What’s the difference between content marketing and inbound marketing?

You’ve decided that you want to take the next step in your marketing processes, and you’ve started to think about content marketing – it is on everybody’s lips after all. But then you’ve also heard about inbound marketing. They sound like the same, so what’s the difference between content and inbound marketing?

Content marketing

According to the content marketing institute, “content marketing is a strategic marketing approach focused on creating and distributing valuable, relevant, and consistent content to attract and retain a clearly-defined audience — and, ultimately, to drive profitable customer action.

Inbound marketing

According to Hubspot, the marketing automation company that coined the term, “inbound marketing is a business methodology that attracts customers by creating valuable content and experiences tailored to them. While outbound marketing interrupts your audience with content they don’t always want, inbound marketing forms connections they are looking for and solves problems they already have.

Wait – what’s outbound marketing?

According to Wordstream, a PPC company I’ve never heard of, but whose SEO lead me to their definition, “outbound marketing refers to any kind of marketing where a company initiates the conversation and sends its message out to an audience. Outbound marketing examples include more traditional forms of marketing and advertising such as TV commercials, radio ads, print advertisements (newspaper ads, magazine ads, flyers, brochures, catalogues, etc.), tradeshows, outbound sales calls (AKA “cold calls”), and email spam.

Inbound marketing refers to the methods that are taken to convert a visitor into a customer once they have ended up on a website. Content marketing is just a section of that because it focuses on very specific methods of content creation and distribution.

The common denominator is palpable. Some differences are noteworthy, though. One is that inbound marketing as a methodology is more narrowly focused on lead generation and lead nurturing, and relies more on specific technical tools, such as call-to-action, forms, email workflows, lead scoring, etc.

Inbound marketing is far more linked to marketing automation than content marketing is. It’s no wonder really since it was the marketing automation company HubSpot who invented the concept of inbound marketing as a term for marketing that draws people into the content of the company, as opposed to classic outbound pushing advertising messages down your throat.

However, not all parts of inbound activities can be classified as content marketing. Email workflows and CRM integration are important in inbound, but do not in themselves have much to do with content. So that means that you can make really good content marketing without it being inbound, but it’s hard to make good inbound marketing without using content marketing.

Still with me?

Inbound marketing could be a strategy set up by using content marketing, paid search marketing, and opt-in email marketing. 

Let’s look at some concrete examples. You want to make a blog for your website. Is it inbound or content? It depends. Is it valuable content for the end-user? Then it’s content marketing. If you also use the blog to gather contact information by having your visitors download more content (a whitepaper e.g.) then it’s part of inbound marketing. 

Does this mean that content marketing is less important than inbound marketing?

No. Again there is no general advice in marketing, it depends on your business and your goals. The Content Marketing Institute’s definition of content marketing is short and concise. But if you want to deep dive into content marketing While inbound marketing is about getting found online by prospects the questions is: “what do you do with your story once they find you?” 

To convert the sale you need lead-nurturing, customer service content, how will you up- or cross-sell? Will the same content create customer retention and loyalty?

True content marketing will focus on your end-user. You want to provide them with real and relevant information to help them solve an issue or answer a question instead of just pitching your products or services, and as such is tied up tightly with your business goal.