What’s the Difference Between Content Marketing and Inbound Marketing?

Is there a difference between content marketing and inbound marketing or are you just trying to confuse me? Marketers, both professional and amateur, are throwing around a lot of terms these days. Two of the terms that you will hear most frequently are inbound marketing and content marketing.

Questions we get often range from “What do they really mean?”, to “Are they the same, or are there some differences?”, and “If there are not the same, do the differences matter?”

They are definitely related terms. Let’s examine the definitions, distinctions, and then suggest an approach on how to grow your business.

First, what is Inbound Marketing?

Inbound marketing is a reaction to the changing (or changed, depending on your point of view) way that customers are buying today. Buyers do not want to be interrupted. They don’t want to watch commercials on TV and they do not want to see ads in a newspaper or magazine. They especially do not want to see ads on their phone or read the spam you email them — they want to shop, surf, and be left alone.

So Inbound is about:

  1. being found by your target market when they are looking to learn something.
  2. engaging them when they find you.
  3. pleasing them with what they found so that they continue to interact with you.

It is about attraction, education, and satisfaction – not interruption.

Historically, marketers have spent a lot of time and money on interrupting buyers which has made them reluctant to give up something that has worked so well for them. Hence, the large amount of money spent on Super Bowl ads, billboards and even pop-up ads.

But, trust me, the advertising environment has completely changed. If you want evidence, look at your own behavior. Likely, when you need a new service provider for nearly anything, you go searching on the internet rather than looking for an ad in the morning paper. You don’t even get the morning paper anymore! Just like you, buyers are spending more and more time on the internet, researching their needs, before they ever talk with a salesperson. Data from AdWeek in 2014 shows that 81% of buyers conduct online research – what do you think it is now?

To be effective and deliver the goods, inbound marketing makes extensive use of content, hence the regular interchangeability of these two terms and occasional misunderstanding.

So then what is Content Marketing?

It is pretty much what it says it is – promotion based on content. It is the lure, or bait, that contains the keywords and subject matter that attracts visitors to your site. It’s should be written in a readable and educational way to keep your prospect on your website once they have found you. Further, subsequent content is what will keep them interacting with you after they read the first piece they find.

But the content can’t do the whole job all by itself. Great content is an important ingredient, no doubt. There are, however, many other ingredients needed to make content marketing perform the way you want it to.

Inbound Marketing can’t work without content.

Think of content as the wood in the fireplace of Inbound Marketing. The wood has to be there to produce the heat, but the wood needs the fireplace, the hearth, and the chimney to reach its full potential. Inbound uses personas, keyword analysis, competitor analysis, website designemail communication, website analytics, and a number of other tools to promote a business. All that infrastructure, however, can’t even come close to doing its job without great content. Content in the form of blog posts, e-books, white papers, reports, and survey results are what generates the heat.

But, inbound is even more. It includes interacting with social media, customer databases and yes, even the sales department. It is the methodology that brings all of marketing together into an integrated system, or engine, to maximize marketing and sales results in a way that has never been available before. And if done right, the prospect loves it.

What to do next.

Now that you see the difference, you see how Inbound Marketing has the ability to generate leads. Great content will please your visitors and leave them thinking well of you, but if you want to nurture that attraction into a relationship where they become interested in buying from you, then you need an Inbound Marketing system. That will involve developing a Content Strategy, yes, but much more is needed.

You can’t just plan on good content. It has to be content focused on the needs of your prospect that shows you understand their issues and why they should come to your site. You want them to feel like your content was put there just for them and their current issue, problem, or pain. You can’t do that unless you understand your market and have identified the needs and issues of your target customers.

For a more in-depth explanation of Inbound Marketing, download our eBook, ‘What is Inbound Marketing?

In this download, you’ll gain valuable insight into the basics of Inbound Marketing such as:

  • 5 stages of buyers in the inbound process
  • 4 reasons why the ‘old’ marketing playbook is broken
  • the elements of inbound marketing