. All things considered, it’s hard to show where buying an audience impacts the bottom line.

Building an audience through inbound marketing is different. It’s more cost effective (inbound leads cost 61% less compared to outbound leads). It’s easier to measure the results. And it pays dividends in the long run.

How to approach building an audience

Inbound marketing tactics (or building an audience) fall under three main areas:

  • Paid search marketing
  • Opt-in email-based marketing
  • Content marketing

Let’s take each in turn.

Paid search marketing might feel like it should come under outbound. But the differentiator is there’s buyer intent. You’ll be running ads against keywords or phrases targeted to different stages of the buyer journey. Paid search marketing also falls under the SEO umbrella. This is a big and complex subject that requires more detail than this post allows. But, if you’re interested, check out our in-depth guide to creating a B2B SEO strategy to drive traffic and leads.

Opt-in email marketing differs from buying an email list for one big reason: attention. Prospects who end up on that list chose to be there. They want to hear more from your brand. More importantly, in the thorny world of post-GDPR marketing, it’s a safer bet. Granted, ‘legitimate interest’ does allow some unsolicited B2B email marketing. But wouldn’t it be better to build a list of people that want to hear from you in the first place?

Content marketing: The heart of building an audience

Content marketing is the big one. It’s your mainstay for building an audience. Lead magnets. Landing pages. Video content. First-hand research. Social media ambassador programmes and more. It’s important to add breadth to your approach as your target audience can be found in more than one place. Not only that, but different groups within your target audience will want to engage with content in different ways.

Content marketing is a big investment as a result. And it’s not easy. It takes time and effort to create content that drives results (read: captures and holds attention). It’s an iterative process, too. You’ll need to learn what works best over time, or work with a content marketing specialist that can advise on what will resonate in your sector. You’ll also need to develop your buyer personas, establish goals, identify your buying triggers, and build a content strategy.

The trade-off is worth it though. This investment in content can underpin the rest of your activity. This is especially important when you consider how the B2B purchase cycle has changed since COVID, with 8 out of 10 B2B buyers now engaging with multiple pieces of branded content before they even think about talking to a salesperson.

Earning attention to stand out from the crowd

In today’s hyper-competitive marketing arena, outbound marketing is hard to track. Yet many companies spend a large percentage of their marketing budget trying to buy their audience rather than build it. They’re attempting to push people towards their brand, rather than pull them in.

None of this is to say outbound tactics don’t work. There’s still a place for buying an audience. But it should be complementary to your core focus of earning attention, using content to help nurture leads and guide them deeper into the sales funnel.

Just by putting more of a focus on earning attention rather than paying for it, you can stand out from the crowd. And surely that’s the best way to create long-term growth.


Photo by Greg Jeanneau on Unsplash

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