Inbound vs. Outbound Email: What’s the Difference?

February 02, 2023
Written by
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own
Reviewed by
Opinions expressed by Twilio contributors are their own

Inbound vs. Outbound Email: What’s the Difference?

Inbound vs. outbound email—what's the difference, and which should you be leveraging? Good questions. We have answers.

Given that inbound marketing returns an average 3x greater than outbound, you may be wondering: is email inbound or outbound marketing? The short answer is that it can be both.  

Whether inbound vs. outbound, on average, email marketing drives an average return on investment (ROI) of $36 for every dollar spent—higher than any other marketing channel. As a result, and not surprisingly, 37% of brands plan to increase email budgets in 2022. 

Read on to learn more about the difference between inbound vs. outbound email marketing and how you can improve your campaign results with a strategic move from outbound to inbound email marketing.

What is an inbound email?

Inbound email marketing is advertising sent to people who’ve interacted with your company in some way. They may have signed up for your newsletter, requested additional information, or subscribed to your email list for a discount code. Whatever the reason, inbound email marketing campaigns nurture the initial interest between a consumer and your company, providing relevant content that attracts them to your products and services. 


Without a doubt, inbound email marketing campaigns are an effective way to connect with audiences. Since this marketing strategy focuses on attracting and converting consumers through useful and relevant content, you’ll see much higher levels of organic engagement—but that’s just the beginning. The benefits of inbound email marketing include:
  • Increases opt-ins: When you offer valuable content—such as blogs, webinars, or newsletters—it builds your organic list of email contacts. You’ll also protect the reputation of your IP address since the consumer won’t flag your email as spam. 
  • Saves money: While outbound email marketing strategies require the purchase of expensive mailing lists (we’ll get into this later!), inbound email marketing is tailored to consumer interest to maximize ROI. That means you save money on wasted mailings, as your consumer base actively requests to hear from you. 
  • Drives brand awareness organically: By targeting consumers with relevant content, they learn more about your brand and are more likely to spread the word to others. Inbound email marketing drives sales and grows your digital presence. 
  • Builds brand trust and loyalty: Fostering a sense of trust with your audience is an important part of inbound email marketing. Over time, trust can lead consumers to your products and services and show them that you genuinely care about them. By sharing content that informs and piques their interest, you can organically build brand recognition and loyalty. 

Inbound email challenges 

Successful inbound email marketing strategies often take time and resources, including presenting some challenges that you should be aware of before utilizing this marketing technique. Some challenges of inbound email marketing include:
  • Can be incompatible with some organizations: Inbound email marketing works best for products and services with longer sales cycles. As a result, businesses that manufacture and sell low-cost products may have difficulty organically attracting the ideal consumer base and achieving ROI. 
  • Requires a long-term commitment: If you’re looking for quick or immediate marketing results, then inbound email marketing isn’t for you. While inbound strategies can be slow at first, the gains are long term. You create the content, share the content via email strategically and consistently, and then wait to see the results. 

What is an outbound email?


Outbound email marketing is advertising a company sends to customers or potential customers who didn’t request the email. Similar to a cold call, audiences are either unfamiliar with the company or have general awareness but haven’t actually engaged with the company’s services. Companies typically purchase email contact lists of people who fit consumer personas. 


Over the years, inbound email marketing has become more popular, while outbound email marketing has fallen out of favor. But businesses can reduce costs and increase returns with the content-first approach outbound marketing provides. The benefits of outbound email marketing include:
  • Reaches a wide audience: One of the biggest advantages of running an outbound email marketing campaign is that you can reach a wide audience. This includes people who’ve heard of you but haven’t yet purchased from you or engaged with your services, are unfamiliar with your offerings, and are current customers. This varied audience promotes word-of-mouth marketing and promises some form of exposure to even more potential customers. 
  • Targets strategically: Outbound marketing strategies bring your messages to people who want to see them, whether they’re active customers or not. By targeting a specific audience, you can serve your ads to nearly the exact person you want to see them. 
  • Expedites results: Rather than waiting for emails to trickle in, outbound campaigns get your message to potential customers on your schedule. If you present the right email offer to the right people at the right time, they’ll be more likely to take immediate action, allowing you to achieve your sales goals faster. 

Outbound email challenges 

The reach and speed of outbound email marketing make it a worthwhile promotional channel for your campaigns. Still, there are challenges you should be aware of before diving in:
  • Costs more: There’s an added cost associated with outbound email marketing that can increase with each email you send. Ultimately, the more contacts on your mailing list, the more you’ll pay for this form of email marketing. What’s more, there’s no guarantee your target audience will respond positively to your email. 
  • Risks your reputation: Consumers tend to not trust unsolicited emails in their inbox. Since the people on these lists haven’t requested you to contact them, your outbound email marketing risks appearing as spam. 
  • Hinders feedback: Because outbound email marketing mostly consists of one-way communication aiming promotional material at potential customers, there’s little opportunity to engage in a 2-way dialogue with your target audience. 

Inbound vs. outbound emails: What are the key differences?

While sending an inbound vs. outbound email is practically the same, the language you use in the 2 forms of marketing will be very different. Outbound emails place a greater emphasis on call-to-action links that drive broadly appealing sales, while inbound emails focus on providing interested recipients with relevant information. To sum it up:
  • Inbound email marketing:
    • Pulls in interested consumers 
    • Produces results over time
    • Garners a more loyal audience through engagement
  • Outbound email marketing:
    • Pushes email to everyone (target audience)
    • Produces immediate results
    • Consists of one-way communication
That said, whether it’s inbound or outbound, you’re still likely to see results on an email marketing strategy as long as you know your audience. 

How to move from outbound to inbound email marketing

Ultimately, an outbound email marketing strategy is best when supporting your inbound efforts. To make the shift from outbound to inbound email marketing, you’ll need to build up your pipeline of valuable content, whether it’s online videos, social media pages, or blogs. Then, use inbound email in tandem with your other channels to make it easier for customers to connect with your brand.

Run an inbound campaign with Twilio SendGrid

Effective inbound email marketing campaigns require the right tools. Twilio SendGrid simplifies inbound and outbound email marketing to ensure deliverability and capture ROI analytics. With over a billion sends each month, Twilio SendGrid helps you send transactional and marketing emails that are scalable, reliable, and secure. Get started for free today.

Recommended For You

Most Popular

Send With Confidence

Partner with the email service trusted by developers and marketers for time-savings, scalability, and delivery expertise.