Welcome to marketing’s equivalent of the Thunder-dome. The pervasiveness of the Internet, coupled with the emergence of social media and the explosion of rich digital content, has been a game-changer for consumers and has created almost as titanic an explosion of terminology as it has techniques. Today’s marketers can choose between; inbound, content, influencer, experiential, and email marketing flavors.

So, what really is the difference between Content Marketing And Inbound Marketing? Can marketers employ one technique without the other?



Inbound and content marketing emerged courtesy of the rapidly shifting landscape of consumer behaviors triggered by the emergence of the Internet and social media.

If we go back to the early 1990’s, corporate budgets for online marketing were negligible. However, by the middle of the decade around 1995, online marketing attracted $400 million in advertising spend. As consumers began to be seduced by early messaging and navigated pre-Google websites, the sharpest marketing minds suddenly realized that this Internet phenomenon represented a massive shift. They were right!

Over the past two decades, the Internet has come to dominate the way consumers interact with brands. These transformational behaviors have undermined the effectiveness of traditional marketing. As we all know, marketers fish where the fish are, hence the exponential explosion of inbound and content marketing methodologies.


Inbound Marketing Explained

Inbound marketing is a strategy and a supporting set of methodologies that help companies focus on attracting customers or prospects by enabling their brand to be found by potential customers when they are looking or shopping online.

Used effectively, inbound marketing attracts followers for your brand and helps convert them into advocates by generating leads and engaging website visitors with rich and compelling content, augmented by social media distribution channels.

Inbound methodology.jpgInbound marketing systematically converts anonymous website visitors into leads, nurtures those leads until they convert into customers and ultimately brand advocates. Throughout the customer buying cycle, inbound marketing provides real-time data and insights to continuously refine the campaign performance and drive enhanced results.

As part of this process, inbound marketing attracts a prospect’s attention and engages them through targeted, high-value content rather than renting the prospect’s attention through buying contact lists, buying advertising space, cold calling, or attending trade shows. A significant part of inbound marketing’s effectiveness is derived from strategically leveraging cut-through content, hence the blurred boundary between inbound and content marketing.


Content Marketing Explained

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Content marketing is typically defined as, “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.”




A Point of Difference


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One significant differentiator between inbound marketing and content marketing is inbound’s focus on aligning the sales and marketing process by emphasizing lead nurturing and lead scoring to create a pipeline of highly qualified leads.


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While content marketing assists in streamlining the sales cycle, it focuses more on attracting and engaging prospects rather than moving them through the sales pipeline.



Some marketers contend content marketing is a component of inbound marketing as mature inbound marketing programs are anchored on customer personas which incorporate clear content preferences and content consumption habits.


Complementary Strategies and Tools

Inbound marketing campaigns are fueled by attractive, high-impact content displayed in a variety of forms, ranging from blog articles and social media posts through to eBooks, whitepapers, podcasts, and static website content.


Inbound marketing generates results by using content to convert website visitors into leads, so the focus is on optimizing your brand’s content to fuel the conversion experience. Hence, your brand’s content marketing strategy will inevitably be closely integrated into your inbound lead conversion strategy.


Content marketing is one element in a disciplined inbound marketing strategy. So, yes, you need content marketing, but your brand will inevitably require a mix of inbound marketing tactics to deliver commercial results.


Aligning Expectations

Content marketing can attract and retain new clients if it is integrated into an inbound marketing campaign. Simply creating content, however compelling, and publishing it on a website, blog, or social media site and expecting it to generate quality leads is stretching the limits of content marketing.

However, when you launch a strategic inbound marketing campaign that employs content as a component of your strategy, you can expect to generate more visitors, more leads, and more new customers.

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If your goal is to simply improve your website visitors’ experience by giving them more compelling brand-related content to read, then content marketing may be right for your brand. However, if your marketing goal is to build a sustainable, scalable, predictable lead-generation machine that generates leads for your sales pipeline month after month, then inbound marketing, with all its moving parts, might be a more attractive option for your organization.


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Regardless of whether you advocate for inbound marketing or content marketing, it is clear that the two methodologies are similar in shape and form. The greater implication of the emergence of these two connected methodologies is that brands today are operating in an environment where it’s crucial they understand the brand is also a publisher.  Aside from the inbound versus content marketing debate, every organization has to make a decision about how they target and distribute their content.

Strategically, the decision between inbound marketing or content marketing or indeed a hybrid combination of the two approaches comes down to strategy. Is your brand looking for improved customer experiences or quantifiable lead generation? Once your goals are clear, evaluate which type of marketing is right for you. Align expectations with budget and timeframe. An inbound initiative will typically require a larger investment and longer time horizon, but it should produce better yields. You can do content marketing without inbound marketing, but not inbound marketing without content marketing.


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