Inbound vs Content Marketing: Defining the Difference


describe the imageThere’s much debate over whether inbound and content marketing are one and the same thing, or whether one is a part of the other. It’s similar to the discussion about whether marketing and sales are the same thing, which has been raging since the disciplines have been in existence.

Joe Pulizzi of the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) seems to feel they’re pretty similar, but we don’t necessarily agree.

We’re going to try and bust open the myth, so stay tuned:

Identifying Inbound

Inbound marketing is the science of finding ways to get your customers to come looking for you. It’s about using a range of methods to attract clients to you, such as:

  • Supplying engaging content, both online and offline
  • Communicating through your website and social media
  • Being visible at events such as trade shows and conferences
  • Participating in public speaking engagements, radio interviews and other methods of building thought leadership

All these marketing options give your customers the chance to get to know you and your reputation in the industry. When they make contact with you to request an estimate, that’s an inbound marketing lead!

Confirming Content

According to the CMI, content marketing refers to the creation and distribution of relevant and valuable content to attract a target audience and generate leads! That sounds almost the same as inbound, doesn’t it? And it’s achieved by producing blog posts, social media posts, white papers, e-books, infographics, slide presentations, video clips and podcasts—which are all tenets of inbound marketing. That’s why there are many, many marketers who believe they are the same thing.

Defining the Difference

So what’s the difference between the two, assuming that there is one at all?

In spite of the rabid insistence of many that there’s no difference between the two, we’re going to try and explain why there are two equally strong names for what some say is one process. We see inbound as more of an overall strategy, with content as an integral part of it. Not necessarily a subordinate part, but definitely not identical.

Here’s the kicker: content marketing doesn’t necessarily incorporate thought leadership and components of event marketing such as trade shows! Sure, the material you give out at those events constitutes content, but the act of standing up in front of a room full of people and speaking to them is an event. It’s thought leadership, if you do it well. It’s publicity, if the press covers it. Your speech itself is content, as is the newspaper article the journalist writes, the video or podcast of the event and the tweets posted about it during your delivery. The actual process isn’t content, but it is inbound marketing.

Using Both to Your Benefit

To use both aspects in your marketing strategy it’s essential that you view them as separate forms, otherwise you run the risk of losing out on the benefits. If you consider them to be the same thing but your perception is governed by a knowledge of content marketing, for example, you might miss out on opportunities for inbound that could really boost your business. If, on the other hand, your understanding is colored by the principles of inbound marketing, you could probably get away with calling event management and other marketing tactics “content” without upsetting too many people.

Just Do It!

The important thing about the debate is not what you call it, but the fact that you implement what has become the most successful and cost-effective method of marketing in history.

Inbound Marketing 101